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Truths and Myths about winning and losing-ESPN

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Turnovers, early deficits lead to losses By Greg Garber ESPN.com Vince Lombardi, the celebrated coach of the Green Bay Packers whose name adorns the sterling Super Bowl trophy, said that statistics are for losers. Point taken. Still, culled from the ...

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Old 11-30-2005, 12:55 PM   #1
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Truths and Myths about winning and losing-ESPN

Turnovers, early deficits lead to losses
By Greg Garber

Vince Lombardi, the celebrated coach of the Green Bay Packers whose name adorns the sterling Super Bowl trophy, said that statistics are for losers. Point taken.

Still, culled from the most recent evidence -- the NFL's 2003 and 2004 regular-season statistics -- here are five leading sins of the game that are indisputably (did we mention amazingly?) and undeniably true, more often than not. Upon further review, notice that they are all, like the myriad creatures of the universe, interconnected.

Here, then, is the key to the matrix you never knew existed. The percentage in parenthesis refers to the probability of losing when committing that particular sin.

There are a bunch of clichÃÃ*’©s and truisms tied to the NFL. After crunching some numbers, we figured out which ones are deadly sins … and which are myths.
• Truisms and untruths
• Five deadly sins
• Big-time myths

Sin No. 1: Trailing after the first quarter (75 percent)
While so much emphasis is placed on the fourth quarter and a team's finishing power, it's really how you start the game that matters. Teams that found themselves trailing after the first quarter lost a staggering 75 percent of their games in '03-04.
If you're pressed for time, this will eliminate the need to watch the last three quarters.

Seriously, teams that start slowly invariably lose. The 3-8 Arizona Cardinals have trailed at the end of the first quarter in nine of 11 games. They are 2-7 in those games (22 percent), a figure almost identical with the 23 percent achieved (if that's the word for it) over the course of the 2003 season.

By the same token, teams that set the tone early wind up prevailing -- three times out of four. Take the Indianapolis Colts, for example. The 11-0 Colts have trailed only once after the first quarter. Somehow, they recovered from a 17-0 deficit in spectacular fashion against the St. Louis Rams in Week 7 to win 45-28.

"Is that number right?" asked Insider Rick Spielman, who spent five seasons as the Dolphins' general manager. "That's unbelievable.

"Still, it makes sense. If you're playing with a lead, you can play solid defense and run the ball and control the clock. Your odds of winning will always be better when you can control the clock."

In Week 15 of the 2003 season, all 15 teams that led after one quarter won the game.

Said Green, "I guess that means the old clichÃÃ*’© about halftime adjustments isn't true. After the first 15 minutes, the game is essentially over."

Sin No. 2: Losing the turnover battle (81 percent)
This is a tried-and-true truism of the NFL -- what's surprising is the gravity of the number. Lose the turnover battle and you'll lose four games out of five.

Take the Tennessee Titans. While the Titans are 3-2 when they have fewer turnovers than their opponent, they are a dead, solid 0-5 when they have more turnovers. Tennessee committed 13 turnovers in those five games, while opposing teams lost the ball a total of only two times. That kind of hole is difficult to escape.

During the first four weeks of the 2004 season, teams that won the turnover battle went a collective 43-6, a winning 87.8 percent of games.

It's common sense, really. When you lose the ball, you lose a chance to score, while the opposition receives that same opportunity. At worst, it can be a 14-point swing. At best, it's usually a loss of 40 yards in field position. One turnover, quite often, can swing a game.

In Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chicago Bears scored their only touchdown after Alex Brown hit quarterback Chris Simms and induced him to fumble on his own 1-yard line. The ensuing one-yard scoring pass from Kyle Orton to John Gilmore held up as the difference in the 13-10 victory.

Good teams almost always tend to force more turnovers than they yield.

Of the nine top teams in turnover margin -- Cincinnati has the league's best figure, plus-20 -- only one isn't at least three games over .500. And the 4-7 Buffalo Bills (plus-8) are actually still in playoff contention in the anemic AFC East.

Sin No. 3: Allowing a 100-yard runner (75 percent)
On the five occasions the Rams (5-6) have allowed a 100-yard rusher, they are 1-4.
The season began uneventfully for the Rams, who didn't allow a 100-yard runner in the first three games. Then, all hell broke loose: In three successive games, Tiki Barber (24 carries, 128 yards, 1 TD), Shaun Alexander (25-119, 2 TDs) and Edgerrin James (23-143, 3 TDs) sliced up the Rams' defense. Needless to say, all three games resulted in losses.

Although Fred Taylor ran wild on St. Louis -- carrying 22 times for 165 yards -- the Rams managed to hold off Jacksonville 24-21 in Week 8 to even their record at 4-4. But, after their bye week, the Rams reverted to form in Week 10. Alexander savaged the Rams for 165 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries, and the Seahawks won another game on their way to the NFC's best record so far (9-2).

In 2004, teams that featured a 100-yard rusher had a collective winning record every single week. During Weeks 6-9, the overall record was an astounding 32-1.

Last year, Patriots running back Corey Dillon cleared 100 yards nine times during the regular season. New England won eight of those games; only a four-interception game by Tom Brady (see Sin No. 2) cost them a 29-28 decision at Miami. The Patriots, you might recall, won the Super Bowl and finished with a 17-2 record. This year Dillon has been injured and has produced only one 100-yard game. The Patriots are 6-5 and limping toward the playoffs.

Producing a 100-yard runner usually means that team has actually had the luxury of methodically handing the ball off. And thatsuggests the team is playing with a lead, which, in turn, means that passing is not a necessity.

As former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes used to say, three things can happen when you throw the ball -- and two of them are bad. A turnover (see Sin No. 2) can be deadly and sometimes produce an early hole (see Sin No. 1). A dropped ball counts for nothing and also stops the clock (see Sin. No. 5). And then there is the sack, which leads us to…

Sin No. 4: Allowing more sacks (70 percent)
When legendary Rams defensive end David "Deacon" Jones coined the term "sack" -- as in, sacking and pillaging a rival village -- he saw savage tackling of the quarterback as a means to an end. What he didn't know was that, far more often than not, allowing your quarterback to be sacked more than your opponent's means The End.

Look no further than poor, unfortunate David Carr of the Houston Texans, the poster child of sackitis.

In 54 career starts, Carr has been sacked a ludicrous 190 times (more than 3.5 per game). Houston's record in those games is 15-39 (.278).

In his rookie season, he was decked 76 times -- an NFL record that is being threatened by this year's Texans. After a brutal stretch of three games against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Tennessee -- when Carr was sacked a total of 22 times -- the dubious record appeared in jeopardy. But now, through 11 games, with Carr suffering a league-high 50 sacks, the projection is 73. Chances are, based on more recent results, the number will wind up in the high 60s.

The correlation between sacks allowed and losing is a powerful one. The Texans are 1-10, and in their only win (19-16 over the Browns) each quarterback was sacked twice.

This statistic, upon reflection, fits into the matrix. The flip side of a 100-yard runner is a team desperate to catch up. When teams are forced to abandon the run, opposing defenses can rush the passer with abandon. This usually results in increased sacks and all the bad things that come with them.

Teams that allowed more sacks in Week 10 in 2003 were 0-11; in Week 9 of 2004 they were 0-12.

Good teams, as you might expect, protect their quarterbacks. Is it a coincidence that the 11-0 Colts have allowed Peyton Manning to be sacked only nine times -- easily the league's lowest total (among full-time starting quarterbacks). Meanwhile, the Patriots' Brady has been decked 12 times in the last five games, two of them losses.

It is worth noting, too, that the Texans won their only game by avoiding Sins. No. 2 and No. 3 and, instructively, Sin No. 5.

Sin No. 5: Losing time of possession (67 percent)
Possession, they say, is nine-tenths of the law. But in today's NFL you'll have to settle for seven-tenths. OK, to split hairs, 6.7-tenths.
The Buccaneers, by today's air-it-out standards, are a conservative team. Watching them, you might think it's still 1950. Head coach Jon Gruden drafted Cadillac Williams in the first round so, along with fullback Mike Alstott, he could keep pounding teams into submission while the defense did its muscular job.

So far, it's worked out pretty well for the Bucs. They have outscored opponents by a paltry 20 points, but at 7-4 they've won three more games than they've lost. Their narrow margin of error can be seen in the time-of-possession statistics. In 11 games, they have held the ball an average of 2 minutes and 40 seconds longer than opponents.

The Bucs are 5-2 when they win time of possession; 2-2 when they don't. Sunday's 13-10 loss to Chicago underlines the fragile dynamic. The Bears possessed the ball for all of six more seconds than the Bucs -- and won.

Scan the 2005 team numbers and you'll find the usual suspects at the top of the list.

Dallas (33:30) leads the NFL with Kansas City (32:26) and Denver (32:21) second and third, respectively. Those teams -- all in playoff contention -- are guided by old-school coaches Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil and Mike Shanahan, who have always employed a run-first, pass-second philosophy.

There's one other thing they all have in common: Super Bowl rings.

Flip side:

Penalties hurt but aren't indicator of failureBy Greg Garber

Vince Lombardi said, "Football is a game of clichÃÃ*’©s, and I believe in every one of them."

Be careful, fans of football, which clichÃÃ*’©s you choose to believe.

Here are five myths that have survived the years. Like any good myth, these are rooted in truths. Yet you might be surprised how marginal their effect can be on a game.

The percentage in parenthesis, based on 2003 and 2004 NFL regular-season statistics, refers to the probability of winning for each particular myth.

Myth No. 1: Fewest penalties wins (54 percent)
Last Sunday, the Giants were whistled for an astounding 16 penalties -- the highest team total in 56 seasons. Offensive tackle Luke Petitgout was responsible for five false starts at raucous and reverberating Qwest Field in Seattle.

"This was my worst game ever," Petitgout said afterward. "To lose makes it all that much worse."

Yes, the Giants lost to the Seahawks 24-21 in overtime. But they would have won if any of Jay Feely's three field-goal attempts down the stretch had been good.

The point is, penalties are not necessarily fatal. Fifty-four percent is hardly an overwhelming majority. This goes against the adage that players have heard since Pop Warner: Penalties are evidence of a lack of discipline. If a team takes care of business in other areas, it can survive a penalty surplus.

In 2003, there were five consecutive weeks in which teams with the fewest penalties had a collective losing record of 19-39. In 2004, there were five straight weeks of nonwinning records (34-43).

The Cincinnati Bengals illustrate the point nicely. They are a tidy 3-2 in games they have been assessed more penalties than the opposition. Consider: They took 17 penalties for 115 yards and still managed to throttle the Vikings (seven penalties) 37-8. In the 16-10 victory over the Texans (nine penalties), the Bengals were whistled for 14 infractions worth 117 yards.

Some things, however, never seem to change. The Oakland Raiders, at least, remain their stereotypical selves. Cause: Their 113 penalties lead the league. Effect: They are a dismal 4-7.

Myth No. 2: Highest average per carry wins (55 percent)
This one's interesting. You would think the average-per-carry would be a deal-breaker in an NFL game in which running is the gold standard. You would think …
But in 2003, it was virtually a statistical dead heat (51 percent). So what gives? In the end, the more important statistic -- keeping in mind the importance of time of possession and turnovers -- is total carries.

Two examples from this past week's games: The Giants averaged 5.7 yards per carry at Seattle -- a full two yards more than the Seahawks -- but the Seahawks ran the ball five more times (34) and ultimately won. The Buccaneers had a better average-per-carry than the Bears (4.3 vs. 3.6), but Chicago squeezed off eight more carries (33) and won the game by a field goal.

Take the curious case of the New Orleans Saints. They're 2-3 when the opposition's average-per-carry is higher but, almost inexplicably, they're 1-5 when they have a higher average per carry. They were 0-5 before the win Sunday over the Jets.
Although the three teams with the highest average-per-carry -- Atlanta (5.1), Denver (5.0) and Seattle (5.0) -- could all be playoff teams, how do you explain Carolina? The Panthers are 8-3, but their average-per-carry is a dreadful 3.0, the worst figure in the league. New England and Dallas are both sitting in first place, but their numbers (3.6 and 3.4, respectively) are woeful.

Myth No. 3: No. 1 conference seed advances to Super Bowl (50 percent)
Next to Myth No. 3 in Webster's Dictionary, you will find a picture of the snakebitten Pittsburgh Steelers.

They fashioned the AFC's best record in 2001, at 13-3, and had the Patriots where they wanted them in the second quarter of the AFC championship game -- in a close one with young starter Tom Brady knocked out of the game. But Drew Bledsoe came off the bench to help defeat the Steelers, 24-17. New England went on to win its first Super Bowl, a memorable 20-17 victory over the Rams.

Three years later, it happened again. The Steelers ripped through the 2004 regular season, winning 15 of 16 games. One of those wins came on Halloween at Heinz Field, 34-20 over those pesky Patriots. But in the AFC title game, New England -- 14-2 in the regular season -- prevailed again, 41-27, and went on to win its third Super Bowl in four seasons.

Two losses at home in the conference title game final in four years -- not quite an advantage for the top seed. In the previous five years, only half of the 10 No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Super Bowl. The 50 percent ratio applied to the 1990s as well.

In 2000, the Baltimore Ravens didn't even win their division, going 12-4 and finishing a game behind Tennessee, but they managed to win Super Bowl XXXV, smoking the Giants 34-7. The previous season, those same Titans were second to Jacksonville in the then-AFC Central, but won at Jacksonville in the AFC title game and came within a yard of victory against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Other wild cards have won the final game -- Denver (1997), and Oakland (1980) -- but today's evolving parity seems to have made this an increasing phenomenon.

Myth No. 4: A 300-yard passer usually wins (46 percent)
On the surface, this just can't be possible. Can it?
Three hundred yards is a lot of real estate in an NFL game. The numbers say that when you produce a 300-yard passer, you have a better chance of losing.

On Nov. 13, there were four 300-yard passers:
• Miami's Gus Frerotte (360 yards).
• Arizona's Kurt Warner (359)
• Oakland's Kerry Collins (310).
• St. Louis' Marc Bulger (304).

Despite completing a collective 59 percent of their passes and posting six touchdowns, all of them lost their games.

Warner, one of the great rags-to- riches stories in the history of the NFL, can still throw the ball. He has thrown for 300 yards in four games -- and lost every one, including last Sunday's game against the Jaguars. Warner's former teammate, Eli Manning of the Giants, burned Seattle for 344 passing yards. But you know what happened there.

Bulger, of the Rams, is also 0-4 as a 300-yard passer, including his spectacular 40-for-62, 442-yard, two-touchdown effort against the Giants in the fourth game of the season. That game underlines why the 300-yard statistic often results in a loss. The Rams trailed 17-7 after the first quarter (see Sin No. 1) and were playing from behind the rest of the way. Bulger threw three interceptions (Sin No. 2) in a contest that dictated that the Rams pass, almost from the beginning.

The corollary is Denver's Jake Plummer. He's throwing for fewer yards this year, supported by the Broncos' relentless running game. He's hit 300 yards only once this year, 309 in an easy win over the Eagles. Last year he threw for 499 yards against the Falcons -- and lost 41-28.

Myth No. 5: A kick or punt return for a TD means a win (42 percent)
Special teams, we have been told breathlessly forever, are, well, special.

Since the kicking units are involved in their share of plays, special teams must have an impact. When a team returns a punt or kickoff for a touchdown, you would imagine it would tilt the scales dramatically in the typically close games served out by the NFL.

Uh, no.

There have been eight kick returns for touchdowns so far this season, and only two of them -- the Giants' Willie Ponder (Week No. 1 vs. Cards) and Minnesota's Koren Robinson (Week No. 10 vs. Giants) -- helped their teams win.

Houston's Jerome Mathis has two kick returns for scores. On Oct. 23, he went 89 yards against the Colts, but it was the last score in a game Indy won 38-20. A month later, Mathis took one back 99 yards for a touchdown against the Chiefs, but his team still trailed 10-7.

On Nov. 13, the Vikings did something that had never, ever happened in an NFL game. Minnesota returned an interception, a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in a single game -- in the Vikings' 24-21 win over Giants -- and still almost lost.


Wow, they didn't mention allowing one drive late in a game as a killer, but turnovers is definitely a killer. Imagine that.
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Old 11-30-2005, 02:19 PM   #2
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RE: Truths and Myths about winning and losing-ESPN

Excellent article. These are the kind of data that makes sense intuitively if you watch enough games.

Wow, most of this article savages bad offenses as a reason for losing. Hmmm. How do the 2005 Saints fare in this analysis? Well...they happen to be 4 for 5 (top seems to be in the top half of the league). And curious that 3 of the 4 sins are committed by the supposedly new and improved offense!

What I like is that the 2005 Saints can't even win with a 1st quarter lead.
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Old 11-30-2005, 02:24 PM   #3
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RE: Truths and Myths about winning and losing-ESPN

I think we should all remember that the offense is missing their best player, and Joe Horn has been out of 3 or4 games. Oh, and so has our two TEs. But I will admit our offense sucks overall as a whole. But so does the rest of the team. Poor team effort this year.
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Old 11-30-2005, 04:21 PM   #4
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RE: Truths and Myths about winning and losing-ESPN

Smith's played better than Deuce, Az Hakim had pretty big games with Horn out and we didn't really utilize the tight end effectively before. But you're right, they still suck.
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Old 11-30-2005, 04:35 PM   #5
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RE: Truths and Myths about winning and losing-ESPN

Yeppers good find... saintswhodi
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Old 12-01-2005, 12:17 AM   #6
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RE: Truths and Myths about winning and losing-ESPN

clearly that 6 second differential b/w the Bears and Bucs in TOP was the definitive factor in the Bucs' loss.
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Old 12-01-2005, 12:28 AM   #7
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RE: Truths and Myths about winning and losing-ESPN

... interesting article...

... more than anything, turnovers are indeed killers, that's an old truism in the NFL.. to win the game, you need to score points.. you give the ball away, you can't..
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Old 12-01-2005, 06:33 AM   #8
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Interesting. I would add this, though. It has been found that teams leading at the end of the 4th quarter win 100% of the time. 8)
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Old 12-01-2005, 10:31 AM   #9
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Sup Laidback? Merry Christmas. Whodi! Another Stellar bit of posting by BnG's #1 author. That was an article which really lays the "stats" thingy to rest. Especially, the 300 yard passing part. Remember that Fumbles has loads of passing yards, but is below 500 in the W-L column. I wonder why, could it be that our boy is really not the "Godlike" "TOP 5%QB" that he has painted himself to be? Where are the "Brooks is great" crowd responding to these data? No tellin'!
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Old 12-01-2005, 11:21 AM   #10
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Manning stats last year were legendary... this year lower, much lower but the team is undefeated. Manning hasn't been in the news as much as last year with the whirlwind about the records he was breaking but the Colts are getting more attention in general.

Its about winning no matter how it gets done you get a team together and you win. Our team is just a bunch of individuals... you can hear it with what people write here its Brooks fault is so and so's fault, no its the D, no its whatever... the "TEAM" is not ready to win.

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