Football coaches love to spit cliches like effort, compete, toughness and efficiency. But for the sake of this week’s stat lesson, only one of those words matters.
Efficiency is the other side of explosiveness. Last week we talked about explosiveness as the most important of the five factors. To review, the best teams in football at any level are the ones who can create big plays and stop other teams from having them. Big plays can negate other deficiencies an offense has and can keep you in games you should have no business being in.
Last week I told a story about how I had driven up to Burke County High School and had the pleasure of listening to some of the staff there expose themselves as football goofs. It was a nice lead-in because the good folks at Burke made the rookie mistake of speaking about football stats in totals instead of on a per play basis.
It’s a common mistake made by many football fans -- to use total yardage as a true indicator of performance. It makes it easy to call someone out, but that’s all when it comes to explosiveness. Efficiency is a different animal because we have no real stat in the common box score to measure such a thing.
Some folks will point to the number of first downs, or third down conversions. While those are fine, they don’t account for the number of drives or plays a team had. For example, if Team A converts ten first downs and Team B had eight first downs -- on the surface Team A appears to be the better team.
However, if it took Team A 75 plays to achieve ten first downs and Team B only plays to achieve their eight… mathematically their the same (13 percent). The same sort of logic goes for third downs, but with a different twist.
That twist is the playing style of a team, which is all by choice. A team who plays with a run-first mentality probably doesn’t mind being in numerous third down situations because their offense is designed to gain ground in three to four yard chunks. But a team who throws 50 passes a game doesn’t want to be in a lot of third downs, because those offenses are designed to gain yards in 10 to 12 yard chunks.
So how do we properly measure efficiency? It’s success rate, and it’s the best stat you’ve never heard of.
Success rate goes as follows: A play is deemed successful if
* You get 50% of your yards on first down
* You get 70% of your yards on second down
* You get 100% of your yards on third or fourth down
For example, if a team gains six yards on first-and-ten, it’s deemed successful. However, if a team is on second-and-seven and only gains four yards it’s deemed unsuccessful. The point of
all this is to stay out of long down-and-distance situations that can derail an offenses’ productivity.
In short, efficiency is a measure of how well an offense stays on track. The goal of any offense is to avoid long down and distances, or passing downs as we call them in the analytics world. Passing downs are means for trouble. After all, a lot more can go wrong during a pass play (interception, sack, intentional grounding, catch and fumble) than on a run play (tackle for loss, fumble).
Offenses want to be in what we call standard downs, or the downs where most teams are comfortable running the ball. Now this isn’t to say never pass the ball because passes are more likely to generate explosiveness, but the less you’re forced to pass on long down-and-distances the better. For a better illustration on the differences between standard and passing downs, use this:
Standard downs: 1st and 10 or less, 2nd and 6 or less, 3rd/4th and 4 or less.
Passing downs: 1st and 11 or more, 2nd and 7 or more, 3rd/4th or more.
So how does efficiency tie into explosiveness? Look no further than your Statesboro Blue Devils. Believe it or not, Statesboro has found a way to be somewhat efficient on offense over the past two games. It’s one of the reasons SHS has lead going into the fourth quarter in their past two games.
Statesboro has had a success rate of 42.7 percent over two games, which is actually pretty good. This was especially true in last week’s game against Liberty County, where Statesboro beat the Panthers in success rate by a 45.5 percent to 30.9 percent margin. Now a success rate of 30 percent is abysmal, and it’s probably why Liberty was trailing for so long.
Unfortunately, efficiency is only one of the five factors. As a team, you simply can’t just be efficient -- you must have explosive plays. Statesboro can work their way down the field all they want, but without the handful of explosive plays needed to take your team that much farther down the field -- you’ll always be stalling out as an offense.
So far, Statesboro has outdone their two opponents in efficiency 42.7 percent to 37.1 percent -- a very respectable margin. According to the data at Football Study Hall, a +5.6 percent margin in success rate gives teams a 76 percent chance of winning their games. But, the Blue Devil’s are being outdone in explosiveness by a 7.0 to 4.5 yards per play mark. That margin of -3.5 YPP, according to the same data, gives opponents a 98 percent chance to win games.
So, in the end between those two winning percentages Statesboro is still behind -22 percent between the explosiveness and efficiency margins. While it’s great Statesboro can get on track on offense, they still lack the explosive plays to take the next step.