Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII- Some Food for Statistical Thought

by Josh Fryman

Instead of draw up an entire thesis or go into a detailed analysis of Sunday’s Super matchup, I decided to take the lazy way out. Below are four statistical insights that may shed some light on what will unfold in Super Bowl XLIII.

1. Blitz Kurt Warner at your own risk- Warner had a very impressive QB rating of 96.9 during the regular season, but in blitz situations, his rating rose to 103.8. Blitzes are gambles, and it is normal to expect a QB’s rating to increase in such situations, but Warner’s rating in these situations is quite high. This year, the Cardinals faced 197 blitzes on pass plays, so for some reason, teams seem to believe that the Cardinals offense is susceptible to them. Not a good idea. Not only does Warner’s QB rating improve, but when blitzed, his yards per attempt increase to 7.86.

A lot of Warner’s success comes from his quick release, but the plethora of options is a tremendous factor, as well. In the playoffs, the Cardinals have moved Larry Fitzgerald onto both sides of the field and also into the slot, which gives Warner his favorite target anywhere he wants him in case of a secondary mismatch. Much speculation has said that the Steelers will blitz a lot in order to diminish Warner’s opportunity to throw to his deep targets.

2. There’s a Hole in the Pittsburgh O-Line- And it’s at the center and left guard positions. Justin Hartwig and Chris Kemeoatu have not been doing Ben Roethlisberger many favors this year. Whereas most quarterbacks improve their passer rating during blitzes, Roethlisberger’s dropped this year from 80.3 in normal situations to 70.3 in blitzes. Considering that the average quarterback improves 5.6 ratings points with a standard deviation of 4.4, Roethlisberger’s drop during blitzes is alarming. When you watch the film, you see that teams send blitzing defenders primarily into the gap between Hartwig and Kemeoatu. As if allowing sacks weren’t enough, Steeler’s running backs’ yards per carry drop from 3.7 overall to 3.3 when running through the left side of the offensive line.

3. The Arizona DB’s can be exploited- A lot has been made of the breakout performances of Antrel Rolle and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie this postseason, especially given some of the interceptions that the secondary has come up with. Don’t be fooled by interceptions. As discussed before on this site and at my own blog, takeaways have as much to do with chance and rely far more on an offense’s propensity to make turnovers as it is on a defense’s ability to create them.

Furthermore, when one looks beyond the takeaways, one will see that wide receivers have had field days against Arizona of late. In the postseason alone, DeSean Jackson, Muhsin Muhammed, and Roddy White all had better statistical days (receptions, yards) than was the average for the season. Only Steve Smith had a subpar performance. During their current 4-game win streak, the Cardinals have allowed 275.5 yards passing per game. Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward should be licking his chops.

4. Big Ben will need to get into the shotgun- Aside from the O-Line woes, Roethlisberger has turnover problems in the form of both fumbles and interceptions. Furthermore, possibly the best linebacker in the Super Bowl will be lining up for Arizona. Karlos Dansby finished the season with 119 tackles and 9 stuffs behind the line. When the quarterback is under center with only a lone back, Dansby’s tackles per play nearly double. Furthermore, Arizona has registered 7 sacks and 9 stuffs in the postseason so far. Without a serious deep threat, Pittsburgh cannot afford to leave two men in the backfield to guard against these threats. Big Ben, however, cannot be trusted under center against a reinvigorated pass rush. Therefore, the gun may be the best call.


Brian Burke said...

Good stuff. I didn't realize most QB's ratings go up in blitz plays.

Jason said...

A friend of mine (Steelers fan, natch) says, however, that Warner is awful against the zone blitz. Not sure where he picked that up from, but he seemed to have a real statistical source.

bruddog said...


You should check out this site. They have splits on every thing you'd ever want almost.

The Football Know-it-all said...

Jason- I appreciate the full disclosure of your Steelers fan's loyalties. That could very well be. I don't have splits that break down performance against blitz packages. My inkling, however, is that if Warner's overall rating against blitzes is 103.8 and he faced less than 200 blitzes, his rating against zone blitzes couldn't be all that bad.

bruddog said...

Split G Cmp Att Pct Yds Yds/Att TD Int 1st Sck Rtg
Blitz 16 134 208 64.4 1645 7.9 14 4 83 5 103.1
QB Under Pressure 16 53 123 43.1 634 5.2 6 3 32 26 65.6
QB Knocked Down 16 27 77 35.1 365 4.7 2 2 17 25 48.9

TheDraftInsider said...

Couldn't it be that a QB's rating goes up on blitzes because sacks are not figured in the rating?

Brian Burke said...

Thanks, bruddog. I think has splits very similar. Hat tip to the "Football Know It All" for pointing me there.

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