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Eckert Stats: Evaluating 2021 NFL Run Success Rates


Today I desired to proceed evaluating the successful play stat for NFL offenses that many follow, including us here at Steelers Depot. The goal for today is to have a look at the running game using the rates many use currently, see how the outcomes stack as much as the last word goal of winning, and see if tweaking the stat could possibly give us a more predictive and helpful data point moving forward.

I provided and tracked success rates through the season, so we are going to start with those measures. Listed below are successful play rates defined (with spikes, kneel downs, and aborted/penalty plays excluded) from nflfastR:

  • First Down Success = A gain of six yards or more, or a minimum of 40% of the needed yardage.
  • Second Down Success = A gain of six yards or more, or a minimum of 50% of the needed yardage.
  • Late Down Success = A 3rd or fourth down play gaining the needed yardage for a primary down or a touchdown.

Here we see the highest five ranks all made the postseason, emphasizing a powerful correlation of run success for the highest teams to winning, and the Buccaneers and Chiefs also achieving this feat in pass success rates. The highest ranked team was the Eagles, highlighting their path to the playoffs considering their much lower twenty fourth rank in passing success rate. The Chiefs also had a really high success rate followed the Packers, Bucs, and Patriots after a drop off. The sixth through eighth ranks missed the playoffs: the Ravens, Colts, and Chargers. Three of the remaining 4 in the highest 12 did punch their ticket, leading to a playoff prediction percentage of 66.7%. By far the bottom results of my studies of the success rates. For context, the whole success rates had a 91.7% result, and passing success rates landed at 83.3%.

The next 4 teams complete the highest half of the league in ranks. The Super Bowl Champion Rams (14th) and the 49ers (Sixteenth) were the playoff teams, with the Panthers (lowest win total of this group at five) and Seahawks missing out. The remaining 4 postseason teams were in the underside half of the league, including the Cowboys (18th), Bengals (twenty third), Titans (twenty fourth), and at last the Steelers (twenty fifth). This was Pittsburgh’s best rank in comparison with landing twenty ninth in total and passing success. So, only ten of the highest 16 in run success rates (62.5%) were playoff teams.

Now to see if tweaks could make the run success rates higher. Let’s see what increasing the primary down success rate from 40% of the needed yardage to 50%, considering this sets up the offense for more ideal situations on the remaining downs versus the ‘should you gain 4 yards on every play’ stance. Let’s call this Adjusted First Down (AFD), leaving the opposite downs unchanged, and see how this looks compared:

The highest three ranks remain the identical, with the Patriots moving up a spot to fourth. The Ravens moved up as well, highlighting there longer gains within the run game comparatively, and in consequence fewer playoff teams at the highest. 4 of the seven remaining teams in the highest 12 made the postseason, leading to the identical playoff prediction percentage of 66.7%. The highest half of the league’s results were similar to well (62.5%), with the remaining postseason teams moving all the way down to the ultimate two ranks (49ers-Fifteenth, Rams-Sixteenth). The rank orders for the opposite playoff teams stayed the identical, with the Cowboys moving all the way down to nineteenth, the Bengals and Titans holding their spot, and the Steelers moving all the way down to twenty sixth when shorter runs were faraway from the success rates (that I recall tracking often in the course of the season). Taking a look at the numbers for more context, Pittsburgh’s run success rate within the initial view was 50.9%, in comparison with 44.9% with AFD.

Let’s see how adjusting second down as well to a minimum of 60% of the needed yardage, while keeping AFD. I’ll call this Adjusted Early Downs (AED):

The highest two teams held their ranks through the various views, with the Ravens continuing their noticeable climb into the highest three. The next five teams made the playoffs, meaning seven of the highest eight achieved this goal. While the playoff prediction percentage stayed the identical here, the ten postseason teams landed higher within the ranks for the strongest overall results today. Dallas continues to maneuver all the way down to the twenty first spot, with the Bengals and Titans ranks still unchanged, and the Steelers moving back as much as twenty fifth.

Next, I desired to see if there have been any predictive trends league-wide on a down by down basis, so listed below are first and second downs alone with AED for added context:

Of the 13 teams on the highest right, nine of them made the postseason (69.2%) with the Ravens, Washington, Jets (biggest outlier with only 4 wins), and Colts because the exceptions. The reigning champion Rams were above the mean in each data points as they were in total success rates. The Bengals were above the mean on first down, as they’ve been for much of the studies, but well below on second (twenty seventh). The Bills were slightly below the mean on first down and fared well with the third rank on second down. The Cowboys were near the mean on each downs, with their lower mark coming of first down. Pittsburgh was well below the mean on first down (twenty ninth) with a low success rate of 33.5%. They were a lot better on second down (seventeenth) with a 52.7 number, which bested the next 4 postseason teams: Packers (nineteenth), Cowboys (twentieth), Titans (twenty fifth), and the Bengals.

Now let’s take a look at late downs (third and fourth downs) alone, which were unadjusted throughout (gaining the needed yardage for a primary down or a touchdown):

The Packers, Bucs, Chiefs, and Titans land at the highest 4 ranks with very high run success rates, followed by two more playoff teams within the Bills and Eagles to round out the highest six. The next 4 teams (Broncos, Colts, Panthers, and Browns) missed the postseason, followed by the Cardinals and Washington to finish the highest 12. So, only seven teams in the highest 12 appeared within the playoffs, the bottom mark today. Also, the result for the highest half of the league remained the identical with some shuffling of teams, including the Cowboys (thirteenth), Patriots (14th) and the Steelers (Fifteenth). Pittsburgh was tied for the third fewest attempts on late downs though, together with their poor results on first down (the very best usage situation), emphasizing their struggles within the run game last season. The playoff teams who were in the underside half of the league on late downs were the Raiders (twentieth), Bengals (twenty eighth), 49ers (thirty first), and surprisingly the Rams eventually. Considering the Super Bowl participants results and their few attempts compared to the league, this provides context to the outcomes and highlights again that run success rates are the least predictive to winning and playoff success.

With the 2021 numbers, AED success rates appear to be one of the best measure within the run game (however the least predictive), with the AED total success rates being one of the best playoff prediction measure, and AFD/late down being a very powerful within the passing game.

After deep diving into different facets today, I wanted to supply a table that circles back to run success ranks of teams on all downs, to see where each team excelled to wrap up (SPRK= Successful Play Rank initial view, AFDRK = with ADF rank, AEDRK = with AED rank, OVRRK = average of SPRK, AFDRK, and AEDRK with wins breaking any tiebreakers and stars = playoff teams):

The Eagles held the highest spot across the board, but simply enough wins to make the postseason (nine), in comparison with the highest rank in total and passing success rates having 12 or more. The Chiefs achieved the highest rank in total success rates across the board, together with the highest rank in passing success with AED, and second ranks across the board on the run success table above. The Packers had the third OVRRK in run success, matching this end in total success with AED, and their passing success their lowest mark but inside the top ten. The Ravens steadily moved up within the adjusted views within the run game with the fourth OVRRK, but had the bottom win total of the highest ten together with their thirteenth ranks across the board in total success and seventeenth OVRRK within the pass game. The Buccaneers round out the highest five in run success, together with their top two ranks throughout the whole and passing rates.

The Patriots were fifth in total success and sixth in run success with AFD their better of the views, and their lowest OVRRK of eighth within the pass game. The Bills best rank within the run game and total success was with AED and were just outside the highest ten in passing success. The Colts had the eighth OVRRK in run success, with 14th ranks across the board in total success, and outdoors the highest 20 in pass rates. The Cardinals best view within the run game was with AED, and had top five OVRRK’s in total and pass success. The Chargers round out the highest ten, claiming the tiebreaker in wins over Washington, also landing on this range in total success and the pass game. The Raiders complete the highest 12, matching this end in total success, and their best mark within the pass game with the tenth OVRRK.

This will probably be interesting to trace further, and particularly thinking about layering other predictive measures since one stat never tells the entire story (but I’m working on it, lol). One of the best singular stat to predicting Super Bowl winners for my part is a private and Steelers Depot favorite: Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt that I like to trace. I plan to also tackle the TOX stat (turnovers and explosive plays) with the same goal to see if adjusting the numbers/layering missing elements can provide stronger prediction tools that might be layered together moving forward.

What are your takeaways from the 2021 successful play results? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts within the comments!

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