Today I wanted to check out the successful play stat for NFL offenses that many follow, including us here at Steelers Depot. The goal for today is to take a look at what number of measure it currently, see how the outcomes stack as much as the final 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 due to prior coding from Brad Congelio as a framework. Let’s start with a complete view of pass and run plays. 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 at the least 40% of the needed yardage.
- Second Down Success = A gain of six yards or more, or at the least 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.
A lot of us is not going to be surprised on the Pittsburgh Steelers twenty ninth rank in 2021. Out of all playoff teams, Pittsburgh had the bottom rank by far and only team outside the highest 20. The subsequent lowest playoff team was their divisional opponent and Super Bowl participant Cincinnati Bengals rating nineteenth. While Steelers did barely enough to make the postseason with nine wins, the visual gives context to their struggles comparatively. This highlights how big of an outlier the 2021 Steelers were in total offensive success rates, and the assistance they needed from other teams to luckily make the playoffs. To further illustrate let’s look more broadly.
The highest eight teams all made the playoffs, followed by the ninth ranked Los Angeles Chargers who had enough wins (nine) but lost out on the chance in a robust division, with the Chiefs and Raiders having double digit wins. The Tenth-Twelfth ranked teams were also playoff participants, highlighting 11 of the highest 12 ranks (91.7%) made the postseason. The Baltimore Ravens were thirteenth and the primary team to lack the variety of wins to make the playoffs (eight). Going 1-5 within the AFC North was ultimately their demise with 4 of those losses coming on the back loaded divisional schedule, and quarterback Lamar Jackson missing time attributable to injury in three of those matchups. These dominoes are one example of Pittsburgh’s luck I discussed earlier.
The next three teams complete the highest half of the league in ranks, with the Colts (14th) and the Dolphins (sixteenth) having the win total to succeed in the playoffs but were outside looking in. Washington got here out with the fifteenth rank, the team with the bottom win total of the highest 16 at seven. So, 11 of the 14 playoff teams (79%) had top 12 ranks in offensive success rates, with the Titans (seventeenth), Bengals (nineteenth), and Steelers (twenty ninth) because the exceptions. Strong correlation to wins and making the playoffs because the success rates stand.
Now to see if tweaks could make this higher. My first thought is to extend 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:
Here we see Pittsburgh moved down one spot to the thirtieth rank. Removing the four-yard gains on first down (that were barely enough for a successful play that I recall tracking often last season), the Steelers only bested the Texans and Giants in total success rates, who remained at the underside two spots from the previous view. the numbers for more context, Pittsburgh’s success rate on first down was 45.8% within the initial view and their rate with AFD dropped to 37.9%, each rating thirty first. They were also only one in all three teams that were below 40% with AFD, in comparison with all 32 teams being 43% or above within the initial view.
Across the league, 11 of the highest 12 ranks (91.7%) were playoff teams again, with the Chargers still being the exception and improving from ninth to the seventh rank. The Ravens and Colts remain at thirteenth and 14th, with a giant jump from the Browns from twentieth to fifteenth emphasizing their longer first down gains comparatively within the view with AFD. Washington rounded out the highest half of the NFL with the sixteenth rank, one spot lower than the initial view. The Bengals improved from nineteenth to seventeenth, the Titans moved from seventeenth all the way down to nineteenth, and Steelers fell from twenty ninth down a spot to thirtieth. While the playoff prediction percentage didn’t change, the Bengals improvement considering their deep playoff run together with the downtrend of the Titans and particularly the Steelers appear to be taking us in the precise direction.
Let’s see what happens if we adjust second down as well to at the least 60% of the needed yardage, while keeping AFD. I’ll call this Adjusted Early Downs (AED):
Viewing through Steelers lenses to begin, we see their rank remained the identical at thirtieth with the identical teams at the underside. the adjusted second down rates alone, Pittsburgh had their best results up to now with successful rate of 52.9% within the initial view and a 48.5% result with AED, which each ranked twenty first. The highest eight teams on the graph above were postseason participants just like the initial view, and the playoff prediction results for the highest 12 ranks remained the identical (91.7%). The highest 16 teams also remained similar to the with AFD view, with barely different ranks (which I’ll illustrate in additional depth later).
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:
the 11 teams above the mean on each down, ten of them (90.9%) made the playoffs with the Ravens being the exception. The Bengals were above the mean on first down but poor on second down (thirty first), and the Eagles had a top five rank on second down with a near the mean result on first down. The 2 remaining playoff teams were below the mean on each downs: the Titans and Steelers. So, one other strong correlation here to winning, especially for the teams on the highest right.
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 Chiefs have ranked first throughout the article, but really separated from the remaining of the pack on late downs showing great ability to increase drives. the highest 12 ranks as we did in earlier views, ten of them reached the postseason (83.3%). The Titans fared higher on late downs, with the 49ers and Raiders exceling on early downs. The Bengals and 49ers ranked in the highest half of the league at 14th and fifteenth on late downs, with the Raiders (twenty second) and Steelers (twenty third) as the ultimate playoff teams. So, the with AED numbers by down, Pittsburgh particularly struggled on first down 37.9% (thirty first), fared best on second down 48.5% (twenty first), and had a 39.3% (twenty third) success rate on late downs.
While the various views are interesting and helpful, the adjusted numbers didn’t sway within the predictive measures to winning largely speaking in 2021. They do provide good insight to team when teams are successful that may perhaps be useful in season as I preview opponents in my game outlooks as I did last season.
After deep diving into different facets today, I wanted to offer a table that circles back total success ranks of teams on all downs, to see where each team excelled in totality 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):
No matter how successful plays were weighted, the Chiefs and Buccaneers held the highest two ranks across the board. The Packers matched the latter with highest win total of 13 together with third and fourth ranks respectively. The Cardinals and Patriots round out the highest five in OVRRK with the previous claiming the tiebreaker in wins. The Eagles rankings are interesting, clearly dropping within the AFD and AED results. The Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams had top 10 ranks across the board with their best end in AED (probably the most demanding view on the table above). The Chargers, Cowboys, and Bills matched the Rams rating accomplishment, and friendly reminder the previous missed the playoffs. The 49ers and Raiders round out the highest 12, the cutoff point for predictive measures considering every thing we’ve learned from the 2021 season.
Considering all of the above, I feel great about using the success rates with AED moving forward. It’ll be interesting to trace, and particularly eager about layering it with other predictive measures since one stat never tells the entire story (but I’m working on it, lol). The perfect singular stat to predicting Super Bowl winners in my view is a private and Steelers Depot favorite: Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt that I really like to trace. I plan to also dive into splitting passing and rushing success rates to see if there are any invaluable takeaways, and in addition tackling 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 will 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!