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Measuring Up The Chiefs

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Last week, I described a must-read article by Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, called “The No-Stats All-Star.” Like in Moneyball, Lewis looks at measuring the right things in sports, not just what’s easy to measure. As evidence, Lewis talks about Shane Battier. Battier, as you may know, was voted Mr. Basketball in high school basketball-crazy Michigan; led Duke to the NCAA championships and was voted most valuable player; was a top-ten draft pick into the NBA; and then promptly drifted from team to team. The Houston Rockets hired Darryl Morey to be their new GM and in 2005, Morey went after Battier, even though Morey said of him, “He can’t dribble, he’s slow and hasn’t got much body control.”

Lewis and Morey believe that for most of basketball’s history, teams have measured what is most easy to measure– points, rebounds, assists– but not the metrics that actually correlate with winning basketball games. Battier, though, does all the things that, before digital video, were difficult to count: making the pass to the guy who makes the assist or leaving your man to defend a free offensive player. Morey’s innovation? A simple new metric he calls “plus-minus”: when a player is on the court, does his team score more than his opponents do? By this metric, Battier was one of the most valuable players in the league when Morey acquired him.

Do the Chiefs think like Lewis and Morey do? I’m not sure, but I do know that Arrowhead Addict’s Double D does. He breaks down the DVOA analysis regularly, including last week’s post-mortem. DD’s columns illustrate the need to find the right metrics that correlate with our ultimate goal: winning football games. This is not about fantasy football stats or marquee players. For the Chiefs, it’s about competing in a $10 billion, obsessively competitive industry. How we measure and judge players has a direct impact on multimillion dollar draft picks and trades and critical personal and play-calling decisions.

Today’s popular football metrics have evolved little since I was a kid. As fans, we still look at QB completion average, touchdowns and rushing and passing yards. We also follow total yards, both on offense and defense. Some metrics have evolved, like the unsatisfactory QB rating, and some of the old school metrics would likely survive Lewis’ and Morey’s new thinking, such as turnovers. But are there other metrics we ought to be looking at? We don’t have all the resources at the Chiefs’ disposal, so I’ll suggest some amateur criteria for new football metrics:

  • They must be simple.
  • They must be common-sensical.
  • And most importantly, they must, in your opinion, come as close as possible to correlating to winning football games.

To start off the conversation, I’ll cite one that already exists: Drive Success Ratio (DSR), borrowed from DD’s last post. Footballoutsiders.com describes DSR as “the percentage of down series that result in a first down or touchdown.” This metric is so simple, even elegant. When on offense, teams want to score, period. So if you have a high DSR, that means you are matriculating down the field or scoring, more than your opponent.

Here’s a few new metrics to ponder, from my fan’s brain:

Third and Forever: When it’s an obvious passing down – let’s say third and six or longer – what percentage of first downs does the offense make? I think this metric could assess the potency of a passing attack better than yards per completion or QB rating. It’s like the Kurt Warner teams of old: you knew the Rams/Cardinals were going to pass, but you just couldn’t stop ‘em. And Third and Forever treats the O-line, receivers, quarterbacks and running backs who can actually block, as one unit. I like that.

Third and Tough: Similarly, when it’s an obvious rushing down – let’s say third and one or less – what percentage of first downs does the offense make? Remember the Okoye/Word days? I bet the Chiefs led the league in Third and Tough. This metric equally rewards tough backs and down and dirty O-lines.

Two Seconds: This one is an individual metric, which I shy away from (as a tangent, I have never played fantasy football because it violates my sense of how football actually works, and I could never, ever root for a Raider or Bronco). Two Seconds is a count of how many times a defensive player bypasses his offensive blocker in two seconds or less to make a tackle or sack. In those beautiful moments when you see Derrick Johnson slice through the line for a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, or Tamba speed by an offensive tackle like that tackle was a Jess and Jim’s post-porterhouse diner, several things happen. First, the Chiefs get a tackle-for-loss. Second, momentum is apt to turn. Third, Johnson and Tamba now own that offensive lineman for the rest of the game. And fourth, good things tend to happen on 2nd and 12 or 3rd and 15.

Next Read: Next Read is measure of pass defense: how many times per game does an opposing quarterback have to go to his next read because the first, second or third reads were covered? Next Read would be counted every time a read is skipped; a defense could garner 2 or 3 “Next Read” points in one play. When Next Read is triggered, you know what happens – Tamba and Houston get a little deeper into the backfield, about to get a sack or strip, Derrick is sinking into interception territory, Eric Berry is just waiting, waiting, and the Brandons (hope we still have the Brandons, btw) are demoralizing their opposing receivers even more. Next Read rocks.

Addicts, what metrics would you invent to help the Chiefs draft, select plays, measure success and win more games?

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