Smarter Stats: Five things to know about the 2010 Redskins
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Now that the new-look Redskins are ready to take the field for their first preseason game, it's time to re-introduce the Smarter Stats column, and the idea of advanced metrics as they apply to pro football. It's my honor to be back for Year Three of Smarter Stats, and we'll be talking a lot about the numbers generated over at Football Outsiders, where I frequently write. I thought it might be interesting to start by giving you an idea of five things to watch for as the Redskins go through the season. Many of these numbers come from the Football Outsiders Almanac 2010, which is now on sale at our site and on Amazon.com. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me here.
And now, on with the show...
1. Donovan McNabb will get pressured a lot, but it's okay.
In 2009, Redskins quarterbacks were under fire to a ridiculous degree. Of course, that was obvious just watching the team - how many times did you see Jason Campbell completely overwhelmed by defenders after a two-step drop? - but the numbers back it up. According to Football Outsiders' adjusted hurries metrics (hurried throws tabulated by our game charters, adjusted to average per charter), the Redskins gave up pressure in the form of just hurries (not sacks or hits) 22.9 percent of the time. That's 140 hurries in 610 pass attempts or scrambles, an unbelievable total. Add in sacks and hits allowed (a total we'll be discussing further in a Smarter Stats column down the road), and the numbers are not pretty at all
When under pressure from hurries alone, Campbell actually acquitted himself pretty well; he ranked ninth (tied with Cincinnati's Carson Palmer) in DVOA (our per-play efficiency metric) with a total of 10.7% efficiency above the league average. That came on 133 hurries, and only Chicago's Jay Cutler was pressured more. Donovan McNabb, Campbell's replacement, was even better under pressure last season. On 86 hurries in 2009. McNabb put up a 41.0% DVOA; only Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers was better. Of course, there are other concerns with all that pressure. With two new tackles, McNabb may see less overall pressure than Campbell did last year, but he's not noticeably quicker with releasing the ball, and one has to wonder how his 33-year old body (34 in late November) will hold up if Trent Williams and Jammal Brown don't get with the program quickly.
2. Brian Orakpo could be a monster in a 3-4 defense - and so could Andre Carter.
As a pure edge rusher in his rookie year, Brian Orakpo was fairly dominant. Not only did he amass 11 sacks, but he also had five quarterback hits and 21 hurries. 7.5 of those sacks came after the bye, as the team started to realize Orakpo's increased value as a pure pass-rusher as opposed to a linebacker dropping into coverage. It isn't that Orakpo doesn't have the ability to cover; it's just that he had to adjust to a concept he wasn't involved in when he played for the Texas Longhorns.
At Football Outsiders, we believe that seasons with disproportionately high hurry totals will expand into higher sack seasons going forward. In a game where missing it by that much is a more common occurrence in today's more quick-release passing offenses, hurries mean a lot. On average, offenses produced at a -16.2% DVOA rate when their quarterbacks were hurried, as opposed to the league average. As a pure edge rusher for a full season, Orakpo could do a lot of damage even when he doesn't get to the quarterback. Andre Carter, who has played in a 3-4 before in San Francisco, also had 21 hurries last season. There's a lot of drama surrounding the guy the Redskins want to man the middle of that three-man front, but the pass rush could greatly benefit.
3. If you want to make tracks against Washington's defense, go single-back.
In 2009, the Redskins had the best defense in the league against runs with two backs in the backfield (-32.5% DVOA, 3.2 yards) but the worst defense against runs from single-back formations (14.1% DVOA, 5.7 yards). This would seem to indicate that the team's 4-3 defense couldn't handle multi-receiver fronts, a thought confirmed by FO metrics. Washington ranked third in our numbers against one or two wideouts, eighth against two wideouts, 19th against three wideouts, and 26th against four or five wideouts. We'll have to see how (or if) the new defense contends with this issue.
4. Expect more two-TE fronts in the Shanahan offense.
Under the 2009 offense called by Jim Zorn/Sherm Smith/anyone else with a headset, the Redskins went with two tight ends 28 percent of the time, which ranked 20th in the league. Washington went max protect, which is where two or more tight ends stay into block instead of running routes, just five percent of the time, which ranked 30th in the league. That's pretty inexcusable with the Redskins' pass protection issues last season, but that's one reason there's a new coaching staff in D.C. And under that new staff, you'll see many more two-TE fronts, both coverage and passing options. In 2008, the last year Mike Shanahan coached in Denver, the Broncos put two tight ends in just 25 percent of the time (18th in the NFL), but had the fifth-highest percentage of max protect (11 percent), In 2008, Shanahan's Broncos went 2-TE 32 percent of the time, and 36 percent in 2007. With Washington's pass pro issues and receivers in transition, expect a return to those old-school numbers.
5. The new backfield-by-committee won't be hugely productive, but it might not matter.
Here's an ugly stat - not one of the Redskins' current herd of running backs had a positive DVOA in 2009. Clinton Portis? -16.6%. Larry Johnson? -19.9%. Willie Parker? -16.9%, and both Johnson and Parker were running behind lines in 2009 that had higher rankings in FO's Adjusted Line Yards metrics than did the Redskins, if you focus on Johnson's time in Cincinnati as opposed to Kansas City. This is a worrisome idea, but looking at Shanahan's 2008 Denver team leaves room for hope. This was a team that ranked first overall in Rushing DVOA, despite the fact that Peyton Hillis led the team in rushing ... with 343 yards. Shanahan already knows how best to use Portis (not only in the run game, but as a pass receiver split out from motion), and his ability throughout his career to take seemingly unimpressive parts and form them into a surprisingly effective unit should give Redskins fans a bit of optimism.
August 13, 2010; 12:27 PM ET
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