One of the reasons for Alabama's success under Coach Saban has to do with his philosophy toward the game. First of all, he has one. There is a logic to his approach that runs through every level of the program. We have come to call this "The Process" but it's worth remembering that it actually entails a consistent philosophy based on a few solid axioms.
Last off-season we took a gander at this strategy and how it applies on the field in a three part series The Process by The Numbers. The upshot of having such a well thought out approach is that, after a reasonable period of time, it should be measurable statistically. The success or lack therof to hit the targets set by Coach Saban should correlate to success on the field.
Remember, the keystone of The Process is the idea that you focus on the specific task ahead of you and leave the final result to take care of itself. And the goal of the Alabama By the Numbers series has been to try and look at those results over a span of time. Now the exercise isn't meant to be predictive, per se, but it should suggest the continuation of certain trends.
With that in mind, here's the synopsis of what we have learned over the past few months:
Sizing Up the Defensive Front Seven
What we were looking at: The cumulative weight totals of the defensive line and linebackers.
Why it matters: Controlling the point of attack and the need for multi-use linebackers in Coach Saban's 3-4 scheme requires big bodies.
What we found: As the weight of the defensive front seven has increased so has Alabama's defensive success.
What it suggests for 2011: We should field one of the top five defenses in the nation.
What we were looking at: The total number of players lost to the NFL draft and the number of returning starters the following year.
Why it matters: With a defensive scheme as complex as Coach Saban's, players tend to need several seasons to master it. Offenses typically perform better with players that have worked together multiple years.
What we found: The loss of NFL-level talent takes its toll but that effect is muted when there are sufficient returning starters to offset the loss.
What it suggests for 2011: The offense will need some time to gel but the defense should be close to its best under Saban.
What we were looking at: The success and balance between the running and passing attack.
Why it matters: Controlling the tempo of the game is critical when the strength of the team's strategy is the defense.
What we found: Years when Alabama gained more yards on the ground than in the air are more successful.
What it suggests for 2011: The strong running corps bodes well for the offense.
Tackles for Loss & Sacks
What we were looking at: The success of the defense to put pressure on the pocket.
Why it matters: While Coach Saban's 3-4 is focused more on stopping the run than attacking the quarterback, putting pressure on the passer and limiting the ground game are crucial to the defense's success.
What we found: Alabama took a step back in 2010 and the final record reflects it.
What it suggests for 2011: The ability of the defensive (and offensive) lines to coalesce early will be a key to the team's success.
What we were looking at: How the performance of Alabama's special teams play has affected the overall success of the squad.
Why it matters: The performance of the kicking units has a huge affect on the length of drives and, subsequently, affects the ability of the offense to reach the end zone and the defense to keep the opposition out of it.
What we found: Alabama's special teams has ranged from good to mediocre, putting increased pressure on the offense and defense at critical times.
What it suggests for 2011: The Crimson Tide special teams remains one of the biggest unknowns going into the season.
Red Zone Efficiency
What we were looking at: The success of scoring when within the opponent's 20-yard-line and the defenses ability to limit the same.
Why it matters: With a defensive strategic approach, you only get a limited number of opportunities to score each game and you have to make sure they count. Conversely, keeping opponents from cashing in on RZ opportunities takes pressure off the offense.
What we found: Alabama now regularly leads the SEC in defensive red zone efficiency but the offense lags in the back of the pack for the category.
What it suggests for 2011: The ability of the offense to capitalize on red zone opportunities will likely determine its success in 2010.
Third Down Conversions
What we were looking at: The ability of the offense to convert on third downs and keep drives alive as well as the defense's skill at preventing the same.
Why it matters: Extending drives gives greater opportunity of scoring while providing control over the tempo of the game. Forcing opponent conversions stymies their ability to collect points and gives the offense more opportunities to do so.
What we found: The success of the defense to limit conversions seems to have a greater affect to the success of the team than the offense's skill at extending drives.
What it suggests for 2011: The pressure on the offense to produce will be eased by defensive success on third downs.
What we were looking at: The amount of penalties incurred by Alabama.
Why it matters: Penalties are preventable errors which matters quite a bit in a conference and division that boasts such a high level of competition.
What we found: Alabama has been very good at limiting penalties under Coach Saban.
What it suggests for 2011: The discipline penalty-free play requires suggests a sound grasp of other fundamentals.
What we were looking at: If Alabama's sky high turnover margin is sustainable.
Why it matters: Limiting turnovers is the best way to keep them from hurting you.
What we found: Alabama's offense has been very successful in keeping fumbles and interceptions to a minimum while the secondary is one of the best in the country at picking off opponents passes.
What it suggests for 2011: Alabama's godawful fumble recovery rate last season is statistically unlikely to recurr. Expect the Crimson Tide to have a lot better fumble luck in 2011.