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Charting the Tide, Week 9 | Garbage Workers Anonoymous in Review

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Good things happened when Mr. Sims took off with the ball (and yes, he IS levitating that dirt clod with the power of his mind.)

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Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 Charting Project is the brainchild of Bill Connelly; check out his college football analytics blog, Football Study Hall.

But first, let’s talk about Cameron Robinson.

In case you were under a rock1 in the third quarter, you are probably aware that Cam Robinson suffered a lower leg injury on Saturday. Originally reported as a high-ankle sprain, it’s come out that the big man had surgery on Sunday to repair a torn ligament. As a result, the best-case scenario is he’s back in time for Mississippi State, but I suspect the Tide will be without the stud freshman until Auburn or even the postseason.

1 | Or taking a nap because you thought the game was over. Or passed out drunk. Or otherwise incapacitated.

So how big a deal is this going to be? Probably a big deal:

Offensive Performance With and Without Cam Robinson
Metric Before Injury After Injury
Plays 33 32
Overall Yards Per Play 9.5 4.8
Overall Success Rate 54.5% 43.8%
Rushing Attempts 16 24
Yards per Carry 4.9 4.4
Rushing Success Rate 56.3% 41.7%

That ain’t good. Robinson went down early in the 3rd, so this is effectively a first half / second half split. The most disturbing change up there is the nearly 5 yard drop in yards per play. Keep in mind, however, that Alabama was in run-out-the-clock mode for most of the second half, as evidenced by the shift from an even pass/rush balance in the first to a 25%/75% split in the second2. The more useful numbers here are the rushing splits, which reveal a half-yard drop in yards per carry and about a 15% drop in rushing success rate.

2 | This could also have happened because Robinson is pretty critical in pass protection, whereas Leon Brown is more known for his road-grading.

This drop wasn’t just the absence of Robinson — Kiffin got a little cute with his playcalling on the drive Robinson went out, Tennessee was probably expecting the run given the game situation, and they were just playing better on defense than they did in the first half — but this is something to watch for against LSU. All that being said, I thought Leon Brown and Bradley Bozeman did pretty well given the circumstances, and hopefully the reps at their new positions over the next two weeks gets everything settled down in time for the Tigers.

The Goods

Confused?

  • Air Yards — The down-the-field or vertical yardage gained on a pass play as a result of the quarterback’s throw (i.e., prior to the receiver’s involvement), as measured from the line of scrimmage. So for forward passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage, the Air Yardage would be negative. This metric is also tracked on incomplete passes — underthrown balls are measured from where the ball lands, and overthrown balls from where the intended receiver is. Balls tipped at the line or thrown away are not measured. The companion statistic on completed passes is yards after catch — the sum of Air Yards and yards after catch on a completed pass equals the yardage gained on the play.
  • Blake Sims Map of Quarterbacking Excellence — Hand-crafted using the absolute finest graphical techniques of the late 90s, the Blake Sims Map of Quarterbacking Excellence breaks the field down into 9 blocks by Air Yards (Behind L.O.S, 0 - 10 Yards, Over 10 Yards) and area of the field relative to the hash the ball was placed on (Left, Middle, Right). Each block contains the frequency (number of passes to that block of the field over the number of passes at that distance from the line of scrimmage), completion percentage, and success rate. The block behind the line of scrimmage in the middle of the field contains the man himself, Blake Sims. The hashmarks are even relatively accurate!
  • Catch Rate — The number of balls caught over the number of targets for an individual, or how often a receiver makes the catch when targeted.
  • Disruptive Plays — A sum of sacks, blocked kicks/punts, passes defensed, interceptions, and forced fumbles. Think of these as things that got you multiple helmet stickers when you were playing peewee.
  • Distance Splits — The "distance" on these charts refers to the yardage required to gain a first down, not the yardage required for a successful play (see Success Rate).
  • Frequencies for Rushing and Passing Splits by Down — These numbers refer to the percentage of first down plays that were a rush, second down plays that were a pass, and so on, NOT the percentage of rushes that were on first down. For example, the sum of first down pass frequency and first down rush frequency will be 100%, but the sum of first, second, third, and fourth down rush frequencies will be well in excess of 100%.
  • Garbage Time — Defined as when a game is not within 28 points in the first quarter, 24 points in the second quarter, 21 points in the third quarter, or 16 points in the fourth.
  • Run Directions — See the figure below. Defensive letter gap terminology is on the top in blue, and offensive hole terminology is on the bottom in green. Rushes are coded as "Left Tackle" if they head through the left B and C gaps / the 3 and 5 holes, and so on.
  • RunDirection
  • Success Rate — A "successful" play is defined as gaining 70% of required yardage on first down, 50% of required yardage on second down, and all of the required yardage on third and fourth downs — required yardage is another term for the distance required for a first down on a given play. Success rate is simply how often a team is successful.
  • Target — The intended receiver on a pass play. All pass plays have intended receivers, with the exception of passes that were tipped at the line, thrown away, or otherwise thrown in such a manner as to render identification of an intended receiver impossible.

OFFENSE

Passing Splits
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
1st 12 44.4% 35.5% 41.7% 49.4%
2nd 7 36.8% 40.7% 57.1% 52.4%
3rd 5 35.7% 50.5% 60% 62%

Observations

Very interesting results here this week, particularly in light of the (presumed) injury situation with Blake Sims. 10 of his 24 attempts were of the 10 yard plus variety, which is a big, big departure from the split as of late3. Hopefully that’s a sign Sims is beginning to get past whatever happened in the UF game. The left/right distribution was more balanced this week as well, with 11 targets headed to the left and 12 to the right. The lone pass over the middle was a drive-saving 13 yarder to Amari Cooper on third and 7, during the second drive of the game.

3 | Compared to 7/30 against Ole Miss, 2/20 against Arkansas, and 4/21 against Texas A&M.

Last week’s trend of throwing early and often continued against Tennessee, with Kiffin dialing up first-down throws over 44% of the time, about 9% more often than normal, at the expense of some second and third down attempts. That may not have been the best choice, however, as the success rate on those throws was down over 8% from the season norm. Third down success was down just a tad, but this was offset by an almost 5% jump in second down passing success rate.

Rushing Splits
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
1st 15 55.6% 61.8% 26.7% 35.1%
2nd 12 63.2% 56.8% 58.3% 65.9%
3rd 9 64.3% 45.5% 88.9% 57.8%
Direction VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
Left End 5 16.1% 19.4% 20% 46.5%
Lt. Tackle 6 19.4% 12.2% 33.3% 29.6%
Middle 11 35.5% 37.8% 72.7% 51.2%
Rt. Tackle 6 19.4% 17.1% 33.3% 55.3%
Right End 3 9.7% 13.5% 66.7% 43.3%

Observations

Third downs, man. Not only did the Tide run on this down almost 20% more often than usual, but they picked up the first down almost every time. The frequency was likely due to trying to run the clock out in the second half, and the success rate was definitely buoyed by a couple of great scrambles by Blake Sims. This level of success on third was down pretty critical, as success rates were well off the season pace for both first and second down runs.

The direction splits were pretty balanced this week — if one attempt around the left end had headed around the right end instead4, the distribution would have been symmetrical. Tennessee was absolutely gashed up the middle, giving up successful runs 73% of time. This offset the putrid results when running over right tackle (likely due to Austin Shepherd being banged up) and around the left end5.

4 | Say, for instance, that absurd jet sweep out of the wildcat that lost 9 yards, Lane? Maybe don’t run that again, Lane.

5 | IT COULD HAVE BEEN A WHOLE 5% BETTER, LANE! RUN IT UP THE GUT, LANE! MAKE THEIR ASSES QUIT, LANE!

Down and Distance Splits
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
1st 27 45% 45.7% 33.3% 40.1%
2nd 9 31.7% 32.6% 57.9% 60%
3rd 14 23.3% 20.8% 78.6% 60.6%
4th 0 0% 0.84% N/A 50%
Distance VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
Under 3 Yards 8 13.3% 15% 62.5% 74.7%
4 to 6 Yards 7 11.7% 14.5% 85.7% 59.4%
7 to 10 Yards 42 70% 61.5% 45.2% 44.9%
Over 10 Yards 3 5% 9.1% 33.3% 39.5%

Observations

Akin to the previous chart, the almost 80% success rate on third downs is outstanding. This game was closer than it should have been6, and the main reason the Tide pulled it out is that number right there. Alabama’s been pretty lethal on third down all year, but Saturday’s performance is about as good as it gets against a good defense.

Tennessee bowed up a bit in short yardage, holding Alabama well below their 75% mark for the season. This was offset by the Tide’s puzzling efficiency in the shorter intermediate distances, where they ran successful plays 26% more often than usual.

6 | Go back and watch Tennessee’s first scoring drive. Absolutely putrid officiating basically handed them a score — more on that later.

Formation Splits
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Formation VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
Shotgun 30 51.7% 35% 66.7% 55.2%
Pistol 1 1.7% 11.3% 0% 54.7%
Under Center 27 46.6% 53.7% 40.7% 47.4%
Play Action 3 4.6% 7.7% 100% 48.9%
Backs VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
0 3 5% 3% 33.3% 50%
1 49 81.7% 65.4% 51% 51.3%
2 7 11.7% 30.2% 71.4% 50%
3 1 1.7% 1.5% 0% 42.9%
Receivers VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
0 2 3.3% 2.5% 50% 66.7%
1 1 1.7% 3.6% 100% 47.1%
2 19 31.7% 41.5% 36.8% 50.5%
3 17 28.3% 32% 52.9% 45.7%
4 21 35% 18.4% 61.9% 58.6%
5 0 0% 1.9% N/A 55.6%

Observations

Blake Sims in the ‘gun was pretty prevalent this week, as he lined up there 16% more often than usual, with a welcome 11% uptick in efficiency. This came at the expense of the pistol, which is now the waffle iron7 of the Alabama offense. Play action passes were particularly nasty this week, picking up 112 yards over three non-garbage attempts8.

7 | As in, that kitchen gadget that you enjoy immensely but only trot out once in a blue moon. Unless you’re Nevada, where waffles happen every weekend.

8 | Plus another 16 early in the fourth when the Tide was up 34-17.

Not much worth noting out of the backs section, aside from being particularly effective running out of the I this week. 4 wide receiver sets were rather prevalent this week, with about a 17% uptick in usage and the status quo in efficiency. No 5 wide this week.

Targets and Catch Rate
Player Targets Catch Rate
Amari Cooper 89 69.7%
DeAndrew White 32 68.8%
T.J. Yeldon 16 68.8%
Christion Jones 14 57.1%
O.J. Howard 13 46.2%

Observations

You might have heard of that Amari Cooper guy, he’s pretty good at this whole football thing. Yeldon continues to move up the chart, soaking up targets that might otherwise have gone to Kenyan Drake. O.J. Howard was not targeted this week, but still managed to drop everything that was thrown to him.

DEFENSE

Yeah, so, Tennessee did some really interesting stuff this week. For example, they really pushed the limits on having too many men in the backfield on several plays, usually due to the right side of their line getting way, way back from the ball. This was particularly egregious on the play immediately after Marlin Lane’s 44 yard run, where it appeared the right side of the line was a full yard and a half off the line of scrimmage, which is kind of illegal. Not necessarily competitive-advantage-illegal, but illegal nonetheless.

Speaking of that run, a blatant hold on Cyrus Jones9 allowed Lane to get past the secondary, even though it occurred right in front of the line judge, on the ‘Bama sideline. That was after a very questionable spot after a third-and-1 run deep in Tennessee territory that should have been measured at the very least. Real banner drive by this crew, and unfortunately indicative of their shoddy performance on the night.

9 | In conjunction with a really, really awful angle taken by Nick Perry

UPDATE: Glen (who is much better at this than I am, it should be noted) correctly pointed out it was Tony Brown who was held on the play noted above, not Cyrus Jones. Whoops.

Formation/Play Action Splits
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Formation VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
Shotgun 56 98.3% 78.5% 39.3% 35.6%
Pistol 1 1.8% 5% 0% 16.7%
Under Center 0 0% 16.6% N/A 28.3%
No Huddle 43 72.9% 58.2% 44.2% 35.2%
Huddled 16 27.1% 41.8% 18.8% 30.7%
Play Action 3 3.8% 7.4% 66.7% 48.7%

Observations

Tennessee’s offensive formation against the Tide: hurry-up, no-huddle, shotgun, 1 back, 3 wides, and 1 tight end set a yard and a half back of the tackle. The 11 personnel look was present on 43 of Tennessee’s 79 snaps, with most of the rest having that tight end split out wide. Mix it up a bit, Butch, sheesh. Get your Neyland on and run some single wing — they might actually like that up there. Apparently the pistol is also Butch’s waffle iron, showing up on just one play, and Not Working.

Speaking of the no-huddle, Tennessee was pretty decent at that on Saturday, posting a higher success rate than Ole Miss and Texas A&M did. They also had some decent success running play action. usually out of the zone read with Josh Dobbs.

Passing Splits
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
1st 12 48% 42.9% 41.7% 43.9%
2nd 7 36.8% 53.3% 28.6% 40%
3rd 7 50% 69.8% 71.4% 36.7%
Air Yards VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
Under 5 9 34.6% 40.7% 66.7% 37.8%
5 - 10 6 23.1% 19.8% 33.3% 47.2%
11 - 15 5 19.2% 12.1% 60% 68.2%
Over 15 6 23.1% 27.5% 33.3% 34%

Observations

Dobbs had way, way, way too much success on third down, posting a success rate over twice as high as the Tide’s season average (when you remove the one attempt Nathan Peterman had in the first). Dobbs’ ability to extend drives with his legs, both on designed runs and completions off scrambles, was the main reason Tennessee hung around as long as they did.

Short passes were the Tide’s bugaboo this week, with Tennessee finding success 29% more often than usual for this defense. This was balanced by attempts between 5 and 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, which Tennessee went to more frequently than the Tide typically sees, but with reduced success.

Rushing Splits
Attempts Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
1st 13 52% 56.5% 7.7% 11.5%
2nd 12 63.2% 46.7% 50% 45.6%
3rd 7 50% 29.1% 42.9% 36%
Direction VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
Left End 3 21.4% 13% 33.3% 35.7%
Lt. Tackle 0 0% 13% N/A 14.3%
Middle 9 64.3% 45.4% 44.4% 26.5%
Rt. Tackle 0 0% 17.6% N/A 21.1%
Right End 2 14.3% 11.1% 0% 33.3%

Observations

Too much good for Tennessee here. The most stunning result of the game to me was their ability to run on the Tide defense, which came into the game pacing the country in defensive rushing S&P+. The main culprit was Josh Dobbs, who really took it to the middle of Alabama’s defense on draws and scrambles. I suspect part of the reason Tennessee’s rushing offense was not well-regarded coming in is that Justin Worley cannot run like Dobbs can, and as we’ve seen with Blake Sims, a highly mobile quarterback can make all the difference. Most of Tennessee’s successful third down runs involved Dobbs, which was very, very frustrating to watch.

Down and Distance Splits
Plays Frequency Success Rate
Down VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
1st 25 42.4% 42.1% 24% 25.3%
2nd 19 32.2% 33.3% 42.1% 42.6%
3rd 14 23.7% 23.5% 57.1% 36.1%
4th 1 1.7% 1.1% 0% 0%
Distance VS.
TENNESSEE
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
VS.
TENNESSEE
2014
Season
Under 3 Yards 7 11.9% 8.7% 57.1% 53.1%
4 to 6 Yards 6 10.2% 11.8% 83.3% 51.2%
7 to 10 Yards 41 69.5% 67.2% 31.7% 29.7%
Over 10 Yards 5 8.5% 12.3% 0% 22.2%

Observations

That third down success rate is pretty glaring. This is beating-a-dead-horse territory, but that’s way too high for this offense, Dobbs or otherwise. It seemed to me like the defense relaxed after the first quarter, and that simply cannot happen again this season. If that occurs against any of the remaining SEC foes the Tide will pay dearly.

4-6 yards to go seems to be a problem for the Tide this season. I suspect that’s because it’s a situation that lends itself to any play call on any down, which would make defending in those situations more difficult. At any rate, Tennessee really had Alabama’s number in those distances, hitting a success rate over 30% higher than the Tide’s season mark.

Disruptive Plays
Player Passes Defensed Interceptions Sacks Forced Fumbles Blocked Kicks Total
Cyrus Jones 5.5 1 2 8.5
Xzavier Dickson 1 6.5 7.5
Reggie Ragland 2 1 2.5 1 6.5
Landon Collins 4 2 6
Jarran Reed 5 1 6

Observations

Xzavier Dickson didn’t really get 3 sacks this week — I discovered he had two previous sacks that I credited elsewhere, but that is now fixed. Reggie Ragland continues to be an absolute terror, generating his first forced fumble of the year on a beautiful form tackle to Josh Dobbs in the second quarter, setting up a short field for the offense. He’s now the only Tide defender with at least one interception, sack, forced fumble, and pass breakup. Not listed is Dalvin Tomlinson, who collected his first sack of the year.

As usual, if I missed anything important, feel free to publicly shame me in the comments!

ROLL TIDE