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Charting the Tide, Bye Week | Defensive Review

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This group? They've been pretty good this year.

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.

Weird stuff happens on Halloween, man. 63 years ago today, a tiny baby was born in northern West Virginia, starting his journey toward becoming college football’s little dictator and our Dark Lord1. In an event of equal magnitude and importance, RBR is celebrating the occasion, in part, by running a new version of Charting the Tide. On a Friday. Spooky, I know.

1 | Happy Birthday Coach!

The main difference between today’s version and that you’ve come to know and love is that you will only see defensive statistics below. The offensive statistics, including the NEW AND IMPROVED Blake Sims Map of Quarterbacking Excellence, will be available at its normal time next week. I am not sure if we will continue with this format beyond this week, however — perhaps YOU, valued reader, will have an opportunity to decide what happens with this column moving forward2.

2 | Can you tell it’s late and I’m extra-punchy yet?

After the initial Charting the Tide ran during the last bye week, I’d intended to do a season-in-review article after the regular season concluded, with a potential follow-on piece after the Tide’s three postseason games3. However, after that initial column ran, I got an email from John H. of California, who had this simply wonderful suggestion:

3 | gump gump gump gump roll tide

I'd love to see the rest of the season, the heart of the schedule if you will, split out against the first 4 weeks. Not only could we see our improvement / growth for the rest of the year, but it'd benchmark the SEC competition specifically vs. the others ( I'm throwing Florida in with "the others " here. I don't view them as having been true SEC caliber in that game).

The not-so-subtle jab at Florida pretty much sealed the deal for me. Now, this split probably isn’t going to blow anybody’s mind — FAU and USM are not Ole Miss and Arkansas, after all. But, sheesh, why didn’t I think of that? So thank you for the suggestion John — I didn’t forget about ya.

In order to do this, I’ve split the 2014 Season into Season A (covering West Virginia, FAU, Southern Miss, and Florida) and Season B (covering Ole Miss, Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Tennessee), and you’ll also see the numbers from 20134 for comparison. Season A covers 151 non-garbage snaps, Season B covers 217, and the 2013 Season has 273. I removed the play column from the charts — there was no clean way to do this for each partial season. If there’s some small sample stuff going on anywhere I’ll let you know in the observations. Onward!

4 | These will look different from last time because I included the garbage time adjustment this time around.

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.

Formation/Play Action Splits
Frequency Success Rate
Formation 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
Shotgun 49.3% 92% 68.9% 42.5% 33.3% 37.7%
Pistol 45.6% 7.3% 3.3% 42.8% 18.2% 14.3%
Under Center 5.2% 0.67% 27.8% 21.4% 100% 27.1%
No Huddle 58.1% 74.7% 46.8% 43% 29.5% 41.6%
Huddled 41.9% 25.3% 53.2% 39.5% 42.1% 27%
Play Action 11.4% 4.9% 9.4% 41.2% 45.5% 50%

Observations

This, to me, is the clearest indication of the whole "Alabama can’t defend the HUNH" fallacy. The 2013 sample included teams like JFF’s Texas A&M and The Barn, and 2014 Season B contains Ole Miss and a Tennessee team with a QB for which the Tide was not prepared. Season A includes an increasingly-solid West Virginia, but also Southern Miss and FAU, who are Not Very Good. Shockingly, the Tide were much better against the no-huddle in Season A than in Season B or in 2013. Alabama has a problem with good teams who run the no-huddle (just like everybody else), not just against no-huddle teams. While The Barn lurks at the end of the season, the Tide seems to be at about the same level as the 2013 team against decent no-huddle teams.

I wouldn’t take too much away from the Under Center stats, as that consists of one whole play from the first part of this season. There were only 14 plays of that type from the 2013 season as well — the 27% success rate during the latter part of this year is probably more indicative of true quality, and is also a pretty good mark. Same caveats go for the Pistol numbers in 2014 — very little data.

Overall, the defense hasn’t played as well against the quality opponents on the SEC schedule compared to the out-of-conference competition, which is to be expected. However, the overall success rates for both Huddled and No-Huddle plays are lower in 2014 than they were in 2013, which bodes well.

Passing Splits
Frequency Success Rate
Down 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
1st 39.2% 51.6% 36.7% 38.3% 45.5% 42.4%
2nd 48.4% 54% 52.8% 47.7% 37% 42.1%
3rd 65.5% 74.3% 66.7% 34.2% 23.1% 47.1%
Air Yards 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
Under 5 41.67% 48.2% 34% 32% 26.8% 51.5%
5 - 10 25.8% 17.7% 21.7% 41.9% 53.3% 42.9%
11 - 15 10.8% 7.1% 16.5% 61.5% 50% 75%
Over 15 21.7% 27.1% 27.8% 57.7% 39.1% 29.6%

Observations

Not much to take away from the down section of the chart. The frequencies in the latter part of 2014 are more in line with 2013, versus earlier in the year when West Virginia and Southern Miss were chucking it all over the field. The success rates on third down have gone up compared to 2013 and as the season has gone on, which is not too surprising. The Tide had significant issues shutting down Ole Miss and especially Tennessee on third downs, and that’s reflected here. When accounting for the first part of the season, however, passing success rates by down are in line or perhaps slightly improved over 2013.

The yardage splits are much more interesting. Teams have shifted away from the short routes that were more prevalent in 2013 in favor of throwing it down the field, as there’s been a sustained increased in routes over 10 yards. You’ll note passes up to 15 yards down the field have really been a problem in SEC play vs. 2013, but strangely anything over that hasn’t been particularly successful. The former screams "We Miss C.J.!" to me, as his replacements in the middle don’t have anywhere near the same pass coverage ability as Mosley.

The lack of opponent success on the longer throws likely has to do not only with an improved pass rush, but also improved cornerback play. The 10% drop from Season A to Season B on these routes is probably due to Bradley Sylve riding the bench, as 6 of the 10 successful completions at this distance in Season A came against West Virginia. Hard to say what’s going on with the 11 to 15 yard routes in the latter half of the year. Those were an issue in 2013 as well, but a 75% success rate is really, really bad.

Rushing Splits
Frequency Success Rate
Down 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
1st 60.8% 46.9% 63.3% 34.3% 16.7% 8.8%
2nd 51.7% 46% 47.2% 51.1% 47.8% 44.1%
3rd 34.5% 25.7% 31.4% 55% 22.2% 43.8%
Direction 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
Left End 10.2% 7% 16.9% 18.2% 66.7% 27.3%
Lt. Tackle 17.6% 9.3% 15.4% 36.8% 0% 20%
Middle 46.3% 53.49% 40% 42% 26.1% 26.9%
Rt. Tackle 10.2% 18.6% 16.9% 36.4% 25% 18.2%
Right End 15.7% 11.6% 10.8% 41.2% 40% 28.6%

Observations

Teams continue to attempt to run on the Tide this year, but despite Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs-driven success in doing so, that’s not a good idea. 8.8% success on first down runs, is, uh, not very good. Outside of a slightly high third down run success rate (largely due to the Tennessee game), the run defense has actually gotten better as the season has gone on, and is clearly improved over last year. There are still holes to exploit against this pass defense, but you are not going to run the ball on the Tide.

There are all sorts of small samples going on in the directional splits, so I’m not going to spend much time here. The Middle numbers are worth looking at, however. Opponents have started to move away from up-the-middle runs in the second half of this year, probably because they do not work very well. The Barn looms here again, but a 15% drop in success rate on these runs versus 2013 is worth noting, and further underscores how stout this defense has been on the ground this year.

Down and Distance Splits
Frequency Success Rate
Down 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
1st 44.1% 42.7% 41.7% 35.8% 31.3% 21.1%
2nd 33.5% 33.3% 33.3% 49.5% 42% 43.1%
3rd 21.3% 23.3% 23.6% 41.4% 22.9% 45.1%
4th 1.1% 0.7% 1.4% 33% 0% 0%
Distance 2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
2013
Season
2014
Season A
2014
Season B
Under 3 Yards 13.6% 8.7% 8.8% 73% 46.1% 57.9%
4 to 6 Yards 11.8% 13.3% 10.7% 46.9% 40% 60.9%
7 to 10 Yards 62.1% 66% 68.1% 37.9% 31.3% 28.6%
Over 10 Yards 12.5% 12% 12.5% 20.6% 22.2% 22.2%

Observations

As is typical for this chart, it kind of ties everything else together. Success rates are much, much lower in 2014 than they were in 2013, which is a pretty good indication of overall defensive improvement (despite the loss of so many talented players to the NFL). Tide opponents have found themselves in third down a little more often than in 2013, but not to a significant degree. The one notable result from later in the year is the third down success rate, which is much higher than it was in the first part of the year and is slightly increased from 2013. The Tide hasn’t allowed a fourth down conversion so far this year.

Aside from some continued issues in short intermediate yardage, it’s more of the same in the distance splits. The improvement on short yardage over 2013 is welcome, as a defensive success rate in the 70s is just unacceptable, every time. The defense hasn’t allowed as many short yardage attempts either, with a sustained 5% drop in frequency over 2013, instead forcing more longer intermediate attempts on second and third downs.

I don’t have any charting-driven data for disruptive plays for 2013, or really a breakdown over this year between Season A and Season B. I could pull stuff from the official NCAA play-by-play data of course, but that is not always reliable with properly crediting pass breakups, fumbles, and sacks. I can’t speak to defensed passes, but the Tide’s gotten to the quarterback more this year than in 2013, which is a welcome improvement.

Conclusions

Overall, the defense is better this year than last year, and has made significant strides against the run in particular. Alabama has played enough quality offenses that this is not just an effect of the Floridas and Texas A&Ms of the world. That being said, the best offenses on the schedule loom down the stretch, and it will be interesting to see what these numbers look like after the season.

One other takeaway from this split — the better the offense is, the more likely it is to pick up third downs. That was the most notable result from 2014 Season B versus 2014 Season A — the SEC schools converted a lot more third downs than the out-of-conference opponents, keeping the Tide defense on the field longer, and ultimately achieving more offensive success. Not a real surprising result, but worth noting nonetheless. As always, if I missed something let me know in the comments!

ROLL TIDE