clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Charting the Tide, Defense and Special Teams | The Iron Bowl

New, comments

We found out what the Tide's secret weapon is heading into the postseason, and it's... the kicker!?

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Connelly invented all of this; check out his college football analytics blog, Football Study Hall.

But first, your opportunity to contribute to Charting the Tide

So, if you read this series regularly (or any of my other pieces at RBR, for that matter), you may have noticed that I am somewhat enamored with the concept of the data table. This series, in fact, revolves around data tables, thoughtfully interspersed with verbiage so as to prevent you, the RBR commentariat, from going cross-eyed trying to read it. Cross-eyed folks don’t tend to click links to articles on the Internet, and that makes us sad.

The problem with data tables is that they are very dense, and while that is ideal for conveying large quantities of information in a compact form factor, they aren’t necessarily the most visually friendly method of communicating data available. And while I suspect many of you are very comfortable with seeing lots and lots of numbers shoved together and quickly making comparisons and pulling out trends, that doesn’t necessarily apply to all of you.

In that vein, I was approached a few weeks ago by user balloons with an offer to collaborate on punching up the presentation in Charting the Tide a bit; as a member of the faithful, I knew immediately that balloons was trustworthy and given to making good life choices, so I took him up on the offer. Today, I’d like to give you a little sneak peek of the direction we’re heading in and seeing what you think about it. To clarify, the following two charts represent the quarter-by-quarter offensive splits from the most recent Third Saturday in October.

Bar Charts

Couple of things to point out here. First of all, the seasonal average data has been replaced with dotted lines, which in conjunction with the bars permit quick comprehension of the relative performance of the Tide in-game. You have the numerical value there at the bottom of each bar, and in lieu of straight play counts we’re going to play around with shading the bars to show how much data supports each value. Instead of having everything smushed together, your run/pass breaks and success rate / iPPP breaks are nicely contained within their own subcharts.

Enhanced Tables

This is another approach which preserves the table concept but enhances them for readability. The enhancements are threefold, two of which are presented here. For one, these tables employ heatmapping to better convey the relative performance in each cell, with a different color palette for success rate and iPPP — just like the bar charts — to avoid any confusion. Another enhancement is overall cleanliness of the tables, primarily (here, at least) via unpacking one large table into three smaller ones but also through the elimination of extraneous elements like borders and shaded leaders and headers. Improved responsiveness on mobile devices is also a goal here, although that is coming later. Yes, I’m aware the play counts on this are a little screwy — it’s a work in progress!

We’re kicking around a couple of other ideas including some nifty play-by-play and playcount visualizations, and the above charts are definitely not finished products, but for now what do we think of this? Is this something you want, or would you prefer the current table design? This is going to be a pretty massive undertaking, mostly on balloons' part, and I want to make sure it’s something you desire before we head down that road. There’s a poll at the bottom of this piece with a couple of options, and I humbly request that you cast a vote, whether you typically comment on this piece or not. Your opinion is valued!

Oh, what’s that? You miss the weekly GIF of defensive and/or special teams excellence, and would like an endless loop of Jeremy Johnson getting sacked by the Tide? How fortuitous that I have such a montage available!

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.
  • 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, stuffs (tackles for loss on a ballcarrier, as opposed to a QB on a pass play), blocked kicks/punts, passes defensed/broken up, interceptions, and forced fumbles. Think of these as things that got you multiple helmet stickers when you were playing peewee.
  • Distance Splits — Aside from the quarterback performance chart (which is in terms of Air Yards), all distances refer to the yardage to go for that particular down, not how much yardage would be required for a successful play (see Success Rate).
  • Percent of Total 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.
  • Pass Direction — One the quarterback performance chart, the pass directions (left, middle, right) refer to the third of the field the ball was thrown to, as defined by the hash marks, relative to the direction the offense is moving (i.e., from the quarterback's perspective). 'Left' throws are to the leftmost third, 'middle' throws are to the area between the hashes, and so on.
  • 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 50% of required yardage on first down, 70% 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.
  • YAC — Passing Yards After Catch, the amount of yardage gained by the receiver after catching a pass. YAC + Air Yards = Passing Yards.
  • iPPPIsolated Points Per Play, the amount of Net Equivalent Points gained per successful play. This is the best explosiveness metric the advanced stats community currently has; read more about it here.
  • Line Yards — The number of rushing yards on every run attributable to the offensive line’s efforts. Read more about it here.
  • Highlight Yards — The number of rushing yards on every run attributable to the running back’s efforts. Line Yards + Highlight Yards = Rushing Yards. Read more about it here.
  • Opportunity Rate — The percentage of carries where the back has an opportunity to accrue Highlight Yards; read more about it here.
  • Running Back Rating (RBR) — An overall quality metric for running backs, this is the product of Opportunity Rate and Highlight Yards per Opportunity.

Individual Performance

Disruptive Plays
Player VS.
API
2015
Season
Total PBUs STFs INTs Sacks FFs BKs Total
Allen, Jonathan --- 2 2 --- 9 2 --- 15
Humphrey, Marlon --- 8 2 2 --- 2 --- 14
Fitzpatrick, Minkah 1 8 1 2 2 --- 1 14
Foster, Reuben 3 9 2 --- 2 1 --- 14
Jones, Cyrus 1 6 4 1 --- 1 --- 12

Observations

This was not the Tide’s most disruptive effort of the year, as API’s reliance on the ground game and generally strong line play prevented the defense from racking up their usual allotment of defensed passes and stuffs. They weren’t completely shut out, however, tallying 11 disruptive plays on the afternoon. Junior lineback/heatseeking missle Reuben Foster lead the way with three, collecting a sack and a forced fumble along with another pass breakup, his team-leading ninth of the season. The other two sacks were credited to pass rusher extraordinaire Tim Williams, his eighth and ninth[1] on the year, which ties him with Jonathan Allen for the team lead. Minkah Fitpatrick, Cyrus Jones, and Maurice Smith added a pass breakup apiece, Eddie Louis Jackson and Ryan Anderson collected a stuff, and Geno Matias-Smith forced his second fumble of the season.

1 | I often credit stuff differently from the NCAA, which is why it’s 9 and not 6.5 like they say it is.

Overall Defensive Performance

Quarter Breakdown
Metric 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
Plays 17 189 19 221 8 145 16 59
S. Rate 35.3% 30.7% 36.8% 29.4% 37.5% 26.9% 6.3% 25.4%
iPPP 1.3 1.0 0.4 1.0 2.9 1.4 1.8 2.0
Pass % 23.5% 45.3% 22.2% 59.0% 50.0% 65.2% 85.7% 65.4%
P. S. Rate 50.0% 34.1% 0.0% 29.0% 25.0% 29.5% 8.3% 32.4%
P. iPPP 2.3 1.4 --- 1.2 7.5 1.8 1.8 2.3
Rush % 76.5% 54.7% 77.8% 41.0% 50.0% 34.8% 14.3% 34.6%
R. S. Rate 30.8% 30.3% 50.0% 33.7% 50.0% 27.7% 0.0% 22.2%
R. iPPP 0.8 0.7 0.4 0.7 0.7 0.5 --- 1.2

Observations

Somehow there was no garbage time in this game, which was a complete surprise given how much a mismatch this one looked to be. API made their hay on big plays, as they carried around a 36-37% success rate for the first three quarters balanced by a pretty solid iPPP. The API special in the third quarter was the biggest play of the day and produced a 7.5 passing iPPP in that frame, but replays revealed that had a lot more to do with — and stop me if you’ve heard this before — a coverage breakdown attributable to Matias-Smith than anything else. The rushing success rate was a little high in the second and third, but the API offense ground to a halt in the fourth as the Tide offense[2] salted the game away.

2 | Read: Derrick Henry.

Formation / Playcall Breakdown
Call Plays Percent of Total Success Rate iPPP
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
Shotgun 59 98.3% 82.7% 28.8% 29.3% 1.2 1.2
Pistol 0 0.0% 3.3% --- 40.0% --- 1.0
Under Center 0 0.0% 13.5% --- 24.1% --- 0.9
No Huddle 33 55.0% 52.9% 24.2% 30.5% 1.9 1.3
Huddled 27 45.0% 47.1% 33.3% 27.0% 0.7 1.0
Play Action 7 11.7% 13.5% 28.6% 38.6% 2.2 1.7

Observations

For being one of the best-known examples of the HUNH offense, API huddled quite a bit, although in an unconventional way. I don’t know what you call that gimmicky huddle that they do, but it didn’t work, producing just a 33.3% success rate at a 0.7 iPPP. 59 of API’s 60 offensive plays came out of the Shotgun; the 60th was a Wildcat look with Johnson ceding quarterback duties to tailback Kerryon Johnson; it didn’t work. The big winner for the opponent, oddly enough, was the play-action pass — only two were successful, but they piled up huge yardage, including the 77 yard API special in the third.

Personnel Breakdown
Group Plays Percent of Total Success Rate iPPP
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
20 25 41.7% 11.6% 32.0% 31.0% 1.1 1.7
10 18 30.0% 28.4% 11.1% 24.7% 1.2 1.2
11 14 23.3% 30.1% 42.9% 31.5% 0.4 1.0
00 2 3.3% 11.1% 50.0% 32.4% 7.5 1.3
30 1 1.7% 0.8% 0.0% 20.0% --- 0.4

Observations

Charting API is a lot of fun, because Malzahn’s high school offense includes a lot of funky sets that you just don’t see anywhere else, including my personal favorite: “The Eight,” where everyone but the interior linemen line up in the backfield.[3] In all seriousness, almost half of API’s plays feature multi-back sets, which is quite the throwback for such a modern approach to bending the rules on offense. Regardless of how they lined up the success rates and iPPPs are not particularly inspiring, with 20 personnel being a bit of a dog compared to what the Tide tends to allow and 11 personnel, while consistently successful, not providing a lot of yardage benefit.

3 | I’m exaggerating. Slightly.

Down and Distance Matrix
Distance Metric Down
1st 2nd 3rd 4th
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
Short
(0-3 Yds)
Plays 0 3 1 17 2 29 1 6
S. Rate --- 33.3% 100.0% 70.6% 50.0% 51.7% 100.0% 66.7%
iPPP --- 0.4 1.0 1.3 0.5 1.0 0.1 0.3
Medium
(4-6 Yds)
Plays 0 2 4 40 3 36 0 1
S. Rate --- 50.0% 100.0% 32.5% 33.3% 44.4% --- 0.0%
iPPP --- 0.6 0.5 0.8 2.0 1.0 --- ---
Long
(7-10 Yds)
Plays 22 226 13 109 8 63 1 2
S. Rate 27.3% 28.8% 15.4% 21.1% 0.0% 15.9% 0.0% 0.0%
iPPP 1.0 1.0 0.8 1.3 --- 1.7 --- ---
Very Long
(11+ Yds)
Plays 1 17 2 36 2 26 0 1
S. Rate 0.0% 5.9% 0.0% 27.8% 50.0% 23.1% --- 0.0%
iPPP --- 2.1 --- 1.5 7.5 2.9 --- ---

Observations

Aside from going 5/5 on second downs of six yards or less, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about if you’ve made the unfortunate decision to root for API. Just three successful third-down attempts all afternoon; 10 of the 15 were with seven yards or more to go, and the opponent picked up just one. You’ll note on first through third downs the “Long” row had the highest playcount for each down, which underscores how little this defense has yielded both in this game and during this season. As the Tide enters the postseason, don’t expect to see the same inability to get off the field on third down that plagued this group at the end of last year.

Front Seven Performance

Rush Splits by Down, Distance, and Direction
Metric Attempts Rush % S. Rate iPPP LY/Att.
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
All Carries 32 57.9% 43.3% 40.6% 29.7% 0.6 0.7 2.8 2.3
1st Down 16 72.7% 53.8% 25.0% 23.6% 0.5 0.7 2.3 2.4
2nd Down 11 55.0% 40.8% 63.6% 33.8% 0.7 0.7 3.3 2.3
3rd Down 4 38.5% 26.4% 25.0% 40.0% 0.5 0.6 3.6 2.2
Short
(0-3 Yds.)
3 75.0% 63.0% 100.0% 59.4% 0.5 0.4 4.3 2.1
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
5 71.4% 41.9% 80.0% 34.6% 0.5 0.7 4.2 2.9
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
21 53.7% 42.6% 28.6% 23.2% 0.6 0.8 2.2 2.2
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
3 60.0% 33.3% 0.0% 25.0% --- 1.2 2.7 2.6
Left
End
5 17.2% 14.3% 40.0% 42.3% 0.7 0.8 2.1 3.1
Left
Tackle
6 20.7% 13.2% 50.0% 41.7% 0.4 0.5 2.8 2.1
Middle 10 34.5% 39.0% 40.0% 16.9% 0.3 0.5 2.7 2.0
Right
Tackle
3 10.3% 18.1% 33.3% 21.2% 1.0 0.6 2.7 2.4
Right
End
5 17.2% 15.4% 40.0% 46.4% 1.0 0.8 3.8 2.8

Observations

Much was made in the game thread of the obviously-doctored field in West Georgia, with the assertion that API was mostly running inside as they knew the hard cuts that sometimes characterize outside runs would be tough to perform. Turns out that wasn’t really the case, as the directional breakdown on the designed runs was more or less in line with what the Tide’s seen all year. What was completely out of line was the success rate, which was much better than what the Tide typically permits inside and just slightly poorer outside. The overall rate was about 11% higher than the seasonal average, although the iPPP was a shade lower. Jovon Robinson and Peyton Barber are both powerful, effective rushers, and their line came ready to play, so in hindsight this was not a terribly surprising result. Frustrating, but not surprising.

Opposing RB Performance
Metric Attempts Opp. Rate Hlt. Yds. / Opp. RBR
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
All Carries 32 34.5% 25.4% 2.3 3.1 0.8 0.8
1st Down 16 21.4% 23.0% 1.2 2.1 0.3 0.5
2nd Down 11 50.0% 26.8% 3.6 3.9 1.8 1.0
3rd Down 4 50.0% 35.3% 0.8 4.8 0.4 1.7
Short
(0-3 Yds.)
3 66.7% 27.3% 3.5 2.6 2.3 0.7
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
5 40.0% 19.0% 4.0 4.4 1.6 0.8
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
21 31.6% 23.8% 1.3 2.4 0.4 0.6
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
3 0.0% 50.0% --- 5.8 --- 2.9
Left
End
5 40.0% 38.5% 2.3 4.1 0.9 1.6
Left
Tackle
6 50.0% 33.3% 0.7 1.9 0.3 0.6
Middle 10 20.0% 11.9% 0.8 4.3 0.2 0.5
Right
Tackle
3 33.3% 24.2% 6.0 1.5 2.0 0.4
Right
End
5 40.0% 40.7% 4.5 3.3 1.8 1.3

Observations

While Robinson and Barber were able to find holes in the line, their joyrides stopped abruptly in the vicinity of Foster, Matias-Smith,[4] and Reggie Ragland. As a whole API managed a decent Opportunity Rate for a Tide opponent, but they did a lot less with those opportunities, putting up a Highlight Yard average of just 2.3. Almost all of that came on runs to the left side of the Tide defense; your guess is as good as mine as to why that is. Robinson’s size in particular was helpful on short yardage, where API picked up 20 yards on just three attempts.

4 | Who, despite his occasional coverage struggles, has turned into an effective run defender.

Secondary Performance

Opponent Quarterback Performance
Air Yards Metric Left Middle Right Totals
9 4 11 24
Behind
L.O.S
Comp. % 2/3 (66.7%) 1/1 (100.0%) 1/2 (50.0%) 6
S. Rate 0.0% 100.0% 0.0%
iPPP --- 2.0 ---
0-5
Yards
Comp. % 0/0 (---) 0/2 (0.0%) 3/3 (100.0%) 5
S. Rate --- 0.0% 0.0%
iPPP --- --- ---
6-10
Yards
Comp. % 2/2 (100.0%) 0/0 (---) 0/1 (0.0%) 3
S. Rate 50.0% --- 0.0%
iPPP 2.7 --- ---
11-15
Yards
Comp. % 0/0 (---) 0/0 (---) 0/3 (0.0%) 3
S. Rate --- --- 0.0%
iPPP --- --- ---
16+ Yards
Comp. % 1/4 (25.0%) 1/1 (100.0%) 0/2 (0.0%) 7
S. Rate 25.0% 100.0% 0.0%
iPPP 1.8 7.5 ---

Observations

I was actually surprised to see Johnson threw this many balls, as it seemed like all API did was run in this one. The 77-yarder to the deep middle has already been discussed, but that was one of just four successful pass attempts on the afternoon for API, who found the Tide secondary much improved from the group they torched last season.[5] Johnson completed just 11 balls, and a sub-50% completion percentage is rarely going to get it done against this defense. Most damning was his somewhat questionable accuracy on the short stuff, where he completed just 64% of his attempts; for comparison, Tide quarterbacks have completed 82% of those throws in competitive time this season.

5 | That being said, their case of the dropsies was helpful in the fourth quarter.

Pass Splits by Down and Distance
Metric Attempts Pass % S. Rate iPPP
VS.
API
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
VS.
API
2015
Season
All Passes 24 42.1% 56.7% 16.7% 30.8% 3.5 1.5
1st 6 27.3% 46.2% 33.3% 34.5% 2.2 1.3
2nd 9 45.0% 73.6% 0.0% 28.3% --- 1.6
3rd 8 61.5% 59.2% 25.0% 30.1% 4.7 1.7
Short
(0-3 Yds.)
1 25.0% 37.0% 0.0% 60.0% --- 2.0
Medium
(4-6 Yds.)
2 28.6% 58.1% 50.0% 41.9% 2.0 1.2
Long
(7-10 Yds.)
19 46.3% 57.4% 10.5% 27.6% 2.2 1.4
Very Long
(11+ Yds.)
2 40.0% 66.7% 50.0% 22.9% 7.5 2.5

Observations

The overall iPPP was quite high, but again that’s based on just four successful completions, one of which was of the unicorn TD variety. As you might expect the success rates in rows with a decent number of attempts were below the Tide’s seasonal averages, as opting to pass was frequently akin to throwing away a down for API.

Special Teams Performance

Punts and Kickoffs Performance
Metric ALABAMA API
Punt Hangtime 4.41s 4.19s
Gross Points per Punt 4.84 3.45
Net Points per Punt 2.57 3.40
Kickoff Hangtime 4.40s 3.74s
Gross Points per Kickoff 6.62 6.62
Net Points per Kickoff 3.63 3.95

Observations

Hooo boy, Adam Griffith. Is this guy awesome or what? 5/5 on field goals, including a 50 yarder and two others of at least 40 yards, all of which were drilled through the uprights ¬with conviction. He thoroughly outshined the better-regarded kicker on the opposite sideline, as Daniel Carlson’s streak of consecutive field goals made ended at 16. Griffith’s 17 total points were his most in a crimson uniform, and if that wasn’t enough, he sent every one of his kickoffs booming into the end zone. Only the game’s final kick was returned by API, and only then out of desperation more than anything else. This was about as complete a performance as you can ask for from a kicker, and given how his career started in this particular venue, I’m personally ecstatic for the guy.

Kick returns were, uh, less good. I’m not sure why[6] there is any confusion about fielding kickoffs after the very teachable moments that occurred with Chris Black and Damien Harris in the Wisconsin and Texas A&M games, respectively, and yet the Tide returned another kickoff from the endzone after a muffed catch or funny hop.

6 | BAH GAWD THAT’S BOBBY WILLIAMS’ MUSIC.

J.K. Scott’s day was also a bit underwhelming; the leg was absolutely there — he averaged over 48 yards a punt — but the placement wasn’t as two were dropped in for touchbacks. The first punt was a beauty, but any value derived from it was thwarted by a gimmick return that was, to their credit, executed perfectly by API. His counterpart on the other side had a fine day, not booming them quite as far as Scott but placing them much, much better. Jones only had one opportunity to return a punt, but good coverage from API held him to just three yards.

ROLL TIDE