FanPost

Numbers Can't Lie: Wildcat Observations

Greetings everyone.

This is the first edition of a new weekly column here on The Phinsider that I'll be writing.  I was very pleased when Matty asked me about writing for the site because I've been reading it almost from its inception, and I respect the immense amount of effort he puts into it.

Most of all I appreciate the community that's been growing rapidly here and the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.

It's a bit daunting trying to squeeze myself in between the hilarious stream-of-consciousness that is "Inside the Mind," Little Nicky's timely analysis, and Matty's daily updates, but I'll try to bring something fresh to the table.

As you can probably tell by the title of my column (Numbers Can't Lie), I'm going to spend a lot of time focusing on statistical analysis, but I also want to periodically delve into some issues concerning broader football theory and really question some of the generally accepted notions about the game which may or may not hold up under increased scrutiny.

Now, hopefully, that little explanation didn't scare anyone away because I never want this column to be unnecessarily bogged down in arcane calculations.  I'm no math wizard and advanced mathematics usually doesn't interest me.  The analysis of sports statistics, however, is an area that greatly intrigues me.

Let me first address the column's title.  There will likely always be two factions in the fight over statistics in sports - those who welcome the added nuance and appreciate the insights that statistics can provide, and those who would rather not complicate the way they are used to thinking about their favorite pastimes.  Either way is fine, and it's not my place to tell other people how to think about the sports they love.  But I do know that there are lots of people out there, like myself, who crave some more meaningful discussion of the game than that provided by many of the jokes who call themselves broadcasters.  Seriously, if I never have to hear the term "establish the running game" again, I will be a happy man.

And despite the heavily vocalized saying that statistics can lie, the fact of the matter is that statistics are incapable of lying.  As Doug Drinen wrote a while back for Footballguys.com, "Statistics cannot lie. Statistics are nothing more than recorded observations. That's all.  People, on the other hand, can and do lie."  That is why it is important when discussing stats to carefully look at their context and to make sure you're using the best ones available.

That is what I will try to do with this column.

And without further ado, I thought for this first week, I'd just throw some numbers out there for us all to discuss since I spent a lot of time already introducing the column.  I've been posting my observations on the Dolphins at my website Phinaticism for the past two years, and one of the new features I started this year was to track the success of Miami's Wildcat formation.  I wanted to see how it was performing compared to plays run from the traditional sets.  With 15 games and 88 plays in the books, here are the final numbers for the 2008 season (plus playoffs). [Note: I used the official NFL play-by-play records for these numbers.  They include intended pass plays from the Wildcat where the thrower was sacked.  I have also removed all quarterback kneel downs from the equation so as not to affect the non-Wildcat rushing numbers.]

 

Plays

Run

Pass

Yards

Yds./play

FDs

TDs

Week 3, @ NE

6

5

1

119

19.8

1

4

Week 5, v. SD

10

9

1

48

4.8

3

1

Week 6, @ HOU

7

6

1

77

11

0

1

Week 7, v. BAL

5

5

0

4

0.8

0

0

Week 8, v. BUF

7

7

0

34

4.9

3

0

Week 9, @ DEN

4

3

1

-5

-1.3

0

0

Week 10, v. SEA

6

6

0

80

13.3

0

2

Week 11, v. OAK

10

10

0

52

5.2

1

0

Week 12, v. NE

8

8

0

25

3.1

1

0

Week 13, @ STL

2

2

0

2

1

0

0

Week 14, @ BUF

6

6

0

5

0.8

1

0

Week 15, v. SF

1

1

0

16

16

1

0

Week 16, @ KC

4

4

0

57

14.3

1

0

Week 17, @ NYJ

10

8

2

55

5.5

3

0

Wild Card, v. BAL

2

2

0

7

3.5

0

0

 

Total

88

82

6

592

6.7

15

8

Average/Game

5.9

5.5

.4

39

-

1

.5

 

Plays

FDs (non-penalty)

FD%

TDs

TD%

Run Avg.

Non-WC plays

923

296

32%

31

3%

3.9 yds

WC plays

88

15

17%

8

9%

6.2 yds

 

Runs

Yards

Avg

FDs

TDs

Ronnie Brown

54

312

5.8

9

5

Ricky Williams

26

153

5.9

5

1

Patrick Cobbs

2

47

23.5

1

0

The Wildcat garnered the Dolphins a lot of attention this season, and that's what most people will remember about this year's squad, but it's interesting to note that only 9% of the offensive plays were Wildcat plays.  So by no means was the Wildcat the foundation of Miami's offense, but it was a significant chunk of it.

In the first month of the Wildcat-era, so to speak, Miami used the formation heavily around the goal line, and that resulted in a handful of touchdowns.  The TD production, however, fell off later in the season, as the team saw fewer opportunities to use the formation near the goal line.

Even without the touchdowns though, the Wildcat was still a dangerous weapon.  I like to say that it was Miami's home-run threat, if you will -- something akin to a great power hitter in baseball who also strikes out a lot.  And while it is more valuable to have a running game that consistently gains 4 or 5 yards on every play rather than a boom-or-bust attack that mixes minimal gains or losses with huge plays, Miami's offense had few options other than the Wildcat to turn to when looking for a big play.  Besides, after Donald Thomas and Justin Smiley were lost for the season, it was unreasonable to expect the conventional running game to provide such consistent gains.

A final interesting point to note before I turn the floor over to you guys is how similar Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams' per carry averages from the Wildcat formation were.  Ronnie ran the ball from the formation twice as often as Ricky, but their per carry averages and first down rates were the same.  Perhaps that speaks to the fungibility of backs from the Wildcat formation, but most likely it just means that Miami had two very good runners to use in this scheme and they were both given the type of plays that were tailored to their individual strengths.

So that concludes the first installment of Numbers Don't Lie.  I hope you guys enjoyed it.  If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for future columns send me an email.

 

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Phinsider's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of The Phinsider writers or editors.

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