A 15 yard play is a big play. If you gain 15 yards on a single snap, you have run a play bigger than approximately 90% of all snaps from scrimmage in the league. You want to make big plays. You want to avoid giving up big plays.
I decided to take a look at which teams fare best at producing and preventing big plays.
At first I thought about looking at the total number of big plays, but I decided to expand that a bit. If Team A makes 3 plays for 15 yards, and Team B has 1 play for 46 yards, Team A has produced more big plays, but Team B has been more productive. So I decided to take the total yardage for each team from plays gaining at least 15 yards on offense and subtracting it from the total yardage each team has allowed on plays gaining at least 15 yards on defense.
I also decided to control for game situation. If a team is way ahead in a game, its offense tends to take less risks, meaning the chances for a big play are reduced. On the flip side a team that falls way behind has to take risks to come back so that team’s chances of making a big play are heightened.
What we have is the big play differential.
It is no great surprise, but there seems to be some connection between this big play differential and winning. There are eight teams with at least 4 wins in the league, and the Packers are the only one in negative territory. All three teams with 1 win or less are in negative territory.
The Jets are right in the middle barely above water, which lines up with their 3-3 records.
This wasn’t about creating the ultimate number to watch in the NFL. It is only about showing which teams are the best at producing and limiting big plays.
Hat tip: Pro Football Reference Play Index