New England Patriots' Secret Weapon: Analytics - First Posted on Mar 25, 2015

It seems like every year after the offseason, we question he ability of the New England Patriots to repeat as the dominant team in the AFC. Yet they have excelled at drafting no names who produce, and signing unconventional players such as Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, and Wes Welker. The success of this team has been driven by their coaching staff’s ability to effectively evaluate talent and make critical strategy decisions using football analytics.

Crunching numbers and poring over statistics has always been a big part of professional sports for fans, coaches and team managers alike. But advanced analytics -- with its many confusing acronyms and complicated formulas -- has so far been the domain of only the most hardcore fantasy sports enthusiasts. That is until recently, since more and more NFL teams are beginning to buy into the worth of the advanced metrics which make up Analytics.

As ESPN pointed out "Patriots owner Robert Kraft worked with a former colleague in the 1990s to create statistical models for player valuation. And for the past 15 years, Belichick has relied heavily on his football research director to collaborates with him to develop a variety of cutting-edge approaches to team building and game play. There is little doubt that the Patriots invest time and energy looking for every edge, and their commitment to ruthlessly outsmarting the competition is a Belichick trademark."

ESPN also pointed out "the Jets were built around the old-school sensibilities of Rex Ryan, with line coach Dave DeGuglielmo summing up the traditional mindset with a 2012 rant against analytics: 'All of a sudden we're 'Moneyballing' offensive lineman,' he said. '[The] world I live in isn't a fantasy world.' Ryan's departure does not herald a new approach to analytics. Team owner Woody Johnson has given no indication analytics will be incorporated into the Jets' football operations. New GM Mike Maccagnan, and new coach Todd Bowles have done little with analytics, have old-school credentials (the good ol' eye test), and were not hired to spearhead a analytics awakening for Gang Green."

Jn my fanpost "Is Chris Owusu A Diamond In The Rough" I used a rudimentary form of analytics to show Osusu is better then perhaps we give him credit for being. Of course, this is based on a limited snap count of 87 and only six targets, so any analysis is flawed to this extent, and we can only have a low level of confidence in the results. But leaving the debate about Owusu aside, what Jet Fans should be concerned about is the fact that the Jets are one of the most resistance teams to incorporating analytics in player evaluation in the NFL.

So what are analytics?

Analytics (in a broad sense) have been around since sports began, only we used to call them stats. Baseball is famous for its wealth of statistics, from batting average, earned run average, on base percentage, and so on. But which statistics are most important? For decades, baseball talent evaluators used basic statistics like batting average as their primary evaluation tools. This began to change in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a few pioneers began looking at what are now called "advanced analytics" to get beyond the surface and find the measurements that actually equate to wins.

Football has arguably a more difficult evaluation problem than baseball. Baseball tends to be heavily based on individual matchups. A hitter, for example, is primarily facing only the pitcher on any given pitch, not the entire opposing team. In football, 11 players must coordinate their actions efficiently to have success on any given play, and those actions must take into account the actions of the opposing team’s 11 players and how they will react to their own actions. That’s a far more complex problem.

One of the biggest challenge for NFL teams is trying to determine which players’ college success will translate best to the pros. That’s not real easy. The transition from college to the pros is an extraordinarily difficult one, especially at positions like quarterback and defensive back. These are two of the most difficult positions to play in all of sports, both mentally and physically. To avoid drafting someone who will be a "draft bust" teams are increasingly taking a quantitative approach to help with their evaluations. Now, most teams on the cutting edge of evaluating the draft, are providing their football decision-makers with analytics to help supplement their decision-making when it comes to the NFL draft.

However analytics, at the present time, is limited in evaluating individual players for drafting since a team might see them for a max of six games at a distance in college, combine, pro-days, and a one private workout. That is not a lot of detailed data for analysis. What analytics would be most useful is analyzing your own club for scheme fit and maximizing value and number of picks on draft day. You have much more data for evaluating your own players, all the players in training camp including UDFA, and other NFL teams FA who become available. But analytics has many, many uses besides the draft

In player evaluations the use of more quantitative statistical analysis is increasing as teams try to gain an edge. Organizations like ADVANCED FOOTBALL ANALYTICS, FOOTBALL OUTSIDER, and PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS are showing that data analytics can provide value in an area where evaluators have traditionally relied as much on intuition and "gut" as on quantitative metrics.

Sports analytics brings a more refined and business like approach to player evaluation by seeking efficiencies and maximizing performance. The idea is to identify player metrics that are shown—statistically—to correlate highest to wins, then value players according to those metrics. In this way, sports analytics extends and enhances the more traditional statistics like 40-yard dash time. Analytics helps a team win by helping it make better decisions, from the personnel office to the huddle. Adding an analytic approach to a team's decision process clarifies goals, options, and risks. It makes hidden and implicit assumptions explicit. It gives decision makers the best, most relevant information available.

Analytics began to emerge in football in the past ten years as teams have gone from just analyzing game footage to putting a quantitative value on a player’s performance. One of the more widely known metrics is the quarterback rating. It is a complex rating that’s computed based on complete passes, pass attempts, passing yards, touchdown passes, and interceptions. Teams continue to analyze video to track, tabulate, and calculate how many times the opposing team, for example, blitzes when its defense is in a nickel formation, but they are also starting to use video to track the number of times that a cornerback misreads a slant route or runs into another defender when covering a pick play. "It’s not just about doing advanced scouting on teams’ formations, but targeting players so teams say, ‘We can run this play at this lineman,’ or ‘This cornerback can’t cover this particular route,’"

Technology has been a big driver of the increased uptake of advanced analytics in the NFL. Highly specialized computer software that pores through statistical data is a popular method, but New York Giants Assistant General Manager Kevin Abrams points to a much more individualized way of gathering novel information about athletes' behavior.

"Some of the newer technologies that we've found really effective are the wearable devices. Some of which are simple marketplace devices that anyone can purchase, but there are some more sophisticated devices we've been able to use that monitor a lot of different biometrics for players, and you combine all of those."

Abrams says his organization now uses advanced analytics to evaluate coaching strategy, scout opponents, help train their players and prevent them from getting injured. However, he also believes the key to success is blending the new tools of analytics and the old ways together.

"I think what's changed is that our competency level with analytics has grown. [But] analytics isn't going to be a one-stop, fix all, immediate solution," says Abrams. "What we do personnel-wise is still an 'eyeball' business, but I also think we can support our player personnel evaluations with better use of analytics."

Essentially, Analytics created a new type of scouting that strictly looks at performance, not necessarily the process that gets there. This can be referred to as supplying the "what" as traditional scouts and coaches supply the "why." Analytics can tell a team that an offensive tackle gives up an inordinate amount of bullrush pressure and traditional scouts and coaches can determine if it’s a lack of technique, functional strength, or perhaps a combination of the two. Traditional scouting may describe a player’s explosiveness off the edge, but Analytics can tell you how often a rusher actually got pressure to the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. Other scouting reports will often describe a cornerback’s hip swivel, but Analytics look at how well he actually plays in coverage. A player’s athleticism is irrelevant in Analytics, unless it leads to productive on-field performance, a performance which may not be immediately apparent to traditional scouts and coaches.

As Neil Hornsby, the founder of Pro Football Focus explained it:

Statistics, of course, don’t provide all the answers, nor do they always give new answers, but they can offer a different perspective to help break down the game.

"Whether a team should go for it on fourth-and-1, there’s been some analysis of that," Hornsby says. "But the truth of it is, - 1) what is the sample size of data for that game being played in Buffalo, at a particular temperature in December, with 2)a right guard who has a dodgy hamstring and 3) the halfback just broke up with his girlfriend the previous day? - No amount of statistics can give you that answer. Only the coach can make that decision.

"But what we can do, we can say to a coach, ‘If you see Calvin Johnson lining up as the inside slot receiver on a play in Week 14, and in every other circumstance where he has lined up in that position he has run this route—would that be useful to you?’ "

Yes, Analytics are not the be all and end all of football decision making, but it can make a substantial positive contribution to that decision making. And that is a reason for all Jets fans to be concerned. The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, is the Super Bowl of Analytics. A lot of smart people in various sports gathered this year to discuss the future direction and impact of analytics. Eighteen NFL teams were represented, including the Patriots (owner Robert Kraft was on a discussion panel) Dolphins, and Bills; but the Jets were nowhere to be seen.

Some experts credit part of the success of the New England Patriots, who have been in more Super Bowls then any other team in the last 15 years, to this trend in analytics. "It is generally accepted that the Patriots are one of the most analytically advanced franchises in the NFL," says Aaron Schatz, the creator of, a site that uses statistics to analyze the game. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is known to be among the more disciplined analytical players. One account called him a "student of error" for his detailed review of incomplete and intercepted passes in game videos. In a 2014 press conference, he described what he thinks leads to success in professional football:

You have to be a technician, you have to understand, you have to be a student of the game, you have to work, you have to understand what the coaches are asking, understand what the team is looking for and just keep working harder and harder and harder and then when you get your opportunity you have to make it pay off.

Of course, full advantage from player and team performance analytics would seem to come when all the coaches and players on a team embrace analytics and use them to enhance theirperformance. Until the Jets FO makes this a part of their approach, the Jets will always be also-ran never a champion.

This is a FanPost written by a registered member of thi

This is a FanPost written by a registered member of this site. The views expressed here are those of the author alone and not those of anybody affiliated with Gang Green Nation or SB Nation.