Sometimes a piece of data totally flummoxes you.
I was speaking with a coach a couple of days ago about fourth downs, where and when to go for it, etc., and I came across something I didn’t expect and can’t immediately explain.
Looking at all the data in my 13-year play-by-play database, I found that once you isolate for field position, teams are quite a bit more likely to score after receiving a punt than after a turnover or kickoff.
To summarize what this is saying:
- When you get the ball anywhere between your 20 and your 50, you average at least 0.2 more points per possession if you received the ball via punt than if you did via any other means. That might not seem like that large a difference, but from a statistical standpoint, it’s pretty stark, especially as you get closer to midfield. And it’s pulling from 13 years of data, so sample sizes aren’t really an issue.
- If you received the ball after a turnover on downs, you were less likely to score than if you received the ball after a punt, turnover, kickoff, or, with one slight exception, a missed field goal.
I was looking at this data to see if there’s any sort of sudden-change effect after a turnover on downs. Coaches talk a lot about sudden-change situations and how they’re great scoring opportunities — the defense might be on its heels and whatnot.
What I found, though, was basically the opposite of what I might have expected. Either offenses don’t do a good enough job of capitalizing on sudden changes, or defenses do a great job of responding.
Either way, you are far less likely to score after a turnover, a turnover on downs, or a missed field goal than you are after a punt.
Why? I haven’t the foggiest idea. The coach I was speaking with was flummoxed, too.
Any ideas here? Defenses respond well when they have less time to think about going back onto the field? Forcing a turnover on downs suggests you’re playing an aggressive offense, and getting a stop makes the offense relax too much? The universe wants you to be more like Kevin Kelley? I have to open it to the field because I’m at a loss. This data is a little bit stunning and a lot confusing.