Snubbing Jaguars for Steelers and the Importance of Usage in the NFL

Posted on December 22, 2007 by

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The rosters for the NFL’s Pro Bowl have been named and much to my surprise, not a single player from the Detroit Lions is going to Hawaii.  To imagine the Pro Bowl without… okay, not sure who on the Lions is worthy of going to the Pro Bowl.  So maybe it’s not surprising that no player from a 6-8 is going.

But what if the Lions were 10-4? Surely then they would have someone in Hawaii, right?

Well, the Jacksonville Jaguars are currently 10-4 and not a single Jaguar is going to Hawaii either.  Today’s football column is going to look at this oversight.  But first, here are the QB Score and RB Score rankings for the week.

Week Fifteen QB Score Rankings

Overall QB Score Rankings

Overall RB Score Rankings

The Fred Taylor Story

Two week ago I presented a ranking of the top 20 – in terms of career rushing yards – running backs in NFL history. 

Table One: The Top 20 Retired Running Backs

This analysis focused on RB Score, which considers rushing yards, rushing attempts, receiving yards, receptions, and fumbles lost.  When we consider all of these statistics, the top five running backs are (with RB Score per game reported):

1. Jim Brown: 53.8

2. Barry Sanders: 47.8

3. Marshall Faulk: 43.2

4. Tiki Barber: 42.8

5. Walter Payton: 38.4

As of last week, Fred Taylor’s career RB Score per game stands at 37.6.  That would rank 6th on the list of players reported in Table One.  Yes, Taylor would rank ahead of O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin and Emmitt Smith. 

Despite such career numbers, though, Taylor has never gone to Hawaii.  Well, he might have gone, but never for the Pro Bowl. 

This year Taylor has an RB Score per game of 31.7.  In the AFC, Taylor ranks behind LaDainian Tomlinson – who has a career RB Score per game of 47.6 (behind only Jim Brown and Barry Sanders) – and Joseph Addai.  Both Tomlinson and Addai were named to the Pro Bowl.

The Pro Bowl roster, though, has three running backs.  So who was chosen over Taylor for the third spot?

Comparing Football and Basketball

The answer is Willie Parker, who’s RB Score per game stands at 23.9.

Parker does lead NFL running backs in rushing yards, as well as rushing attempts and fumbles lost.  With a per carry average of only 4.1, we see that Parker has achieved his lofty yardage totals partly because he carries the ball so often.

So is Taylor “better” than Parker? Clearly voters were impressed by total yards, not yards per carry.  One wonders, though, if this focus is necessarily “wrong”.   People who look at stats in sports tend to focus on efficiency.  It’s not total hits that matter, but batting average.  It’s not fewest runs allowed that matter, but earned run average.  It’s not total points scored in basketball, but shooting efficiency. 

Oops, okay we don’t do this so much in basketball. Hence the problem people have with Win Score or Wins Produced.   To score high in the WoW basketball metrics you need to be efficient.  People have argued, though, that there is value in just taking shots.  And I have argued, since it appears teams take shots with or without their “stars”, rewarding people for taking shots would seem to be incorrect.

In football we see the same issue. By focusing on rushing yards, we see the same issue we see in basketball.  Parker is being rewarded for just carrying the ball.

In football, though, I think this is not necessarily incorrect.  There is an argument – and I have no idea if this is statistically true – that running the ball wears out the defense.  Certainly there is a difference in what an offensive lineman does blocking for the pass and the run.  In pass blocking the lineman are protecting while the defense is attacking.  In run blocking the offensive lineman are attacking.  In other words, offensive linemen get to hit people when blocking for the run.  They get hit when blocking on the pass.  One suspects that if you let lineman keep hitting defensive players, at some point this pays dividends.  Hence, having a running back that can carry the ball 30 times per game — and consistently gain positive yards – is valuable. As long as the running back goes someplace, even if it’s not very far, the team’s chances of winning are improved.

So if you are a Steelers fan, and you really think Parker is “better” than Taylor, your argument might have some legs (not a lot legs, but some).

Of course, all this is neither here nor there. Parker just broke his leg, so he isn’t going to Hawaii.  This should mean that Taylor, one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, is finally going to get to play in the Pro Bowl (I think).

The David Garrard Story

Each week I rank quarterbacks in terms of performance that week and across the entire season.  The purpose of the weekly rankings is to highlight the inconsistency of quarterbacks.  When we look at the Week 15 rankings we once again see the volatility of signal caller performance.  With but one exception, every single quarterback who has played in at least 10 games has had one week where he ranked below 20 in the weekly QB Score rankings. The one exception is David Garrard, quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Yes, Fred Taylor is not the only worthy Jaguar not going to Hawaii.

The Pro Bowl quarterbacks in the AFC include Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.  In terms of QB Score, both signal callers have done more than Garrard.  The third quarterback chosen, though, has not.  And that quarterback is Ben Roethlisberger.

Like Parker, Roethlisberger plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  So it appears that voters prefer Pittsburgh to Jacksonville (and given my preference for warmer climates, I find that to be odd).  Like our study of Parker, though, perhaps there’s some sense in snubbing yet another Jaguar.

Garrard, as noted, has been more consistent and posted a higher QB Score per play.  When we look at the individual stats, though, we see that Roethlisberger has some advantages. He has completed a higher percentage of his passes, gets more yardage per pass attempt, and more yardage per rushing attempt. 

On the negative side — and this is where the Roethlisberger argument loses steam — no quarterback has lost more yardage to sacks.  And only Jon Kitna has been sacked more often.  Furthermore, and this is the big one, Garrard has only thrown two interceptions all season. No quarterback comes close to what Garrard has done with respect to turnovers.  This is true whether we look at totals, are what Garrard does per attempt.

Garrard’s ability to avoid turnovers is what leads to his lofty QB Score.  Nevertheless, Roethlisberger is still going to Hawaii.

Of course, one should keep in mind that the Pro Bowl is perhaps the least meaningful of all the all-star games.  Players seem more concerned about avoiding injury than trying to win.  In the games that matter, Jacksonville has already had some revenge on Pittsburgh.  Last week the Jaguars went into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers.  And who knows, maybe these teams can meet in the playoffs and Jacksonville can once again show who deserves to go to Hawaii.

– DJ

For more on QB Score, RB Score and what these metrics mean see

The New QB Score

Consistent Inconsistency in Football

Football Outsiders and QB Score

The Value of Player Statistics in the NFL

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Posted in: Football Stories