Show me a guy who makes his money off proclaiming “The Analytics”, and I will show you a guy who loves to ignore statistics to offer his random opinion.
Take Aaron Schatz, the founder of Football Outsiders, whose DVOA formulas to assess offensive and defensive efficiency are based on his subjective determination that first downs and time of possession are statistics that need not be incorporated (side note: is this because of a sincere belief that these data points are overrated, or is it because finding a formula that accurately incorporates the notions that (a) a first down offers the offense the benefit of a reset and (b) time of possession wears down defenses, decreasing their efficiency are both much harder than simply pretending that football Yards-Per-Play can be measured the same as Points-Per-Possession in basketball? I guess my feelings about this are not hidden in the question …).
Anyways, here is what Schatz tweeted after New England got beat in Miami, 20-7: “On one hand, you've got people who want to say that one bad game proves ‘it was all Brady’ and Belichick was never great. On the other hand, you've got people who want to deny that the preseason and Week 1 looked pretty bad. Tom Landry was 17-30 in his last 3 years. It happens.”
I wrote about this last month that it was perhaps a bit premature to start digging the grave of the Patriots. I also wrote this: “If a McVay acolyte made the playoffs with a rookie quarterback last year, let’s just say they would be appreciated differently.” Since writing that sentence, Belichick has won two more games this season using a rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe as his starter. That makes it 12 victories in the last twenty-five games with a rookie quarterback. Yet these guys like Schatz are so quick to fire off a Hot Take tearing down Belichick.
Let’s see what the stats say about Belichick’s team, using Schatz’s DVOA formulas that conveniently ignore time of possession and first downs. New England goes into Halloween night ranked 14th in their overall DVOA numbers. They rank ahead of 6-1 Minnesota, 5-2 Tennessee, and the 6-2 New York Giants. The Patriots' defense ranks 7th in DVOA defensive ratings. It seemed pretty clear to me that Belichick’s formula for success since Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay was to lean on a good defense while running the football.
Perhaps it is the run-first philosophy that triggers angst in the quants? The potent passing attacks like the Bills and the Chiefs produce exciting numbers. Is it ironic that “But The Analytics Say!” guys often fail to appreciate the value of the running game?
With their 22-17 victory in New York against the Jets on Sunday, the Patriots have won four of their last seven games since Schatz decided to evaluate preseason games to make his conclusion about the state of this New England team, sample size be damned. I know that win-loss records are overrated when compared to statistical formulas someone cooked up to then later proclaim as “objective.” But Belichick’s Patriots now have a 21-20 regular season record in the post-Brady era (21-21 when including their playoff loss last year).
I’m pretty sure the advanced analytics come to the conclusion that a 21-21 record is better than Tom Landry’s 17-30 record in his final three seasons. To paraphrase Schatz's tweet: on the one hand, if you have people who are on hair-trigger alert to dog Belichick at every possible moment that his team played badly (and it sure happened after the Patriots’ stinker on Monday Night Football against Chicago). On the other hand, there are people who appreciate that if a coach’s floor is a .500 record when they do not have an established quarterback (and they win multiple Super Bowls when they do have a good quarterback), that is precisely the evidence of a great coach.
You can count me in the latter category.
Best of luck — Frank.