A coach friend and I chatted this summer about, strangely enough, a piece that showed up on a Bundesliga blog.
It’s called “IMPECT & Packing: the Future of Football Analytics is Here.” It’s premise is about creating better stats for soccer, more or less, and honestly it completely undersells a lot of the strengths of advanced stats. But that’s fine — the piece didn’t resonate because of that.
It resonated because of its attempt to basically quantify an old coaching cliché: It’s not about Xs and Os, it’s about Jimmies and Joes. In the simplest form, it endorses a measure that counts the number of players you beat.
A team can only score, if it can move the ball past defenders (“Gegner überspielt,” or “defenders beaten by the pass”). Beating defenders adds quality to a play, the more defenders you take out, the higher the quality of a play. Can’t argue with that.
The big breakthrough here is that “beating opponents” is an objective stat that can assess quality without relying on subjective opinion, you either beat the defender or you don’t.
The defending team obviously tries to prevent all that, so a low number in the “Überspielt werden”(getting beaten) category tells you how good a team is at defending.
It all comes down to the number of defenders in your way before and after a certain play, this logic can also be applied to dribbling events, turnovers and interceptions as well. ... The total of “opponents outplayed” during a game is called “Packing-Rate”.
With my advanced stats hat on, I don’t think I like this very much. It’s hard to define “beating” somebody in certain aspects, especially when you don’t know what each player’s specific job is on the pitch. It’s the same way with Pro Football Focus’ player grades. They’re interesting, and they definitely tell part of a story, but coaches hate them because PFF doesn’t know what the specific play-call was, what the player was supposed to do, etc.
Still, it employs some guesses that are educated enough to be at least somewhat useful. And it crystallizes a key part of the sport that we sometimes forget about when we’re talking about strategies and tactics.
Good play-calling can create occasional 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 (or 4-on-3, or ... you get the idea) situations for your players. But a lot of times beating a defense simply means winning 1-on-1s. Receiver vs. cornerback, lineman vs. lineman, running back vs. linebacker, etc.
Josh Heupel’s system is a confident one, based frequently on winning 1-on-1s in the passing game.
Drew Lock’s reads are pretty simple a good portion of the time. The routes in a given play will open up space for one individual matchup. This isn’t unique to Heupel, obviously, but it requires Receiver A to beat Defensive Back B. When it happens, it happens again about 10 seconds later, and 10 seconds after that. Tempo maximizes matchup advantages ... when they exist.
Against lesser teams, Receiver A has been beating DB B in droves. Mizzou’s receivers were far too much for the likes of Eastern Michigan and Delaware State; in these two games, Drew Lock completed 51 of 73 passes for 699 yards, no sacks, and no interceptions.
The EMU and DSU defenses are awful, obviously. But we saw what kind of rhythm this offense can achieve in those games, and we saw it for a little more than half of the Georgia game, as well. Heading into this past weekend, Georgia ranked a healthy 25th in Def. S&P+, but because Missouri’s receivers were able to find some advantages against Georgia’s defensive backs, the system flowed, at least for a while. Despite a second-half drought, Lock still finished 23-for-38 for 376 yards. J’Mon Moore caught eight of 13 passes for 196 yards, Chris Black caught three of four for 44.
When receivers are beating defenders, this system works pretty well, even as offensive linemen are still learning how to beat defensive linemen in run blocking. But because the run blocking is still in beginner mode, the only thing this system has right now is the passing game.
Missouri’s receivers can’t beat good defensive backs yet. Against EMU, UGA, and DSU, passes to Moore were 16-for-28 for 330 yards, passes to Johnathon Johnson were 7-for-11 for 153, and passes to Dimetrios Mason were 17-for-21 for 238.
Against WVU, LSU, and Florida, passes to Moore were 10-for-33 for 135, Johnson 4-for-11 for 48, and Mason 3-for-7 for 27.
“He’s fairly young yet. I want him to be perfect. He’s not that yet, but he’s going to continue to get there.”
That’s Josh Heupel describing Drew Lock this past week. Here’s a little more: “The guy with the ball in his hands has got to be good enough to cover up for 10 other guys, too. That’s the role of a quarterback.”
By far the most disappointing aspect of yesterday’s loss to Florida was that, never mind being good enough to cover up for others, Lock actually dragged them down. His first incompletions were impacted by two QB hurries and a break-up, and it killed the first two drives.
The third three-and-out was done in by two false starts. But on the fourth one, Lock had a reasonably open throw to Johnson and a very open throw to Mason and missed drastically on both. On third-and-5 on the fifth drive, he missed Johnson. And on the seventh drive, he made a horrific read and throw and handed Florida’s Jalen Tabor the easiest interception (and touchdown) of his career.
The next drive, Mizzou actually generated some momentum on the ground, but on third-and-7 from the Florida 32, Lock (to my eye) waited way too long to throw the ball and ended up basically throwing toward two receivers whose routes were beginning to converge. It’s certainly possible that those receivers were too close to each other to begin with — this one may or may not have been on Lock. Regardless, Quincy Wilson stepped in front of it and took it 78 yards for a score.
I wrote multiple times this past week: Florida’s secondary is devastating. Aside from about a 10-pass sequence against Tennessee, this has maybe been the best pass defense in the country.
But still. Drew Lock’s passing line from yesterday: 4-for-18 for 39 yards and two pick sixes. He was never sacked but still managed to average only 2.2 yards per pass attempt. I expected bad. That’s ... worse than bad. The combination of a wet ball (which seemed very problematic on that fourth drive), covered receivers, and at least a little bit of pressure caused a breakdown the likes of which I didn’t think we’d see this year. He was making bad reads, and he was throwing bad passes. Surviving one of those is hard enough.
The ground-level view and 20,000-foot view right now are completely different for Missouri at the moment.
From the 20,000-foot view, none of what has happened in 2016 has been that surprising. As I wrote in the preseason, the schedule basically had four sections — the first four games (in which Missouri would be expected to go 2-2), the next two games (in which Missouri might get blown out twice), the next four (in which Missouri could be either favored or in a virtual tossup), and the last two (where maybe an upset is possible in the finale against Arkansas).
I wrote in August that the four-game stretch from MTSU to Vanderbilt would define the season. It still will. But I also wrote that the primary goal for the first half of the season was to not lose so much confidence that it impacts your ability to win games in the stretch of four winnable games.
At the ground level, you see plenty of reason to worry about said confidence. You’ve got defenders dropping passive-aggressive quotes about how “there’s only so much we can do.” (The defense isn’t off the hook for yesterday, either — Florida did average 6.8 yards per play, after all.) You’ve got Barry Odom answering tons of questions about harmony and keeping the team from ripping apart at the seams.
Most disconcerting, though: Drew Lock was a discombobulated mess yesterday.
Missouri receivers will beat MTSU defenders next weekend. Maybe that solves everything.
The defense will have to make stops against a pretty potent Blue Raider offense, but that’s step two in the hierarchy of concern. Nothing else matters at the moment until the Mizzou offense gets rolling again.
When Missouri receivers beat MTSU defenders, Drew Lock has to get the ball to them. Josh Heupel’s got six days to get Drew Lock’s head screwed back on right. This is where he earns his money, I guess.