Deception of Preseason
Most of The Towerlight’s sports columns in the past have focused a lot on strictly opinion. And I’m an opinionated guy. Those who still hate me for hating Ray Lewis are aware of that.
But I’m going to mix it up this semester with a weekly column completely focused on using statistics to build arguments.
Are stats the end-all, be-all of sports writing? Absolutely not. My subscription to NFL Rewind confirms that.
Part of what makes sports writing so tough is that in order to properly evaluate players and teams in any sport, you have to merge using statistics of all kinds and the so-called “eye test.”
Still, using statistics can make for very compelling arguments either for or against a particular stance, and my hope is reading this column each week will improve your understanding of sports and how you talk about them with your friends.
We’ll start this week with the NFL preseason. I like to use the preseason to evaluate players, as does everyone else.
But skip looking at the box scores. In this case, I’ll use stats to show you why you should completely rely on using the eye test in the preseason.
Last season, among quarterbacks who attempted at least 20 passes in the preseason last year, E.J. Manuel of the Buffalo Bills led the league in completion percentage (78.8).
Tom Brady finished second, followed by Kyle Orton, Joe Flacco, Matt Simms and Jason Campbell.
In the 2013 preseason, Manuel was given incredibly easy throws to get his feet wet in the league, and spent time going up against second-team defenses. The box score wouldn’t show that.
Manuel finished the season completing 58.8 percent of his passes and throwing nine interceptions in 10 games.
The Brady stats come as no surprise, and you already know what you’re getting with him.
Orton and Simms were backups the entire season, while Flacco finished 27th last season in completion percentage (59) and Campbell finished 34th (56.8).
But this is nothing new. In 2012, Philip Rivers led the preseason in completion percentage (80), but went on to have the worst year of his career, completing 64.1 percent of his passes and throwing 15 interceptions.
Last preseason, Chris Givens of the St. Louis Rams led all wide receivers who had at least five receptions with 31.2 yards per catch. Givens didn’t record a single touchdown all season, and had just 34 receptions in 16 games.
Ted Ginn (then of the Carolina Panthers) was second on that list, and although he scored the most touchdowns of his career last season, he had seven games of less than 20 yards.
The same holds true for defenses. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers finished as the top two scoring defenses in last year’s preseason, which carried over.
But the Washington Redskins allowed the third fewest points per game in the preseason.
They finished the season as the second worst scoring defense.
It’s very easy to look at the box score and say, “Look, Mark Ingram is averaging 10.4 yards per carry, he’s ready to take over the starting role.”
But if you’re a New Orleans Saints fan, you know that Ingram hasn’t established himself as a feature back despite a number of chances, and he needs an incredible volume of touches to put up solid numbers.
The preseason is a great time to be excited about football season rolling around, but for your team (for Towson, it’s mostly Ravens) watch the game and see who to look out for in the regular season, because seeing the scores on ESPN will often mislead you.
Look at what kinds of plays your team is calling, or how a player looks on the field.
For Baltimore, Lorenzo Taliaferro’s numbers have looked solid, but I’ve been particularly impressed with how he looks, bowling over defenders.
Terrance West’s numbers with the Browns aren’t going to blow anyone away, but watching him play Washington on Monday tells more of a story, watching him turn two potential two-yard runs into solid gainers because he lowered his pads and moves a potential tackler back.
We’re college students, most of us don’t have time to go back and watch every snap of every one of our team’s games, but in the preseason, at least avoid getting caught up in the numbers.