FanPost

Four Areas of FSU’s 2011 Defense that May Need Improvement

The motivation for this piece was to try to identify the weakest parts of our 2010 defense in order to see which areas need to be the focus in the 2011 season.  I got my hands on big chunk of recent (2005-2010) FSU defensive data that was generously given to me by Bill Connelly.  Although the data I received does not provide the complete statistical picture of FSU's defense, some of the data is represented by game quarter, down, explosiveness, etc.  (For very good work on FSU's 2010 season that represents some of the data in slightly different ways, see MonarchNole's great collection of FSU statistics here.)  For my purposes I will only focus on defensive statistics from 2009 and 2010 because in 2010 FSU had a first-year DC who implemented a new scheme and playbook, so inter-year comparisons will be interesting.  And although our offense isn't perfect, it has been top 10 for the past two years under Jimbo Fisher, so for the offense 2011 is more about maintenance than improvement.

In 2010 the defense made incredible progress under first-year defensive coordinator, Mark Stoops.  Here's a very high level view of the last two years of some core defensive data:

Year

Close PPP+

Close S&P+

Run Close SR+

Run Close PPP+

Run Close S&P+

Pass Close SR+

Pass Close PPP+

Pass Close S&P+

2009

92

79

72

97

94

55

79

72

2010

31

32

52

34

40

31

25

27

Note: "+" means "opponent adjusted"; "PPP" means "explosiveness"; "SR" means "success rate"; "S&P" is a combination of PPP and SR; and "close" means "within 28 points in first quarter, 24 in second, 21 in third, 16 in fourth".  Now 2009 was a historically bad year for FSU's defense and, again, 2010 was the first year with new defensive coordinator who was teaching a new scheme and playbook to the players.  So in that respect the amount of improvement made in all of these general defensive categories in one year is impressive.  But if you ignore the inter-year improvement and just looking at the 2010 rankings, there is still room for improvement.    

Before delving into the defensive areas that could use the most improvement, it should first be noted that in the overwhelming majority of defensive statistical categories FSU made drastic improvements from 2009 to 2010.  Moreover, some of the 2010 statistics were excellent on their own, i.e., independently of the comparison with 2009.  Here are some examples of some of the excellent rankings in FSU's 2010 defense:

 

  • #13 stopping explosive plays on standard downs
  • #21 stopping explosive run on standard downs
  • #7 stopping explosive passes on standard downs
  • #5 red zone success rate
  • #7 red zone run success rate
  • #19 success rate in the 1st quarter
  • #10 stopping explosive plays in the 2nd qtr
  • #11 stopping explosive passing plays in the 2nd qtr
  • #17 stopping explosive plays in the 4th qtr
  • #8 stopping explosive runs in the 4th qtr
  • #9 stopping explosive plays on 1st down

 

Note: all of these bulleted statistics and those that follow (unless otherwise specified) are opponent adjusted but include data from all defensive plays from the 2010 season, even plays when the games weren't close.   And readers know that in games that are no longer closer, defensive play-calling tends to become more conservative and back-ups tend to see playing time and back-ups are more disposed to make mistakes, etc.  So all of us should be very cautious about drawing any strong conclusions from these statistics.  In this vein, below is the list of games and the quarter when the game was no longer close:

  • Oklahoma: 2nd quarter
  • BYU: 3rd quarter
  • Wake Forest: 4th quarter
  • Virginia: 2nd quarter
  • Miami: 4th quarter
  • Florida: 3rd quarter

Statistics from the Samford game are excluded.  Unfortunately I haven't done the legwork about how many back-ups played how many snaps when these games were no longer close.  (If anyone has this info, please share because it is one piece of valuable contextual information that can be used to determine how much we should weaken our interpretation of the data.)   

The first set of high-level data in the first table showed a significant one-year improvement, but once we get more into the weeds there appear to be areas where the 2010 defense may have regressed from the 2009 defense.  There are four such areas.  The first is explosive plays:

Year

Pass Pass Dwns PPP+

Q3 PPP+

Pass Q3 PPP+

Pass Q4 PPP+

3rd Down PPP+

Run 3rd Down PPP+

Pass 3rd Down PPP+

2009

37

58

63

31

16

32

17

2010

69

69

79

42

89

88

75

To be fair some of these regressions aren't terrible.  Nor, for example, is the 2010 ranking of Pass Q4 PPP+ horrible on its own.  In addition all of the problems with the run defense that appear in the data that I have were limited to 3rd down situations, which is promising for 2011.  But some of the other regressions and 2010 rankings on their own were surprising to me.  Based on the data in this table (above), the second main area where FSU's 2010 defense showed a regression was in 3rd down situations.  Here are some additional traditional (i.e., include data from all plays) 3rd down split statistics:

Opponent 3rd Down Conversions %

2010

2009

3rd Down Conversions %

41.4%

44.1%

3rd Down Conversions Against AP Ranked Teams

56.6%

55.2%

Games on the Road or Neutral Site

49.7%

47.4%

At Home

32.7%

41.0%

In Losses

59.1%

51.3%

Again, bearing in mind that 2009 was a historically bad year for our defense, I was surprised that the 2010 defense actually regressed slightly in three of these five traditional 3rd down categories shown.  The home 3rd down conversion rate is very good, but the rate in losses, against ranked teams and on the road could use improvement.  The third area where the data showed a regression was in the 3rd quarter.   Excluding explosive plays in the 3rd quarter (which are already shown above) FSU's 2010 defensive success rate regressed in three categories:

Year

Q3 SR+

Run Q3 SR+

Pass Q3 SR+

2009

67

45

74

2010

80

55

99

Now this regression may have a plausible explanation.  In the 3rd quarter FSU had the comfortable lead and so Stoops' play-calling was more conservative, allowing opponent offenses to be more efficient.  While this explanation would account for opponent offenses operating efficiently ("SR+" measures efficiency), this explanation does not account for the big increase in explosive plays (shown earlier); conservative defensive play-calling is designed to minimize explosive plays.  Another explanation for these regressions is that FSU had a comfortable lead in the 3rd quarter-we know that FSU had the lead in three games that weren't close in the 3rd quarter- and so played (a good number of) defensive backups, who are more disposed to mistakes, e.g., missed assignments, etc.  So, it's very possible that these numbers aren't as bad as they appear.

According to the data already shown, the last main area that the data show a regression is in certain passing situations, both explosive and non-explosive.  That is, explosive passes on passing downs, explosive passes in the 3rd and 4th quarters, explosive passes on 3rd down and passing success rate in the 3rd quarter.   Some of these regressions aren't horrible but the 2010 rankings taken independently indicate that there may be a lot of room for improvement to be made in 2011.

In closing let's try to give even more context for these data since they include source data from five games when FSU had the lead in games that weren't close for some period of time (noted above).  I've already noted that when games aren't close, defensive play-calling tends to become more conservative.  I've also noted that when games aren't close, back-ups get more playing time; and back-ups are more disposed to make mistakes.  Add to these two features that the design of Stoops' defense is conservative (e.g., uses few blitzes, etc.); it's characterized as a bend-don't-break defense.  The result of Stoop's influence was that our 2010 defense was on the field 3.2% longer than in 2009.  Also, in 2010 opposing offenses ran 1003 plays (including garbage time) against our defense; and in 2009 opposing offenses ran 837 plays (including garbage time) against our defense.   This is a significant increase in the amount of work for our defense.  It's a fact that the longer a defense is on the field and the more plays it has to defend, the more exhausted the defensive players are, the more injuries will occur, etc.  And because of exhaustion players are probably more likely to make mistakes.

Having noted all of these caveats when interpreting the data used above, I don't know about you but in 2011 I'll be paying close attention when our defense is on the field and it's 3rd down... and in the 3rd quarter.

Miscellanea:

In 2009 T.J. Yates went 13-27 for 95 yards; his two longest completions were for 11 and 12 yards.  In 2010 T.J. Yates threw for 439 yards (more than Landry Jones); here's what his long passing plays chart with both years looks like:

 

 

10+

20+

30+

40+

50+

60+

70+

80+

90+

Year

Opponent

Yards

Yards

Yards

Yards

Yards

Yards

Yards

Yards

Yards

2009

UNC

2

2010

UNC

15

9

6

3

2

1

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