A few years ago, I read Rex Ryan’s book Play to Win1. The most I ever expect to glean from a book by an active head coach is a scant few useful facts, but Ryan’s ghostwritten slog of a read fails to live up to even those low expectations. Its pages are filled primarily by him bragging about how awesome his life is, with occasional pauses to summarize Jets games and/or justify Mark Sanchez’s existence. The only reason I’m mentioning this waste of paper at all is because near the beginning of chapter five he slips up and says something interesting:
“If you look at rushing attempts plus [pass] completions, if you are ahead in that category, then you win about 80 percent of your games. It’s a proven fact. Then tie in protecting the football and getting turnovers on defense with rushing attempts and completions, and presto, that’s all you’ve got to do . . . According to Randy Lange, who works for the Jets on our website NewYorkJets.com, if you count all games (playoff and regular season) since 2003, NFL teams that get at least one more turnover than their opponent win nearly 80 percent of the time.”
In short, four times out of five the team who wins the turnover battle wins the game, and the same is true for the team who has a higher combined total of rushing attempts and pass completions (RA+PC for short). As it turns out, he’s a bit off on that latter figure: for the 2013 regular season, teams that finished games with a positive turnover ratio won 80.10% of the time, while teams that finished with a higher R+P won 70.92% of the time.
Separately, those stats are interesting but not really all that useful. However, as Ryan (well, Ryan’s writing team) suggests, they get a whole lot more awesome when you look at them together. When teams in 2013 finished games positive in both turnover ratio and RA+PC, they won 91.45% of the time! Here’s the full data table of all nine possible combinations (positive, equal, and negative for both stats) for that same season:
|+||+||107 (91.45%)||10 (8.55%)|
|+||=||45 (70.31%)||19 (29.69%)|
|=||+||2 (50.00%)||2 (50.00%)|
|=||=||0 (0.00%)||0 (0.00%)|
|=||–||2 (50.00%)||2 (50.00%)|
|–||+||44 (62.86%)||26 (37.14%)|
|–||=||19 (29.69%)||45 (70.31%)|
|–||–||10 (8.55%)||107 (91.45%)|
It’s important to note here that unlike toxic differential or passer rating differential, combining RA+PC and turnover stats does not produce a predictive statistic – those percentages in the table above won’t tell you what teams are more likely to reach the playoffs, or how many more games a team is likely to win that season. Instead, it’s a handy rule of thumb for judging the quality of a team’s wins. If the winning team was positive in both RA+PC and TO, for example, then they were most likely the dominant team, while if the winning team was negative in both, then they probably just got lucky that day. Here’s how the Seahawks 2014 season shapes up in both categories:
By this metric, the only truly high-quality win the Hawks have put up so far this season was against the Broncos, while conversely their only high-quality loss (for lack of a better term) was to the Chargers. Their other two wins had a good-but-not-great 70.31% win probability, but it’s the results for the other two losses that really caught my eye. Against Dallas, their loss probability was just 37.14%, while the probability of a loss versus St. Louis was an even lower 29.69%. That doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t deserve to lose either contest, but it does suggest that, at least on paper, they weren’t beaten so much as they let two games they should’ve won slip away from them. In short, as many of us have been hoping, this metric suggests that the 2014 Seahawks are a better team than their 3-3 record would indicate. Hopefully they’ll start acting like it tomorrow versus the Panthers.
1 And then wrote an article on this same subject for Seahawk Addicts, but seeing as how that was written several seasons ago (and for a different website’s audience at that) I figured it was probably about time to touch on it again.