Sunday, May 18, 2008

Football Offensive Reviews Part 1

As we fill in the long off-season, I wanted to begin a review of the Falcons 2007 season. Let's begin with the overall perspective...we were 8-5 and made a bowl game. And, based on who is coming back, we can expect to be favored (or among them, at least) to win the MAC this year. And, we have had a long drought since we have won the MAC. Let's remember, the Brandon/Meyer era has yet to net a MAC Championship, and has netted only one division title.

The best way to understand our offense for 2007 is to look back at some comparisons to year before. 2006 was a long and painful season, and one in which our offense was simply brutal. We did bring it back somewhat in 2007, but that needs to be kept in perspective, too. In former years, we were simply the best offense in the MAC. We are now among the better offenses in the MAC. There's a difference.

Let's look at a few key measures. The first number is 2007 and the other is 2006. (Note: all stats are conference games only. It provides, in my opinion, the cleanest measure because it weeds out disparate out of conference games).

Points (33.9) (20.8)

This one, it goes without saying is the most important. The purpose of your offense is to score points. If you are doing it well, than that matters. Sometimes you can have some things buried in the numbers (like a reliance on opponent turnovers or big plays which are partly luck and might not be relicable), but scoring points is a nice measure.

And we scored 13.1 more points per game, third in the MAC. But, Central Michigan scored a full ten points more than us, and their devastating QB is back again. My point is that there is still room for this offense to improve, and we need to. I don't think we will win the MAC at 33.9 per game.

Yards Per Play (5.8) (4.8)

In my view, the most reliable measure of offensive success (that is, the least related to luck and the most likely to indicate future success) is yards per play. When you look at running and passing stats, you have to be careful. Teams might not pass a lot because its so easy to run, and vice versa. But yards per play measures the whole deal. If I had the data, I'd really rather have MEDIAN yards per play, but I don't.

Anyway, from our grim 2006, we did get another yard per play, which means about another 70-80 yards per game. Looked at another way, it represents, 21% more offense per play. And that has to matter.

Passing Efficiency (140.6) (113.2)

As Coach Brandon often says, we are a passing team. Except, in 2006, when we were a running team because we thought we had to be. We started with Anthony Turner in his first year as a starter, and he never gave us what we wanted, and we slotted in Tyler Sheehan who was a true freshmen.

So, we had to improve in 2007, and we did, and this is the key reason why we scored points again. This is a significant improvement, but it is not an ending point. Tyler had four good games, and then four weak ones when he was hurt, and then four good games when he was better and AT got the running game going a little.

We probably will need some additional production here, too. While we were much better, three teams in the MAC were better. CMU and BSU (with the best individual QBs in the MAC were better) and Buffalo led the conference. There is still room to improve, and we will need it if we are going to get near CMU's scoring.

Rushing (4.3) (4.0)

This might be the key stat of all. In 2006, we ran the ball because we had to. Its hard to run the ball because you have to and do it well, and, in fact, while we brag about leading the conference in rushing that year, yards per carry was nothing impressive. In 2007, we improved our running while ALSO improving our passing. Because we had options, teams had to defend us differently, and that opened some holes. And, we did it without Eric Ransom and Willie Geter (for much of the year), our two top RB threats. As the passing increases, we hope to see production in this area improve some--into the high fours or even five, which can be done with our offense spreading out the D.

You will note a theme. Offense better, but not good enough yet. You'll see when we look at the D that there is reason to be concerned on that front, and we have lost some guys, too. So the offense has to get better. Here are some areas where it didn't and could.

Turnovers (14) (12)

We had two additional MAC game turnovers than we did the year before. Really, though, this is a wash. We only turned the ball over 12 times in the previous year because we were so distrustful of ours QBs that we rarely threw anything but bubble screens. So, this year, we took a few more chances, and, yes, turned it over a little more. If we can get back to 12, we'll be as good as any team we are trying to catch.

3rd Down (39.4) (40.5)

In my opinion, football is all about third down. If you can perform on third down and you keep their defense on the field, you are going to have a good shot at winning. I say that, of course, without benefit of any actual statistical data. In 2007, we obviously had about the same 3rd down conversion that we had the year before. Given that we had better yards per play than the year before (and better rushing), we should have done better here than we did. The Rockets were nearly at fifty percent.

One note: success on third down is partly a reflection of what you are doing on 1st and 2nd down. We made more yards per play, but I obviously don't know how that was distributed per down. But, no matter how it was, we should have been better than this, and will need to for more points to be scored in 2008.

Red Zone (4.4) (4.38)

Plays in the red zone are key. You simply have to score when you get down there. Now, this stat is a little different. I don't believe in using red zone percent because it counts FG and TDs the same. I like to look at points per red zone opportunity, because it rewards teams that score TDs. The Falcons were, in fact, again, about the same as the year before. CMU was only 4.6, so we're in the ball park there. Difference is, CMU got there 11 more times (more than once a game) than we did.

See above, right?

I got more, which I will write later. That's enough for now.

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