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Stathawking, Week 9: The Superstatitious Experiment

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An effort to use the Stathawk's scientific jinx for the forces of good, on purpose, now that it is apparent how the universe is doing things this season.

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Grant Halverson

The Madden Curse, the SI Cover Jinx -- overhyped, weak, impotent urban legends.

The Stathawk Spell -- scary phenomenon which is very real.

I used this space two weeks ago to illustrate how dominant Jon Ryan is on special teams. So he and his punting unit suffer a devastating trick play against St. Louis and then he shanks a punt in Carolina. FINE.

I used this space one week ago to illustrate how the Seattle 2014 pass rush is but a shadow's shadow of its former self. Naturally, Cliff took notes, and the Hawks harassed Cam Newton to the tune of three sacks, two QB hits, and 15 (fifteen!) QB hurries. It was a performance that earned them 9.1 positive PFF points, more than half their season total, and vaulted them all the way up into 7th place overall in PFF's 2014 pass rush ratings. WELL THEN.

It's evident that I need to dedicate some pixels to a taboo topic: Russell Wilson's propensity to put the ball on the turf. He does this, often, as the charts will show. He avoids the pick, because ball security, but with him under center, the ball will hit the turf. (Whoever the center happens to be on that series.)

I expect results, therefore, starting Sunday. Like, zero fumbles against the Raiders and Giants, combined. Get to work, Stathawk Spell.

Stat 1: For A Guy With Big Hands...

...Wilson sure fumbles footballs frequently. Only RGIII has coughed the ball up more often in the past three seasons.

Rank QB Total Fumblerooskies
1 R. Griffin 25
2 R. Wilson 24
3 P. Rivers 23
4t J. Cutler 22
4t M. Stafford 22
6 R. Fitzpatrick 21
7t A. Luck 20
7t B. Roethlisberger 20
7t R. Tannehill 20
10 C. Kaepernick 19

Strangely, though, he's been quite good/lucky at recovering his own errors. Unlike some of his peers, who shall go unnamed for exactly the rest of this paragraph.

Rank QB Fumbles lost
1 R. Griffin 18
2 J. Cutler 17
3t C. Kaepernick 15
3t A. Luck 15
3t P. Rivers 15
3t M. Stafford 15
7 R. Tannehill 14
8 B. Roethlisberger 13
9t 4 tied with 12
(yes, fine, the final line includes RW)

The bad part is that due to the nature of his offense, Wilson doesn't drop back as often as most of the other guys. There exist 1226 dropbacks in three seasons for RW, compared with upwards of 1400 for most good quarterbacks, and 1700+ apiece for Brees, Luck and Stafford. So Wilson's rate stats are actually worse than his counting stats.

To assault you with numbers, here's a table with five columns, ranking QB's in each one, full of pertinent fumble information. Explainer: As a QB, you now want to be at the top of this list. 1 = good, 18 = not so much.

Beware of Chartnado!!!!!

Rank Fumbles Fumbles Lost Recovery Pct. Dropbacks Per Fumble Dropbacks Per Fumble Lost
1 Dalton Romo Romo, 53.8 Dalton, 133.1 Romo, 255.8
2 Romo Dalton Wilson, 50.0 Romo, 118.1 Brees, 158.6
3 Rodgers Rodgers Fitz, 42.9 Brees, 116.3 Brady, 148.9
4 Brees Brady Brady, 38.9 Manning, 103.0 Dalton, 146.4
5 Manning Brees Roethlis., 35.0 Brady, 91.0 Manning, 140.5
6 Foles Manning Rivers, 34.8 Rodgers, 89.4 Rodgers, 125.1
7 Brady Fitzpatrick Newton, 33.3 Luck, 86.4 Stafford, 118.6
8 Newton Foles Stafford, 31.8 Stafford, 80.9 Newton, 117.3
9 Kaepernick Newton Tannehill, 30.0 Newton, 78.2 Luck, 115.1
10 Tannehill Wilson Rodgers, 28.6 Tannehill, 73.1 Roethlisberger, 112.1
11 Roethlisberger Roethlisberger Griffin, 28.0 Roethlisberger, 72.4 Tannehill, 104.4
12 Luck Tannehill Brees, 26.7 Rivers, 64.9 Fitzpatrick, 102.3
13 Fitzpatrick Kaepernick Manning, 26.7 Foles, 60.4 Wilson, 102.2
14 Stafford Luck Foles, 25.0 Fitzpatrick, 58.4 Rivers, 99.5
15 Cutler Rivers Luck, 25.0 Cutler, 54.9 Foles, 80.5
16 Rivers Stafford Cutler, 22.7 Kaepernick, 54.1 Cutler, 71.0
17 Wilson Cutler Kaep, 21.1 Wilson, 51.1 Kaepernick, 68.6
18 Griffin Griffin Dalton, 9.1 Griffin, 41.6 Griffin, 57.8

(In case you were curious, the 18 guys on this list are:

  • The top 10 fumblers, by volume, since 2012
  • Additional peers of RW: Dalton, Foles, Newton
  • Additional so-called "elite" quarterbacks: Brady, Brees, Manning, Rogers, Romo.

I didn't select them at random, or for cherry-picking, which, as an activity, gets a bad rap. Cherries are the best. Picking them sounds divine.)

Observation: The only place Wilson excels is in recovery percentage. Without studying the entire history of the league, I'm going to bet that recovering fumbles is highly dependent on luck, not skill. I'd expect some regression to the mean in Wilson's future.

Observation 2: Tony Romo is something of a wizard at ball protection. Just like we all suspected. 13 fumbles in 1535 dropbacks -- and he recovered more than half. Andy Dalton also hangs on to the ball.

Observation 3: Kaepernick, for all his ball security when it comes to interceptions, is pretty careless with the ball in the pocket and on the run. Nothing like poor RG3, though.

Postscript: The above stats are from regular-season games only. But it doesn't get any better for RW in the playoffs, either -- Marshawn bails his QB out by recovering the ball during this memorable play from the second half against Atlanta, January 2013:

All is forgiven, as the drive leads to a touchdown?

A postseason later, though, the very first play from scrimmage of the 2014 NFCCG is this doozy:

All's well that ends well? I suppose. Or, alternatively, how about not courting disaster every 51 dropbacks?

Stat 2: When Scoring Matters

One of Pete Carroll's (top 1,000) favorite mantras ends this way:

"Can you win the game in the fourth quarter? YES!"

You already know the rest of it. I'm going to put his axiom to a simple scoring test. Let's examine how important it is to win that fourth quarter, relative to the importance of winning other segments of the game.

Seahawks' record, 2013-2014 seasons, when they:

  • Win the first half: 12-1
  • Win the second half: 15-1
  • Win the fourth quarter only: 13-1

Okay. Seems there's no disadvantage to starting strong, no advantage to finishing strong. Good first piece of data. Needs the flip side. How about the Seahawks' record, same two seasons, when they:

  • Lose or tie the first half: 5-5
  • Lose or tie the second half: 2-5
  • Lose or tie the fourth quarter: 4-5

Okay again. This coin needs a third flip side. How about the Seahawks' record, same two seasons, when they:

Trail, by 7 or fewer points, holding the ball, with under six minutes left to play: 5-5.

Possible conclusions:

1. It appears to matter very much how you start the game.

3. The Hawks are in serious trouble if they fail to win the second half.

2. Expanding the data to include several teams would be interesting. To see if their first-half performance is as predictive of the final result as Seattle's is. In a later update, I can expand the research to include 2011, 2012, and maybe the NFC West rivals.

4. Playing ball control and limiting possessions places an extra premium on all possessions, not just the late ones fraught with potential win probability swings. The Hawks put themselves in no greater peril of losing, or winning, at any one given time: first-half possessions are just as important to the final outcome as second-half ones.

5. Seattle is neither at an advantage or disadvantage in recent seasons when the game's outcome hinges on the last possession.

"Can you avoid losing the game in the fourth quarter?!?"

"YES!!"

Not as snappy a mantra. But perhaps true for this team.

Go not lose tomorrow, then.