Tuesday, January 09, 2007


During the year Tedford and Dunbar came under fire (relatively speaking) for their alleged conservatism in play-calling. We thought it fair to do a quick and dirty analysis of the play-by-play for each of the Bears' conference games and the Holiday Bowl to see whether this criticism was supported by the data.

One can look at aggregate data to see that Cal threw the ball more in '06 as we did in '04 (413 to 331 with only one more game played). That's not what we're after here. Instead, we want to examine situational play-calling to determine a) whether Ted-Bar are generally conservative in situations that lend themselves to stretch plays and b) whether Ted-Bar are more conservative than other successful teams - namely USC, who is often held up as an example of how to be aggressive on offense. For the USC data we looked at their conference games plus ND and Michigan.

For this first look we're examining a down and distance that usually offers good insight into the mindset of an offensive coaching staff: 2nd and short (defined as 3 yards or less). This down and distance is a good test of a team's "aggressive" philosophy, since it offers coaches the opportunity to go for the jugular, assuming that a 3rd and short is makeable in the event of an incompletion.

(We thought of using 1st and 10, but decided against it since many teams ran a pretty deep zone against Cal as their base defense in '06. Under circumstances where the defense is taking away the intermediate and long routes, any coach would be more prone to dink and dunk or run the ball more frequently than normal. 2nd and short, however, usually offers a more vanilla defensive response. That, and we're too lazy to look at all the data).

We analyzed competitive situations in which Cal either trailed or led by no more than two touchdowns, and did not look at possessions at the end of the 2nd or 4th quarters, when the Bears might be expected to pound the ball to kill clock, or 2nd and goal situations.

The numbers back up our collective suspicion - Cal was indeed very conservative in these situations in 2006. Cal faced nineteen 2nd and short's in 2006, and ran the ball 17 times. The two passes were a short completion to DeSean Jackson in the Stanford game, and a more ambitious incompletion to Robert Jordan against the Bruins. Another interesting number: Cal faced eight competitive 2nd and 1's and converted only three of them - a crazy number considering the quality of Cal's running backs.

USC, thought by some to be a paragon of go-for-broke offense, faced 29 such situations and passed nine times (four times on 2nd and 1). So, yes, the Trojans were significantly more aggressive in this down and distance in 2006. Not sure what this proves - nor are we sure that giving the ball to Lynch or Forsett is a bad thing - but it's food for thought.


At 3:50 PM, Blogger Pete Morris said...

Interesting analysis, Tightwad, and the way you framed it makes good sense. My personal frustration with Cal's offense at times, though, wasn't a matter of pass vs. run, but rather two other issues:
(1) the apparent preference for trying ambitiously long field goals rather than going for it on 4th down;
(2) predictability and lack of imagination in the play calling, as opposed to alleged "conservatism"

Elaborating on #2, I was expecting (and hoping) to see Marshawn used more like Reggie Bush had been at SC, touching the ball from a variety of positions. There was the direct snap in the Holiday Bowl, and the TD catch against Oregon, but such examples weren't nearly as common as I hoped. Instead, it seemed to be a rather generic blend of conventional hand-offs and screens. I remain especially bewildered by one play, in particular, where Lynch lined up in the slot, went slowly in motion to his tailback position, reset, and then some standard play was run. I waited all year for the Bears to break out a variation: quick-snap or pitch the ball to Lynch as he continued in motion all the way around the end, or perhaps have Lynch abruptly stop his motion, and break upfield with the snap of the ball as a receiver. Maybe I missed it, but it looked like the Bears were setting up a play on the game films that they never ended up calling.

Enough negativity. The Holiday Bowl was an absolute joy; Marshawn is going to tear up the NFL (perhaps lighting up New York City as Tiki Barber's successor, if not representing his hometown Raiders); and the Bears, led by prolific passer Nate the Great, the second coming of JJ Arrington in the form of 2000+ yards from Justin Forsett, and a surprisingly stout defense, will finally reached the promised land of Pasadena next year.

At 7:02 AM, Anonymous dc bear fan said...

I thought the play calling this year was pretty good -- the offense had a lot of weapons and did a nice job spreading the ball around so defenses couldn't key on one player. The one thing we were missing was a run threat from the QB position -- not a problem for most of the year, but a real handicap the one time we were truly overmatched up front (against SC). As I noted in a prior post, I think Nate will rip it up next year, but, even so, I would really like to see us develop a Tebow-like alternative that we could bring in periodically to show a different look and supplement the run game, particularly against the more stout defenses in the conference.

At 8:31 AM, Blogger border crosser said...

dc do u mean daly city? holliday bowl is what it is is is. but really lycnh should stay 4 his senior yr. he is not ready.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Tightwad said...

Pete, good to hear from you. That formation you mention made us crazy all year, and you're dead on that the only thing Cal did from it was hand it to Lynch.

One more thought - if Percy Harvin can line up in the backfield, why not DJax?


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