Why you cannot always rely upon data analytics for good football data

Los Angeles Rams v Green Bay Packers, Sean McVay
Los Angeles Rams v Green Bay Packers, Sean McVay / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages

There are many ways to measure the success of an NFL outside linebacker, and with each new season there is a new wave of new data points to consider. In essence, the standard of good optics is no longer enough. Now the savvy and most posh and studious NFL analyst immerses into the nebulous realm of quarterback pressures, pass rusn win rates, and quarterback knockdowns.

The problem with all of the efforts to slice and dice player performance into more and more obscurity is the fact that the data begins to lose relevance. Unless the new data sets apply to the historically great pass rushers of NFL lore and history, or until those data sets have been applied to enough players to truly understand how they measure a players impact in the dynamics of games, seasons and careers, they are simply curiosities.

And so, the latest ESPN data chart that measures double team rate at edge (x) by pass rush win rate at edge (y) is a fun plot to examine, but what does it say about the LA Rams edge rushers?

At first glance, the chart reads as though the Rams edge rushers are pitiful. Both Byron Young and Michael Hoecht plot in the lower left quadrant, which is often representative of the worst performers in the NFL. But is that truly the case? Perhaps not, if you truly read the chart and what it is measuring.

What about defensive tackles against double teaming?

What are you measuring? What do you expect?

The chat merely tracks how effective NFL Players are against double team blocks. Any player below the X axis is getting double teamed less than the norm of this player population. And player to the left of the Y axis is not having much success against double teams. The chart does nothing to measure success against single blocks, or triple teams. With the LA Rams defensive front that has All-Pro DT Aaron Donald, the crux of double teams will be targeted at him. And that is what the graph illustrates.

So what can we decypher from this data? Well, veteran outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who was unceremoniously cut from the LA Rams roster in the offseason, tracks as one of the better edge rushers against double teams. But isn't it also true that his teammate, OLB Von Miller, has appeared in just five games, 104 defensive snaps, and has no quarterback sacks this season? So Floyd is logically getting the majority of attention in the Buffalo Bills pass rush.

For the record, Micah Parsons has 7.5 QB sacks. Myles Garrett has 9.5 QB sacks. Leonard Floyd has 7.0 QB sacks this season. LA Rams rookie OLB Byron Young has 5.0 QB sacks this season. while OLB Michael Hoecht has 3.5 QB sacks this season. So how does that compare to salaries?

  1. Myles Garrett - 1 year $16,308,000
  2. Micah Parsons - 2 years $8.500,000
  3. Leonard Floyd - 1 year $7,000,000
  4. Byron Young - 4 year $5,556,667
  5. Michael Hoecht - 1 year, $940,000

The LA Rams are running the team on a tight budget right now, and the annual cost of their two starting outside linebackers are a fraction of the cost of any of the veterans on the chart above.

Be careful what you conclude from 'new' data

Too many misread the data that is presented to suggest that the LA Rams pass rushers are bad. They are not 'bad,' insomuch as they are less effective when facing double teams. Who else struggles against double teams per that chart? Broncos Jonathon Cooper, Bears Montez Sweat, Chargers Joey Bosa, Bucs Shaq Barrett, and even Vikings Danielle Hunter.

So perhaps the assertion that the Rams pass rushers are substandard that is the current narrative is misdirected? These data points track players who face double-team blocking only.

If you can't dazzle friends and family with brilliance, you can always baffle them with bullshit. It's not that ESPN, or any other, data analytics set out to mislead fans with obscure relational data. It's simply the fact that the more complex the data set is, the harder it becomes to apply that data to real world experiences on game day.

ESPN could just as easily run data points for dollars spent per quarterback sack, and the LA Rams two outside pass rushers would stand atop the NFL in that category. In the end, go with the simplest measurements. The LA Rams are getting to opposing quarterbacks at an ever-increasing frequency. If the data that you are using does not tell you that, then you are simply measuring the wrong thing.