Sunday, June 12, 2011

Using Football Outsiders' game charting data to evaluate 3rd & long playcalling

For years I have watched fans boo and roll their eyes when the home team has run a screen pass on third and long, apparently on the assumption that the play call constitutes giving up on the drive and settling for a punt. I have never agreed. This is partly because I find the screen to be among the most satisfying plays in football when executed properly. Subjectively, screen plays seem to gain significant yards quite frequently, and I have long hypothesized that in a third and long situation a screen may give you as good a chance as a longer pass of gaining a third down, partly because the defense is expecting a long pass, and as such the pass rushers will likely be going all out for the quarterback, which should of course be an ideal set up to exploit them with a nice little screen. But let’s test this with a little data.