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Vikings Coaching Staff Not Keen On Pro Football Focus

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#1 Parker Hageman

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Posted 26 August 2014 - 11:33 AM

The Minnesota Vikings coaching staff and the advanced analytics site Pro Football Focus are having quite the relationship as of late.

 

Earlier in the week it was head coach Mike Zimmer who offered unsolicited insight regarding his thoughts on the website in response to a breakdown of offensive tackle Matt Kalil’s night against the Chiefs’ outside linebacker Tamba Hali. PFF wrote the following regarding Kalil’s preseason performance:

 

 

“For Kalil, it was one of his worst games in pass protection in his career, surrendering five total pressures on 23 attempts to finish at -3.6Hali notched an impressive +3.5 grade as a pass rusher with all four of his pressures coming against Kalil on only 12 rushes for the game.”

 

 

In his Monday press conference, Zimmer replied with this:

 

 

“This Pro Football Focus thing, I know everybody wants to get the scoop on this,’’ Zimmer said. “But quite honestly there’s not really anybody that really (knows). I look at the grades and I can’t tell you what a 0.7 is or anything like that, but I know that the people that are grading our games and our defenses and our offenses, they don’t know if the tackle gets beat inside, if we weren’t sliding out to the nickel or who our guys are supposed to cover.”

 

 

On Tuesday, reporters asked Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner about the analysis and, according to 1500ESPN.com’s Andrew Krammer, to which Turner echoed Zimmer’s sentiment by saying "trying to evaluate our tape and not know what we’re doing doesn’t make sense".

 

 

So far, the numbers and the Vikings are not getting along. 


#2 Parker Hageman

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Posted 26 August 2014 - 01:10 PM

Someone pointed me to the twitter account of @HawkeyeGamefilm (someone who claims to be a former college DB with experience consulting for NFL and NCAA teams) as a response to this topic.

 

According to his twitter account, in response to the backlash to Zimmer's comments, @HawkeyeGamefilm said the Vikings "have their own internal analytics dept, have two full time people; negative reaction is because it's outside opinion."

 

Here were some more tweets in response to this issue:

 

@hawkeyegamefilm

Another reason coaches take issue with analytic stuff in general: It rarely gives root causes, not terribly actionable unless very well done

 

 

@hawkeyegamefilm

"He gave up 4 pressures! He's not very good" is not a helpful statement to coaches. They want to know WHY he got beat and how to fix it

 

 

@hawkeyegamefilm

A better analytic"He got beat by 3 bull rushes&1 speed rush";Even that just tells you what,Lack of physical tools? bad game? great opponent?

 

 

@hawkeyegamefilm

I've said it before, coaches don't dislike numbers, you just better have the full story when you hand'm to them & address all skepticism

 

 

All of these are good thoughts on the use of analytics in the game today.

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#3 nicksaviking

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Posted 26 August 2014 - 01:40 PM

Gardy? Is that you?!


#4 nicksaviking

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Posted 26 August 2014 - 01:52 PM

Seriously though, advanced metrics are totally different for the NFL than they are for the MLB.  While the NFL stats could help give guidence in situational pass rushing, or which passes are the QB's strenths, it's not like grading your LT can accomplish much. 

 

In baseball you might pinch hit for him against a tough lefty or put a shift on for a dead pull hitter.  The numbers say Kalil is getting manhandled by Hali? Good to know, but unless you bench him, there's not a lot you can do about it other than get him bigger/stronger/faster/more techniclly sound, but you don't really need advanced metrics if you're going to come to that conclusion.

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#5 Parker Hageman

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Posted 26 August 2014 - 02:01 PM

While the NFL stats could help give guidence in situational pass rushing, or which passes are the QB's strenths, it's not like grading your LT can accomplish much.

 

 

And I think that is the point Hawkeye is making: It's a scouting grade, not a coaching grade. You can assign a value to the performance but it is hard for Zimmer & company to make changes just based on that number, which is why I am perfectly fine with them ignoring that type of metric. 

 

Beyond that, yes, they are right that it is even difficult to assign a value if you do not know what the play is. 

 

I do like knowing that there are analytic types in the Vikings front office who are thinking about this at the 40,000 foot view. 

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#6 mike wants wins

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Posted 26 August 2014 - 03:22 PM

These stats say what happened, not why. If you don't like what the stats say, do a better job. They watch and grade every play. It is likely their observations are directionally correct.

#7 Bo Mitchell

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Posted 26 August 2014 - 08:45 PM

This might be my favorite Vikings Journal forum thread so far. Interesting discussion.

 

The major point here is that, without knowing exactly what a guy was assigned to do on a specific play and without knowing what the other guys were assigned to do... how can you really grade?

 

I like Pro Football Focus, but the coaches have a very valid point.


#8 Parker Hageman

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Posted 26 August 2014 - 11:10 PM

I thought the Strib's Jim Souhan (of all people) had the most level-handed response to the situation:

 

-These guys have every right to tell us when we are, or PFF is, wrong. We also have the the right to be dubious about NFL coaches offering accurate assessments of their own players, because they so rarely do.

 

-Our job in the media is to use stats, whether old-school versions or advanced metrics, to illuminate subjects. But it's also our job to add the context that can make a statistic worthwhile. You have to use a combination of data, sourcing and first-person observation to complete the picture.

 

This is why good beat writers are so valuable. They're capable of filling in the blanks when a player has an apparently poor performance. Maybe the guy next to him missed an assignment. Maybe he's playing with a bad foot. And, yes, maybe he just played lousy.

 

I think Pro Football Focus does a masterful job of evaluating film, but I wouldn't take their grades as gospel, just as I wouldn't take anything an NFL coach says in public as gospel.

 


#9 Seth Stohs

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Posted 26 August 2014 - 11:14 PM

100% agree with the coaches... It's interesting to know that there are these types of numbers out there, and I think they're important for Rick Spielman to know at the end of the season (for the 16 regular season games, not the meaningless preseason games). If I were a coach, I would find the numbers interesting. However, they watch every play of every game  on video over and over and likely have their own system of judgment and for learning. It'd be interesting to see how the coaches' opinions compare to the advanced metrics. In theory, it would be great if the numbers lined up pretty close. That would help gain credibility for the stats. 

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#10 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 27 August 2014 - 07:02 AM

This might be my favorite Vikings Journal forum thread so far. Interesting discussion.

 

The major point here is that, without knowing exactly what a guy was assigned to do on a specific play and without knowing what the other guys were assigned to do... how can you really grade?

 

I like Pro Football Focus, but the coaches have a very valid point.

And this is why baseball is so easily tracked with advanced metrics while other sports struggle (though there are some interesting metrics that have been created for the NBA in recent years).

 

Baseball is a one-on-one sport. Pitcher-batter, batter-fielder, fielder-runner, etc. You know with certainty what is supposed to happen the overwhelming majority of the time. Metrics can track that.

 

But football? How do you accurately grade a cornerback's ability to feign a rush and then drop into coverage? Or maybe he's not supposed to cover that receiver at all... Maybe the safety is supposed to pick him up. How is a metric going to know the expectation for that player without comparing his actions to the playbook? They can track desirable/undesirable outcomes but not necessarily how that outcome was achieved. To put it into scientific terms, they have the Law but they have no Theory.

 

Too many moving parts, too many variables in a sport as complex as football. Advanced metrics are going to have a hell of a time gaining traction in the sport, though I commend those who are willing to give it a shot.

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#11 Parker Hageman

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Posted 27 August 2014 - 09:25 AM

Too many moving parts, too many variables in a sport as complex as football. Advanced metrics are going to have a hell of a time gaining traction in the sport, though I commend those who are willing to give it a shot.

 

 

To your, Bo and the Vikings' coaching staff's point, this is very true, assigning value to a play such as the one with Kalil & Hali is difficult without knowing the schemes. That said, football and analytics overall are not that far away from being an integral part of every front office. 

 

As noted above, the Vikings have a department. The Redskins, 49ers, Falcons, Jaguars, Bears, Texans and Bills are all teams that have people dedicated towards looking at data in the NFL. What seems to be different is that whereas the Kalil/Hali grades really tells nothing about that particular matchup but there's plenty of use in determining draft boards, salary cap management, free agents and game-planning (even as far as maximizing coach's challenges) as opposed to individual matchups.

 

Take this example from an ESPN story last year:

 

In 2011, based partially on advanced metrics, the Falcons gave up five picks -- two in the first round, one in the second and two in the fourth -- to draft explosive wideout Julio Jones. The move was widely panned, but GM Thomas Dimitroff had quietly crunched the numbers and found that less than 15 percent of fourth-round picks become starters and that Jones' ability to stretch the field and draw double coverage would be exponentially beneficial to the rest of the Falcons offense, especially veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez. In 2010 the Falcons ranked last in the NFL in passes of 25-plus yards with 14. Last year they more than doubled that total with 33.

 

 

That's a solid application of analysis.

 

The in-game, how did a player do vs another does not seem to have a great application for the coaching staff, however, my feelings on data is collect everything and sort it all out later. 


#12 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 27 August 2014 - 09:36 AM

To your, Bo and the Vikings' coaching staff's point, this is very true, assigning value to a play such as the one with Kalil & Hali is difficult without knowing the schemes. That said, football and analytics overall are not that far away from being an integral part of every front office. 

Absolutely. I'm not dismissing analytics numbers from the inside, I'm only saying that they're missing a vital ingredient for those trying to apply analytics from the outside.

 

If you have the playbook and know what the player is supposed to be doing, analytics can probably tell you a lot about a game. Without that knowledge, I see analytics struggling to gain a foothold from a fan/analyst perspective.


#13 Parker Hageman

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Posted 27 August 2014 - 09:41 AM

Without that knowledge, I see analytics struggling to gain a foothold from a fan/analyst perspective.

 

 

Absolutely. I think with baseball, for most of the advanced stats anyways, you understand the elements that make up the stat. Like FIP -- strikeouts, walks and home runs. For the grade provided between Kalil/Hali, I cannot figure out what goes into that final number. 


#14 TheLeviathan

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Posted 27 August 2014 - 05:36 PM

Absolutely. I'm not dismissing analytics numbers from the inside, I'm only saying that they're missing a vital ingredient for those trying to apply analytics from the outside.

 

If you have the playbook and know what the player is supposed to be doing, analytics can probably tell you a lot about a game. Without that knowledge, I see analytics struggling to gain a foothold from a fan/analyst perspective.

 

Well, one counterpoint to your position Brock is simply that most talk of the complexity of NFL schemes is misguided.  (Chip Kelly laughed this Grudenesque hype off in an interview I read recently, can't remember where.)

 

Great coaches aren't great coaches because they have complexity, more that they are really good at mixing and disguising what they do to avoid tendencies.  An ISO play is fairly easy to glean for anyone familiar with coaching football and the assignments are rarely different.  Ditto something out of a Power series.  Routes are generally all the same with just different tags.  Most football comes down to execution and timing more than they do complexity.  

 

So my point is that someone that knows football can tell what assignment a player had with an incredibly high degree of accuracy if they are able to watch the film enough and know the game.  It's just not as accurate and objective as baseball, that's a totally fair point.


#15 Joe Oberle

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Posted 27 August 2014 - 06:02 PM

Putting aside (for the moment) the viability of the metrics in football analysis--I am not saying whether it is or not--but if Zimmer doesn't think it is, then why is he offering his opinion on it unsolicited? Why is he looking at it? If he's got his own metric people, than use their numbers.

 

Zimmer said this:

 

"I look at the grades and I can’t tell you what a 0.7 is or anything like that, but I know that the people that are grading our games and our defenses and our offenses, they don’t know if the tackle gets beat inside, if we weren’t sliding out to the nickel or who our guys are supposed to cover.”

 

Did I miss something? If he thinks its baloney, then just ignore it. I like that he may be protecting his guy, but his bringing it up is what gave it a longer news cycle--one that his OC had to respond to. Perhaps he was trying to head it off, but I say let Kalil read it and let it motivate him to do better. PFF's numbers will help the Vikings more during contract renegotiation time. I hope the head coach is not thin-skinned. Do they have a metric for that?


#16 Gernzy

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 07:40 AM

I can't believe I completely agree with something Souhan wrote...

I bent my wookie...


#17 John Bonnes

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 10:14 AM

Norv Turner also addressed this somewhat in his interview the other day. Essentially, he said that Kalil struggled because the coaching staff wanted to see how he held up if he was absolutely isolated:

 

 

One of the things that people who are trying to evaluate our tape and not knowing what we’re doing, it just doesn’t make any sense. We’re evaluating, we’re finding out where we are as a football team, what our guys can do and then when we get in games we have a better understanding of how we have to game plan and when you’re on the road in a noisy environment against that player he played against the other night, that’s a challenge and we didn’t give him any help on purpose. One of the plays where we got pressured was not a good play call, we did not have a good combination route on so we ended up holding the ball too long.

 

And then he also said that one of the pressures wasn't really a pressure at all - that the call should have been for a shorter developing play. 

 

I don't think that means we should completely discount metrics. I also don't believe we should trust the Vikings analysis more than an objective one. I guess it means that we should weigh the evidence as we see it and make our own call. 


#18 Teflon

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 09:24 PM

I was under the impression that NFL coaching staffs broke down the previous week's game film and evaluated lineman on every play's assignment and then graded them out. I don't know what advanced analysis would be any more useful than that unless somebody actually starts measuring the comparative kph of pulling guards or how many newtons of force a left tackle can withstand before giving ground.


#19 The Greatest Poster Alive

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 10:29 PM

Zimmer's reluctance to accept advanced stats reminds me of the early days of analytics for baseball.  I hope the Vikings are working on their own internal metrics if PFF's are not suitable, rather than relying solely on old-school scouting.  

 

*FYI i'm not saying old-school scouting should or will ever be replaced, I think they need to be used in tandem.   


#20 mike wants wins

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Posted 29 August 2014 - 12:12 PM

Well, if the play went on and on, John, and there was pressure, there was pressure. Just because the play went too long does not mean that the OL should stop blocking.

 

Again, the stats measure WHAT happened, not WHY it happened. Norv's example is a great point of that. There was pressure, but that was caused by the play taking too long. Does not negate that there was pressure, and which OL gave it up.