We recently opened up our new tip line, and as the Complex Sports #brand grows, we wanna make sure we're giving our audience the best #content possible. Part of this involves answering your questions directly. You know, instead of in the comment section between the guy telling us to "stick to Kanye" and the robot trying to help us all earn $50,000 working part-time from our living rooms.
This first question comes directly from our Editor Tony, which is weird because he also answers the question himself. Think of it as the literary equivalent of tossing a baseball in the air and smashing it into left field.
Q: What is the most meaningless statistic in the modern day NFL?
Without hesitation, the answer is Time of Possession. It's a dumb, archaic stat that says little about an offense's ability to score points or a defense's ability to stop an offense. The problem is that dumb, archaic sports pundits still use TOP as a way of proving this-or-that about the NFL's offenses. Just look at the current leaders in Time of Possession (updated 11/29 according to SportingCharts.com):
There are some good teams at the top of the Time of Possession rankings:
But there are also good teams in the middle.
And at the bottom.
You know what you call a statistical ranking where there are good teams at the top, in the middle, and at the bottom? Fucking meaningless.
Shit doesn't mean shit. Ignore Time of Possession. Chip Kelly's Eagles—29th in the league in TOP—are third in points per game behind only the Patriots and Packers and average over 400 yards a game. The Points Per Drive differential is a much more meaningful stat.
Also, yes, I'm an Eagles fan and a full-fledged white Nike Cortez-wearing, Kool Aid-guzzling member of the Cult of Chip Kelly. What you know 'bout Chip being 16-4 in his last 20 NFL games? Praise Him in all His glory.—Maurice Peebles (@tallmaurice)
Interceptions aren't so much meaningless as they are extremely flawed. I see it in just about every single game of football I watch: The "INT" stat line doesn't at all reflect just how well or how poorly the quarterback in question actually played. Tipped passes, receivers running poor routes, and dropped interceptions can explain exactly why the stat doesn't tell the full story.
Interceptions are often the result of a tipped pass. Sometimes that comes at the line when a tackle or guard has great timing or is athletic enough to get a hand up and deflect the ball. Is it necessarily the quarterback's fault that another player did his job really well? It might be if the quarterback were staring down exactly where he's going to throw for too long, but more often than not, it's not really a mistake by the quarterback, it's just a great play by a defender. Sometimes a tipped pass happens at the fault of the receiver. How is it Eli Manning's problem that his receiver has butter fingers and perfectly propped the ball into the air instead of making the grab? That's not Manning's mistake. If the quarterback puts the ball on his target in a place where the target should catch the ball, it's not fair to penalize the person throwing the ball for the receivers failures.
The same goes for failed routes. Obviously, this is much harder to spot, as we'll never know exactly what play the receiver was supposed to be running. However, more often than not, when it's an interception where it looks like the quarterback simply through it straight to the defender, there's a good chance that wasn't entirely his fault. (Most) quarterbacks are not that stupid. Look for the interaction between the quarterback and the receiver after that type of play. If the quarterback is throwing his hands up in the air like, "what the hell, man?" or making angular motions with his hands like, "no, no, no, you were supposed to run a post, not a hitch," there's a good chance it was the receiver who screwed up the play. But yet, the quarterback's stats are the ones that hurt.
Not all of these suggestions are to get quarterbacks off the hook. There are often plenty of horrific throws that quarterbacks get away with because a defensive back has no hands and couldn't complete a catch if his five-year-old was under-handing to him. Those are called dropped interceptions. Quarterbacks frequently overthrow, underthrow, stare down a defender, or stupidly throw into triple coverage and are fortunate to get away with it. Why? Sometimes because the pass was so bad it wasn't close to anybody, but more often than not it's because the defenders couldn't make a play they should've. When a pass goes straight through a back's hands, that, in some element, should count against the quarterback. He obviously made a mistake that could have cost his team a turnover, yet the only place it shows up on the stat sheet is as an incompletion. That's not a proper representation of what happened.
This is the difference between an "interception" and an "Adjusted Interception." One is a flawed raw statistic and the other is a smart metric that takes these many important elements into consideration. Changing the focus from INTs to Adjusted INTs would require much more insight into the game and have much larger gray areas, but the basic interception just doesn't cut it anymore. In an age of advanced statistics, it's time to show what's really happening. — Tony Markovich (@T_Marko)