We Get It KC Joyner, You Own a Calculator

Early this year, I was intrigued when I gained access to ESPN “Insider” as part of my ESPN Magazine subscription. While Insider has proved to be a convenient resource for fantasy sports and rumors (although the same information can be found for free elsewhere), some of their “Insider” content is laughable. Case and point, KC Joyner, the so-called “Football-Scientist”.


The Real Science Guy (via www.billnye.com)

A journalist gets exposure by making bold claims and following up by adequately supporting their point. The thing that irks me about Joyner is that he supports his outlandish claims with ridiculous stats that he generates (scientifically!). I like the ambition of trying to find new ways of evaluating players, but just because a writer created his own statistic (usually with an obnoxiously long acronym) does not necessarily translate to adequate support of their claim.

For instance, in Joyner’s newest column, Cowboys Built for Playoff Success (Insider Subscription Required), he makes an extremely bold claim and supports it with shaky evidence (although the evidence uses big words). I will first outline his main points then follow with a rebuttal.


His first point is that the NFC is full of pass heavy teams and Romo has highest yards per attempt on passes thrown 21 yards or more.

A number of metrics indicate Dallas would be capable of doing this — the Cowboys rank eighth with 7.9 yards per pass attempt and seventh with 3,249 total passing yards — but the one that may stand out the most is Tony Romo‘s totals in the stretch-vertical route depth metric.

Stretch-vertical routes are passes thrown 21 yards or more downfield, so they truly are the pass attempts that can stretch a defense to its breaking point (hence the name).

Through Week 13, Romo has gained 871 yards on 48 stretch-vertical pass attempts. That equates to 18.1 yards per attempt (YPA) in this category. (Note: The attempt and yardage totals include penalty plays such as pass interference and defensive holding.)


Next he states that DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones are great when they get good blocking (lol).

Murray and Jones have both posted an 8.2-yard mark in the good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA) metric this year. This game-tape review-based statistic gauges how productive a ball carrier is when he is given good blocking (which is loosely defined as when the blockers don’t allow the defense to do anything to disrupt a rush attempt).

Any total above the 7-yard mark in that category is considered superb, so Murray’s and Jones’ totals here are near elite.


If the linemen block well and the defense doesn't disrupt the rush, Felix Jones is elite! (image via DallasCowboys.com)


His final point, is that Romo has a low bad decision rate (a stat generated from his analysis) , so that should translate to a solid chance of him not turning the ball over in the playoffs. He starts by saying two other teams have been better in not turning the ball over, yet the Cowboys still have a “solid” shot at running the NFC.

Another key to beating the NFC contenders is winning the turnover battle. This is especially necessary to top the San Francisco 49ers and Packers, as they rank first and second in the league in turnover margin (plus-18 for the Niners, plus-16 for the Packers).

The general consensus about Romo is that he isn’t capable of consistently protecting the ball, but his showing in the bad decision rate (BDR) metric has actually been very good this year. (BDR measures how often a quarterback makes a mistake that leads either to a turnover or a near turnover such as a dropped interception or fumble recovered by the offense.)

Romo has a 1.8 percent BDR so far this season, a mark that history indicates is a top-10-caliber total. His numerous gaffes in the Detroit game notwithstanding, Romo has protected the ball quite well in 2011 and could hold his own against some of the top passers in the conference if the situation called for it.


To recap. The Cowboys, who play in the worst division in football this year (sadly), have a “solid shot at making a deep playoff run in the NFC” because:

  • Tony Romo has a very high yards per attempt over 21 yards
  • The Cowboys running backs do well when they get perfect run blocking and no defensive disruption
  • Romo hasn’t been making bad decisions (a subjective stat)


All of that information is interesting, however it is extremely vague (despite fancy sounding stats) in supporting his bold initial claim that the Cowboys are in a solid position to beat teams such as Green Bay, San Francisco, New Orleans, etc. Even worse, this is pay only content on ESPN. It’s not hard to support your claim when the source behind your supporting statistics are categories that you made up. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out running backs do well when their run blocking isn’t disrupted, however Joyner fails to mention some of the teams in the NFC are EXCELLENT as disrupting the run (especially San Fransisco).


For content that only paid-subscribers can fully access, I’m extremely disappointed that many articles are similar to these. They sound great as you are reading them, but when you break it down most analysis is vague at best. On Joyner’s webpage, he states “Information, not opinion, is the key to accurate analysis”. Which is true in the science world, we know the reaction to expect when we mix baking soda and vinegar. However when it comes to sp0rts, good analysis should include opinions. There are too many factors that go into each play that can drastically impact the final result. There are some games where team simply do not show up and get beaten by an inferior team. Its subjective analysis that makes sports so great and unpredictable.



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