Thursday, 1 January 2015

Just One Number

On this first day of the first month of the New Year, I thought we would take a look at one change in one statistical number that each team should want to make for the upcoming season.

Much like many of our very own New Years’ resolutions, it involves a reduction in one aspect or an increase in another. (Except mine, of course, since I am at peak levels to be the first 45-year-old rookie long snapper in CFL history!)

I took the opportunity to look at 25 of the major factors/statistics that are tracked by the CFL. I will not bore everyone by listing each and every statistical category, but I can assure you that they are all covered. I left the “Captain Obvious” ones aside. So to those that are wont to say: “More Wins and Less Losses” or “Score More Points Than Your Opponent”, need not leave those sentiments in the comments section. I also did my best to stay away from those statistical measurements that encompass more than two other factors.

So, what is that one number? That one statistical measurement that stands out amongst the 200 statistics and comparisons for each team that is an eyesore compared to all the others?

As Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod would say: “There Can Be Only One!”

Ottawa RedBlacks

In their inaugural season, unsurprisingly, the RedBlacks were ranked last in many statistical categories. You could point to most any individual number and say that they need to improve that particular fragment of the game. Yet, one number does stand out versus all the others: Points Off Turnovers.

No matter which way you slice and dice it, points off turnovers were a significant factor for the CFL’s newest franchise. The RedBlacks scored the fewest in the league, with 38, while they also gave up a league-leading 117 points after a turnover. The 79 points in the negative is a differential of 55 more than the next-worst team. They gave up 154 per cent more than the average CFL franchise while scoring almost 30 per cent less.

Closing the gap, or even better, reversing the differential in Points Off Turnovers would definitely improve Ottawa’s fortunes in 2015.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Not only did it seem like the Bombers took one step forward while then taking two steps back in 2014, the numbers prove it. Winnipeg led the league in the area of Team Losses by a very large margin, as they incurred a whopping 637 yards against which was almost 55 per cent more than the average CFL team.

These Team Losses can mostly be attributed to quarterback-sacks-given-up – which the Bombers also led the league in – but they are also a result of fumbles behind the line of scrimmage, as well as bobbled snaps and safeties surrendered. Yet they are losses all the same and in order for Winnipeg to take continuous steps forward they must keep from taking losses and moving backwards.

Toronto Argonauts

It was not hard to get a grasp on the one area that Toronto needs to improve in from last season. In one word, or rather one phrase: “It’s A Fumble!” (Read in your own Chris Berman Voice!)

Holding onto the ball is definitely one area where the Argos demonstrated difficulty during the 2014 season. The Double Blue lost a league leading 25 fumbles which were five more than the next-worst team and 70 per cent more than average team.

But it is in the area of differentials that things get even worse for the Boatmen. While only recovering 12 fumbles from their opponents, the resultant -13 was the worst league-wide by eight more than the next team.

Toronto must get a handle on this number, and more importantly get a better handle on the actual pigskin, in order for their prospects to improve in the upcoming season.

BC Lions

For an average team overall, it would not come to anyone’s surprise that most of their statistics would hover around the mean, to the exception of one in particular. That would be the differential between Average Yards Per Rushing Attempt, both for and against.

While the Lions were not the worst team as far as running the ball – sixth in a nine-team league – the fact that they were the seventh team against the rush definitely compounds the ground game differential and magnifies the problematic issue, which resulted in the Leos finishing in second-last place as far as variance between offensive and defensive rush differential.

Not being able to rush the ball effectively, nor stop the other team from running rampant, affected so much of BC’s overall game in 2014. This factor must be addressed next season if the Lions hope to be in a position of dictating and controlling the game, and not being dictated and controlled by their opponents.

Saskatchewan Roughriders

It is fairly surprising with receivers like Weston Dressler and Rob Bagg that the Roughriders ranked last in the league as far as Yards After Catch or YAC.

When Saskatchewan had the ball their YAC was 48 per cent less than the average CFL franchise. When their opponents had possessed the pigskin, they gave up almost 13 per cent more Yards After Catch. The result was a league leading -67 per cent as far as differential between the yards they gained and the yards they gave up after a reception.

This simply cannot be explained by the absence of Dressler for the first part of the season. It had to be something more in the manner of play calling and design. Someone better write YAC with a big Sharpie and post it on new offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine’s office door!

Montreal Alouettes

Although many of the Alouettes’ worst statistics revolved around their passing game, this was due in large part to the revolving door behind centre during the first half of the season. But the one number that remained consistently poor was in the area of special teams and Average Total Returns.

Montreal ranked last in the league as far as both punt and kick returns and the total return game. The Als’ punt returners produced 30 per cent less yards on average than their league counterparts. Those tasked with returning kickoffs and missed field goals were 20 per cent less productive on average. This resulted in the overall return game for the Larks being 21 per cent below the league average.

Head coach Tom Higgins relinquishing control and hiring a dedicated coach for special teams will undoubtedly help improve what was a surprisingly poor return game for a team that has usually been quite good in this area.

Edmonton Eskimos

With a 12-6 regular season record, it is not surprising that the Eskimos were amongst the top in many statistical categories. In fact, other than an inability to beat their provincial rivals, it was hard to find a major flaw in Edmonton’s on-field product. Then all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little orange flag and I instantly knew where the Eskimos needed to improve from this past season to the next.

Edmonton was the most penalized team in the league with a 20 per cent differential in Penalty Yards Against them versus penalty yards assessed to their opponents.

Some would say that this is a by-product of the type of on-the-edge team and game that head coach Chris Jones encourages, but it is clear that the Eskimos need to be more disciplined in their aggressive play if they are to take the next step and challenge their fellow Albertan brethren.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Oskee-Wee-Wee. Oskee-Waa-Waa. Holy Mackinaw. The Tiger-Cats’ Red-Zone Offense was really flawed!

For a team that won the East Division and appeared in the Grey Cup for the second year in a row, it is somewhat surprising how dreadful the Ti-Cats were in scoring touchdowns once getting into their opponents’ scoring zone. Hamilton’s 40 per cent touchdown-conversion rate in red zone was a league low and an incredible 33 per cent lower variance than the league average.

The fact that Hamilton was successful overall in 2014 despite scoring too many 3’s when they needed to get 7’s speaks to the fact that they were so good in the area of special teams and big plays. But there is no question that the Ti-Cats must be better next season in converting red-zone opportunities and not rely upon the fast footsteps of a certain speedy return man.

Calgary Stampeders

When I decided to delve into this exercise, I thought that analyzing Calgary’s statistical profile would prove to be the most difficult. In The Year of The Horse, the Grey Cup champs were outstanding in most each and every way on the field and in the numbers. Yet, it didn’t take long for me to find that one number. It practically jumps right out of the spreadsheets screaming; “Look At Me, Rene Paredes!”

The Stampeders ranked seventh in the league in Field Goal Percentage at 73.3 per cent. That is more than 11 per cent lower than the average CFL club.

Perhaps it was an aberration since Rene Parades has been very reliable in his previous years. Nor is it a significant concern when your team is winning by more than 12 points per game. But, it is a situation that can easily prove to be problematic in a very short time. And one that is difficult to remedy since top-notch placekickers are not readily available, especially when you are already set as far as ratio in the kicking game.

I realize that statistics are not the be-all or end-all of measuring a team’s value or success. But when you do a little digging you will be surprised at what you find. In the case of this exercise, I do believe that we have found that one individual number that each of the corresponding teams needs to address and improve upon in the 2015 CFL season.

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