Mike Klis: The Hamburglar of stats

Klis writes:

The Broncos finished the 2011 season ranked No. 1 in rushing and 70 percent credit goes to quarterback Tim Tebow. I’ll give 10 percent to John Fox and Mike McCoy for coming up with the read-option offense that best suited Tebow’s skills; 10 percent to an improved run-blocking offensive line with run-mauler Orlando Franklin at right tackle; and 10 percent to tailback Willis McGahee.

But the stats say Tebow was by far the biggest factor in the Broncos’ running success. In 2010, the Broncos ranked 26th in rushing with 96.5 yards per game. In the first four games of 2011 in which Tebow didn’t play quarterback, the Broncos ranked near the bottom of the league with an average of 86.8 yards per...

...One of the most overrated notions in the NFL is the pass sets up the run. Look back at the top rushing teams each year. They’re all run-oriented teams with decent, not great passers. Michael Vick’s Atlanta Falcons led the NFL in rushing in 2004, 2005, 2006.

We really hate to do this to Klis, but he leaves us with no choice here.  We couldn't let this one go.  There are so many easy ways to attack Klis's premise, but let's just take the low-hanging fruit, shall we?

  1. Total rushing yards/game may or may not tell you anything about the efficiency with which a team runs.  Often, rushing yards/game are a simple reflection of attempts per game, which, in turn, can often be a sign of a team playing with a lead in the second half.
  2. If you want to make a rushing argument, at least have the decency to use a better rate state like yards/carry, which allows for better comparisons between teams with different numbers of carries and rushing strategies.  Cumulative stats are so neanderthal.  
  3. Assigning an individual percentage to a specific player during an offensive play or season is about as useful as trying to assign credit to an individual bee inside a beehive.  We've said it a thousand times:  context is king.  Football plays and seasons for that matter--like biological organisms--are too complex to be reduced to such triviality.  Hell, if Ryan Clady wanted to, he could let the end past him on every play and be assigned 100% of the blame.  The point is this: every play has eleven players working in concert and within the context of strategy, the play clock, the defensive formation, and finally, the score.  To assign anyone a specific share of the credit is a huge disservice and an insult to our collective intelligence.
  4. Looking at the top running teams each year yields the exact opposite of Klis's conclusion--the exception being the 2004 Falcons.  In short, being "run oriented" as Klis subjectively states, means nothing more than you are run oriented.  It rarely means you are winning with consistency.

Mike Klis, you have the right to remain silly.  Any stats you use can and will be held against you on a football blog.  You have the right to speak to a real stats guy.  If you cannot afford a real stats guy, one probably won't be appointed to you.

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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