Shake Me: How turnovers and penalties shook the 2009 Denver Broncos

Penalties and turnovers hurt, like a kick to the groin.  Every coach will tell you that they can kill a drive faster than a Darrius Heyward-Bey crossing route (the groin of the Oakland Raiders).  In fact, you hear about penalties and turnovers so often in post-game press conferences, you would think that play calling had little do do with the results of the game.  

And often this is the case.  The team that does the best job executing its own individual game plan is usually the winner. Penalties and turnovers are simply markers along the way.

But when you chart every offensive play in a given season, you tend to only focus on the big picture (trends, downs and distances, player values) and forget about just how large a role penalties and turnovers really play.  Each holding call, each interception and fumble, each turnover on downs, and each missed field goal--each one of them were a piece of what became the 2009 Broncos offense.  So I thought that I'd take a brief moment this week in the middle of all of the draft analysis, to explore, using expected points value, penalties and turnovers. 

I also realized that, last week, after my piece entitled Talk Dirty to Me - The Power of Hyper-Aggressive Coaching (and How Stats Can Make Josh McDaniels Even Dirtier), I was a just a little depressed.   Apparently, I wasn't quite dirty enough. One MHR member even emailed me to remind me that, although I had written a clever little statistical ditty, I'd forgotten one absolutely critical element.

More cowbell.  

So, this week, I've remedied my sins.  We'll be looking at penalties and turnovers within the context of the 1986 song Shake Me, by glam-metal sensation Cinderella.  Cinderella emerged on the glam-metal scene in the middle of the decade, coming out with a 2nd wave of glam-metal rock bands: Poison, Warrant, Skid Row, Enuff Znuff, Slaughter, Vixen, and Winger.  I would certainly put Cinderella, with its blues influence at the top of this list. This song, however, is pure cowbell.  

So, if you can shake it without breaking it, join me after the jump for a shorter-than-normal-statistical drum solo.

Turnovers - They Don't Rock

When I looked at the value of Denver's turnovers in 2009 through the lens of expected points value, I noticed that committing a turnover was much worse than I had originally thought.  I had written before about the idea that a turnover was worth somewhere between 3 and 4 points through the use of regression analysis, but when I performed an actual play-by-play analysis, the suckiness of turnovers was really brought home for me.  Here are the expected points values of each type of turnover for the Broncos in 2009:

Turnover Type Count Expected Points Value
Fumbles 9 -3.96
Downs 10 -2.32
Interceptions 13 -4.17
Missed Field Goals 5 -2.96
All Turnovers 37 -3.46

When Denver turned the ball over 2009, it cost them dearly.  One would be inclined to believe that because of the opportunity for a pick-six interception, that interceptions would naturally have had a higher value than fumbles, but as we see here, there is was no real statistical significance between fumbles and interceptions.  

The three highest-value interceptions (worst) in 2009 were the following:

  • Pittsburgh: -8.067 points
  • Kansas City (Week 17), 1st Pass: -6.79 points
  • Kansas City (Week 17), 2nd Pass: -8.79 points

The three-highest value fumbles (worst) in 2009 were the following:

  • Chargers (Week 11), Moreno: -5.73 points
  • Chiefs (Week 13), Orton: -4.69 points
  • Chargers (Week 11) Simms:-4.82

Given this limited information, and further, given that fumbles and interceptions were so close in average value, we would likely have seen a higher standard deviation for interceptions  In other words, interceptions probably tended to have a wider swing in value, whereas fumbles tended to stay consistent in "badness." Badness, by the way, is what you are about to see on draft day from the Raiders, but I digress.

These numbers make intuitive sense.  Rare is the interception that takes place near the line of scrimmage. However, fumbles are quite common around and near the line of scrimmage.  The defense simply attempts to fall on the ball. 

Turnovers on downs and missed field goals both had less value.  This is because both turnover types simply change the the possession and do not alter the line of scrimmage, although admittedly, with respect to field goals, the offense for the other teams takes over possession at the placement of the kick.  

Does this mean that turnover the ball over on downs or missing a field goal is somehow acceptable to punting? Hardly. In 2009, the average Mitch Berger punt had an average expected value of .436 points.  So there are real coaching consequences for going for it or kicking difficult field goals, as I discussed last week, and to which we will return in future weeks with a series that Brian Shrout will be featuring.  In this limited space, however, I'll simply make the general point that turning the ball over on downs (one could argue) is the equivalent to losing between 2-3 points.  That can add up very quickly.

Penalties -  It Gets Me Kickin' The Walls

Earlier in the year, I wrote a piece in which I came to the conclusion that over the course of an entire season, penalties tend to even out.  I still believe this is true--except in the case of Peyton Manning and the Colts.  The Colts showed a disturbing trend of penalties against their opponents.   However, penalties still have real value, and you can be sure that every time you saw Ben Hamilton holding, it was costing the Broncos expected points.

In 2009, the average expected points value of an offensive penalty for the Broncos was -.948.  That's no small matter, considering that the Broncos averaged about 3 offensive penalties per game.   By far the majoring of offensive penalties were falsestarts, which were worth -.706 points and holding penalties, which were worth -1.19.  

The three biggest penalties during 2009 were the following:

  • Week 3 - Raiders--Daniel Graham, Holding: -1.684
  • Week 14 - Colts--Daniel Graham, Holding: -1.754  
  • Week 10 - Redskins--Tony Scheffler, Pass Interference: -2.414

Coincidence or not, when the Denver Broncos tight ends committed a penalty, they got their money's worth.  

When the defense committed a penalty against the Broncos, the values were even higher--in Denver's favor, of course.  The average defensive penalty had an expected points value for the Broncos of 1.34 points.  As you might expect, pass interference was the main reason, averaging 2.18 expected points per penalty.  Defensive offsides was also a frequent contributor, but on average only gave the Broncos .862 expected points per penalty.

The pass interference calls relate to a larger issue that some MHR members have brought up in the past.  It's also my final issue for your consideration.  Because of the nature of pass interference calls for the offense--namely, their significantly larger expected points value than that of the offense--having WRs that can stretch the field and go up to get the ball adds another layer of value for any offense.  I'm not saying that we need to go all Al Davis (creepy) or Norv Turner (predictable) suddenly and try to stretch the field, but it's certainly worthy of consideration.  

Does Brandon Marshall or Jabar Gaffney or Eddie Royal or Brandon Stokley add this kind of value?  Does someone nicknamed The Beast really go and fight for the ball and create contact the way other receivers do?  Or does he follow his own gypsy road.  

You know the kind of value I mean.  We're talking Larry Fitzgerald, Vincent Jackson, or Antonio Gates type of value. In the Broncos offense, do they necessarily need to add this kind of value?

To these questions I'll leave you and your cowbell.  All. Night.  Long.

Originally posted at MHR

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

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