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The Importance of Big Plays and Toxic Differential

What are the two most important football stats? The first is one that even casual fans will get immediately. Turnovers! Everyone knows this. It makes sense. Turnovers maximize your possessions, provide superior field position for easy points and change the flow of the game. Simply stated, the team that wins the turnover battle has a huge advantage.

The second stat is explosive plays-- Both the ability of the offense to create them and the defense to stop them. Our very own Brian Billick invented a stat called "Toxic Differential" that combines the two. If you watch the NFL Network frequently, you may have even seen him discuss it before. For all I know, it has likely been discussed on this blog.

So lets see how the Ravens are doing this year, curtesy of sportingcharts.com.

2013 Toxic Differential Leaders

Team

Turnover Differential

Big Play Differential

Toxic Differential

1

Philadelphia Eagles

2

22

24

2

Seattle Seahawks

7

13

20

3

Kansas City Chiefs

10

8

18

4

San Francisco 49ers

0

10

10

5

Green Bay Packers

-2

11

9

6

Tennessee Titans

8

-1

7

7

Detroit Lions

4

2

6

8

Oakland Raiders

2

4

6

9

New Orleans Saints

6

0

6

10

New England Patriots

4

1

5

11

Carolina Panthers

0

5

5

12

Chicago Bears

4

0

4

13

New York Jets

-9

12

3

14

Cleveland Browns

1

2

3

15

Indianapolis Colts

6

-3

3

16

Buffalo Bills

3

-2

1

17

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

0

1

1

18

Denver Broncos

1

0

1

19

Dallas Cowboys

3

-4

-1

20

Miami Dolphins

1

-4

-3

21

Cincinnati Bengals

-2

-1

-3

22

St. Louis Rams

2

-6

-4

23

Atlanta Falcons

-2

-3

-5

24

Houston Texans

-8

3

-5

25

Baltimore Ravens

-4

-2

-6

26

Arizona Cardinals

0

-6

-6

27

Pittsburgh Steelers

-11

4

-7

28

Minnesota Vikings

2

-10

-8

29

San Diego Chargers

-8

-8

-16

30

Washington Redskins

0

-19

-19

31

New York Giants

-13

-10

-23

32

Jacksonville Jaguars

-7

-19

-26

At -6, there's quite a bit of room for improvement.

Compare this to last year...

2012 Toxic Differential Leaders


Team

Turnover Differential

Big Play Differential

Toxic Differential

1

San Francisco 49ers

9

63

72

2

Washington Redskins

17

45

62

3

Seattle Seahawks

13

40

53

4

New England Patriots

25

12

37

5

Denver Broncos

-1

32

31

6

Minnesota Vikings

-1

30

29

7

Carolina Panthers

1

28

29

8

Baltimore Ravens

9

19

28

9

Chicago Bears

20

0

20

10

New York Giants

14

2

16

11

Pittsburgh Steelers

-10

19

9

12

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

3

5

8

13

Houston Texans

12

-5

7

14

Green Bay Packers

7

-1

6

15

Atlanta Falcons

13

-11

2

16

Cincinnati Bengals

4

-9

-5

17

Indianapolis Colts

-12

4

-8

18

San Diego Chargers

2

-11

-9

19

Miami Dolphins

-10

-5

-15

20

Tennessee Titans

-4

-12

-16

21

New Orleans Saints

2

-23

-21

22

St. Louis Rams

-1

-20

-21

23

Cleveland Browns

3

-24

-21

24

New York Jets

-14

-9

-23

25

Oakland Raiders

-7

-18

-25

26

Jacksonville Jaguars

-3

-23

-26

27

Buffalo Bills

-13

-16

-29

28

Philadelphia Eagles

-24

-11

-35

29

Detroit Lions

-16

-20

-36

30

Kansas City Chiefs

-24

-13

-37

31

Dallas Cowboys

-13

-26

-39

32

Arizona Cardinals

-1

-42

-43

Baltimore was ranked 8th with a very respectable +28 differential. And the SF team they played in the Super Bowl was ranked 1st with a whopping +72 differential. Like Billick suggests, it's a very good indicator of success. In fact, the top six were all playoff teams. And only Cincinnati and Indianapolis (the two weakest seeds from the AFC) managed to make the playoffs with a negative toxic differential.

So exactly how concerned should we be about this drop-off from the Ravens? Partially. I wouldn't read too much into the turnover differential. The defense has already improved dramatically (22 rushing yards allowed last week) and Flacco's 5 INT game is clearly going to be an outlier. I expect the turnover differential to climb back into the green soon enough.

The thing we should keep a close eye on is the big play differential.

Team Big Plays Statistics

Rank

Team

Plays

Big Plays

Rush

Pass

Big Play %

BPA

+/-

1

Philadelphia Eagles

344

45

26

19

13.08%

23

22

2

Seattle Seahawks

323

38

27

11

11.76%

25

13

3

San Francisco 49ers

296

33

26

7

11.15%

23

10

4

Green Bay Packers

269

28

13

15

10.41%

17

11

5

New York Jets

322

29

14

15

9.01%

17

12

6

Denver Broncos

357

32

17

15

8.96%

32

0

7

Indianapolis Colts

322

27

19

8

8.39%

30

-3

8

Carolina Panthers

266

22

16

6

8.27%

17

5

9

Detroit Lions

330

27

17

10

8.18%

25

2

10

Chicago Bears

307

25

13

12

8.14%

25

0

11

Houston Texans

373

30

22

8

8.04%

27

3

12

New Orleans Saints

340

27

12

15

7.94%

27

0

13

Kansas City Chiefs

342

27

16

11

7.89%

19

8

14

Dallas Cowboys

304

24

13

11

7.89%

28

-4

15

Oakland Raiders

295

23

15

8

7.8%

19

4

16

Pittsburgh Steelers

250

18

6

12

7.2%

14

4

17

Tennessee Titans

329

23

15

8

6.99%

24

-1

18

Buffalo Bills

363

25

17

8

6.89%

27

-2

19

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

257

16

11

5

6.23%

15

1

20

San Diego Chargers

323

20

7

13

6.19%

28

-8

21

Cincinnati Bengals

324

20

10

10

6.17%

21

-1

22

New York Giants

309

19

9

10

6.15%

29

-10

23

Minnesota Vikings

247

15

8

7

6.07%

25

-10

24

New England Patriots

347

21

13

8

6.05%

20

1

25

Baltimore Ravens

352

20

8

12

5.68%

22

-2

26

Miami Dolphins

301

17

8

9

5.65%

21

-4

27

Washington Redskins

266

15

9

6

5.64%

34

-19

28

Arizona Cardinals

308

17

13

4

5.52%

23

-6

29

St. Louis Rams

339

17

7

10

5.01%

23

-6

30

Cleveland Browns

345

16

8

8

4.64%

14

2

31

Atlanta Falcons

325

14

6

8

4.31%

17

-3

32

Jacksonville Jaguars

311

11

4

7

3.54%

30

-19

Eight explosive rushing plays in five games is absolutely pathetic (tied for sixth worst in the league). Especially considering our expectations of an elite running game coming into the season. The 12 explosive passing plays appear to be good, but in relation to the outrageous number of deep attempts from Flacco it's actually not very impressive.

Unsurprisingly, these issues yet again lead back to the offensive line... something that we're desperately trying to improve (as shown by the mid-season trade for Monroe). In today's NFL, an explosive play rate of 5.68% isn't going to cut it.

For the sake of comparison, here are last year's big play stats:

8

Baltimore Ravens

1,042

89

48

41

8.54%

70

19

Returning to an 8.54% explosive play rate combined with the improved defense will make the Ravens a very difficult team to beat. This requires the offensive line to provide Flacco an extra half-second or so to make better decisions and then create holes for Pierce and Rice to break off those bigs runs we're accustomed to seeing.

Out of curiosity, I charted all of the explosive plays in the two most recent games against Buffalo and Miami (including defensive PI penalties). I also thought it would be a good idea to split the games into halves since the Ravens seem to routinely look terrible in one half and fantastic in the other.
Deep Ball: completions/attempts 20+ yards down field
Short Explosive: short throws that turn into 20+ yard gains... Rice used to have these all the time...
Rush: rushing attempts resulting in 10+ yards
PI: 20+ yard gains due to defensive pass interference penalties
Big Plays: total big plays converted
Points: points scored on drive resulting from big plays

Baltimore at Buffalo

Deep Ball

Short Explosive

Rush

PI

Big Plays

Points

Bal 1st Half

1-5

1

0

0

2

0

Bal 2nd Half

4-11

1

0

0

5

13

Buf 1st Half

1-2

1

4

0

6

17

Buf 2nd Half

0-5

1

3

0

4

3

Baltimore at Miami

Deep Ball

Short Explosive

Rush

PI

Big Plays

Points

Bal 1st Half

1-5

1

0

0

2

6

Bal 2nd Half

3-5

0

2

2

7

17

Mia 1st Half

2-4

1

0

0

3

10

Mia 2nd Half

2-4

0

0

0

2

3

Fairly self-explanatory. Baltimore lost the explosive play battle at Buffalo 7-10 and lost the game. Baltimore won the explosive play battle at Miami 9-5 and won the game. Nearly all of the points in both games came as the result of a drive with a big play. You can even break it down to halftime results. Miami had 3 explosive plays to Baltimore's 2 in the first half and led 13-6. Baltimore responded in a big way with a 7-2 second half explosive play advantage (including two defensive PI penalties) in route to 17 consecutive points.

It's important to remember that even though PI penalties don't count as actual plays and won't show up in the game log, they are exactly the same as completions. That's why having a legitimate deep threat like Torrey Smith is so crucial. Flacco understands this and has been among the league leaders in long pass attempts for two straight years now. It's not always important to complete these passes. As long as PI remains a spot foul, it's absolutely worth it to just chuck the ball down-field every once-in-a-while and hope for the best.

If anyone finds this interesting, I could certainly try to continue charting Baltimore's progress in future games. Looks like we're getting a few weapons (Jacoby/Marlon) back this week to improve the offense. Hopefully the o-line can follow suit.

The opinions posted here are those of the administrator of this blog and his loyal readers. They are in no way official comments from the team, and should not be misconstued as such, even though he thinks he could do just as well or even a better job!

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