One thing play-by-play data can be used for is to assess how often an opposing team has run certain types of plays, so in this post I will cover a breakdown of the play selection of the Minnesota Vikings in the preseason so far. Before I get into that though, I want to give a bit more detail on the data I am using. A typical entry in the play-by-play as it is published looks like this:
|3-2-CIN47||(11:58) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass short left to C.Johnson ran ob at CIN 39 for 8 yards (R.Nelson).|
Using the programming software Python, I extract the following from each of these strings (worked example in brackets):
- Time on the clock (56:58 - this play was in the first quarter)
- Down (3)
- Distance (2)
- Fieldposition (47 - yards to the endzone)
- Formation (Shotgun)
- Name of the quarterback (J.Locker)
- Type of play (pass)
- Result of the play (completion)
- Direction of the play (short left)
- Pass target (C.Johnson)
- Yards gained (8)
- Tackler (R.Nelson)
This is a little less straightforward than it sounds, mainly since their is a lot of inconsistency in how plays are described in the play-by-play, but that's all there is to it. Very little interpretation on my part goes into it.
With that out of the way, let's have a look at my scouting report for the Minnesota Vikings. The table below shows the breakdown of plays the Minnesota offense has run into runs, short passes and deep passes, further broken down into directions.
|deep throws: 10% (-1%)||throws left: 22% (2%)||deep left: 1% (-3%)|
|short left: 21% (5%)|
|throws middle: 11% (1%)||deep middle: 3% (0%)|
|short throws: 56% (9%)||short middle: 8% (-3%)|
|throws right: 33% (9%)||deep right: 6% (2%)|
|short right: 27% (7%)|
|runs: 33% (-9%)||runs left: 6% (-5%)||left end: 0% (-6%)|
|left tackle: 6% (1%)|
|runs left: 22% (1%)||left guard: 6% (1%)|
|up the middle: 13% (1%)|
|right guard: 3% (-2%)|
|runs right: 6% (-5%)||right tackle: 4% (-2%)|
|right end: 2% (-3%)|
The percentages indicate how often the Vikings have run each type of play in the preseason so far. The number in brackets show how that compares to the first three weeks of the preseason across the NFL as a whole, so e.g. the Vikings have passed short right 27% of the time, 7 percentage points more often than the NFL as a whole (at 20%).
A few things to note:
- For the purpose of this breakdown, I have excluded scrambles and sacks, so the proportion of pass attempts is understated by a bit.
- Minnesota has been airing it out, but they have been playing catch-up most of the time. They will run the ball a lot more come regular season.
- Most throws have gone to the right side of the field, with Ponder and Co. giving the tight ends and veteran receiver Greg Jennings a lot of looks.
Expect the Vikings to try to run the ball more today if they don't fall behind early, but if they do, the CB lining up on the right and the right OLB could be in for a busy day.