2020 NFL Coverage Elasticity Part II

What Offenses saw the biggest disparities from defenses in 2020 (vs. expectation) 

Football tactics 101: How to identify defensive coverage while watching the  game - Buffalo Rumblings

Continuing from last week’s Coverage Elasticity to further investigate defensive coverage tendencies we will “flip the script” and look at the data from the offensive lens. Today we will look at which offenses saw the biggest disparities from what the NFL-wide typical defensive deployment is. It sounds complex, but let me as a reminder:

  • The Packers Offense and Aaron Rogers perform extremely well (vs. league expectation) vs. Cover-2, and poorly vs. Cover-3
  • The Packers are playing the Colts that play the league’s highest ratio of Cover-2 (say, 40%) and lowest rate of Cover-3 (say, 25%)
  • Any “Coverage-Based” projection system would likely call for Rodgers to have a big game, right?
  • However, just because on average the Colts have deployed a 40%/25% split between Cover-2 and Cover-3 respectively, how consistent do they deploy said split? On any given week, even within that average there’s probably games that deviate, where the Colts actually used Cover-3 more than Cover-2

And last week we displayed how EVERY defense changes their Coverages on a week-to-week basis. To begin our understanding better, shouldn’t we find out the OFFENSES that NFL defenses treat the most differently (from what the AVERAGE NFL defense typically calls)?

This article essentially answers the question: Which offenses saw the greatest fluctuations from normal coverage expectations on a league-wide scale.

The graph below shows each offense, and their respective difference in opponent coverage rates faced relative to the league average for the 2020 season. For example, you can read the first cell as “the 49ers see Cover 0/1 4.3 percentage points less than the league average of 32.7%”. Here is each offense shakes out:

Football Team-4.5%-1.2%6.2%-0.5%12.4%
NFL AVG32.7%13.5%35.0%18.8%

Note, two of every three passing downs use MFC (middle field closed) coverages, Cover 1 and Cover 3. I call this out because one of the lessons/”cheat codes” teams facing the Chiefs and Seahawks, teams with prolific downfield passing attacks, is to play with a 2-deep (MFO) look, deploying Cover 2 or Cover 4. I strongly believe we will see a shift in the NFL BACK to the MFO looks that went out of vogue with the Seahawks Legion of Boom days (and how heavy they played Cover 3 / Match 3), to prevent explosive plays.

Interesting data points

  • Baltimore faced the most divergent set of coverages (fueled mainly by the Cover 4 usage/importance of an outside WR, detailed by PFF here) relative to the NFL norm
  • The Rams see the biggest single Coverage variation, with 13.7% more Cover 3, which is interesting given the documented success of Cover 4 to stymy Jet Motion concepts
  • It seems NFL defenses fear the use of Man coverage vs the better running QBs (Ravens, Cardinals and Seahawks)

Knowing this information helps us make adjustments beyond simply adding “consistency based metrics” like standard deviation to our model. If we know NFL defenses as a whole play a lot more Cover-4 vs the Ravens we can make that adjustment to our QB vs. Coverage based model.

We hope both these pieces help paint the picture of what will be QB vs. Coverage 2.0, which will be released before next season. In other words it should explain why we are:

  • Not only considering what we did last season
    • How well QB plays vs each coverage
    • How often opposing defense deploys each coverage
  • BUT, how FREQUENTLY an opposing defense deploys each coverage
  • AND, manual adjustments made knowing how defenses typically alter their coverage vs a certain offense

Stay tuned, as prop betting opportunities for week 1 come out, we will be ready with said 2.0 system.

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