When Stats Mislead

October 6th, 2012

Joe learned long ago that anyone wishing to prove any point can concoct statistics to back it up. This is one reason Joe is wary of judging play by stats alone, and another reason Joe has grown weary of how baseball has been hijacked by the spreadsheet warriors (who often moonlight as Trekkies), some of whom will actually try to convince innocents that Karlos Pena is a productive hitter, if you can imagine.

Take an element by eye-RAH! Kaufman of The Tampa Tribune. In a recent notes column, Kaufman offered a nugget that touts the Bucs as having a stingy third-down defense.

The Bucs rank fourth in the league in third-down defense, limiting opponents to a 28 percent success rate which would set a franchise record.

Sounds cool, doesn’t it? Well, let’s start peeling the onion skins off of this one.

This stat would suggest the Bucs have one helluva defense. After all, isn’t the moniker of every coach to “get off the field on third down?”

Yet when the Bucs needed that defense, it was nowhere to be found. In the fourth quarter of the ghastly loss to the Giants, Big Blue and Eli Manning converted two of the three third downs the Giants faced, including an 80-yard touchdown bomb to Victor Cruz.

Now in another loss, a gut-puncher to the Redskins where Robert Griffin III led the Redskins on a game-winning drive, the Redskins did not convert one third down in two chances in the fourth quarter (one of the third downs, Griffin completed a nine-yard pass, but not for a first down).

In looking at the play-by-play breakdown, the Redskins didn’t often face a third down late in the game because they were converting first downs early in the series of downs.

And while the Bucs may be on a pace to set a franchise mark for third-down defense, does anyone really believe this Bucs defense is as good as the glory years with Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and a then-young Ronde Barber?

One could argue this year’s Bucs defense, while much improved over last year, isn’t yet on the same level as the defense that carried the Bucs to an NFL title game in 1979, led by Lee Roy Selmon and Batman Wood.

So when people throw out numbers, it’s always better to break out a notepad and pen and actually go behind the numbers to get to the real story.

And that, friends, is the won-loss record.

4 Responses to “When Stats Mislead”

  1. Jessup Says:

    Stats? I got stats!

    Through four games we have allowed….

    20 1st quarter points
    24 2nd quarter points
    10 3rd quarter points
    37 4th quarter points.

    However, we completely fell apart verse the Giants, obviously, and allowed 28 second half points. 25 were in the 4th quarter. That sucks. It also skews the picture when looking at stats. We had a meltdown in NY, but that hasn’t been the norm for this defense.

    In our other three games combined we have allowed just 19 points in the second half. THAT is why our 3rd down defense is ranked so high. We actually do cause a lot of three and outs. Especially in the second half.

    Also, out of 16 quarters of football so far this season, we have allowed a TD in only 6 of those quarters. The other 10 quarters we have held opposing offenses to field goals or held them scoreless.

  2. So. Ill. Bucs Says:

    “Statistics don’t lie, it’s how you interpret them. Statistically, there are 2 popes per square kilometre in the Vatican City.”

  3. NJBuc Says:


    Good work. Our man Joe is crying alot and it’s surprising. As for what I believe relative to the old Bucs D, what I clearly see is that this bunch has started much faster. Let’s try to keep our heads and not compare a Super Bowl D to a group that has been together for 16 quarters. And in two of those, the second against the Skins and the fourth against the Giants they gave up 46 points on obvious break downs that I would think even mildly astute observers would expect while implementing a new system. While I feel bad for Joe that his dream of the Bucs going 16-0 this year have been dashed, I love what I have seen from the Bucs so far. This is a 6-8 win team with the arrow pointing straight up.

  4. Andrew Says:

    of course your going to have a good third down defense when offense are rarely put in that situation because they are converting alot of first downs on first down and second down. the only defensive stat im concerned with is how many points they allow. thats it. that is the most telling and important stat for a defense.