Last year, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers missing half the season due to a broken collarbone, the Packers finished with just an 8-7-1 record, and gave up more points than they scored. Despite all that, they still eked out an NFC North division championship for the third year in a row.In the eight games in which Rodgers played more than the opening drive, the Packers went 6-2 with an average margin of victory of 7.4 points. In the eight games that featured the smorgasbord1Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien and Seneca Wallace all started games in Rodgers’s absence. of Packers backups, they went 2-5-1 with an average margin of defeat of 8.8 points. It’s difficult to disentangle a quarterback’s performance from that of his teammates (or his coaches), but the Packers’ 2013 results are perhaps the best evidence yet that Rodgers is the real deal.2Though not quite Peyton-esque.Since Rodgers took over for Brett Favre in 2008, the Packers have been one of the NFL’s best franchises. They’ve won the fourth-most games (they’re in essentially a four-way-tie behind the Patriots) and a Super Bowl (as many of those as anyone else over that period, and one more than the Patriots). ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) is one of the most all-encompassing quarterback rating systems out there today.3Note this isn’t necessarily a compliment. In a phenomenon I like to call “The Paradox of Quarterback Metrics,” beyond a certain point, the more information a QB metric takes into account, the less it tends to tell you about the quarterback. Rodgers’s QBR in the last six years is 72.9, second only to Peyton Manning’s 80.7. Rodgers performs fantastically well in a variety of other quarterback metrics.But that’s what happens when you a) play for a good team and b) don’t throw interceptions. These are strongly related. Most interceptions are thrown when the quarterback’s team is trailing (about twice as many as when it’s ahead), and they become more and more likely the more his team is down or the closer they come to the end of the game4Being ahead or behind one score is 0-8 points, two scores is 9-16 points, three scores is 17+ points.:Interceptions are often (even largely) a product of completely rational risk-taking by desperate quarterbacks. A logical implication of this is that if a quarterback is too conservative, he can throw too few interceptions, which can be just as bad as throwing too many.Despite his various successes, it’s possible Rodgers fits this description of an overly conservative quarterback. For example, with his team down by two or more scores (9+ points) he has thrown only three interceptions out of 354 passes attempted (0.8 percent) in his career. This is typically when quarterbacks throw the most INTs, because they’re trying to get their teams back into the game, and high-risk strategies often give them the best chance to win. Overall, quarterbacks throw interceptions about 3.5 percent of the time on average in those situations, with even most great quarterbacks breaking 3.0 percent. Peyton Manning, for example, has averaged 3.1 percent, Drew Brees has averaged 3.3 percent, and even Tom Brady has thrown 2.3 percent (slightly above his career average).5Based on play-by-play from 2001 through 2013.Being insufficiently willing to gamble even when circumstances are dire can be good for a QB’s stats, while bad for his team. And there’s evidence of this in Rodgers’s record as well: He has only engineered six fourth-quarter comebacks in his career — good for 149th all time (Russell Wilson already has eight).There’s nothing wrong with giving your team the lead and then keeping it.6I vividly but hazily recall this being Troy Aikman’s response when someone asked him about his lack of fourth-quarter comebacks back in the ’90s — and he had one about every 10 games. But Rodgers has averaged one fourth-quarter comeback every 14.5 games. This is staggeringly low, even for a player whose team isn’t behind that often. Brady has played for an even more consistently good team and has a fourth-quarter comeback once every 6.2 games. Both brothers Manning have averaged one every six games, Ben Roethlisberger has one every 6.2, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco have one about every eight. Favre (surprisingly) had one only every 9.9 games.But the good news for Packers fans is that Rodgers has some pretty low-hanging room for improvement: If he starts taking more calculated risks (likely sacrificing his stats a little in the process), the Pack may be even more dangerous.Chicago BearsExpected wins: 8.4Playoff probability: 39 percent (25 percent to win the NFC North)Super Bowl win probability: 3 percent Editor’s Note: FiveThirtyEight is running a series of eight NFL previews, one division at a time, to highlight the numbers that may influence each team’s season. America’s favorite weekly soap opera is about to begin; get prepped.Green Bay PackersExpected wins (using implied power ratings from Las Vegas point spreads): 9.4Playoff probability: 55 percent (41 percent to win the NFC North)Super Bowl win probability: 6 percent This includes a record 13 touchdowns (the previous career record for any punt returner was 10). Hester also has five touchdowns from kickoff returns (good for eighth on the all-time list9Despite playing for a good defensive team for much of his career and not even returning kicks full-time for parts of it.) and is looking to break his present tie with Deion Sanders for most non-offensive touchdowns in NFL history.Kick and punt returns normally aren’t a big enough part of the game for a good returner to produce much value unless he also does other things well. But Hester is so insanely good he may be as close to an exception as you’ll ever see.Determining how much value Hester added on kick returns is relatively simple. Taken on a season-by-season basis, a typical NFL kick returner would have scored about 1.8 touchdowns on Hester’s attempts, while Hester had 6.0. This leads to about an extra .20 points per game.10Actually it’s .204 points per game, compared to .208 if you estimate the value of additional field position directly.But where things get interesting is with punts. With teams taking such crazy measures to avoid giving him the ball, Chicago’s punt return game benefited greatly whether Hester actually touched the ball or not.11Giving Hester credit for Chicago’s entire return game is neither an aggressive nor a conservative assumption. If the rest of the special teams squad was below average, it’s possible that Hester provided even more value than the squad as a whole.Since 2006, when Hester joined the team, Chicago has had the highest number of yards per punt return, resulting in the best average starting position, and has scored a touchdown on one of every 21 returns. The average for teams other than Chicago was one TD every 82 punt returns. And that’s not even counting all the times other teams punted short or out of bounds to avoid a return.According to ESPN’s “expected points added” metric, Chicago’s punt return game was worth about .15 expected points over expectation for each of the 668 punts they faced, or about .80 points per game total.Combining this .80 with the .20 Hester gained returning kickoffs, he was probably worth around 1 point per game overall.We’re obviously not talking Aaron Rodgers-type value here. But football is a 46-on-46 sport: It’s hard for any one player (aside from a quarterback) to matter much. A reliable 1 point per game is pretty significant.Chicago had an average margin of -2.1 points per game last year, so with Hester’s departure, let’s say the team is starting out in a 3-point hole. If the offense gets worse or the defense gets better, it could go either way from there.Detroit LionsExpected wins: 8.3Playoff probability: 38 percent (25 percent to win the NFC North)Super Bowl win probability: 3 percent Last season, the Chicago Bears finished 8-8, fitting for a team with one of the best offenses (not led by Peyton Manning) and one of the worst defenses in football. That’s a good excuse to talk about their special teams.For as yet unknown reasons, Chicago let its best player7Relative to his position. go.While Devin Hester never developed into the double-threat for Chicago that the team hoped (much less the triple-threat he was at the University of Miami), he is almost certainly the greatest punt returner in NFL history.8Some of that field position is no doubt due to Hester’s reputation and the fact that teams went to great lengths trying to avoid kicking him the ball — so he probably grabbed the ball in better positions. But the average Chicago field position from a non-Hester return was around the 30 yard line. And the fact that Hester was able to take so many returns and still do so much with them is remarkable in its own right. Last year the Detroit Lions finished 7-9, the second-highest win total of quarterback Matthew Stafford’s career. Despite throwing for 4,650 yards and 29 TDs, Stafford now faces headlines like this one from Fox Sports: “Stafford needs to bounce back in a big way.”According to that article, Stafford “must cut down on his crucial mistakes when it’s make-or-break time.” Presumably, this refers to the six fourth-quarter interceptions Stafford threw in one-score games last year.But, see above: Interceptions are hard to interpret. Stafford also had seven touchdowns under those circumstances, and four of his six interceptions were with his team trailing.12Also known as the best time to throw interceptions. So let’s break down Stafford’s interception rate a bit further:With his team down 2+ scores, his interception rate is 2.5 percent. If anything, this may be too low.With his team down one score or less, his interception rate is 2.8 percent. This is probably just about right.With the game tied, his interception rate is 2.2 percent, which is below average.With his team up 2+ scores, his interception rate is about 3 percent, which is a little high, but not necessarily a problem considering the sample size.With his team up one score or less, his interception rate is pretty high: 3.8 percent overall and a whopping 6.7 percent in the second quarter.In other words, if there’s one spot where Stafford has been making an unusually high number of mistakes it hasn’t been “make-or-break time,” it has been earlier in the game, when his team is up one or fewer scores and most QBs would play it safe (league average interception rate is around 2.3 percent under those circumstances).Of course, while throwing interceptions with your team up one score isn’t generally wise, it could be worth it if it’s helping you gain a ton of touchdowns. Indeed, Stafford throws a good number of TDs in these situations.While that 4.5 percent is good, it’s only 0.5 percentage points better than average — in other words, it’s not a very good trade-off considering his interception rate under these circumstances is 1.5 percentage points higher than average.To generalize a bit, you can think of the sum of a player’s touchdown rate and interception rate as his “aggression level.” Stafford is a fairly aggressive quarterback overall, but his aggression level while ahead by one score or less in the second quarter is 10.4 percent, which is off the charts compared to the league average of 6.8 percent. This isn’t really the best time to get aggressive, and it isn’t really working for him.Minnesota VikingsExpected wins: 6.5Playoff probability: 17 percent (9 percent to win the NFC North)Super Bowl win probability: 1 percent Adrian Peterson now has more than 10,000 yards rushing and 91 touchdowns in his seven-year career, giving him over 2,000 more yards and 24 more touchdowns than anyone in the last seven years. Yet the Vikings finished 5-10-1 last year, their third 10-loss season in four years. They haven’t had a top-10 offense since Brett Favre’s miracle year, nor before that since the Randy Moss era.The utility of the running game in football is still an open question. While pass-heavy offensive approaches typically gain points (and wins) more efficiently than run-heavy ones, we’re nowhere near game-theoretical dominance. In other words, however marginal it may become, the running game still has its uses:The threat of the running game forces defenses to defend multiple strategies, which makes the passing game more efficient.It’s low-risk and eats up the clock: A team that is ahead may be willing to give up a small amount of per-play value in order to shorten the remainder of the game and decrease the chances of a costly turnover.Runs gain positive yards more consistently than passes, which can be useful in a number of ways beyond average yardage. For example, very good running backs (or running games) set up a higher number of second-and-short situations than passes do, and these can be better than first downs.Of course for Nos. 1 and 2 to work most efficiently, you have to run effectively. And running effectively mostly means No. 3.While Peterson breaks a larger share of long runs than typical running backs, he is neither a consistent gainer nor a producer of high-leverage situations.Obviously Adrian Peterson’s long runs are worth something: They’re worth a lot of yards. But yards are easier than ever to come by in today’s game. No matter how great a running back is at breaking long ones, he’s not going to be as efficient at gobbling up yards as his team’s passing game is (no matter how mediocre the team’s quarterbacks are).On the other hand, the better a team is at strategically maximizing the running game, the more valuable those “bonus” yards become — because the running plays that produce them are no longer taking the place of passes.In other words, if you can’t run consistently, it doesn’t matter if you can break a bunch of long runs, because you’d still be better off passing. But if you can run consistently, those long runs become gravy.None of this is to say that Peterson’s shortcomings necessarily reflect poorly on his running skills, no more than we can say the same for any running back’s underperformance. Peterson has simply produced a little below average at the bread-and-butter stuff that keeps the running game relevant, and this undercuts the value of his long runs considerably. With a better offensive line, or quarterback, Peterson’s value would improve doubly.Read more of FiveThirtyEight’s NFL season previews.
Chris Johnson signs two-year deal with Jets.The New York Jets first made a free-agent splash when they signed quarterback Michael Vick. They made an even bigger wave in securing former Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson Wednesday.Once the most explosive ball carrier in the NFL, Johnson inked a two-year deal worth up to $9 million, a league source told ESPN. The base value of the deal is $8 million, and includes another $1 million in incentives, league sources said. Johnson’s deal has a team option for the second year at $4 million, which would have to be picked up in February 2015, according to a league source.“I see this as a team on the rise,” Johnson told the team’s website. “This is a winning team. They didn’t make the playoffs last year, but I think they were a game out of the playoffs with a rookie quarterback. So I feel like this is a team that can do some good things.”If Johnson, 28, can return to form, he will be a significant addition. He ran for a career-low 3.9 yards per carry last season. This after rushing for 1,000-plus yards in his each of six seasons, including 2,006 yards in 2009. But his production diminished in recent years, and his high salary made him expendable to the Titans.Johnson underwent surgery in late January to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee and resumed running only about a month ago. He said after the season that he first hurt his knee in Week 3. He didn’t miss any games and became the fifth player in league history with 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first six seasons.“I think I’m going to fit in pretty well,” Johnson said on the website. “Just talking to (offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg) and to (coach) Rex (Ryan), who’s a guy that likes to run the ball, I think I’m going to fit in very well. We talked about all those things, catching out of the backfield, getting the ball to me in space.”Johnson and Vick could end starters, as well as the Jets’ other free-agent signing of consequence, receiver Eric Decker, formerly of the Denver Broncos.
More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed FiveThirtyEight Embed Code Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (May 23, 2017), FiveThirtyEight’s Kyle Wagner joins us as a guest host. We talk about the Warriors’ 12-game win streak in this year’s NBA playoffs and bid a possible farewell to the San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginobili. Next, the Chicago Cubs broke their curse, but are they falling short of expectations this year? We investigate. Finally, NFL owners voted Tuesday to limit regular-season overtime to 10 minutes, ostensibly to protect players. ESPN’s Kevin Seifert calls in and argues that this change won’t really help. Plus, a significant digit on Tennessee.Here are links to things we discussed this week:You can stay up to date with FiveThirtyEight’s NBA predictions, updated after every game, here.Kyle penned an appreciation of Ginobili, a true NBA unicorn.Neil Paine wondered why the Cubs defense is so bad this year.Seifert wrote that the NFL overtime rule change does nothing for player safety.Significant Digit: 1.7, the number of championships we’d expect teams from the state of Tennessee to have if every team in a league had equal odds of winning each year. Tennessee currently has three pro franchises (the Memphis Grizzlies, Nashville Predators and Tennessee Titans) yet has won zero championships in its pro teams’ history. It’s one of just six states that have ever had a major league franchise to never win a championship (joining Utah, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Iowa).
Rockies200711.314 Giants200211.016 Source: Baseball-Reference.com Angels200212.713 LA is taxing its bullpenTeams with the fewest innings pitched by starters in the first three games of the World Series, 2000-17 A poor start from Yu Darvish hurt the Dodgers early on Friday, and they never mounted a comeback. With the Astros now riding a 2-1 lead and two games left in Houston, the Dodgers are in trouble. In addition to their deficit, a pattern of heavy reliever usage might leave them understaffed in the remaining World Series games.Darvish didn’t have his best stuff Friday night. Despite impressive fastball velocity, his slider was unusually flat. Houston pounced on the normally dominant ace in the second inning, gaining a four-run lead. From then on, the Dodgers attempted to build a handful of unsuccessful rallies but only managed to score three runs.Darvish’s bad outing adds to two other shorter-than-necessary starts for Los Angeles and might leave the bullpen tired in the next two pivotal games in Houston. Even if the relievers were fine Friday, the pattern of short starts is a poor omen for the Dodgers. Cardinals200411.315 TEAMYEARINNINGSRUNS ALLOWED Dodgers201712.76 Of the five teams who leaned on their bullpen most in the series since 2000, three went on to lose, and the Dodgers’ fate is still undecided. Only the 2002 Anaheim Angels came back, and they faced an opponent (in the San Francisco Giants) who employed their relievers even more frequently.That’s not to say that reliever usage is a death sentence. Oftentimes, it simply reflects poor starting pitching: Each of the teams who used their starters less than the Dodgers saw them give up more than a dozen runs. This underscores how unusual Roberts’s reliever usage has been because his starters, comparatively, have been quite good. Aside from Darvish’s clunker last night, the Dodgers had two of the best starts for their length in World Series history, from Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill. If Roberts had allowed them to go deeper into games when they were dealing, the bullpen might be fresh now.Roberts didn’t help matters when he used his bullpen aggressively Friday night, attempting to keep Houston within striking distance. In total, the Dodgers manager called on five different relievers to end the game, and only one — Kenta Maeda — went longer than 2 innings. Combined with the workload from the previous two games, key relievers have been pitching almost as much as the starters. So far, Maeda has pitched 4 innings this series, and Brandon Morrow, the crucial bridge to closer Kenley Jansen, has pitched 2 2/3 innings as well. Jansen himself has pitched 3 full innings.But as ESPN’s Sam Miller pointed out, if the Dodgers had managed to come back, Roberts’s tactics would have been hailed as strategically brilliant. Like many other postseason managerial moves, the aggressive reliever usage is easy to criticize in hindsight but much harder to argue with in the moment. It might have been a good bet that failed to pay out, but the strategy still leaves the Dodgers depleted of bullpen arms at the time when they need them most. In contrast, Houston manager A.J. Hinch relied on only two pitchers to carry the Astros to victory: starter Lance McCullers and starter-turned-reliever Brad Peacock. Despite running into some high-leverage jams, they managed to hold a powerful Dodgers lineup to only three runs. Like Roberts’ decision, keeping McCullers in the game in the third inning with the bases loaded was a gamble. But Hinch’s call managed to pay off when Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager hit into an uncharacteristic double play.The Astros’ win leaves them with a 67 percent chance of taking the World Series. That’s far higher than our opening prediction, but it comes almost entirely from the two victories they’ve edged out over the Dodgers. The remaining games are all coin-flip affairs, so the importance of that extra win in an evenly divided series can’t be overstated. That it came down to two managerial decisions that might have gone either way speaks to how balanced this matchup is. Had one or two pitches gone differently, the Dodgers might be in a commanding position right now, instead of fighting to tie the Series.
Messi makes more passes than the other forwards, with a higher percentage of those passes trying to advance the ball toward the goal, and a higher percentage of those passes finding their targets (typical Messi!). His 3,800-plus completed forward passes are nearly twice as many as any forward in our data set (Francesco Totti for FC Roma has 2,200, followed by Wayne Rooney, the English striker, with 1,800 and Ronaldo with 1,500).One measure of the quality of a group of passes is how many are completed successfully, but it also matters what happens when those passes get where they’re going. It doesn’t help if a player passes 60 yards to someone swarmed with defenders. So a useful metric (made possible by play-by-play data) is the percentage of a player’s passes that lead to “successful” plays on the other end — meaning the receiving player manages to get off a shot, or passes the ball to someone else, and so on.As it turns out, not only does Messi pass the ball forward aggressively, he does so accurately, and the balls he delivers are “successful” a very high percentage of the time.For example, let’s look at Messi’s long ball forward passes from the midfield area. I’ve created a scatter comparing each player’s completion percentage for these passes to the percentage of them that are “successful,” and I’ve shown the volume of long pass attempts for each player as bubble sizes:Messi is among the most accurate passers for both metrics, and no one with as many attempts is more accurate.11Yes, that giant bubble in the middle is Wayne Rooney. There are players who complete a higher percentage of these passes and/or are more “successful” with them, but they’re typically being more selective in their attempts. For example, Ronaldo’s “success” rate of 60 percent beats Messi’s 54 percent (with a slightly lower completion percentage), but Ronaldo has only 35 successful long ball passes to Messi’s 81.Given that, it’s no surprise that Messi excels at the through-ball, the delicate and gorgeous play that requires perfect circumstances and perfect timing to be successful. Messi attempts almost twice as many of these passes as any other forward, and still manages to beat the trend.And then there’s the bread and butter of aggressive passing: moving it toward the goal on the opponent’s side of the field. In attacking territory, no one attacks as often as Messi does, and no one has more success doing so.These passes are where most assists come from, and indeed, Messi has the most assists per game from these kinds of passes of any forward, by a large margin. And again, despite making twice as many attempts as most people, he beats expectations.Touch by TouchBy this point, it should be evident that Messi has at least a little bit of skill. But there’s still heavy lifting to do: We have to show that he actually makes his team better.First, to ensure that we’re celebrating the greatness of Messi and not the greatness of Barcelona, we need to make sense of Messi on Barcelona. The easiest way to do that is to evaluate Barcelona without Messi, also known as the Spanish national team.The contrast between Spain in 2010 and Spain in 2014 seems huge: The 2010 team won the World Cup, and the 2014 team was tied for first in the tournament to be mathematically eliminated. But lost in this narrative is that the 2010 championship team wasn’t all that great, at least on offense. That World Cup team scored fewer goals per game than this year’s: only eight goals in seven games in 2010, while this year’s group-stage dropouts scored four goals in three. (That’s 1.2 goals per game overall.) For comparison, in the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League (the highest level of competition for European club soccer), Barcelona scored 30 goals in 13 games. In 47 UEFA matches since 2010, Barcelona has scored 104 goals, or 1.08 goals per game more than a Spanish team comprised of a similar offensive core and using the same “tiki-taka” playing style, minus Lionel Messi.Perhaps that’s an unfair comparison to make — but it’s consistent with the theory that Barcelona’s “play keep away until lightning strikes” offense really only works when it has Messi as its striker.Between Messi’s shots taken and chances created, he is responsible for about 48 percent of Barcelona’s regular (non-penalty, non-set play) shot attempts. Yet he and the players he assists score about 60 percent of Barca’s goals.In fact, the more involved Messi is in a shot attempt, the more likely his team is to score. He has scored on 22.1 percent of his regular (non-set, non-penalty, non-shootout) shots for Barca himself. The people to whom he’s dished assists and chances have scored on 18.1 percent of their shots. Meanwhile, Barcelona shots that didn’t come from Messi’s foot12Or other non-arm body part. But he mostly uses his feet. or Messi’s passing scored just 12.5 percent of the time.Even though Barcelona is one of the best teams in the world, there’s a huge difference between when Messi is involved in creating shots and chances and when he isn’t. Here are the equivalent differences for all players since 2010 with more than 100 games played and four or more shots or assist chances per game:Of course, these are raw shooting percentages and don’t account for the types of shots each player is taking or assisting, or the number of attempts. It’s generally harder to stay valuable over a larger number of shots, and we haven’t yet factored in that difficulty.For that, we turn back to the goals above average model, which compares each shot or chance outcome with its expectation. From this, we can tell whether a player has exceeded expectations for all of his shot attempts and chances created. Then we can do the same for all shots taken by his team without the player’s involvement, and compare the two. For example, if the player scored .02 goals above expectation per shot attempt, and the rest of his team scored -.01 goals less than expectation, that player’s value-added would be +.03 goals per shot (the value above replacement for that player on that team). Now let’s plot that added value against each player’s13Among players who played 100 games with two or more shots per game and one or more chance created per game. total offensive participation (the percentage of team shots he’s involved with):Finally, after however many charts, we see a diminishing return. At least for everyone not named Lionel Messi. He once again tops the field, impervious to the burden.But that’s just what happens once the shots are lined up. If we want to explore a player’s efficiency, we have to look into his touches more deeply. For this purpose, I created a stat called “possessions used.” It’s a little bit analogous to usage rate in basketball, and incorporates the number of touches in which a player:Takes a shot;Passes the ball to a player who takes a shot;Turns the ball over;Tries to pass the ball and fails;Tries to take on a defender and fails.In other words, it’s a stat meant to reflect anything that ends a team’s possession, whether that outcome is positive or negative. Events that simply prolong the possession (taking on a defender and succeeding, or passing the ball to another teammate who does not take a shot) aren’t factored in.Obviously passing the ball is an important skill (which I covered a bit above), but for this metric I just want to know about the relative likelihood of good outcomes (goals, assists) to bad ones (misses, turnovers, etc.) when the player does something possession-ending.14This also somewhat neutralizes any statistical advantage for players who play for pass-happy teams like Barcelona. Looking at players who “use” more than 15 possessions per game, we can plot possessions used against scoring and assists like so:Cutting out all the passing that doesn’t end in a shot, Messi generates the most points per touch of any player with a similar usage rate. But there are a couple of other important things to notice in this graph: Despite not taking as many shots, Messi uses more possessions per game than Ronaldo does. This is generally because Messi is much more likely to take on defenders, and thus is much more likely to lose possession of the ball or turn it over entirely. (He is also relatively more likely to set up a potential assist.)Importantly, turnovers in soccer aren’t as big of a deal as they are in basketball or American football. Shots, even bad ones, are more of a limited resource in soccer than possessions. Risking a turnover to increase your chances of scoring a goal even by a small amount can be worth it.Finally, Messi’s defense is consistent with that of a high-volume striker.15Which is to say, players who’ve logged 100-plus games, taken an average of three or more shots per game, and who’ve made at least 50 percent of their touches in the attacking third. That he’s practically munchkin-sized (he’s only 1.69 met — ahem, excuse me — 5’ 7” tall) seems not to matter.To look at Messi’s defensive skill, I combined successful tackles,16I didn’t count missed tackles as either positive or negative, because they aren’t nearly as bad as a successful tackle is good. interceptions and blocked shots, then adjusted for number of opponent possessions (as I did with offense above).There are a few lines where Messi’s stats are considerably worse than his peers’ (meaning Ronaldo’s): He doesn’t get a lot of clearances — although this is partly style, as Messi is more willing to pass out of defensive territory (or even take on defenders). And he doesn’t go for (or succeed at) a lot of aerials (50-50 balls in the air). While I haven’t studied this aspect of his game in depth, soccer experts in the FiveThirtyEight office theorize that it has something to do with his stature.ConclusionHow should Argentina fans feel about all this, given the disappointment they’ve experienced in World Cups past and the hopes they’ve pinned on Messi this year? So far in the 2014 tournament, Messi has been erasing whatever gap there was between his Barcelona stats and his Argentina stats, with style. And that gap was never really as big as it appeared.Since the 2010 World Cup, Messi has scored 19 goals and six assists for Argentina in 22 games (.9 goals per game and .3 assists per game, compared to 1.1 and .4 for Barca). For shooting/assisting efficiency, he has scored .199 GAA per game for Argentina versus .262 for Barca. He also has better defensive stats for Argentina, so even if there are persistent differences, it’s quite possible it has to do with style and Messi’s role on each team rather than the quality of his play.And 22 games is a tiny sample. Even so, these stats are perfectly consistent with the argument that Messi is the best footballer on earth: That .199 GAA is better than the .175 GAA per game that Ronaldo has earned at Real Madrid since 2010. This is what that .199 GAA looks like:In other words, if Barca-Messi and Argentina-Messi were two different people, even based solely on the stats recorded since 2010, there’s a good chance they’d be the two best players in the world.One of them is playing on Tuesday.CORRECTION (July 1, 12:32 p.m.): The axes in an earlier version of the chart on through-balls above misstated what they measured. The chart shows attempted through-balls and through-ball assists, not attempted and successful assists.CORRECTION (July 1, 1:06 p.m.): This article originally misstated that Cristiano Ronaldo had 289 goals since the 2010 World Cup. He had 230 goals, and 59 assists in that time, for 289 combined goals and assists.CORRECTION (July 7, 7:29 a.m.): An earlier version of this article also incorrectly said that Ronaldo had 41 successful long ball passes when in fact he had 35. In their Group F World Cup match late last month, Argentina and Iran were still deadlocked after 90 minutes. With the game in stoppage time and the score tied at 0-0, Lionel Messi took the ball near the right corner of the penalty area, held it for a moment, then broke left, found his seam, took his strike and curled it in from 29 yards. What was going to be a draw was now a win, and Messi had put Argentina into the Round of 16.It was the sort of play that inspired the phrase “Messi magic.” But for those who only watch soccer when the World Cup rolls around, this was probably only the second (or at most third) goal they’d seen from the little man they call La Pulga (“The Flea”). Despite having 407 career goals in club and international play (including a record 91 in 2012 alone) and a record four Ballon d’Or (World Player of the Year) awards, until this year’s tournament, Messi hadn’t scored in a World Cup match since 2006.Since scoring an eerily familiar goal in the 2007 Copa Del Rey, Messi has constantly been compared to Argentine great and his former national team coach Diego Maradona. Despite his young age — he turned 27 on June 24 — Messi has taken substantial criticism in Argentina and elsewhere for failing to engineer a World Cup run like that of the man with the “Hand of God.”To Argentina devotees, it probably doesn’t help that during Messi’s tenure at FC Barcelona the club team has won two FIFA Club World Cups to go with six La Liga and three UEFA (All-European) championships.Perhaps this year will be different. Messi is finally having the kind of World Cup expected of him. He has scored in every game so far (four goals overall), including one on a beautiful free kick against Nigeria and the aforementioned game-winner against Iran. As of this writing, FiveThirtyEight gives Messi and his compatriots a 16 percent chance of winning the tournament — second only to host nation Brazil.Even though national teams are patchwork and only play together for a handful of games each year, how Messi plays with Argentina relates to what is ultimately a fair criticism of his success: Most of it has come for FC Barcelona, a free-spending virtual all-star squad, packed with many of the world’s best players.1Imagine how good Peyton Manning would be if whomever he played for could spend three times as much as 90 percent of NFL teams.As the primary striker for such a juggernaut, it can be hard to detangle Messi’s goal-scoring prowess from Barcelona’s general offensive dominance. And the 2013-14 season hasn’t helped: Battling minor injuries and facing competition for touches from superstar arrival Neymar, Messi’s most recent season was slightly below par by his standards, yet Barca finished second in La Liga. (And in the seven games Messi missed, they went 6-1.) He still scored 41 goals, but that total was less than the 60 he scored the year before, and fewer than the 51 that rival Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid scored en route to capturing the Ballon d’Or.I think this criticism is fair — and I found it intriguing enough to look into the matter myself. So I gathered and organized data, crunched it, re-crunched it, and gathered more data2The crux of my research is based on play-by-play data (plus x-y coordinates) from ESPN’s partnership with the sports data companies Opta and TruMedia. and crunched it some more.By now I’ve studied nearly every aspect of Messi’s game, down to a touch-by-touch level: his shooting and scoring production; where he shoots from; how often he sets up his own shots; what kind of kicks he uses to make those shots; his ability to take on defenders; how accurate his passes are; the kind of passes he makes; how often he creates scoring chances; how often those chances lead to goals; even how his defensive playmaking compares to other high-volume shooters.And that’s just the stuff that made it into this article. I arrived at a conclusion that I wasn’t really expecting or prepared for: Lionel Messi is impossible.It’s not possible to shoot more efficiently from outside the penalty area than many players shoot inside it. It’s not possible to lead the world in weak-kick goals and long-range goals. It’s not possible to score on unassisted plays as well as the best players in the world score on assisted ones. It’s not possible to lead the world’s forwards both in taking on defenders and in dishing the ball to others. And it’s certainly not possible to do most of these things by insanely wide margins.But Messi does all of this and more.ScoringI think it’s fair to say that goals mean more in soccer than points do in most sports. And Messi scores a lot of them. Since the end of the 2010 World Cup, Messi has been responsible for 291 goals and assists in the 201 of his games in club and national team play tracked by the sports analytics company Opta. How does that compare with other soccer stars across top leagues around the world? (The Opta data set includes 16,574 players and 24,904 games in both league and international play since the end of the 2010 World Cup.)Coming in just behind Messi with 289 goals and assists since the 2010 World Cup is Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi’s rival from Real Madrid. When it comes to scoring, these two aren’t just on top of the pile, they’re hang-gliding somewhere way above it. Messi and Ronaldo have been compared to each other so often by sports media and fans alike that it almost feels trite to compare them again, but it can���t be helped. If we want to compare Messi to all players with a remotely similar volume of production, we’re left with Ronaldo.Now let’s leave assists aside for a second (much more on them later), and concentrate on Messi’s shooting. Like Ronaldo, he has an enormous number of goals, but also takes an enormous number of shots. If this were basketball, we might expect a negative (or at least decelerating) relationship between shot volume and shot efficiency — the more shots a player takes the less efficient he is.3Unless he is LeBron James. But it turns out this isn’t really the case in soccer: More efficient shooters tend to take more shots. Despite this, Messi is still a trend-breaker:4For this plot, I’ve excluded penalty shots, shootout shots and direct free kicks. I’ll discuss those separately. Of the 866 players who qualified for that plot — by playing in 50-plus games and averaging at least one shot attempt per game — Messi is the ninth-most efficient shooter overall (Ronaldo is 173rd), and he’s by far the most efficient of anyone with a similar shot volume. The highest-volume shooter who is more efficient is Mario Gomez, the former Bayern Munich striker, who takes about two-thirds as many shots as Messi.But in soccer, unlike in basketball, shooting efficiency isn’t the single most important stat. Since the value of a possession in soccer is much lower, so is the cost of missing a shot (and missed shots often have good outcomes as well). That said, quality shot opportunities in soccer are still a limited resource, so making the most of them is important.To generalize a bit, some of the value a shooter provides comes from taking more and better shots (e.g. taking them closer to the goal, at a better angle, amid fewer defenders, etc.), and some of it comes from putting in those shots more often. For example, Messi’s typical regular (non-set piece) shot comes from 14.9 yards out, while Ronaldo’s average shot comes from 20.1 yards out. ESPN/TruMedia has a model for estimating the chances of a player making each shot he takes based on type and location (this metric is known as expected goals). The difference between a player’s actual goals and his expected goals is called “goals above average” (or GAA). Because Messi takes shots that are more likely to go in, his average attempt has an expectation of .182 goals, while the average Ronaldo shot has an expectation of .124 goals — so we would expect Messi’s shooting to be more efficient based on that alone. However, Messi has also exceeded that expectation by a greater amount than Ronaldo has. Messi scored .220 goals per shot attempt for .038 GAA per goal. Ronaldo scored .139 goals per attempt, so he had .015 GAA per goal.Here’s a comparison of the top 20 shot-takers overall (regular shots in all games since the 2010 World Cup):In this group, Messi both takes the best shots and does the most with those attempts.If we break this down using shot-location data, it’s clear that Messi is highly efficient across a wide range of distances.The percentage of shots Messi makes from outside the penalty area is absolutely stunning. He scores almost as often per shot from outside the penalty area (12.1 percent) as most players do inside it (13.1 percent).Of 8,335 players in our dataset who have taken at least one shot from outside the box, only 1,835 have scored from that distance at any point. There are 47 players with 50 or more attempts from outside the box without a single goal, and about 500 with at least 20 attempts and no goals. Messi leads the world with 21 goals from outside the penalty area, on just 173 shot attempts.Ronaldo takes more than twice as many shots from this distance, but still has fewer goals overall. Messi, meanwhile, scores at a remarkable rate. Adjusting for shot quality with the GAA model, Messi is running 12.6 goals above expectation (based on shot-by-shot expectation, not the trend line in the chart). Ronaldo, with more than twice as many shots, ran just 5.5 goals above expectation, and no one but Messi is higher than 7.5 goals.The 21st of those outside-the-penalty-area goals was Messi’s extra-time winner against Iran, which came from 29 yards out (33 yards to where it went in). That goal was quintessential Messi: He got the ball on the right side of the field, held it for a few seconds, broke to the middle and — in heavy traffic — swerved it in on off his left foot. Plus he did it all without an assist.Unassisted ShootingDespite dishing a large number of assists (more on that to come), Messi sometimes gets called “selfish.” But maybe he isn’t selfish enough.About 44 percent of Messi’s “open” (non-set piece) shots are “individual plays,” taken without an assist.5I should note that the data on this has a little gray area. The play-by-play data lists “assisters” on several plays that are nonetheless designated as “individual plays” and for which no one was awarded an assist. I treated all such shots as unassisted, even if another player’s assistance was noted. This is lower than the 46 percent of unassisted shots for players overall, but Messi scores on these shots more than 23 percent of the time, compared to all players’ 5 percent. Additionally, he gains .089 goals above average on each unassisted shot. Ronaldo gains .023, and the average player is slightly negative at -.004 GAA.Let’s look at how Messi’s assisted shooting compares to other players with 100 or more shots both assisted and unassisted6Since assist-related stats tend to be dependent on a team’s offensive system, for this chart I’ve grouped shots by team, so it only includes Messi’s shots for Barcelona and Ronaldo’s for Real Madrid.:Somehow, Messi has done even better when taking it on his own than when somebody sets him up. Moreover, on unassisted shots he shoots nearly 10 percent and .044 GAA better than the next best player (Sergio Aguero for Manchester City) does, despite taking the fourth-most such shots of the 28 players in the group.To be clear, you could probably choose any skills for your axes and produce a similar graph. Messi can shoot it just about any which way. Here are some miscellaneous shooting stats he’s accrued at Barcelona:Messi loves his left foot, shooting with it 78 percent of the time, and scoring 23 percent. But don’t sleep on his right foot: When he uses it, he scores 23 percent of the time. He shoots slightly below average on (a limited number of) headers (10 percent vs. 13 percent).About 8 percent of his shots are “weak” kicks (compared to 6 percent for all players in the data set), but he makes 27 percent of them, and does so more often than we’d expect. He has an average GAA of .026 on those kicks (all players: 5 percent shooting on weak kicks with -.055 GAA). Only 5 percent of his kicks are “strong” ones (compared to 8 percent for all players), but those kicks score 36 percent of the time, and have .251 GAA each! All players have scored on 11 percent of their “strong kick” shots and have an average .051 GAA per shot.About 12 percent of his shots have “swerve” on them (compared to 10 percent for all players); 31 percent of those swervy kicks score, for a huge .202 GAA (all players: 8 percent, .020 GAA).On direct free kicks (like the one he scored on against Nigeria), Messi has scored about 8 percent of the time (compared to all players’ 5 percent), with .021 GAA per shot (Ronaldo has scored on 7 percent with an identical .021 GAA).7I’ve excluded other set-piece attempts because they’re very dependent on each player’s role on his team. Ronaldo has taken five times as many shots in those situations, but Messi has been slightly more efficient.Messi has scored on 86 percent of his penalty kicks, versus an average of 77 percent for all players. But put one check-mark in Ronaldo’s column, as he has scored on 93 percent of his penalty attempts. Since both are the primary PK-takers for both their club and national teams, this difference — if it held up in the long run — would be worth about three-quarters of a goal per year.To make all those unassisted shots possible, Messi has to take on a lot of defenders one on one. There’s a stat for that, and in my view it’s one of the most revealing, reflecting both Messi’s skill and style, and the relationship between the two. Of all forwards in our data set who’ve played 100-plus games, he “takes on” defenders the most, and he’s the most successful at it.The only forward who takes on defenders nearly as aggressively as Messi is Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan striker for Liverpool who is perhaps too aggressive for his own good (ahem). Suarez is successful less than 35 percent of the time.This may help explain how Messi gets so many better shots, and why his “unassisted” shots are so good. It also points to the main stylistic difference between Messi and Ronaldo: Ronaldo takes more mid-range shots but misses a lot of them; Messi tries to beat a lot more defenders, loses sometimes, and then makes up for it (and then some) by having better assisting and shooting opportunities as a result. That’s not to say one approach is better than the other, but note that it means that the observed shooting gap between them is at least somewhat exaggerated. While Messi appears to shoot much more efficiently, that’s partly because he loses the ball more during failed take-on attempts, while Ronaldo loses it more because of missed shots. Only the second of those is accounted for in shooting stats. (I’ll get more into how we can account for loss of possession in the touch-by-touch analysis later.)Passing and AssistsFrom the above, you might think Messi is a selfish player. Or you might assume that if Messi is so good at shooting, he’d focus on it to the exclusion of other skills. But, in true Wayne Gretzky-esque fashion, Messi is also one of the top assisters in our data set. Once again, that makes him a crazy outlier: No one else (aside from, yes, Ronaldo) even comes close to his combination of goals scored versus goals dished.Not only is Messi the top game-by-game goal-scorer of the last four years, he’s the third-most productive distributor of assists, despite being the primary scorer on his own team! Only Mesut Ozil and Franck Ribery8Frank Ribery is a terrific winger/midfielder who can sometimes put the ball in the net, but he’s the fourth-leading scorer on powerhouse Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga-winning squad. earned more assists than Messi, and Ozil did it on Real Madrid9Messi and his Argentina teammate Angel di Maria (also of Real Madrid) are tied to four decimal places, but Messi just edges him in the fifth. — setting up Cristiano Ronaldo.But how does he do it? The biggest obstacle to evaluating Messi’s passing ability is accounting for the fact that he plays for the most pass-happy team in the world. Watching Barcelona can be a bit like watching a playground game of keep away. Barcelona’s players are infamous for their “tiki-taka” style of play, which relies on an enormous amount of short, high percentage passing. Above all else, they try to maintain possession of the ball until a chance opens up. This sounds like a great strategy, but there’s a reason it isn’t employed universally: To make it work, a team has to be stocked with amazing passers, and it has to have strikers capable of creating chances against set defenses.10Whether “possession football” — much less the extreme form employed by Barca — is even a good strategy at all is controversial. In a seminal 1968 study, Charles Reep noted that 80 percent of goals came from possessions involving three or fewer passes, and that successfully completing a lot of passes without losing the ball was very difficult. He thought this proved that possession football was inefficient, but many have disagreed with his logic, and subsequent studies have shown mixed results.Messi is both of those things. And what’s more, his passing profile is nothing like the other Barcelona forwards, who typically send 72 percent of their passes back or square. Messi is far more likely to try to advance the ball toward the goal, and far more likely to succeed:
Michigan junior quarterback Wilton Speight (3) looks downfield for an open receiver during first-half action against Central Florida at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Saturday, Sept. 10. Courtesy of TNSThe final regular season game for Ohio State against Michigan will kickoff without the Wolverines starting signal-caller. In Michigan’s loss against Iowa on Saturday, redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight reportedly broke his collarbone.The injury will keep Speight out for the remainder of the regular season. According to mgoblog.com, the redshirt sophomore could return to the Wolverines for a bowl game, but will not be able to play for the next two weeks.Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh denied the report on his weekly radio show, saying that a doctor had not told him Speight would be unavailable for the rest of the regular season.Although injuries are never a positive note, the Buckeyes could benefit from the absence of Speight, who has thrown for 2,156 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. John O’Korn, a senior transfer from Houston, is likely to start against the Hoosiers.O’Korn has thrown just 18 passes this year, two of which were for touchdowns.The last time a backup quarterback started a game at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes were on the wrong end of a 17-14 affair with Michigan State. This time, OSU will have more time to prepare for a different quarterback, considering then-junior Tyler O’Connor replaced injured Michigan State starter Connor Cook just before kickoff, last year. The announcement of the injury comes two weeks before The Game. Although history has a tendency to repeat itself, this is an instance in which the Buckeyes hope to rewrite the story.
Feeling its season slipping away, Ohio State baseball stepped up on offense Sunday, defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes 11-6 to avoid a sweep and earn coach Bob Todd his 900th victory at OSU.Center fielder Ryan Dew led the Buckeyes (27-21, 10-11) in the win, going 2-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs against Iowa (23-26, 10-11).Dew’s four RBIs came from a first-inning grand slam that gave OSU the lead for good.OSU added another run in the first inning when third baseman Brad Hallberg scored on a fielder’s choice from right fielder Brian DeLucia.The Buckeyes added two more runs in the fifth, and four in the seventh inning to secure the road victory.Buckeye catcher Dan Burkhart also contributed two RBIs in the win.Pitchers Brett McKinney and Jared Strayer combined to give up only four runs in eight innings, allowing the Buckeyes to build a big lead.The Hawkeyes scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to cut the deficit to 11-6, but pitcher Eric Best was able to get the final two outs to end the game.OSU, in seventh place in the Big Ten before the game, needed a win to get some important positioning before the conference tournament begins.Iowa took the first game Friday 7-5 on a three-run home run by shortstop Zach Lee in the eighth inning. The loss erased a strong effort by Strayer, who allowed just three runs on four hits in 6.1 innings of relief work.OSU gave up a 3-0 lead to Iowa on Saturday and lost 4-3.OSU returns to Bill Davis Stadium at 12:05 p.m. Tuesday to face the Pittsburgh Panthers in its final non-conference game of the 2010 season.
Former Ohio State diver Katie Bell was the final hope for a current or former Buckeye to earn a medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Bell came up short of that goal, which sent all 11 Buckeyes home from London with memories of the Games, but no medal. Bell’s only event at this year’s Olympics was the women’s individual 10-meter platform competition. She made it through the preliminary round, which was held on Aug. 8, in ninth place. However, she finished only 16th in the semifinal, which was held the following day. Only 14 divers made it through to the event’s final, so Bell was eliminated. Bell, via her Twitter account @HippieBell, said her experience at the Games was positive, despite her failure to qualify for the final. “This experience has been amazing,” Bell tweeted. “Its [sic] a dream come true and I have enjoyed every moment. Thank you everyone for all your support.” The 10 other Buckeyes who competed in London included athletes representing eight different countries, and competing in five different sports: fencing, swimming, rowing, soccer and rifle. The fencers included two current OSU athletes, junior Zain Shaito and sophomore Mona Shaito, siblings who represented Lebanon in these Games. The other two fencers were former Buckeyes Margarita Tschomakova and Louise Bond-Williams, who represented Bulgaria and Great Britain respectively. None of the fencers made it past the first two rounds of their individual competition. The only other current OSU athlete to compete for the Buckeyes was Amanda Furrer, a senior rifle shooter, who finished 15th in the 50-meter rifle competition. The other former Buckeyes to compete in London were Canadian swimmer Samantha Cheverton, Serbian swimmer Dorde Markovic, U.S. rower Margot Shumway, Italian rower Claudia Wurzel and Honduran soccer player Roger Espinoza. Cheverton placed 11th in the women’s 200-meter freestyle swim, while Markovic was ousted from the men’s 400-meter freestyle in 23rd place. Shumway and teammate Sarah Trowbridge placed sixth in the women’s double sculls final, while Wurzel and teammate Sara Bertolasi finished 10th in the women’s pair final. Honduras was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the men’s soccer tournament. The 2012 Olympics concluded on Sunday. The next Summer Olympics will be held Aug. 5-21, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
When I first heard that renowned coach Urban Meyer was returning from retirement to coach at Ohio State, I almost choked on the microwavable meal I was eating. I mean, this was the coach who led the Florida Gators to two national championships in 2006 and 2008. Possibilities of great potential rushed through my mind. OSU could now return to its title-contending status it had under former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel. Some changes, however, would need to occur. One of these changes was the implementation of the spread offense into the playbook. No harm done, right? I mean, numerous college football programs across the country use the spread offense and thrive, including many schools in the dominating Southeastern Conference, where Meyer previously coached. In the realm of college football, it’s a great idea. But what happens when the top-notch players move to the NFL? The spread offense has been tried in the National Football League and, sometimes, it can bring some success. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady used this scheme in 2007. But, time and again, the spread offense, for the most part, doesn’t work in professional football. The old tradition of dropping back in the pocket and making plays rules dominant in the NFL and will most likely do so for a long time. The question facing college athletes playing in spread formations across the country is whether individual success in that type of offense translates to the pro level? It might just be the case that it doesn’t. Need an example? How about former Gators and current New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow? Tebow played in Meyer’s spread offense at Florida and he was a freak of college football nature, winning the Heisman Trophy and two national championships. Tebow entered the NFL after his senior season in 2010 and was drafted 25th overall by the Denver Broncos. Once Tebow had his chance to be a starter, he led the Broncos, who began last season 1-4, to the playoffs. Since Tebow was accustomed to using his running ability often in Meyer’s spread offense, though, he was forced to buckle down and throw in the pocket in NFL. He failed miserably, not even being able to throw with the correct form. This complication allowed Tebow and the Broncos to eventually be flushed out by the New England Patriots in the playoffs. Despite Tebow’s sincere dedication to reshaping his throwing form, it didn’t help him when it mattered most. Everyone knows from a psychological perspective that integrated physical habits are extremely hard to overcome. Now, Tebow finds himself as New York Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez’s backup. This was also the case for quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who was the quarterback for the LSU Tigers and played in a spread offense under Tigers coach Les Miles. While he was a dominant player in college like Tebow, Russell struggled after being drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2007. In May 2010, the Raiders cut Russell. While it’s hard to say that the spread offense doesn’t work at all in the NFL, the chances aren’t good from a historical point of view. Spreading the offensive line can open up holes for a no-huddle offense in college, but the speed and athleticism by defensive players in the NFL is too great, and the players will still cover the open gaps. So what about OSU quarterback Braxton Miller? Known for his ability as a dual-threat quarterback, Miller has done well as the Buckeyes’ (3-0) season rolls on. But being under this coaching scheme, success in the NFL still remains murky. Meyer is a sensational coach, there is no question. He’s arguably the best coach in the game right now. His plays and schemes work well for college football, but is his work really going to Miller if he moves on the big stage?