This is the first post for The Broad Street Line, a recurring series we’re starting at Philly Views.
We’ll take a look at some of the underlying stats that are typically a better determinant of our favorite teams’ success than the widely-distributed, but often limited stats you’ll usually see.
These stats may either support or refute the popular opinion of Philly teams, but they will help us see past the surface level and better understand our teams.
Here we go.
The Eagles destroyed the Broncos this past weekend 51-23, and the game wasn’t really that close, as Denver scored two touchdowns in garbage time after Carson Wentz was out of the game. The team moved to 8-1.
— maurice (@tallmaurice) November 5, 2017
ALEX is a statistic from Football Outsiders that indicates a quarterback’s aggressiveness on third down. A reference to checkdown artist Alex Smith, Air Less EXpected measures the distance between the quarterback’s target and the first down marker.
Basically, a quarterback with a high ALEX is not counting on his receivers to get the first downs for him. He’s getting his receivers the ball past the sticks.
We’ve all heard that Carson Wentz has been dynamite on third down this year, converting the first down on 52% of his third down passes. That leads the league.
But Wentz is not relying on his receivers to get the job done. He’s throwing the ball 2.8 yards past the first down marker on average, ranking him 5th in the league.
What’s notable, though, is that the three active players ahead of him all have significantly higher interception rates than Wentz’ 1.7%. The quarterbacks ahead of him in ALEX are Ben Roethlisberger (3.3% interception rate), Jameis Winston (2.3%), and Marcus Mariota (2.5).
The other player leading Wentz in ALEX is arguably the best player in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers. He has a slightly better interception rate, at 1.6%, but unfortunately, he’s only played six games due to injury and may not return at all this season.
Playoff Chances: ~ 100%
FiveThirtyEight’s Elo rankings give the Eagles a 95% chance at making the playoffs. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Eagles a 98% chance of making the playoffs, but historically, those odds may be a bit low.
All 35 of the teams that have started the season 8-1 since the league changed its playoff structure in 1990 have made the playoffs. That’s 100% of the time. The Eagles have won seven straight and now boast the top odds of winning the Super Bowl per ESPN’s FPI at 20.8%.
Carson Wentz is now the odds-on favorite to win the MVP, and the Eagles boast the second-best point differential in the NFL, just four points behind the surprisingly stellar LA Rams.
It’s a good time to be an Eagles fan.
The Sixers are on a hot streak, having won five consecutive games, including one over the Jazz without Joel Hans Embiid on the court. A big part of the run has been the defense, which ranks fifth in the NBA in defensive rating over the past five games.
I wanted to look at what’s making the defense tick, just to make sure the Sixers aren’t using unsavory methods on defense.
Transition Defense: +0.8 points added – 2nd in the NBA
The Sixers currently have the second-best transition defense in the league behind the Celtics, allowing just 0.8 added points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass (subscription required).
This is based off of two factors: transition frequency and transition points per play. Frequency measures the percentage of the time the opponent gets out in transition, while points per play is how well the opposing team does with those opportunities. To illustrate, here’s Embiid blocking John Wall in transition.
And, here’s another of Simmons getting a steal in transition and taking it in for a dunk on the other end.
The Sixers have been middle of the pack in terms of frequency, but second in the league in points per transition possession. Frequency is a stronger predictor of transition defensive efficiency, so you might expect the defense to take a step back unless they do a better job of preventing transition opportunities.
However, the Sixers, as a team, may be better suited than most to defend in transition situations.
Hustle: 4.52 miles per hour – 1st in the NBA
The Sixers are a long and athletic team, and they like to run.
In fact, they lead the league in the average speed of their players. As a result, when the other team gets out in transition, they’re able to get back into the play and contest shots better than most NBA teams.
After ranking third in the league in deflections last season, this Sixers team has accrued 15.8 deflections per game, third in the league again. To address both of these points, here’s an Embiid deflection leading to a Simmons dunk.
You’d like to see the Sixers do a better job of using their collective motor to prevent transition opportunities, but it may be an intentional game plan instituted by Sixers’ coach Brett Brown.
Offensive Rebounding Rate: 28.4%, Tied for 5th in the NBA
Remember when I said the Sixers are a long and athletic team? The last section dealt with the athleticism. This section deals with the length. The Sixers start four guys over 6-foot-9 inches tall in Robert Covington (6’-9”), Dario Saric (6’-10“), Ben Simmons (arguably 7’), and Joel Embiid (7’).
With the league trending smaller and smaller, the team may have decided to leverage its height and length into extra possessions by crashing the offensive glass. If this is a part of Brett Brown’s game plan, it’s paying dividends.
The tragic and untimely death of Roy Halladay this week is a tough pill to swallow. Everyone knows Halladay’s story by now. He struggled early in his career, posting the worst ERA of any pitcher to throw at least 60 innings in baseball history.
But after a visit to a sports psychologist and a trip to the minors, he turned his career around and dominated MLB hitters for the next decade, winning two Cy Youngs along the way.
While the thing most people note about Halladay his his fanatical commitment to outworking every man in baseball, what I find most impressive about him is his recognition of his personal issues in his willingness to see a psychologist in a macho sports culture.
Doc’s charitable exploits are well-known. He’s fostered hundreds of rescue animals, and even donated an adorable drug-sniffing dog named K9 Doc to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. His bromance with Chooch was adorable, from the replica Cy Young trophy he gave to his catcher to the hilarious MLB 2k11 commercial with an inanimate version of his batterymate. And his role as mentor to younger teammates and, after his career, aspiring athletes shows what kind of man the world lost.
Thinking about Doc brought back memories of watching the pre-2012 powerhouse Phillies. When Roy Halladay was pitching, the Phillies won. It was that simple.
Gone far too soon.
Rest In Peace, Doc. pic.twitter.com/khboArOzRm
— Phillies (@Phillies) November 8, 2017
Halladay’s Career Complete Games: 18
Since he joined the Phillies in 2010, Roy Halladay is tied for third place on the MLB leaderboard for complete games, behind only Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw. Wainwright has made 191 starts since 2010. Clayton Kershaw, Halladay’s heir as best pitcher in baseball, has made 239 starts.
Both Kershaw and Wainwright are still active. Halladay, meanwhile, made just 103 starts since 2010 and hasn’t appeared in a game since 2013. Seventeen of his 18 complete games came in 2010 and 2011 alone before injuries derailed and ultimately ended Doc’s storied career.
Phillies Complete Games Last Season: 1
The Phillies, as a team, had just one complete game this past season, and it was only an 8-inning game. Against the Nationals, Ben Lively pitched 8 innings of three-run ball.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough, as the Phillies were shut out for eight innings by Stephen Strasburg, and only mustered two runs in the ninth off former Phillie Ryan Madson.
In fact, the top team in the MLB in complete games in 2017 was the Cleveland Indians with 7. Doc had 9 in 2010 and 8 in 2011 himself. They don’t make pitchers like him anymore.