Saturday, January 19, 2008

Giants Do Not Typically Win Through High-Yardage Penalties

In the footballoutsiders preview of the Giants-Packers game (, they predict that the Giants offense might get some free yardage because the Packers' secondary led the NFL in pass interference and illegal contact penalties, which gave 34 yards per game to the opposing offense. (I am not tracking those types of statistics, so I can't say whether that's correct.)

This led me to take a look at this season's statistics for the Packers and Giants to take a quick look at whether the teams' results depended to some degree on a large number of penalties or a large number of yards per penalty. A large number of penalties suggests the referee crew that game called lots of penalties, perhaps lots of defensive penalties as part of the mix. A large number of yards per penalty might be a sign of calling defensive pass interference (which can be a large number of yards), but might be a sign of other large-yardage penalties. Not a perfect way to analyze this, but the best I can do.

Looking at the 2007 regular season, the Giants did not typically win in games where there was a large penalty yards per penalty called. If we look at the Giants' games with the largest actual yards per penalty, the Giants went only 3-5. Meanwhile, in the eight games with the smallest actual yards per penalty, the Giants went 7-1.

Looking at the expected yards per penalty (using the referee's season-long statistic as opposed to the actual figure in the game) does not yield any trend -- the Giants went 5-3 in the eight largest and 5-3 in the eight smallest games. So it seems like the trend depends on the actual yards per penalty called in the particular game and is unrelated to the referees' season-long trends. You get equal 5-3 splits when you look at the actual number of penalties called per game and when you look at the expected penalties per game using the referees' regular season statistics.

Turning to the Packers: actual yards per penalty, 7-1 for largest 8 and 6-2 in smallest 8. expected yards per penalty, 6-2 in largest 8 and 7-1 in smallest 8. For actual penalties per game, 6-2 for largest 8 and 7-1 in smallest 8. For expected penalties per game, 7-1 in largest 8 and 6-2 in smallest 8. So for the Packers, no obvious trends.

So if past performance holds up on Sunday, the Giants typically do best when the average yards per penalty is less than 8 -- and is not typically characterized by a bunch of large yardage defense pass interference calls. Still, the Giants didn't lose all their games with large yards per penalty -- they did go 3-5 so it's not impossible, just not their typical type of win.

Post-game update: the initial box score of the Giants OT victory over the Packers says there were 6 penalties for 50 yards against the Giants and 7 penalties for 37 yards against the Packers, for an average yards per penalty of 6.69 yards per penalty. It was below 8 yards per penalty on average, which was typical of the Giants' victories this season. Of course, the Giants only barely won and the average yards per penalty is not exactly a statistic many people focus on so this probably was just a statistical oddity as opposed to anything deep...


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