Next Gen Stats For The Wild Card Weekend Playoff Games
While most of what we will give you on NFL365 is going to be strictly actionable, it is important to remember that we all love football. Sometimes, it is interesting to delve into the new advanced stats to see what we can learn without trying to support a conclusion. The NFL Next Gen Stats Hub is one of the best places on the internet to examine what happens on the field through a statistical lens. They have advanced passing, rushing and receiving statistics that are produced by NFL player tracking, which logs “real-time location data, speed and acceleration for every player, every play on ever inch of the field. Sensors running through the stadium track tags places on players’ shoulder pads, charting individual movements within inches.”
Pretty cool, right? This is the closest we have been able to get to the information that front offices use to evaluate players. Every week of the 2018 NFL Playoffs, I will be delivering a column analyzing some of the interesting Next Gen Stats about the players involved in the given matchups that week.
Nick Foles: Average Intended Air Yards
Nick Foles has not played many games this season (appeared in five games, started four) so it is hard to tell how reflective his numbers are of his current skill set. That said, he has the lowest Average Intended Air Yards of any quarterback in the NFL in 2018. Air Yards is defined by the NFL as “the vertical yards on a pass attempt at the moment the ball is caught in relation to the line of scrimmage.” The NFL tracks both Completed and Intended Air Yards, with the latter being Air Yards on all attempts. Simply enough, Air Yards is how far a ball is being thrown (so factoring out yards after the catch for passing yards), with balls passed behind the Line of Scrimmage recording a negative value.
The supposition with Foles having a lower Average Intended Air Yards than Derek Carr, Cody Kessler, and CJ Beathard is that perhaps the Eagles are in more trouble than we realized against the Bears. Foles has an Average Intended Air Yards of 6.7; the Bears defense is tied for the NFL lead with 4.8 yards allowed per play. The way for a road underdog team to win a playoff team against a good defense is to take the lead quickly on offense through explosive plays or defensive takeaways. By playing it safe with shallow targets, it might be tough for Philadelphia to get Chicago into a spot where they are playing from behind.
Gus Edwards: Time Behind The Line Of Scrimmage
In what was a complete and total surprise to me, Gus Edwards spends the least time behind his own Line of Scrimmage amont all ball-carriers in the NFL. Next Gen Stats defines this as “the amount of time a ball carrier spends (measured to the 10th of a second) before crossing the Line of Scrimmage. TLOS is the average time behind the LOS on all rushing plays where the player is the rusher.” Edwards averages only 2.43 seconds behind his own line of scrimmage per carry, which is a tenth of a second less than every other player.
Effectively, no player receives the ball and runs towards the hole faster than Gus Edwards. Edwards is a mostly unspectacular athlete who ran a 4.57 40-yard dash and is below the 50th-percentile in most measurable athletic categories compared to other running backs. He does seem to have an innate sense to move forward with the ball. Edwards has a rushing success rate of 63 percent, per Football Outsiders, which leads all running backs. I’ve gone back and forth on this game in terms of picking against the spread, but if Baltimore is able to run 45 or more times with Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards, they can close this out at home.
Taylor Gabriel: Average Cushion and Separation
Matt Nagy knew what he was doing when he signed Taylor Gabriel as a free agent from the Atlanta Falcons. The offense that Nagy had imagined in his head needed a small, fast and versatile wide receiver who was comfortable with the ball in his hands. Gabriel had only two touchdowns in the regular season but was able to generate 93 targets, which was a career high. The value that he delivered in the Chicago offense can be shown through two Next Gen Stats Metrics: Average Cushion and Separation.
Average Cushion is defined by Next Gen Stats as “the distance (in yards) measured between a WR/TE and the defender they’re lined up against at the time of snap on all targets.” Gabriel averaged seven yards of cushion at the time of the snap in 2018, which was the fourth-highest amount of all pass-catchers. This cushion created space for Tarik Cohen, Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller to operate. Gabriel was also one of the top ten players in Average Separation which is defined by Next Gen Stats as “the distance (in yards) measured between a WR/TE and the nearest defender at the time of catch or incompletion.” Gabriel had an Average Separation of 3.5 yards, which was greater than Tyreek Hill, Juju Smith-Schuster and any other stud wide receiver you would want to name.
Gabriel serves his role in Chicago’s offense very well and I think his speed and ability to generate separation is part of why the Bears will win this week.