I always enjoy trying to find new ways to under the game, the coaches and the players who make up U Sports football and the CFL, so this week, I started playing around with the numbers I use to track successes and failures of each.
I was looking for a way to judge efficiency, but not to produce a singular number that would suggest one quarterback or offence is undoubtedly better than another just because the number says so. I find that type of rigid judgement a consistent downfall of the tru analytics crowd, which I am not truly part of.
I’m just a football guy who loves trying to understand what we’re watching and how offences stack up against each other. What are their differences and similarities and why do they matter?
What I came away with was a graphic measuring run/pass tendencies and how successful each offence has success when leaning on their preferred play call of choice. The following chart is for all pass plays in 2019.
And the same for runs.
Think of the four quadrants as a story being told that follows the rough guideline of,
TOP LEFT: Below average pass/run tendency with above-average production
TOP RIGHT: Above average pass/run tendency with above-average production
BOTTOM LEFT: Below average pass/run tendency with below-average production
BOTTOM RIGHT: Above average pass/run tendency with below-average production
Right away a couple of obvious extremes jumped out to me. Chief amongst them was the Argos and REDBLACKS’ passing tendency. Both teams are sitting at 3-12 entering week 19 but have been passing their way through the struggle while the Bombers have leaned run all season, especially since Chris Streveler took over.
In the “elite” quadrant (top right), the Stampeders and Eskimos are the only teams in the CFL to be both pass-happy and yet pass effectively. Meanwhile, the Riders’ ability to run the ball since adding William Powell back in February free agency was only confirmed more by the image above.
Once I saw the big picture, I wanted to see where these teams were finding their successes and failures in the aerial attack and ground game so I broke the same information down into specific situations.
The Argos’ relative lack of success throwing the football has not been on first down. In fact, the Argos have the fourth-best passing production-grade on 1st down. Pretty amazing for a 3-12 team. The Bombers’ success passing, meanwhile, has been on anything but first down as the only CFL team with a worse 1st down pass production grade is the Ottawa REDBLACKS, whose passing struggles know no boundaries.
Meanwhile — predictably — Saskatchewan and Winnipeg have run the ball extremely well on first down all year and are joined in the elite quadrant by the Alouettes, a big part of Vernon Adams Jr’s success coming from manageable distances to work with on 2nd down.
To me, this is by far the most interesting of the twelve graphics created in researching this article for two reasons.
The first is that somehow Hamilton and Montreal — after both running around 1,000 offensive snaps in 2019 — have the exact same run/pass tendency and production-grade on 2nd down passes. Perhaps a combination for a tight and entertaining Eastern Final?
A concept only confirmed ten times over with the 2nd down run graphic above. Streveler’s Bombers aren’t just putting different tendencies on display, they’re playing a completely different game from the rest of the CFL since he took over from Nichols.
Backed up inside your own 30-yard line how aggressive do you like your offence to be? The Tiger-Cats with Tommy Condell at the helm lead the way in this part of the field while the Riders lean on their run game to a level only surpassed by their prairie rivals.
In between the 30-yard lines is the field zone, also known as the heart of the game where the majority of snaps are taken. In this part of the field, the Argos suddenly jump up into the elite quadrant while the Ticats slow their passing play call aggression significantly from the win zone to nearly matching the approach of the run-heavy Riders.
The score zone, where the money is made and a team’s true colours always shine through! Down here near pay dirt there is no team that combines aggression and success in the passing game more than Dave Dickenson’s Calgary Stampeders. While the Ticats have the highest production-grade, they are nowhere near as pass-happy as the Stamps
In the score zone run game, Riders Offensive Coordinator Stephen McAdoo leans run well above the CFL average with a great deal of success while the Argos have shown little to no run game inside their opponents 30-yard line all year.
All these tendencies and comfort zones are sure to be challenged as the playoff push heats up in the next three weeks, then we get to see what the six playoff teams will do to flip the script in hopes of raising the Grey Cup above their head in Calgary.