Developing Down and Distance Data

How to break down the D&D data.

Down and Distance (D&D) seems easy enough, right? As the offense moves along the field, their play calling is predicated on the down (how many more plays they have left to get ten yards) and the distance (how many yards they need to get so they can start over). It is a very simplistic stat, but it has major ramifications on how offenses call their plays. Looking at the D&D stat from a simplistic eye will give a defensive coach a wide range look at how often a team runs or passes on a given down. Add personnel groupings and the data begins to get clearer.

2nd-down-markerjpg1428337613141.jpegIn order to truly get a grasp of what an offense is doing you have to create D&D groupings for long (7+), medium (4-6), and short yardage situations (1-3). This can allow a DC to pinpoint what plays are more likely in situations, allowing him to call the correct blitz or pressure at the right moment. Defense is reactionary, thus needs to react off the data that is provided by particular stats, in this case, the D&D. Pundits and coaches say it all the time, football is a situational game. The chess match that is football attests its strategy on several factors: field position, D&D, and what personnel grouping are on the field. Branching from that, formations and run/pass stats. For the sake of this article, MatchQuarters will discuss the breakdown of D&D and talk about the intricacies of each grouping. To understand completely what an offense is trying to do, the D&D should be looked at objectively with field positions groupings. The two data points combined give a true glimpse into the mind of the opponent’s OC. 

First Down

First downs are the most crucial downs in football for an offense. Where third down is the money down for the defense, the same can be said for first. What happens on these downs sets up the drive and the subsequent play calling. Imagine football as a chain. First downs set up what the next chain in the link will be. If the offense throws an incompletion or gets sacked/tackled for a loss, they are now in a bind and have reduced the likelihood of getting a successful new set of downs (football is a game of averages for the defense). This is why defensive coaches will say, “We have to win on first.” If a defense can force the offense into a long yardage situation, the playcalling and selection of plays are reduced, making the offense more predictable (which is what the defense wants). Unlike the other downs, first down has to be looked at with a more critical eye. This is why most teams will separate their first down data into two groups, possession and 10 (P&10) and first and 10.

Possession & 10 :: P&10

P&10 is defined as the initial first down a team gets on a new drive, or when the half starts. Hince the name possession and 10. The main reason the P&10 stat is used is because offenses are different the first time they get the ball. Unlike regular first downs, the P&10 stat gives the defensive coaches a look at what offensive coordinators like to do when they first get the ball. Depending on where the offense receives the ball, will determine if the OC has more than three downs to get a first. As stated earlier, some of these down groupings need to be looked at side-by-side with field zone data (where the offense is on the field), and P&10 is one of them.

When looking at the P&10 stat, the DC needs to have a critical eye for what formation is being used and where the ball is located (even player-personnel groupings). It is common knowledge that OC’s are more conservative the closer they get to their own goal line and more aggressive as they move across the 50 (referred to as plus territory). That being the case, DC’s need to view the P&10 as a gauge of aggression. Many times if an offense gets the ball in plus territory (on the opponent’s side of the 50), they are more likely to have received some type of momentum building play and want to take advantage (look for deep shots). When looking at the P&10 data there are several things to look at:

  1. Compare run/pass percentage with regular first downs (is there a difference/does the OC treat it differently). Maybe the OC is more aggressive when he firsts gets the ball (pass happy) or is more conservative (run heavy). These stats matter for first down play calls.
  2. How many deep shots are taken (is the offense aggressive the first time they get the ball — see above)? Many times, offenses will take a shot in their first three plays of possession, or are more likely to take a shot after a turnover.
  3. Where are the P&10’s taking place, and does the play selection change? Field position matters! Offenses change as they move down the field.

Second Down

Second down is the shot down, especially if the offense is in a short yardage situation (to the offense it is like a free play). When an offense “wins” on first and sets themselves up in a situation they feel is manageable on third down, many offenses will attempt deep shots (or vertical throws). The thinking by OC’s is even if a pass is not completed, the offense still has a manageable third down that they can get out of. The thought process for a DC on second needs to be: 1) Where is the offense on the field; and 2) Are they willing to take a shot? Keeping track of deep shots (or DS) is crucial when predicting if an offense is going to try and throw it over the top (make sure there is a data input for shots down the field).

The second down groupings are listed below:

  1. Second & 7+: When critically analyzing the second and long data, a DC needs to view what the percentage of run/pass looks like and how many draws and screens are utilized on the down. One thing to keep in mind for DC’s is the false sense of a long down situation. Many times an offense in a long yardage second down will turn to a play that takes advantage of an over-aggressive defense. This may seem redundant, but offenses have another down to work with. Of all the second downs, the second and long needs to be looked at with a critical eye. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the defense has the offense in a predictable throwing situation.
  2. Second & 4-6: Look for shots on this down.
  3. Second & Short (1-3): Shot down or look for play-action pass (PAP)/heavy run

Third Down

Third down is the Holy Grail for the defenses. Find a great defense and find a team that wins third down. Elite defenses have a low percentage in the third-down efficiency stat, meaning they get off the field. On third down, the offense becomes predictable and the farther from the sticks, the more likely they are to pass. When a defense gets the offense into an obvious passing down it can pin its ears back and come after the quarterback. In the case of third and long, many offenses are relegated to passing. When looking at the third and long stat, the DC needs to be aware of what type of pass an offense likes (deep shots, or high-low and aim for the sticks). The middle and short yardage stats determine what the offense’s style really is. Does the OC rely on a great back or QB running the ball, or does the OC get pass happy and spread the defense out. OC’s are likely to put the ball in the best players hands on third. Third and short is a critical down as well. This down determines how an offense feels about their running game. Win third down, and win the game. Easy as that.

The third down groupings are listed below:

  1. Third & 7+
  2. Third & 4-6
  3. Third & Short (1-3)

Fourth Down

It goes without saying, fourth down is an important down. Many defensive coaches will lump the entire down together, and then later watch a fourth down cut-up and sort it by distance and where the down took place on the field. In order to gain a perspective on what the offense is truly trying to do, the defense has to break it down by where the fourth down took place on the field. Run/pass stats are great when added to field position because teams are different near the goal line and in the middle of the field. Understand, everything needs to be broken up and watched in order to gain a true feel for what an offense is trying to do.

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3rd Down Stop Calls From a 3-4 ::

Run Down Stop Calls ::


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