February 1, 2017

NOT SNEAKY, JUST COACHED WELL:

The Patriots Are Even Sneakier Than You Think (Noah Davis and Michael Lopez, 2/01/17, 538)

Huard's quarterback sneak was a single moment in a long game. It didn't ensure victory for the Patriots, nor did the Chicago Bears' obliviousness on that fourth down doom them to defeat. But it was emblematic of a hidden theme of the Patriots' 16-year run of unprecedented success: No team sneaks more often nor more effectively than the Patriots.

Since the start of the 2001 season, the Patriots lead the league in QB sneaks, running 0.52 every game, which translates to one roughly every other week.1 For comparison, Kansas City, which is last in the league, runs about two QB sneaks per season. Most teams attempt about three or four sneaks in a season, with Jacksonville (0.5 per game or roughly eight per season) and Baltimore (roughly seven per season) the only other teams that approach New England's frequency. During that period, the Patriots, led by Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, have won 14 of 16 AFC East titles and have been to the Super Bowl seven times, including Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons.

The QB sneak is a remarkably efficient play, and an excellent way to extend a drive. Leaguewide, the conversion rate2 from 2001 to 2015 on 3rd-and-1 or 4th-and-1 plays that are not QB sneaks is 65 percent -- on sneaks, that success rate jumps to 84 percent3. And there's a similar story when teams have 2 yards to gain, with sneaks 20 percentage points more successful (75 percent versus 55 percent) relative to other runs or passes.

So the sneak is usually a good idea, relative to other play calls. But even compared to that higher baseline, some teams are much better at it than others.

No NFL team other than the Patriots boasts a first-down success rate above 90 percent on sneaks. And this rate might actually conceal how good New England is: Twenty-one of its sneaks have come when needing 2 yards to go, also the most of any NFL team.4 With only 1 yard to go, the Pats have converted the first down on 105 of 113 tries (93 percent).

This success begets more success. The 133 Patriots QB sneaks that Pro Football Reference shows were worth a cumulative 138 expected points, the equivalent of about 20 touchdowns.5 That's a net benefit of about a point per QB sneak. 

Posted by at February 1, 2017 10:25 AM

  

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