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Havoc: Using big plays to profile 2022's playoff defenses

Orchard Park, New York, USA; New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38) tries to move past Buffalo Bills safety Micah Hyde (23) on a run in the second quarter at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Data analysis in football is unique. Early in the season, the sample sizes are too volatile to be considered representative. Late in the season, adjustments and attrition have a smoothing effect on uneven data – which is also known as regressing to the mean, every sports podcaster’s favorite phrase. Then, in the postseason, over 1,000 snaps of data are poured right back into single-game samples. 

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Defensively, it's easy to lean back on familiar coaching adages – and for good reason. It’s hard to go wrong with “stopping the run and affecting the quarterback,” as every defense aspires to accomplish both when a trip to the Super Bowl is on the line.

Today, we’re looking at the playoff defenses through the lens of “havoc.” At its heart, havoc represents the negative plays a defense creates. For the purpose of this conversation, havoc combines runs that are stopped for a loss or no gain in addition to passes that are broken up or intercepted.

Havoc is only as valuable as what it's being weighed against – explosive gains for an offense. Think of havoc and explosive gains in terms of margins and ratios — similar to a “plus-minus” statistic in basketball. These two metrics operate independently of each other, but both are reflective of the most important thing in football: big plays.

To add, we measured the havoc ratio against pressure rate and success rate on plays/drives. The conventional thinking is that pressure protects against poor matchups in coverage while defenses need negative plays to succeed possession-to-possession.

AFC Teams TFL/NG vs. Explosive Run PBU/INT vs. Explosive Pass Pressure Rate Knockdown Rate
Tennessee Titans 58:31 59:93 31% 13%
Kansas City Chiefs 75:45 56:102 33% 13%
Buffalo Bills 85:51 65:61 37% 15%
Cincinnati Bengals 67:47 54:103 33% 13%
Las Vegas Raiders 74:50 55:72 35% 15%
New England Patriots 59:50 76:70 34% 13%
Pittsburgh Steelers 71:72 51:88 32% 16%
NFC Teams TFL/NG vs. Explosive Run PBU/INT vs. Explosive Pass Pressure Rate Knockdown Rate
Green Bay Packers 44:54 69:76 37% 12%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 78:52 65:92 36% 15%
Dallas Cowboys 60:52 77:96 36% 14%
Los Angeles Rams 75:45 68:94 34% 12%
Arizona Cardinals 88:63 43:72 30% 16%
San Francisco 49ers 80:44 46:83 34% 16%
Philadelphia Eagles 63:45 45:82 33% 12%

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