This will be The Record Industry's first post on a topic other than music. I'll try to justify writing about sports by saying that they are both forms of entertainment :)
Back in December 2021, the NFL Big Data Bowl concluded on kaggle.com. I submitted an entry for the competition and would like to share my findings here.
Summary of the competition:
- The NFL provided data on special teams plays from the 2018, 2019, and 2020 seasons.
- Participants were asked to generate insights from this data. Potential ideas include:
- Create a new special teams metric.
- Quantify special teams strategy.
- Rank special teams players.
I chose to go with option number 1 and came up the the RIT-F Rate.
Visualizing a Kickoff Return
60.86% of the time, kickoffs end up going for a touchback and the receiving team's starting ball position becomes the 25 yardline.* However, when a return attempt is made (37.24% of kickoffs*), there is an opportunity for either the receiving team or the kicking team to push an advantage in their own direction.
* 2018, 2019, & 2020 seasons
So what's the advantage?
The advantage for either the kicking or receiving team comes in the form of Expected Points*.
It perhaps comes as no surprise, the Expected Points for the receiving team, on their drive following the return, diminish the further the receiving team ends up from their scoring endzone (EZ).
* Expected Point calculation from https://www.nflfastr.com/index.html
Kicking Team RIT-F Rate
Kicking teams will want the number of returns inside the 25 yardline to be as high as possible. This minimizes the opposing team's Expected Points.
2020 Kicking Team RIT-F Rate Season Rankings
Receiving Team RIT-F Rate
Receiving teams will want the number of returns inside the 25 yardline to be as low as possible. This maximizes their team's Expected Points.
2020 Receiving Team RIT-F Rate Season Rankings
Utilizing Team RIT-F Data
Great, so now we know which teams are doing better or worse on kickoffs returned. With this data you or your opponent can formulate a strategy.
Let's take a look at what the strategy in the 2020 season should have been for the top and bottom kicking and receiving teams given their RIT-F Rate.
Top Kicking RIT-F Rate : NO (76%) - 26 of their kickoffs returned, 16 of which ended up inside the 25-yardline.
- As New Orleans, I would be making sure that I'm not kicking through the endzone. My team is bringing the kick returners down inside the 25-yardline. I want to give them the opportunity to continue doing that.
- As an opponent, if there is a high chance of the kickoff going into the endzone then I'm going to let that happen. That will give me better field position than attempting to make a return against New Orlean's kicking team.
Bottom Kicking RIT-F Rate : WAS (8%) - 12 of their kickoffs returned, 1 of which ended up inside the 25-yardline.
- As Washington, I don't have a lot of faith in my kicking team as it stands. Only 12 of my kickoffs have been returned, probably because I'm having my kicker send the kickoffs into the endzone. I'm going to continue doing that because 11 of the 12 kickoffs that did get returned, the returner made it out past the 25-yardline.
- As an opponent, I'm returning every kick that I can against Washington. Catch it in the endzone? Return it.
Top Receiving RIT-F Rate : BAL (23%) - 26 kickoffs returned, only 6 of which ended up inside their own 25-yardline.
- As Baltimore, return every kick. I'm only getting stopped behind our 25-yardline on 23% of your returns.
- As an opponent, don't let Baltimore return the ball. Kick it past the endzone and let them take it from their own 25-yardline.
Bottom Receiving RIT-F Rate : SF (77%) - 26 kickoffs returned, 20 of which ended up inside their own 25-yardline.
- As San Francisco, I'm going to try to take a touchback. We aren't doing well when returning the ball.
- As an opponent, I'm going to try to force a return. This will give me a good chance of better field position than a touchback.
What do you think about this insight? Do you think it is practical? Would you find it actionable as a coach?