Last year I published a study of the run success of Julius Jones and also Marion Barber, in which for comparison I added, among other good runners, Michael Turner.

Michael Turner. Wikimedia image, CC license, courtesy of the Georgia National Guard.

And now, as it turns out, a common conversation piece in Atlanta talk radio is the notion that Michael Turner is washed up, past his prime and should be replaced. At the time this topic emerged, I didn’t have a data set capable of taking a closer look at the issue. But with Brian Burke releasing his 2011 regular season data set, now I do.

So just how well did he do in 2011?


dwm042@dwm042-desktop:~/perl/nfl$ ./run_success.pl M.Turner ATL 2008
run success rate = 39.9
run 40 succ rate = 48.3
run 3d succ rate = 68.8 ( 11 per 16 plays )
run 4d succ rate = 60.0 ( 3 per 5 plays )
short runs rate = 49.1
dwm042@dwm042-desktop:~/perl/nfl$ ./run_success.pl M.Turner ATL 2009
run success rate = 39.2
run 40 succ rate = 53.4
run 3d succ rate = 66.7 ( 2 per 3 plays )
run 4d succ rate = 0.0 ( 0 per 0 plays )
short runs rate = 46.6
dwm042@dwm042-desktop:~/perl/nfl$ ./run_success.pl M.Turner ATL 2010
run success rate = 36.1
run 40 succ rate = 46.7
run 3d succ rate = 66.7 ( 10 per 15 plays )
run 4d succ rate = 100.0 ( 3 per 3 plays )
short runs rate = 47.3
dwm042@dwm042-desktop:~/perl/nfl$ ./run_success.pl M.Turner ATL 2011
run success rate = 37.8
run 40 succ rate = 46.6
run 3d succ rate = 75.0 ( 9 per 12 plays )
run 4d succ rate = 66.7 ( 2 per 3 plays )
short runs rate = 52.0

His run success rate is either better in 2011 than 2010 (my definition) or about the same as 2010 (the Chase Stuart definition). His third down success rate is high. His short runs rate (percentage runs 2 yards or less) is high, but the Falcons also lost a good guard in 2011. The Falcons could use an upgrade at left tackle, and more toughness at guard.

Now to note, when Marion Barber’s short runs rate hit 53%, Dallas let him go. I’m not going to suggest there isn’t cause for concern. But it’s going to take a better tape hound than me to lock down cause and effect here.

The Falcons are a team geared to play close to the vest football and turn their ball control tendencies into wins late in games. If they lack the core runner to set them up for the late winning drive, they seem, as a team, to lose focus. They weren’t ready in 2011 to turn into a pure passing offense. If they decide to part ways with Michael, their plan B had better be well thought out. To this analyst, it’s not clear that Michael was “finished” in 2011.

The recent success of DeMarco Murray has energized the Dallas fan base. Felix Jones is being spoken of as if he’s some kind of leftover (I know, a 5.1 YPC over a career is such a drag), and people are taking Murray’s 6.7 YPA for granted. That wasn’t the thing that got me in the fan circles. It’s that Julius Jones was becoming a whipping boy again, the source of every running back sin there is, and so I wanted to build some tools to help analyze Julius’s career, and at the same time, look at Marion Barber III’s numbers, since these two are historically linked.

We’ll start with this database, and a bit of sql, something to let us find running plays. The sql is:

select down, togo, description from nfl_pbp where season = 2007 and gameid LIKE "%DAL%" and description like "%J.Jones%" and not description LIKE '%pass%' and not description LIKE '%PENALTY on DAL%' and not description like '%kick%' and not description LIKE '%sacked%'

It’s not perfect. I’m not picking up plays where a QB is sacked and the RB recovers the ball. A better bit of SQL might help, but that’s a place to start. We bury this SQL into a program that then parses the description string for the statement “for X yards”, or alternatively, “for no gain”, and adds them all up. From this, we could calculate yards per carry, but more importantly, we’ll calculate run success and we’ll also calculate something I’m going to call a failure rate.

For our purposes, a failure rate is the number of plays that gained 2 yards or less, divided by the total number of running attempts, multiplied by 100. The purpose of the failure rate is to investigate whether Julius, in 2007, became the master of the 1 and 2 yard run. One common fan conception of his style of play in his last year in Dallas is that “he had plenty of long runs but had so many 1 and 2 yards runs as to be useless.” I wish to investigate that.

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