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What's Most Important
Introducing Wilson's Efficiency Ratio to football statistics.

by James Leroy Wilson
November 29, 2000

What's Most Important_James Leroy Wilson-Introducing Wilson's Efficiency Ratio to football statistics. I'll admit that I find the fight for the Oval Office boring. The arguments on both sides are based on technicalities of law and, having voted for neither gentleman, I find it hard to condemn one side and defend the other. Now, common sense says that counting an unpunched ballot as a vote for a particular candidate is the epitome of election fraud. Except that in some cases in some places it is, strangely enough, required by law. So how can I say one side that is wrong in trying to use all legal avenues to win? On to more important matters.

I don't understand the value placed on certain sports statistics. Some records overshadow others for no obvious reason. Take baseball's home run record. If the record is 70, and allowing ten games in which the two or more homers were hit, that leaves the home run champion with over 100 games without a home run. How well did he play in those games? Aren't 102 games more important than 60?

In football, you will find an emphasis on yards per play. It is the single greatest determinant of a quarterback's passer rating. Next to yards gained, rushing average is the most important statistic for running backs. Barry Sanders's career average, at or near five yards per rush, is what separates him from his 90's rivals, most of whom were closer to four than to five, and Jim Brown's 5.2 career average is the glaring statistic that convinces many that he was the greatest football player of all time. For receivers, yards per reception is no longer valued as much as total catches and total yards, but it still shows up in the stats.

And I agree that yards per play is an important criterion. But we have neglected something even more important. What we see in player's statistics are not the same things we look for when we watch teams playing actual games.

And what causes us to cheer when we're watching games?

Our team making a first down.

First downs keep drives alive. They keep the other team's offense off the field. They are new opportunities in which the whole playbook comes to your disposal. And virtually every play is intended to make at least a first down.

You know I'm right about this. If given a choice between second and four or, because of a penalty, first and five, which would you choose? The first down is always taken, and rightly so, even though second and four is one yard closer to the goal line. You can simply do more on a first down, and even if the drive stalls you are still given one extra play to control the ball and the clock, and to wear down the opposing defense.

So I humbly propose a new statistic, Wilson's Efficiency Ratio. It would be an ingredient in the passer rating and in the of rushing and receiving statistics. Simply, it is the combined total of first downs and touchdowns per total attempts. We'd expect a high percentage for receivers and a low one for rushers, but in each case lowering a player's yard average would be offset by the first downs he makes. A back who always converts on third and one might see his yards average diminish, but we would see a better picture of his value. Ditto for the wide receiver who converts a third and nine, although nine yards is well below his average.

And the passing efficiency rating would get a boost of common sense. What is more efficient to the passer than marching down the field with first-down throws? Why should a four-yard first-down conversion hurt a passer's statistics?

Having a high average is nice, but the great offensive players save drives and win games with first-downs and touchdowns. The statistics should reward the playmakers.

About the Author:
James Leroy Wilson coached the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships, including the first two Super Bowls.

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