Thursday, 29 January 2015

Season By the Numbers: 2014 Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Just a little under a month ago, I took a look at one change in one statistical number that each and every team should want to make for the upcoming season.

But what if we take a much larger look at the numbers? What if we looked at 46 statistics/factors that are tracked and readily available from and other sources? And what if we looked at them for each and every game that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats played in 2014?

Well, that is exactly what I decided to do and before you ask why I would engage in such a project, let me give you the short answer: I am a stats geek and these kinds of things intrigue me greatly! But more importantly, by looking at some 920 measurements and comparing them to wins and losses, we can begin to attribute which statistics or aspects of the game most impacted the 2014 season for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats!

So, how do we do this? How do we measure, say, a team’s number of penalties to their win and loss record? Or how do we measure which is more important: score a lot of points offensively or hold their opposition to very few points?

In one word: Correlations

I will not bore everyone with a complex definition of correlations but, put simply, it is a measure of the strength and direction of the linear relationship between two or more variables.

One of the simplest and most common ways of quickly explaining correlations is in the area of turnovers or, more specifically, turnover ratio. For example, if a team were to win every time they had a positive turnover ratio and lost every time they had a negative turnover ratio and tied every time the turnover ratio was a draw, then this would result in a perfect correlation of +1. Yet if the exact opposite was true and a team won every game despite losing the turnover battle and lost every game when they were on the plus side of giveaways and takeaways, then this would have a correlation of -1.

I would also like to point out that correlations do not imply causation because something else might be at play. For example, on hot days people buy ice cream. Also on hot days people go to the beach. Sometimes, sharks attack at the beach. There is a correlation between ice cream sales and shark attacks since they both go up as the temperature rises. But just because ice cream sales go up does not mean ice cream sales caused an increased number of shark attacks.

Now, getting back to our little study, positive numbers indicate that the specific factor has a positive corollary relationship to Ti-Cat wins throughout 2014. Negative numbers mean that the specific statistic has a negative or inverse relationship to the team’s wins during regular- and post-season play. Overall, the higher the number means the stronger the correlation is to results in Hamilton’s win and loss column.

Getting a little more specific, correlation coefficients greater than 0.5 per cent are considered to be strong in either direction, positive or negative. Measurements of 0.3 to 0.5 are considered to have a moderate corresponding relationship, once again in either direction. Results that span either side of zero between negative 0.3 and positive 0.3 are said to have no correlation or interrelation at all.

So what do we see when we look at this mass of numbers and correlations? Well it looks a little like this when you graph the results from strongest positive correlation coefficient to strongest negative or inverse dependence.

Black = Correlations between 0.5 & 1 or -0.5 & -1 = Strongly Correlated
Yellow = Correlations between 0.3 & 0.5 or -0.3 & -0.5 = Moderately Correlated
White = Correlations between 0.3 and -0.3. = Not Correlated

(1). Defense Was More Important Than Offense

As someone who does not believe in the idiom “Defense Wins Championships” – my distaste for it rivals Josh’s distaste for attributing wins to the quarterback position – it pains me to say that Defensive or Opponent factors had much stronger correlations when it comes to Tiger-Cats’ victories in 2014.

When you add everything up, what Hamilton’s opponents did with the football, or more specifically what they did not do, had a stronger interrelationship to Ti-Cats’ results in the win/loss column. Opponent factors had a negative 0.32 correlation to Hamilton victories throughout the 2014 regular and post season. This is a moderately strong correlation coefficient that illustrates it was what the Hamilton defense did to limit their opponents that had a stronger relation to Hamilton victories. Compare that to what Hamilton did do with the football, which only had an indifferently positive 0.09 correlation to Tiger-Cat wins.

Holding opponents to fewer points was more important than scoring a lot of points. Team Scoring Against had a correlation of -0.62 while Team Scoring For had a correlation of only 0.19. An easy way of looking at this would be in the three games Hamilton played Toronto. A 13-12 victory on Labour Day over the Argos at Tim Horton’s Field versus two losses at SkyDome in which Hamilton scored 33 and 24 points. They won the game in which they curtailed the Double Blue’s scoring while lost the games in which they scored a lot.

(2). Running Was More Important Than Passing

Running the ball had a stronger correlation to winning than passing the pigskin. Team Rushing Attempts and Team Rushing Yards had moderately strong positive correlations to Ti-Cats’ victories (0.49 each). Compare this to neutral or uncorrelated results in the area of Team Passing Yards (-0.06), Team Passing Yards Per Attempt (0.07) and Team Completion Percentage (0.09).

Simply put, when Hamilton ran the ball more and ate up more yards on the ground, this had more of a positive impact on their winning chances compared to when they put up big passing numbers.

(3). Special Teams Were Not as Important as We Would Think

Team Return Yardage had a -0.17 correlation to Hamilton’s wins and losses last year. This was somewhat surprising to me since, to the naked eye, the Ti-Cats, and a certain No. 16 from Kansas State, were pretty special!

Now, this figure is a little misleading since the numbers I utilized do not separate out kick-return yards from punt-return yards, nor did they denote returns for touchdowns. As we all know, having a lot of kick-return yardage is more likely due to having been scored upon a lot and therefore receiving more kickoffs from the opposing team.

I am sure when I separate out these figures and add in returns for touchdowns, this correlation number will undoubtedly turn positive and most likely have a moderate to strong relation to Hamilton wins.

All the other numbers look to be in order and fit what we all would expect. For example Sacks Made by Hamilton had a moderately positive correlation of 0.40, while Sacks Given had a correlation of -0.26. This makes sense, and when viewed together can be concluded that sacking the quarterback was a little more important than giving them up.

Further analysis of all these numbers is required. Are there any trends that developed throughout the 2014 season? We were all witness to a significant turnaround that began September 1 when the Tiger-Cats took up residency at Tim Horton’s Field. Do the numbers show such a change? And if so, what factors of Hamilton’s game changed the most?

We shall save that for a little later as we continue to peel away at the layers that was the 2014 Hamilton Tiger-Cats Season By The Numbers.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

All Quiet on the Southern Front

Since the season ended back in November, we have seen plenty of player personnel moves. A large number of all-star players have been signed, re-signed and traded over the last two months. Jamel Richardson is back in the league; Fred Stamps is now an Alouette; T-Brack is staying in the green and white; and it was all capped off by the big trade between Toronto and Saskatchewan over the weekend.

Yet, with all this movement, it has been eerily quiet in the southern-most point of the CFL map.

The two-time defending East Division champions have extended their top pass rusher and top receiver from a year ago, and inked the Ivy League’s all-time passing leader, but that has been the extent of their offseason moves. Plenty of key cogs from last year’s Grey Cup team – players like Justin Hickman, Brandon Banks and Taylor Reed – still remain unsigned just two weeks before the start of free agency.

There is plenty of concern amongst the Tiger-Cat faithful that few, in any, of these players will be wearing black and gold in 2015 and beyond, and what effect that will have on a team trying to finally win that elusive championship. Losing key players is never a good thing, but the worry might be overblown.

For starters, even if these players get to February 10 without contracts, that does not mean they won’t return. Maybe they test the market and decided Hamilton is still the best place for them.

Secondly, maybe the team has deals in place with some of these players and they just have yet to be announced. There still hasn’t been an official announcement that Luke Tasker is coming back, and his re-signing was reported two weeks ago.

Thirdly, Hamilton is far from the only team that has some big-name players ready to hit the open market. S.J. Green, Weston Dressler, Ben Heenan, Tyler Holmes and Odell Willis, to name a few, all remained unsigned. It is looking like the 2015 free agent class could be one of the most bountiful in recent CFL history.

While all may be quiet on the southern front, that will not last forever. And whether it is a plethora of re-signings or some new players coming aboard, it won’t be quiet in Tiger Town for much longer.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Barker & Foley: Getting Back Together With Your Ex

In a move that shocked many over the weekend, the Saskatchewan Roughriders traded defensive end Ricky Foley to the Toronto Argonauts for linebacker Shea Emry.

It is definitely intriguing in what can only be seen as an about face on the part of Argos general manager Jim Barker. Only two years ago, the architect and builder of the Good Ship Argonaut deemed the former York Lion expendable, as he let the Courtice, Ontario native walk unceremoniously into free agency. And just one year ago, the biggest free agency move in The Big Smoke was the acquisition of blue-chip linebacker Shea Emry from division rival Montreal.

Fast forward to now where Gambler Jim has traded away his No. 1 free agent acquisition from last season for a player he was not motivated to retain only a year prior to that.

Allow us all to scratch our collective heads and ponder that for a moment!

Now, I realize that things change rapidly in professional sports and no more so than in the Canadian Football League. But even this flip-flop has me wondering if we need to send Jim Barker to the quiet room for concussion protocol!

My main point as to why I believe Brendan Taman and the Riders won this trade, and this will come as to no surprise to anyone who knows me or follows me on Twitter, is that I believe Ricky Foley is vastly overrated!

When you look at his production numbers, and that would be quarterback sacks for a defensive end, you will see that he is not a No. 1 edge rusher, but rather a nice national compliment more suited as a secondary or tertiary option.

In 2011, his first full season with Toronto after he spurned Wally Buono and the BC Lions on a detoured drive to the airport, Foley recorded six sacks. Defensive tackle Kevin Huntley also had six quarterback takedowns for a loss. Claude Wroten and Ronald Flemons combined for an additional seven sacks. By no means was Mr. Foley a standout at the position since the league leaders were Justin Hickman, Odell Willis, John Bowman, Marcus Howard and Keron Williams all with double-digit numbers.

During the 2012 season, Foley was only able to achieve three tackles for loss on opposing quarterbacks. Three teammates with him in Double Blue – Armond Armstead, Brandon Issac and Marcus Ball – were all able to match or exceed Foley’s production.

During Foley’s time on the prairies with the Green Riders, he put up decent numbers. His eight- and 12-sack seasons in 2013 and 2014 tied him for tenth and fifth league-wide, respectively. Yet, my belief is that much of that is due to his pairing with John Chick on the opposite side along with defensive tackles like Tearrius George, Jermaine McElveen, Derek Walker and Keith Shologun, all of which have ranked amongst the top for quarterback sacks from the interior defensive line position.

The key takeaway when looking at all these numbers is that at no point in time since his return to Canada after his failed attempt in the NFL has No. 95 led his team in quarterback sacks.

Now what do the Roughriders get out of this trade? Well, first of all they get a player who has actually led their team in the statistical category most important to their position. Emry led the Argonauts in tackles this past season, as well as the Montreal Alouettes in defensive takedowns back in 2012.

But more importantly, the Riders get a valuable national player in what was a sub-par, underperforming linebacker unit. Emry is a significant upgrade to fellow Canadians Sam Hurl, Shomari Williams and Tristan Black. As good as these players are in other roles, they are back-ups and depth players while the former UBC Thunderbird and Eastern Washington Eagle is a bona fide starter.

At this point in time you have to ask yourself why Toronto would trade away the player that led their team in tackles this past season? The answer is very simple and it comes in the form of one Cory Greenwood, via the Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs. With the late-season addition of the former third-overall pick from Concordia, the Argos will be able to maintain their roster ratio, while upgrading their overall linebacker unit. As good as Shea Emry is and has been, Cory Greenwood is an upgrade. (And a long-snapper to boot if need be!)

Toronto played four internationals along the defensive line for most of the 2014 season. If this trade dictates a ratio change for the Double Blue in the front four, then there may be some merit to the transaction. Yet, I feel that Toronto will suffer a performance decline in what they could get from starting a defensive end that does not possess a Canadian passport like Mr. Foley.

Overall, I see this as a win for Saskatchewan. They get a player four years younger and one that is signed for a longer duration. The gain in being able to start a cheaper and potentially better international player at defensive end significantly benefits the Riders. Over in Toronto, they re-acquire a player that I believe will be hard-pressed to start and contribute over any potential international player that they currently have or bring in at defensive end. The only way this trade works for Barker is if they are making a ratio change by playing three nationals on defense. Even then I feel it is not a worthwhile trade-off.

With the addition of Greenwood to the Argos, I believe Gambler Jim picked up the phone to see what he could get for Emry and, in what can only be referred to as a “booty call,” decided to hook up with an old ex-girlfriend for one last fling.

Rarely do such trysts work out well for any involved.

Inevitably both figure out why they broke up in the first-place.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Breaux Geaux's Home to the Big Easy!

Every Hamilton Tiger-Cats fan knows by now that all-star cornerback Delvin Breaux has been released by the team in order to sign a contract with his hometown New Orleans Saints.

Not that this came as a surprise to anyone who watched him “lock-up” receivers on the boundary side for the better part of the last two seasons. Delvin is that rare-breed athlete that possesses height, length, size, speed and toughness, all ideal qualities to play out on the island that is short-side corner. You did not have to be a veteran football scout to see and know that No. 27 had everything it takes to make it in the NFL.

I believe it goes without saying that all Ti-Cat fans are extremely happy for Delvin. We all know his incredible backstory, and have watched with great interest as he garnered more attention and respect league-wide and in the media. He also seemed, and I can attest personally, to be a very genuinely nice guy. Always with that big, broad, bold smile; always saying thank-you and appreciative of the fans’ attention; and always with a “Retweet” and “Favourite” and reply to anything you directed his way on Twitter.

Delvin is one of the good guys and it is nice when good things happen to good people. It is also uplifting to see hard work pay off and an underdog story come true.

On a personal side, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with “Chip” and his fiancĂ© Kasey a few times this past season. The recent LSU graduate came up to Hamilton to support and be with her soon-to-be husband this past CFL season. Honestly, you could not find a more adorable couple. Kasey: so proud of Delvin and all that he had strived and worked for and accomplished. Delvin: equally and even more proud of Kasey’s recent graduation and thankful for her love and support in his endeavors. Add in their dog Diesel and you truly could not find a more loving couple, and I simply could not be happier for them.

Before we move on to discuss what Mr. Breaux’s departure means to the Hamilton defense this upcoming season, I would like to address an issue that has irked me recently.

There are some that dislike it when CFL teams release some pending free agents prior to the opening of free agency in order to sign a NFL contract. There are also some that feel the CFL should not become a development league for the NFL and put in more restrictive player movement policies and contracts. And finally, there are some that feel it should not be mentioned that a player is going to the NFL. I vehemently disagree with these sentiments and honestly have a difficult time understanding such head-in-the-sand mindset.

Addressing the first issue, releasing a pending free agent a few weeks or even a month before free agency in the CFL opens up so that they can sign an offer from a NFL team is just good employee relations. As we have seen, not all these opportunities work out and a good faith move like that from management can only help when the player decides to return to the CFL.

The second issue about the CFL becoming a development league for the NFL to me is not only ludicrous but also laced with xenophobic paranoia! Realistically, there are somewhere between 10 to 20 players per year who leave the CFL in an effort to crack the roster of a NFL club. Less than half of them are successful and do not return north of the border. So really we are talking about less than two percent of the players at most and more realistically less than one percent that jump from the CFL to the NFL.

Lastly on this tangential subject, let us face facts. The NFL is the dream of most every young man that plays the game of football. The remuneration and recognition is undeniable especially for those born and raised south of the border. We would not fault a homegrown hockey player who begins their career in Europe wanting to and striving toward getting an NHL opportunity. I personally feel it is a great thing when a CFL player gets the opportunity to pursue their NFL dream. It adds credibility to the league as having top-level talent.

Now, as far as what Hamilton will do to replace Delvin is a much harder question to answer. I feel the Ti-Cats could look at a couple players currently on their roster in order to fill the void.

Free agent acquisition from last year Brandon Stewart had an up and down season when he made the difficult move from field-side corner to boundary-side defensive halfback. I believe the former Monster from Eastern Arizona Junior College has both the size and physicality to lock-up the X-spot receivers lined up on the weak-side of the formation. At times, Stewart looked a little lost in space at defensive back and had difficulty picking up switches in different zone coverage packages. This would not be as much the case at boundary corner since his primary responsibility would be one-on-one coverage. Focusing and narrowing Brandon’s responsibilities, while allowing him to play physical, may very well benefit both him and the team very well.

Rico Murray would also be a potential candidate to replace Breaux on the short-side island. In fact, the former Golden Flash from Kent State has played there before when injuries and roster juggling occurred in the past. But as pointed out by my associate Josh, moving No. 0 out to the edge takes his excellent ball skills out of the mix. Murray is a ball-hawk and playmaker, pure and simple. Keeping him inside whether at defensive back or SAM linebacker is really the best spot for his skill set and abilities.

My guess is that Coach Steinhauer will give Brandon Stewart the opportunity to prove himself at boundary-side corner while potentially moving Rico Murray over to boundary-side defensive halfback giving him help over the top on the weak side. Then the task will be to shore up the field side of the formation, with most likely Ed Gainey and Courtney Stephen pairing up on the wide side.

I for one hope to see more stories like Delvin’s in the future, and I firmly believe it increases the overall talent level in the CFL rather than the myopic and narrow view that it takes it away!

Good luck and best wishes to Mr. Breaux in “Who Dat Nation.”

Friday, 16 January 2015

East Says, West Says: The Ottawa-Calgary Trade

East vs. West. A rivalry older than the game itself. In the interest of stoking these geographical flames, Mark – representing the East – and Eric – representing the West – will debate CFL matters that pertain to both sides of the league in a feature we are calling “East Says, West Says.” Our first installment takes a look at who won the January 15 trade between the Ottawa RedBlacks and Calgary Stampeders.

The Price Was Right for Ottawa
By Mark

On the surface, it appears that Calgary got the better of Ottawa in their most recent trade. They traded away an oft-injured receiver for a player who was the team’s Most Outstanding Player nominee. Yet, I would argue that Ottawa obtained the better part of this exchange.

The main reason I say this is it significantly addressed an area of need and instantly improved one of the weaker units on the RedBlacks’ team. The second reason is I believe Ottawa received a bona fide starter and playmaker in return for a player who may not even make the defending champions’ roster, let alone see much playing time.

‎The major problem in Ottawa this past season was scoring points. On average, the RedBlacks scored nearly five points less per game than the next-worst team in the league. The addition of Maurice Price addresses this shortfall and dramatically improves Ottawa’s scoring potential.

When healthy, Mr. Price is among the best in the league at the inside receiver position. With 109 receptions for 1,737 yards and 12 TDs in just 31 games, Price as the tools to get it done. And Mo can definitely stretch the field, with his almost 16 yards per catch average, and be that reliable target that Henry Burris was missing last year.

As compared to the other top receivers that may become available February 10, the former Buccaneer from Charleston Southern comes to Ottawa – while not cheap – definitely at a lower cap hit than what others like S.J. Green and Weston Dressler are expected to command.

But as the saying goes: “You have to give up something in order to get something.” And many will say that Mssr. Desjardins and the RedBlacks gave up too much in order to obtain the services of Mr. Price. Again, I simply disagree.

As good as Jasper Simmons was in Ottawa's inaugural campaign, leading a team in tackles that had the fewest wins and gave up the most yardage defensively is kind of like being the best defenseman on the Toronto Maple Leafs: really nothing to brag about! The fact that he toiled and saw very little playing time while on Toronto’s roster for the two years previous tells me that his impressive tackling numbers were largely due to being an average player on a very below average team.

As far as being able to impact the outcome of a game and ability to replace, once again I feel Ottawa has benefitted more in this trade. With no disrespect intended towards Mr. Simmons, he‎ simply is not in the position to realistically win any additional games for the RedBlacks. Perhaps a timely interception for a touchdown or fumble recovery or key stop to preserve a victory could be expected by the former Missouri Tiger, but the likelihood of that happening versus the potential of Mr. Price winning a game for Ottawa is very different. Maurice Price, simply by his position, has much more potential to have an impact on winning games for Ottawa.

I look at it this way. While good WILL linebackers are definitely important, I believe they are more easily replaceable than a talented and experienced high-impact inside receiver. They received a top-level, league-proven slotback that was not going to be available in free-agency and now can go about replacing what they gave away. Someone like Marcellus Bowman would not only be a suitable replacement, but more likely an upgrade at the boundary-side linebacker position.

Lastly, I personally have my doubts as to how much Jasper Simmons will see the field as a member of the Stampeders. I sincerely doubt he will replace Deron Mayo, and while he may be able to compete with recently re-signed backup Glenn Love, Simmons will have to show his worth on special teams in order to supplant him.

Overall, I like the trade for Ottawa. It dramatically improves their receiving corps a full 26 days before free agency opens, thus allowing them to go shopping in order to further bolster and complement their pass receiving unit, as well as potentially replace what they gave away in Jasper Simmons.

For Ottawa, the Price was definitely right. They win this trade.

Over Priced: Calgary Wins Trade with Ottawa
By Eric

John Hufnagel just won’t give the other eight teams in the CFL a break.

The Stampeders general manager and head coach once again got an early start in the offseason by acquiring linebacker Jasper Simmons and receiver Dan Bucknor from the Ottawa RedBlacks in exchange for receiver Maurice Price. I’ve learned in the past to not question John Hufnagel, and I’m certainly not going to do that after this deal.

I doubt Mr. Hufnagel had to negotiate much when Mr. Desjardins called him with an offer. Ottawa needed receivers, desperately, and they were willing to trade their Most Outstanding Player to get one. What made this trade easy for Calgary was that they were giving away an expendable player in return for a solid depth player and a future prospect who could contribute at receiver. While I’m sure Maurice Price will be a go-to player in Ottawa, I also feel Desjardins overspent to acquire him.

Mo Price was already on his way out of Calgary. After only playing 29 of a possible 54 games since 2012, Price was more often seen in the training room than in the end zone. Calgary’s phenomenal receiving core made Price an afterthought during his injuries, as shown in the West Final when he wasn’t even active, thanks to the emergence of Eric Rogers. Price also carried a large cap hit after signing an extension last winter and had somewhat of an attitude problem, one he claims he has left in the past. Nonetheless, Calgary gave away a talent they didn’t need and received one of the most underrated players in the East Division in Jasper Simmons.

Simmons was the heartbeat of the Redblack defense; the biggest bright spot of their inaugural season. Simmons finished with 80 tackles, fourth most in the league, despite playing behind one of the weakest defensive lines in the CFL. Opposing running backs often had open gaps and forced Simmons to use his speed to make the tackle; a part of his game that should not be underestimated. Simmons played free safety at Missouri, a competitive NCAA SEC school, and ran an impressive 4.52 40-yard dash at his Pro Day in 2011. Calgary, much like most CFL teams, love versatile players and can use Simmons at all linebacker spots or at free safety (he has five career interceptions). There is no guarantee that he starts with Keon Raymond, Juwan Simpson and Deron Mayo cemented in the lineup, but it is expected that he will get plenty of snaps and play a large role for Calgary in 2015.

Should Price stay healthy, both teams will benefit from this trade. Ottawa desperately needed receivers, while Calgary had a player to give and talent to gain. What works in the Stampeders’ favour is that they did not have to sacrifice anything. With Marquay McDaniel, Jeff Fuller, Joe West, Eric Rogers, Brad Sinopoli, Anthony Parker, Sederrik Cunningham and Simon Charbonneau-Campeau – who are all capable receivers – on the roster, there was no need for a frustrating talent like Price. Instead, Hufnagel added to what made Calgary Grey Cup champions: their depth.

I have to think that perhaps Desjardins isn’t done dealing with Calgary; this is just leading up to his big move: acquiring quarterback Drew Tate. As for this trade, it appears the Calgary Stampeders got the better of Ottawa by adding another weapon to the juggernaut they have become, while giving away a good albeit expendable player.

The Price was not right, but over-priced. Maurice Over-Price; it has a good ring to it, too, no?

Now it is time to have your say. Who do YOU think won this trade? Vote in the poll and comment down below.