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Georgia Tech Football: Advanced Stats Week - Pass Plotting

We play with some data visualization to look for areas of improvement in the passing game

Georgia Tech v Boston College Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

The Advanced Stats revolution isn’t just about spreadsheets; it’s also bringing us new opportunities in data visualization that are very exciting. I want to introduce the FTRS community to a simple example of some of this data viz. Using this application, I plotted all of Jeff Sims’s non-garbage time throws during the 2020 season. My fingers are tired, but we’ve got a nice way to visualize the patterns of GT’s 2020 passing attack.

Note the map legend: the light red dots are completions, the pale green dots are incompletions, the bright green dots are drops, and the purple dots are interceptions.

Football is really complicated. And yet some things are oh, so simple. The 2021 GT team will largely go as Jeff Sims goes. And this visualization helps us see some areas that can (and hopefully will!) improve.

1. Georgia Tech’s offense must complete more deep throws. The offense attempted 46 throws that travelled 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage. 13 were completed. 3 were intercepted. 30 fell incomplete. That’s not enough attempts and not enough completions. The lack of opportunities deep reflects the lack of a top end talent at receiver as well as an offensive coordinator trying to figure out how much leeway to give his true freshman quarterback. Quite simply, if Jeff Sims and company can’t connect on more than 1.3 deep throws per game in 2021, the offense is not going to improve.

But it’s possible! This play is perfect. More of this, please.

2. Jeff Sims cannot throw interceptions on short, low reward throws. 6 of his interceptions in 2020 came on throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Those come from either bad decisions or very inaccurate throws. 10 total interceptions isn’t the end of the world if they are coming on high reward throws. Sims has to be smart about where he takes risks.

This is low hanging fruit, but passes like this simply can’t be part of Jeff Sims’s repertoire this fall.

3. In addition to interceptions, you can also see way too many drops on short throws. The 7 drops that I charted within ten yards of the line of scrimmage do not reflect well on our receiving corps. The addition of Kyric McGowan and the hoped for development within our inexperienced tight end room will hopefully help in this regard. These passes have to be caught to help out our young QB.

4. You also see way too many incompletions at or behind the line of scrimmage. Generally, these passes should be completed at a rate of 80% or higher. Sims was 16/24 on these throws, and those misses become wasted downs. Especially given how dangerous Jahmyr Gibbs is as a pass catcher, we have to be able to put these passes on the money and let our backs make plays.

Data visualization helps us see not just what happened, but how it happened. Why did Georgia Tech’s offense remain stuck in neutral for much of 2020? An ineffective deep game, interceptions and drops on short throws, and inaccurate passes in the backfield. Let’s pay attention to these three areas as toe meets leather in September.

Are these plots something you’d be interested in seeing on a regular basis in 2021?