Special Teams: Deeper Data, Deeper Analysis

By Ted Knutson | June 14, 2022 | 1 min read

Special Teams: Deeper Data, Deeper Analysis

As you know, we’ve been working on our American Football product for fifteen months now, and one thing that became fairly obvious early on was that Special Teams is the sad, forgotten stepchild of the football analysis world. There is very little real data currently available covering the different flavors of Special Teams play. What data does exist is weak and spotty. 

We’re going to change all that.

Basics


Unlike in soccer, where I am possibly THE set pieces uber-nerd, I am not an expert in special teams play. But thankfully I have been lucky enough to talk to some pretty good ones, who helped guide our product development here.

The first thing missing from special teams data is literally the most basic one - who was on the field? With the right angles, we’ve now* got that covered. And because it’s StatsBomb data, if we know who was on the field at snap, we also know where they are too.

Much like with QBs, where we know exactly where they threw the ball from, we also collect where the ball is kicked from. This is obvious for field goals, but for punters - especially of the roll-out rugby variety - this was deemed interesting, useful new information.

*We literally did not know the high-behind angles for kicks and punts existed in All-22 feeds before we started working on the data spec.

The Get-Off


As you have seen in our earlier launch pieces, we track pathing of players in the normal play collection. We will bring the same approach to special teams. How many players are off the line of scrimmage at punt and where are they? It’s in the data via a freeze frame at the moment of kick.

We can also do that with punt team gunners to look at who is getting downfield and how quickly* they get there.

*The lighter the color in each line, the longer time elapsed from snap

Halos


We also collect a freeze frame at point of catch, so we can see the positions of both punt/kick and return teams. How fast are players getting down the field and how well are they converging on where the kickoff will land or be caught?

Are there regular weaknesses in the coverage nets for some teams? These should help coaches find them faster.

We’re Listening


Unlike everything else we’re covering during the rollout month, the special teams data is not in v1.0. That’s because we didn’t know enough to design something useful for coaches here at the start. It wasn’t until we sat next to them, watched them analyze the film, and listened to their problems that we were able to figure out how to help.

That same ethos is present in everything we do. If you have ideas for ways to improve what you’ve seen so far, send me an email.

The special teams package will appear in the v1.1 data spec we roll out at the end of the summer.

–Ted Knutson
CEO, StatsBomb
ted@statsbomb.com

By Ted Knutson | June 14, 2022