Fact? A Rebuttal to Tony Santorsa's "What We Learned"

This was originally a comment, but I felt it was too long to remain one. In the following, I rebut that, a) Santorsa's "facts" behind his "clutch-gene" theory are anything but a fallacy, b) his declaration that Seattle's defence beat New England's offence is a fact and not an opinion, and, c) that New England's secondary is "putrid".

New England has lost its "clutch-gene"

In his article, Santorsa says,

The Patriots do not have the ability to close out games. They failed to do so against the Baltimore Ravens earlier this season, they failed to do so in Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI and failed to do so against the Seahawks Sunday night.

Santorsa took four separate incidents, two of which occurred outside of this season, and claimed them as evidence that the Patriots have lost their "clutch-gene". This is akin to saying Angelina Jolie had blonde hair in four movies, and therefore she's a blonde, not a brunette.

It's a fallacy because:

  • The four games presented between 2007-2012 are a small sample size, as well as the two relevant games of the 2012 season. What happened in the four other games played in 2012?

  • Two games out of six do not make a trend.

I do not agree or disagree that the Patriots have lost their "clutch-gene", I am merely arguing that Santorsa's argument is not supported by the facts he presented. Thus, his statement, "The Patriots no longer have the clutch-gene—FACT, not opinion," is false. If his statement is true, there is evidence to support it, and better ways of arguing for it than pretending two games are enough to judge a season or team.

The NFL's top defence is better than the NFL's top offence

Santorsa said, "I guess you could say that the NFL's top defense is simply better than the NFL's top offense." He followed it, once again, with, "Fact—not opinion."

Without presenting a standard of measurement, how does one measure New England's performance? That the offence was unbalanced is indeed a fact, but not the aforementioned comparison. The only evidence presented is rushing yardage, but this is not a valid standard. After all, Seattle ran for fewer yards (85 versus 87 yards). So, what should qualify as an offence beating a defence, and vice versa? Beyond rushing stats, Santorsa does not say, but still posits that A is greater than B.

For the sake of not creating problems without presenting solutions, I will present a hypothesis that Santorsa can use to argue his point, using rushing yardage:

  1. If A performs better than B's average, A has outperformed B. If A performs worse than B's average, B has outperformed A.
  2. If A performs better than its own average, A has outperformed B. If A performs worse than its own average, B has outperformed A.
  3. The net of A's performance against both B's average and its own average will prove who outperformed whom.

Disclaimer: at this point in the season, small sample size still applies. Also, the following numbers include this game, so they're slightly skewed. For this illustration, they'll work.

Using the above hypothesis:

  1. Seattle gives up an average of 70.0 yards rushing. New England had 87 yards rushing, 17 more than Seattle's average.
  2. New England averages 152.3 rushing yards per game. With 87 yards, they had 65.3 yards less than their average.
  3. New England had a net of -48.3 yards.

According to my hypothesis, New England's offence was outperformed by Seattle's defence. Now, one can argue with my conclusion, but as I have presented a standard of measurement, you're now able to argue that my conclusion is incorrect, in the first place. You are able to test, prove it, or disprove it, rather than relying on deceptive opinions. While the statement, "The Patriots ran the ball [...] for only 87 yards," is true, it has little value. What does it mean? The Seahawks ran for 85 yards. What does that mean?

Without a measuring stick, nothing. And without even the above rudimentary measuring stick, Santorsa's statement has no facts behind it, and is, therefore opinion.

An aside, my hypothesis using points instead of rushing yards

As I prefer to judge teams on points rather than yardage:

  1. Seattle gives up an average of 15.5 points per game. New England scored 23 points, 7.5 points more than Seattle's average.
  2. New England averages 31.3 points per game. With 23 points, they had 8 points fewer than their average.
  3. New England had a net of -0.5 points.

If one prefers, they could just compare the total points with the league, rather than opponent, average. Once again, I am not arguing for or against, only arguing that "facts" require actual, meaningful, facts.

The secondary is bad, so bad, so very bad

I would have said I agree, but then I read this:

So out of Wilson's 293 passing yards, 147 of them came on just three plays.

Let's think about that. Wilson attempted 27 passes. He averaged 10.85 yards per passing attempt - a terrible statistic if you're the defensive coordinator. But let's remove those 147 yards, if they're so special. Without them, and the three passes through which he attained them, Wilson had 146 yards on 24 attempts, for an average of 6.08 yards per attempt. Now, if my defence was limiting a quarterback to six yards per attempt, I'd be over the Moon, since only three teams in the NFL average lower than 6.1 yards.

Of course, cherry-picking stats, as Santorsa did with games in the first point, can help mislead just about anything, so we have to ask the question: what does 147 yards on three plays mean?

It means the secondary is, in fact, not putrid, but inconsistent. If a team limits an opponent to 6.08 yards per passing attempt, and then loses grip and gets torched on three plays, its problems are very specific.

And that specific problem - inconsistency - has to stop being misdiagnosed as something else, for how are the Patriots to fix their problems if they can't even identify them? And how can us bloggers make up crazy solutions without ourselves knowing the true problem?

In summary, if you're going to claim something as fact, please present actual evidence. It's our duty as writers not to mislead our readers.


Santorsa's original article. boxscore.
Average rushing per game.
Average opponents' rushing per game.
Average points per game.
Average opponents' points per game.
Teams' average yards per passing attempt.

The views expressed in these FanPosts are not necessarily those of the writers or SBNation.

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