Wendys, VHS, and Football Film

Luke Goldstein at UVA Football Practice

“I was just standing there in the parking lot of a rural North Carolina Wendy’s” Luke Goldstein remarked “I looked like I was about to do a drug deal”

            Walk into the University of Virginia Football offices and turn right and you enter a hive of activity. The analysts sit in the back end of the cavernous room, eyes glued to their computers. As you look towards the front of the room, you are forced to take in a wall that is covered in televisions. As you look to the left and the right, you can find nearly a dozen desktop computers scattered around the front half of the room. Players and coaches alike sit at these monitors, gathering the intel that they need in order to win that Saturday. And in the midst of all these machines and people, you find Luke Goldstein.

            Goldstein’s desk sits in the front left corner of the video room, on his desk he has two computer monitors and a television directly above him. Covering his desks are memos from the athletic department, the head coach, and personal mementos.

            If the University of Virginia football program was Batman, Goldstein would be Alfred. As the team’s video coordinator, he serves coaches and players video on a digital platter, and they use it to understand their enemies. The amount of things that he helps the team with seem to grow every week. Ever since he started the job in 2002, he has pioneered a number of changes in the video department. This has led him to become the assistant athletics director for video services in 2013.

            Football from the very beginning has been a game of strategy. Coaches and players scheming for the best possible way to beat their opponents. From this, the forward pass, the shotgun snap, blitzing, and modern football itself has grown from this. Off the field, modern medicine, nutrition, and recovery techniques have significantly improved and have helped players stay on the field. But, the most important aspect that many people often skip over is film study.

            Film study has grown exponentially in importance and prestige since its inception. It has evolved from film rolls in projectors, to VHS tapes, and now has moved to a completely digital platform. This new digital platform has led to an explosion in popularity in addition to how we study and analyze the game.

            Goldstein is originally from New York, growing up he knew that he wanted to be on television. This is a passion that followed him into college at Syracuse. But, his desire to be in front of the camera faded after he found out he couldn’t ever remember his lines. This led him to go behind the camera and this kick-started his career.

            He started in the equipment room for the football team and then later transitioned into shooting video for the rest of the athletics department. He shot lacrosse and also worked with the basketball team.

            After college he was able to secure a job with ESPN and he helped with the program Sports Center. Fortunately, after a few months he got a call from his old coordinator and he wanted him to come down and interview for a job with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He flew down to Florida on his own dime and interviewed for the job. He didn’t have a place to stay so he stayed with his old coworker and helped him hang Christmas lights. It was shortly after this that he decided to hire Goldstein for the job. This was a risky move as the head coach, Tom Coughlin, did not want him to be hired as he wanted someone with more experience. Thankfully for Goldstein, the video coordinator disregarded his head coach and hired him anyways.

            When Goldstein was hired, the Jaguars had just become a NFL franchise and it had to sign players to its roster. The first thing that Goldstein shot for the Jaguars was a free agent tryout. The problem was, he had never shot football before so he screwed it up until they showed him how.

            Football is shot in three different ways. The first is the game clock. This shot prefaces the play and gives context such as down and distance, who possess the ball, and time left in the game. The second shot is a wide shot which shows all the players on the field. This shows the whole play and all the routes and motions that players do. The final shot is the tight shot which is directly behind the offensive line. This helps to show blocking and blitzes by the lines.

            When Goldstein was with the Jaguars, they used all tapes to document their games and practices on. So he shot practice with a Beta SP. They had multiple racks of DVRs and processors so that they could separate the film between offense, defense, and play/blitz types. This whole process took about two to three hours and was one of the most advanced systems that money could buy. Goldstein estimates that the whole setup costs millions of dollars.

            After working for the Jaguars for three seasons he took the head video coordinator job for the University of Southern California football team. He was able to work with athletes like Carson Palmer and coaches such as Marvin Lewis. This was the first time that he was in charge of the whole process.

            He had to overhaul the entire way that the team shot and sifted through film as the old way was very outdated. He came to this profound conclusion after it took him six hours to sort the film after his first practice “I wanted to quit” Goldstein remarked.

The technology that they were using was similar to the NFL but it also lagged behind in the way that the film was sorted. He had multiple decks of VCRs and computers in order to be able to sort through the film quicker. It was during his time at USC that film started to go more digital. But, they still had to transport all the film the old fashion way.

Due to the continued heavy reliance on tapes to store film, video coordinators had to manually ship the film to other schools so they could use it to scout. This process could take a number of days especially if the team was on the opposite coast. If the game was played on Saturday, the worst case scenario was that the film wouldn’t be there until Wednesday.

Coordinators had to drive the film to the airport and ship it from there. And after 9/11, they had to start using carrier services in order to transport it far distances. For teams that were within about six hours of driving. Goldstein would meet the other coordinators halfway and end up waiting in a lot of strange places. Often he would pay one of his student interns to drive so that he could spend time with his family.

He left USC in the early 2000’s and became the head video coordinator for the entire XFL. While he was in their employ, he started capturing video directly into computers which was a turn from the capturing it on tapes. By directly putting it into a computer it took a shorter amount of time to process and make it available to coaches and players.

After the league folded, he worked on computers for a few months but hated it so much he put his name back into the job market for a video coordinator position. He was hired by the University of Virginia in 2002 and has remained there ever since.

During his time at Virginia, he has transitioned completely away from using VHS and now everything is digital. Once a game or practice finishes, the upload to the database is completed within minutes. He has film on every single team in the NFL and nearly every FBS college team readily available for coaches and players. Perhaps his favorite advancement is that film can be sent by file between teams rather than him driving hours to pick up a box set of VHS tapes.

The amount that film capture and processing has changed since the advent of the digital age is simply staggering. Goldstein explained that on each of the decks that used to process film, they could only hold 160 gigabytes. Now they have equipment that can hold 3 terabytes (one terabyte is 1000 gigabytes). This easy access film has led to the rise of highlight videos, and websites such as Hudl and DVSport. These sites help high school athletes make videos to help them get recruited, these sites also help college teams share film with each other.

Working with film is a constantly evolving job and there is no guarantee for what happens next. Luke Goldstein has gone from VHS tapes to completely digital and he is ready for whatever is going to happen next.

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The Mahomes Experiment: Do NFL Quarterbacks Benefit from Sitting their Rookie Seasons

Last year, Chiefs general manager John Dorsey intentionally sat first round rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes so that the young star could learn under veteran QB Alex Smith, a move that was questioned at the time. Now, as Mahomes is having a breakout year and has the Super Bowl in his sights, Dorsey is being praised for his patience and foresight.

After transitioning to GM of the Cleveland Browns in the offseason, Dorsey attempted to use the same formula, announcing that number one overall pick Baker Mayfield would sit out his rookie season to learn under Tyrod Taylor. However, that plan came crashing to a halt when Taylor suffered a concussion late in the first half of the Browns’ week 3 matchup against the Jets, and Baker Mayfield was forced to enter his first NFL game down 14-3 at the half.

Baker

Incredibly, Mayfield mounted a comeback to defeat the Jets, and was able to secure the Browns’ starter position for the remainder of the 2018 season. In this situation, many critics argued that Mayfield was NFL-ready from day 1. “He doesn’t need the Mahomes treatment!” they cried. And the evidence is pointing in their favor—Mayfield has been impressive this year.

These two recent cases have called into question Dorsey’s (and others’) philosophy that sitting a rookie QB for a year makes them more “NFL-ready”. Does a quarterback truly perform better in his first year starting if he sits out his rookie season, or does it not make a difference?

– – –

I want to examine this question through a historical lens, comparing past quarterbacks who were thrown straight into the fire and started their rookie season to quarterbacks who did not become a starter until their second season (who I will call “sophomore starters”). I am also only examining the quarterbacks’ statistics during their first year as a starter. Basically, we’re just testing whether “NFL-readiness” is increased by “the Mahomes treatment”.

            Of course, there are some shortcomings to this approach. Some quarterbacks are simply better, and will be stars in the NFL regardless of their role during their rookie seasons. I don’t think anyone can argue that Payton Manning should have sat his fiery 1998 rookie season—Manning was top 5 in touchdowns and passing yards as a rookie. To account for differences in talent, I separated 1st round quarterbacks from non-1st round quarterbacks and examined the groups separately. I also used a large sample size, looking at quarterbacks drafted from 1988 to 2016 in an effort to soften the impact of breakouts like Manning or duds like Jimmy Clausen, who was eternally banished to NFL backup status after a dismal rookie season with the Panthers in 2010.

JClausen

I picked four statistics to judge a quarterback’s entire first year performance: Completion %, Touchdown %, Passer Rating, and Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. These statistics certainly do not capture a quarterback’s entire season’s performance, but they do a good job summarizing it. Completion % indicates a quarterback’s accuracy, TD % illustrates a quarterback’s ability to actually score, and passer rating acts as an overall analyzer of performance. Finally, adjusted net yards per attempt, or ANY/A, shows a quarterback’s deep ball ability with an emphasis on touchdowns and a penalty for interceptions. For example, here is prolific passer Carson Wentz’s rookie year performance in those categories:

CWentz

– – –

When I looked at the performance of all of the first-round quarterbacks since 1988, I split them into two groups to compare: rookie starter and sophomore starters, and then compare the average rookie starter stats to the overall first round stats and see if there is a significant difference (and do the same for the sophomore starters). Through my findings, Byron Leftwich embodies the average 1st round rookie starter; he is right around the average for this group in all four stats. As for 1st round sophomore starters, JaMarcus Russell is our middle-man. As you can see below, the two quarterbacks put up shockingly similar statistics in their first seasons as starters (and just for fun, I will include Ben Roethlisberger’s monster 2004 rookie season).

BLeftwich

JRussell

BRoethlisberger

These two similar examples confirm the findings of my statistical analysis—there is no significant evidence that sophomore starters perform differently than rookie starters among first rounders! The slight variations in the averages that you see below are not considered “statistically significant,” which is nerd talk for ‘not big enough to be conclusive.’

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 3.00.28 PM

The average later rounders are shown below; Derek Carr and Tyler Thigpen characterize their respective groups very well.

DCarr

TThigpen

Again though, my statistical analysis finds no significant difference between the rookie starters and the sophomore starters—the averages for both groups practically mirror the averages for all later round quarterbacks.

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 3.00.36 PM

– – –

I’m certainly not saying that every rookie quarterback should start, or that John Dorsey is an idiot (quite the contrary, I actually love what Dorsey has done for the Browns). Maybe Patrick Mahomes really did play better because of his time as a backup, and that could be true for other quarterbacks as well. However, historically, there is no conclusive evidence that quarterbacks who have a season to sit and learn perform better in their first season as a starter. With an exciting group of college quarterbacks including Dwayne Haskins and Tua Tagovailoa entering the draft in the next few years, it will be interesting to see whether GM’s continue to deploy the ‘Mahomes treatment’—who knows, maybe we will see the next Ben Roethlisberger light it up in their rookie season!

Sources

Stats:

http://www.drafthistory.com/index.php/positions/qb

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/

https://www.si.com/nfl/photo/2016/10/11/best-rookie-quarterback-seasons-nfl-history#1

https://www.sportingcharts.com/dictionary/nfl/adjusted-net-yards-per-pass-attempt.aspx

Photos:

https://deadspin.com/yep-patrick-mahomes-is-still-ridiculous-1829257500

https://www.crimsonandcreammachine.com/2018/9/21/17886428/oklahoma-sooners-football-baker-mayfield-cleveland-browns-shirt-cleveland-special-rally-possum

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Twitter Fingers: The Landscape of NFL Team Twitter Accounts

Featured image courtesy of AdWeek

Ten years ago, NFL teams had few means to reach out and directly interact with fans around the world. The vast majority of what people learned about their favorite team would come from secondary sources such as online blogs, television shows, or talk radio. The only direct access many fans had was through the team’s website, which often operated like an online team store with a roster and an occasional press release sprinkled in. Some fans stuck to online message boards, spreading speculative news through the grapevine while they waited for the next game and all of the new story lines that would come with it. Although it may not have seemed like it in the moment, the routine of gathering information was relatively simple.

And then social media came along.

Social media has changed the way the world connects, and arguably no other platform has influenced the sharing of information the way Twitter has over the last decade. More so than Instagram and Facebook, Twitter has become a source of breaking news and personal perspectives for its users, so much so that three years after its launch, in 2006, ABC News called Twitter the “news outlet for the 21st century”. Since 2010, Twitter has seen its active user population grow from roughly 30 million users per yearly quarter to over 326 million currently [LINK]. Even if you don’t have a Twitter account, odds are you’ve seen a tweet somewhere. Outlets from SportsCenter to CNN use tweets from athletes, politicians, and public figures in their broadcasts, elevating Twitter beyond just spreading the news, but being the news.

Soon enough, sports teams and athletes from all around the world began making accounts on Twitter. More so than ever before, people could control their own narrative and instantly provide content directly to their followers.

The NFL is a prime example of the use of Twitter in professional sports. Each franchise has an entire social media team in charge of running their various accounts. Even though there is only one game a week, these account teams are constantly creating and posting content for their Twitter feeds. Their job, in essence, is to promote the team and portray them in the most favorable light possible, hoping to generate buzz and excitement within the fan base. For example, the Seattle Seahawks have tweeted more than almost any other team in the NFL, and a portion of those tweets are direct and unprompted replies to supporters.

In theory, an active Twitter presence keeps supporters grounded and builds fan loyalty and knowledge about the team. The goal and hope is that this will lead to improved ticket sales, fan satisfaction, and win over new fans both locally and abroad. Take this exchange from the Dallas Cowboys twitter account, for example, where a fan simply retweeted the Cowboys’ tweet, won a prize, and responded with pure joy.

Teams clearly use twitter frequently as a powerful promotional tool, but what exactly are the tweeting habits of NFL teams? Do they tweet more during certain weeks or after certain results? How many followers does each team have? Do good teams tend to tweet more than bad teams? Using the statistical software R, Twitter’s API, and the rtweet package, I sought to answer these questions and more.

First, let’s establish a general picture of the NFL landscape. To do that, let’s simply look at the follower count of each franchise as of December 11, 2018, organized alphabetically by the teams’ Twitter handles in the graph and numerically in the table.

(Note: A “Twitter handle” is the username, or @, that they are uniquely identified by. For example, the Washington Redskin’s Twitter handle is @Redskins.)

Team Followers Bar GraphTwitter Followers

 

As seen above, the New England Patriots have by far the most twitter followers of any NFL team, coming in at more than 4.3 million. The Patriots are perennially one of the best teams in the league, having won five Super Bowls since 2001 and claiming their divisional title every year but two in the same time frame. Following the Patriots are the Dallas Cowboys, who are steeped in tradition and have become known as “America’s Team,” a moniker referencing their wide-ranging fan base and ravenous supporters.

Holding the crown for the least followers, however, are the Jacksonville Jaguars at less than 650,000, joined by the Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Los Angeles Rams, each reaching out to less than 800,000 followers whenever they tweet. There are many factors that could contribute to these teams having smaller followings. Chief among these reasons could be that the Jaguars, Titans, and Buccaneers all hail from smaller markets compared to the rest of the league, while the Los Angeles Rams are relatively new to LA, moving there for the beginning of the 2016 season.

Furthermore, over two-thirds of NFL teams have less than two million followers, with ten teams tallying less than a million. These numbers serve to emphasize the fandom that teams like the Patriots and Cowboys have, more than doubling the number of followers of most teams.

While number of followers is useful, how about the total tweet count of each team account? Maybe the teams that have more followers tend to tweet more, or maybe the reverse is true. Here is a graph and table of every team’s total tweets as of December 11th, 2018:

Number of Tweets by Team GraphTotal Tweets

One of the most striking aspects of this data is the apparent consistency across the board of NFL team Twitter accounts. Over two-thirds of teams are between 40,000 and 60,000 tweets, with the Bengals establishing the floor at 21,686 tweets. The closest team to the Bengals would be the Colts at 32,540. For reference, the Bengals joined Twitter in March of 2009, while the Saints, the most twitter-happy team in the league, joined one month later, in April. Over roughly nine years and 8 months, the Saints have tweeted 51,747 more times than the Bengals. This rounds out to the Saints sending, on average, about 14.5 more tweets a day than the Bengals, with no known continuity issues concerning the Bengals account.

Without performing any advanced statistical analysis, it appears that there isn’t a strong relationship between follower count and number of tweets. As stated previously, there could be countless factors that influence the number of tweets a specific team posts. For example, some accounts could go more dormant in the off-season than others, while other franchises might be facing a prolonged losing period. It is nearly impossible to account for every variable.

To account for some of these factors, I turned my attention toward the current 2018-2019 NFL season. The idea is that by singling out the current season, we can analyze each team’s behavior over time depending on factors such as whether they won, lost, had a bye week, or are in the hunt for the playoffs. Using the last 3200 tweets of each team, I have charted the amount each account sent out during a given week of the season, starting on Sunday, September 2nd, the last Sunday before the regular season began. Each team is compared in a slide with the rest of its division, and each division is placed in the slideshow corresponding to its conference.

(Note: When comparing teams from two separate divisions, pay attention to the scales of each graph, they are different. Also, if it shows there are zero tweets for a team’s first week, that is because the team has tweeted more than 3,200 times since the start of the season. Rtweet only allows up to 3200 tweets to be collected from a timeline at once.)

NFC:

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AFC:

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By examining these graphs alongside team schedules and league standings, we can get a grasp of how team accounts react to how a team performs over time.

One of the easiest observations to glean from these graphs is the timing of a team’s bye week. Almost every NFL team sees a dramatic drop in the number of tweets posted during their week off, only to see the amount rise back up the next week. Otherwise, there does not seem to be a dominant trend across all divisions upon first glance. While some current division leaders like the Saints, Texans, Cowboys, and Bears have found themselves as leading tweeters among their peers, other exceptional teams such as the Chiefs, Rams, and Patriots have failed to deliver consistent weeks of high-volume tweeting despite their superior records. In the Patriots’ AFC East, for example, the 7-6 Miami Dolphins tweet much more than any other team despite having a relatively mediocre record the entire season. Thus, it becomes apparent that winning does not necessarily mean more tweeting, at least relative to the league as a whole.

These charts are perhaps most useful when focusing on one franchise at a time. Each team has their own media personnel after all, with their own habits, preferences, and ideas in regard to social media presence. How else could you explain the case of the Philadelphia Eagles, who, coming into the season as reigning Super Bowl Champions, have remained relatively constant in their week-by-week tweet counts despite a relatively forgettable 6-7 record? Then there’s the case of the Carolina Panthers, who, after beginning the season at 6-2 and were poised to make the playoffs, have face-planted with five straight losses. As one would expect, after several high-volume weeks to begin the season their rate dropped considerably.

So, is there a definitive trend that spans all NFL teams? From this analysis, the only trend that appears to be universal is that teams tweet far less during their bye week. Otherwise, each team acts relatively independent of each other. One team may tweet less following a loss while another may actually tweet more. There are simply too many questions and too many factors to consider to accurately predict how a team’s Twitter account will behave. Playoff position, Pro Bowl voting, wins, losses, past season success, and other variables all go into what is tweeted and how often a team takes to social media.

Regardless, the data covered in this article is important for many reasons. Social media is one of the most powerful tools a team has to interact with and energize a fan base. Promotions, replies, and player involvement all connect fans to a team in a way that no beat reporter, journalist, or national outlet can. A team cannot necessarily control the number of tallies in the win column, but they can help control the narrative surrounding their franchise through Twitter and other outlets. An excellent social media presence can invigorate and maintain supporters even in the darkest of times. Therefore, social media patterns are one of the first things a team should look to when experiencing issues with their fan base.

The relationship between the NFL and Twitter is so intricate that it is impossible to do more than scratch the surface. Individual players interact with peers, fans, and other teams through the platform, and countless casual observers have become rabid fans through their exposure to NFL Twitter feeds. Some careers have been ruined, while others have been reimagined through the power of Twitter. So, while the notion of how many followers a team has or how often they tweet may at first seem trivial, the story everyone is talking about often begins and ends with the people forming the narrative behind the account.

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