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Yards per drive vs. time of possession

2/17/2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In an extensive Q&A with Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, Ken Whisenhunt mentioned two categories he wants to be good at on offense.

“The two things I would like to have success that are important: third-down conversions, because those allow drives to continue, and time of possession,” Whisenhunt said. “A lot of people say they don’t care about time of possession, but if you can control the ball and be good on third down, then you are going to be in a lot of games and have a lot of opportunity to win at the end. And because of the way the NFL is now, that’s the way you have to do it.”

Time of possession is an increasingly debatable category.

The Saints held the ball the most on offense last season, and that helped them be the fourth-ranked offense by yardage and the 11th scoring offense in the NFL.

But the Eagles philosophically broke the mold, playing fast and paying no regard to holding on to the ball for long stretches. Philadelphia was second on offense in the NFL and sixth in scoring, and the Eagles were dead last in time of possession.

I agree with Whisenhunt about third down. Converting chances to stay on the field is one of the most important things a team can do.

Teams without a sure thing at quarterback are more reliant on time of possession than teams with stars at the spot. The top five offenses in the league were keyed by Peyton Manning, an emerging Nick Foles, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.

Whisenhunt is unlikely to have a guy of that caliber running his offense. When the quarterback is more of a manager, time of possession grows in importance.

While I wouldn’t want to strain the defense too much by asking it to be on the field a ton, explosive plays on offense get you quick points and can demoralize an opponent.

Even the best team with the best quarterback isn’t going to get them all the time.

But they are daggers that take very little time, and that puts a dent in the importance of time of possession.

Middle of the pack in time of possession works for me -- if it’s a result of an offense that can put together long drives that will tire out a defense and quick hits that find the end zone in a hurry.

Another category that I really like here is yards per drive. (That’s from Football Outsiders.) With Whisenhunt as their offensive coordinator, the Chargers were tops in yards per drive in 2013 with 40.13. The Titans were 18th with 29.69.

San Diego had over 10 more yards per drive than the Titans last year. If Whisenhunt’s new offense can boost that number, I suspect major results would follow.