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Shocking: Big Plays Lead to Scoring, Winning

In a tag-team effort, showed what one big play can do for a possession, and Packer Central produced league-wide big-play differential.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Explosive plays lead to scores.

Right. And the next thing I’ll tell you is diving into a pool will make you wet, walking through poison ivy will give you a rash and poking a hornet’s nest will lead to pain and expletives.

Nonetheless, a study by puts numbers to what’s obvious. And those findings are interesting.

Defining an explosive run as a 10-yard gain and an explosive pass as a 15-yard gain, a single explosive play almost triples the chances of the offense scoring.

“We set out in this study to tease out how valuable explosive plays are for an individual drives, author Conor McQuiston wrote. “We learned that after accounting for the drive’s starting field position, even a single explosive play triples the odds the offense will score, and that if an offense has at least two explosive plays in a drive they can be confident that drive will end in a score. This allows us to come to the conclusion that explosive plays are, to the surprise of every offensive coach in football, incredibly valuable for an individual drive.”


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With that as a backdrop, we looked at big-play data from the first four weeks of the season. Using the same definitions – 10-yard run and 15-yard pass – we looked at which teams are winning on the ground and through the air.

The winner? The Cleveland Browns have a plus-17 advantage in big-play runs and a plus-4 edge in big-play passes for a big-play differential of plus-21. That is by far the best in the NFL; no other team is better than plus-13.

The Green Bay Packers are plus-1 in big-play differential. They are minus-6 in big-play runs, thanks to an offense that has produced fewer splash running plays than any team in the league besides pass-happy Tampa Bay. They are plus-7 in big-play passes, which might not be a surprise with Aaron Rodgers running the offense. However, only four teams have allowed fewer big-play passes. Whether than can continue if Jaire Alexander is out for an extended period will be a critical factor to the team’s success.

Of the 10 teams that are plus-8 in big plays, only the Philadelphia Eagles (1-3) don’t belong. None of the bottom 10 teams have a winning record.

Here is our big-play data through Week 4.