October 06, 2010
One of the interesting things about football is that so much of any given person's success and statistics depend on other players' performances. Even the best running backs can't get far without good blocking up front, while some of us laptop jockeys could take the ball for a touchdown if there's no one in the way. A quarterback without a lot of talent can make crucial plays if he gets enough time in the pocket and if his receivers get open, while even Anthony Calvillo can look awful if his blocking isn't there and if his receivers are covered.
An area where this really comes into play is what happens after a catch. If it's second and 10, a quarterback throws a nine-yard pass and his receiver makes the catch but then gets stopped short of the first-down marker, he'll face criticism for not converting. If the same play happens in the same situation, but the receiver breaks the tackle and heads downfield for a touchdown, the quarterback's stat line gets a huge boost despite his performance being exactly the same. That's part of the outcome-based rather than decision-based analysis that tends to dominate football, as I discussed in my piece on Saskatchewan's punting decision earlier this year, and that carries plenty of problems.
Fortunately, receptions seem to be one area where people are at least recognizing this. It's highly unusual for a CFL on TSN broadcast to pass by without a mention of "YAC yards" (a horrible misnomer, as that would be "yards after catch yards"), and both the league and TSN seem to be keeping track of how receivers do in that category. Unfortunately, neither of those entities has added the stat to their receiving stats page yet, but the league at least covered some of the top receivers by YAC in a mid-September article. Nik Lewis (pictured above celebrating a July 24 touchdown against Saskatchewan) of the Calgary Stampeders topped that list with 413 YAC through Sept. 19, and he demonstrated just why he excels in that category Friday with this hit on Montreal's Mark Estelle:
Let's break down this play and see just how much value Lewis adds on this reception. The Stampeders start on the Alouettes' 37, and Henry Burris takes the snap near the 40. He then drops back to the 43 under pressure and throws the ball eight yards in the air to a wide-open Lewis at the 35. If he's tackled there, though, this would only go down as a two-yard completion. Lewis makes a nice turn and gets enough for the first down (just past the 27) before first contact with a defender, which is probably pretty close to what most CFL receivers would be able to do.
However, most receivers would probably be taken down by Estelle there. Estelle isn't the biggest defensive back (he's listed as 5'9'' and 185 pounds), but in most cases, he can probably bring down a receiver one-on-one. Lewis hits him with enough force to knock him over, though. He then evades Matthieu Proulx (20) and Jerald Brown (39), beats Diamond Ferri (40) thanks to a nice block from Ken-Yon Rambo, breaks a tackle from Billy Parker (17), breaks another one from big defensive tackle Jermaine McElveen (98), who somehow got back on the play, and pulls away from De'Audra Dix (35) for the touchdown. That's an incredible play from Lewis, and it changes Burris' stats on the play from a two-yard completion to a 37-yard touchdown pass thanks to the 35 yards gained after the catch. It has to be nice to have receivers who can do that consistently.
Allen Cameron of The Calgary Herald talked to Lewis and several Stampeders defensive backs about the play earlier this week, and he got some solid quotes. Wes Lysack in particular spoke to the difficulty of bringing down a guy like Lewis (listed at 5'10, 205):
"Nik is pretty tough to play against," said Stamps safety Wes Lysack.
"You have to give him credit on the play and not so much take credit away from Estelle. He's a little gaffer; Nik has a lot of weight to him; he's been eating a lot of Fruit Loops in the morning."
Whether it's the Fruit Loops or not, Lewis has been adding a lot of value to the catches he's made this year. He has 858 total reception yards this year, and as mentioned above, had 413 YAC midway through September, so when you include the 35 YAC on this play (and the other YAC on plays he's made since Sept. 19), more than half of his total yards have come from gains after the catch. That's very impressive, and it's one of the reasons Burris and the Stampeders have found a lot of success through the air this year. Not every one of Lewis' catches will make as many highlight reels as this one did, but it's worth keeping an eye on just how much value he and other receivers add after they get the ball. There's much more to the success of a passing game than just the throw and the catch.