NFL.com has an interesting article on predicting playoff teams through the use of a statistic Brian Billick coined as "Toxic Differential". It's a simple combination of turnover ratio and big play ratio (defined as plays over 20 yards) with four categories; turnovers for, turnovers against, big plays for, big plays against. Teams that win both the turnover ratio and have more big plays than their opponent win games over 90% of the time. The reverse of that must also hold true. Teams that lose the turnover ratio and have fewer big plays than their opponent must lose games 90% of the time. So I went in search of these statistics for the 2010 AZ Cardinals.
Currently the Cardinals have a -10 turnover ratio according to nfl.com. That one was easy. I couldn't find a site that tracked plays over 20 yards. If anyone knows of one or can discover one I'd be pleased to know of it. We've seen that the defense has given up plenty of these plays this year. We've heard how they rank poorly in this category. Clearly their toxic differential is at a lethal level. I don't have the time to go OCD on this one and track the stat myself although it's almost tempting. I'm sure it's available somewhere.
The idea of toxic differential provides support for the move toward a more pass oriented nfl. If explosive plays are such a key factor in creating wins then what else would you expect? It is also the solid foundation under the worst playoff team ever's superbowl run in 2008. So what do the Cardinals have now?
An opportunistic defense that can create turnovers? Check.
A defense that prevents big plays? Unfortunately no. Sorry, hell no.
An offense capable of making explosive plays? Well the weapons are in place at receiver and running back. We are sorely lacking a trigger man.
An offense that protects the ball? Again unfortunately, hell no. Not with Errant Anderception behind center. Not with the Stormin' Mormon. Wells and Hightower hold a claim to their share of guilt as well.
Specials teams are a wash. We have seen magic with Stephens-Howling but plenty of tragedy from the teams as well.
Out of the four categories the Cardinals are only playing well in one. It's no surprise that they are barely ranking in the top 32 this season. (If you were wondering if the Cardinals are, or are not, the worst team in the league go check out football outsiders. You will sadly find the answer.) To be a top contender you have to perform well in three categories. The good news is that the Cardinals have the opportunity to fix things with an upgrade at one position. Sure, it's the most important position on the team but it's still only one postition. Quality play from our QB can turn the whole thing around, putting us into the positive in explosive plays and improving our turnover ratio in one fell swoop. (It's not my intent to marginalize the other issues on the team. I just want to end on a postive note.)
If you're interested in reading the nfl.com article here's a link;