What Is A Play?
Rolling out right now is probably the biggest site-wide stat adjustment I've ever done on this site. I've decided to change what it is I count as a play.
One of the frustrating things about running this site is that it gets labeled as a completely unreliable source any time any number doesn't jive with some other random source. One digit off on how many pass plays the Titans had in 2011, and some Redditor will argue up and down I can't be trusted on anything. Thus, originally, I had tried to match the play count of other sites. Most other sites say the number of plays the Browns ran against the Bengals is the number of pass attempts + rush attempts + times sacked (a pass attempt), and so on. Here we also need to account for special teams, so, punts + kickoffs + extra points, and so on. The list is exhausting, and right off the bat we have an issue: those are only half the story here anyway. The Browns are also on the field when the Bengals do all those things. So trying to piece together what should count as a legal 'play' is dicey guesswork that, in the end, really doesn't match up elsewhere anyway.
Furthermore, doing lots of bobbing and weaving to try and determine how many legal by-the-book "plays" happen might be nonsensical here anyway. An example of a thing that doesn't count as a play? A false start penalty. Yeah. Quite a few penalties didn't figure in actually. So on a site that tells you how many penalties a team gets per play, some penalties didn't count as a play. Let's say the Rams had 4 false starts during a "3 and out". Previously the site would consider that a penalty on 100% of plays. Even though they walked up to the line 8 times, and 8 "things" happened, they had 4 penalties, and only 4 legal plays happened, so 4/4 = 100%.
I have decided instead to just basically use "the number of things that happen" in a game as my plays. If the NFL has 7 line items listed as happening on that drive, I count it as 7. This is what people almost invariably mean when they ask how many penalties per play and whatnot anyway. No one is asking "How many penalties happened per something that went in the NFL stat books as a legal play?", they're asking "What percent of the time a team walks up to the line does a flag come out?". In the example with the Rams above the more correct-for-our-purposes answer is 50%. They had 4 penalties on 8 opportunities to garner a penalty.
This change has added 20-30 or so plays to the count for every game, a difference of hundreds of plays per year for each team. (In some cases this might be accounting for something that should have always been in there anyway though. The NFL is a noisy game, especially on special teams.) It's a big change, but doing things this way will be a lot more straight forward and consistent in the long run.