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A look at how Bengals use advanced analytics

The Bengals use PFF, among other advanced analytical services, to build their roster.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always interesting to see the inner workings of an NFL franchise.

The fine folks at MMQB have done just that with a feature on how all 32 teams use advanced analytics within their organization. When it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals, a familiar name comes up in the form of Pro Football Focus.

The Bengals rely on two outside vendors, including the locally-based Pro Football Focus, and an outside IT professional, Jeff Smith*, to help them integrate analytics data. For personnel chief Duke Tobin and coach Marvin Lewis, the advanced numbers are used to create efficiency in the time-sensitive areas of game-planning and pro scouting. On the college scouting side, Tobin’s crew creates its own analytical studies. And, globally, every coach and scout in the building is responsible for the data that lands within the construct of their job.

*Editor’s Note: It’s actually Geoff Smith, not Jeff Smith. And according to his LinkedIn profile, he is the Senior Advisor - Technology/Analytics for the Bengals, a role in which he has served since 2004. Here’s what Smith does for the team, according to his LinkedIn profile:

Combination of strategic consulting and hands-on responsibility for Football Technology. Provide Club Ownership strategic vision/input for Technology and Analytics. Responsible for the development, deployment, and successful implementation of information technology projects across Player Personnel and Coaching solutions.

You probably know by now that Cris Collinsworth, one of the franchise’s best-ever receivers, still lives in the Cincinnati area and is the majority owner in Pro Football Focus, the popular subscription-based analytics service that studies and grades every player on every play in every game. That connection, as well as the service originating in the very city in which the Bengals reside, makes this an easy marriage to have, maybe.

The irony here is Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has made it clear in the past that he’s not a fan of PFF, going as far as to call it, “some dumb ass website that doesn’t have any idea of what football is.”

To be fair, PFF has come a long way since 2013, so much so that it’s now widely used by NFL teams and players. It’s good to see the Bengals are among them. PFF, while not perfect, is easily the best source of advanced analytics that accurately measures a player’s abilities in the NFL. In a 2015 article, Collinsworth told The MMQB 13 NFL teams were using PFF’s team-specific subscription service and in 2016 he said they were up to 24 teams. So, the Bengals are not alone in using PFF for data mining.

The data goes both ways. We see guys like Geno Atkins and A.J. Green dominate on the field and subsequently earn high PFF grades. But we also see guys like Rey Maualuga and Cedric Ogbuehi struggle mightily on the field while ranking near the bottom of their respective positions in PFF’s system. And then, somehow Russell Bodine has maintained average or better grades from PFF in most years, despite looking far less than average on the field.

It is interesting to see that Duke Tobin and his staff have developed their own analytical studies for college scouting. One has to wonder how much guys like Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis factor that in when taking players in the NFL Draft. Tobin has a say in assembling personnel, but so too do Brown and Lewis. Hopefully all of them are on the same page.

One other note: The fact that Lewis uses these services to, “create efficiency in the time-sensitive areas of game-planning” is just rich. Lewis’ game-clock management has drawn a lot of ire in the past, though it is something he’s gotten better with in recent years. Perhaps analytical services are partially responsible.