So Bleacher Report published an unfortunate article about Stanford that got a lot of attention yesterday. But this is redundant: they are Bleacher Report.
What makes this article different from all the other detritus expelled from the garbage tanker that is BR is that: a) it repeated a vicious calumny about Stanford football (its pass defense is poor); b) Chase Thomas responded to this article and admitted that the pass defense is poor. (I'll spare you from linking to the initial story.)
It's here that I step in and announce: the pass defense is not only better than poor, it is excellent and has been since 2012. You just have to look at the right stats.
I did this last year responding to Jesse Palmer and it seems to be a common misconception, so I suppose I have to kill the point dead again. No need to admit to weakness, Chase Thomas!
It's true that if you simply look at yards surrendered that the Stanford D is average at best -- 78th in the country this year and 72nd last year. But let's apply some critical thinking: if Stanford were really below average at the type of play that's run the majority of the game, would it really be one of the very best defenses in the country, as general acclamation and your eyes readily told you? No, it wouldn't. This is a helpful tip that the stat you're looking at is not very useful.
So why does Stanford actually have an excellent pass defense? One reason is that the NCAA sucks and doesn't include sacks with pass yardage. This is odd, because a sack is definitely a bad thing the defense can do to an offense attempting to pass. Stanford does it quite frequently, as you may have noticed.
The NCAA's refusal to properly categorize stats disproportionately affects Stanford. (Though less so so far this year, as Stanford has faced an option team and three teams whose best solution to the challenges of the Stanford defense is a bubble screen fiesta. Can't get a sack when the ball is in the QB's hands for less than a second.)
But even if you simply use the NCAA's stats, Stanford still has a good pass defense. Stanford opponents have wisely chosen not to run on Stanford; "Hey, let's attack the Cardinal with the run!" ranks equally with "Hey, let's get involved in a land war in Asia!" in the Classic List of Big Blunders.
So instead they pass. Both last and this year, Stanford is facing the seventh-most passes in the country (the number of passes has gone way up, too: Stanford opponents threw the ball 40 times a game last year and 44 times a game this year. But this number is skewed by facing an option team). Simple logic indicates the more passes you face, the more passing yardage you give up; it's the rate that matters. Look, for a reductio ad absurdum: let's say your opponent threw 400 times a game for 400 yards. Is your argument really that this is a bad defense?
Of course not. So let's go with the proper statistic: yards per attempt. In 2012, Stanford gave up 6.1 YPA, ranking 16th in the country (tied with Alabama!). In 2013, Stanford's giving up 5.5 YPA for 13th in the country (after facing David Fales and Taylor Kelly, mind you). In other words, the Stanford pass defense is excellent.
Please don't make me write this article again about a high-performing Stanford pass defense in 2014. I don't think I can handle it any more.