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Week 1: Numbers Crunching

9/6/2008

Each week, Football Outsiders takes a look at every game on the NFL schedule with a mix of interesting numbers and in-depth statistical analysis. Much of the analysis is based on DVOA, which takes every single play during the season and compares it to the league average based on situation and opponent. DVOA and Football Outsiders' other advanced stats are explained here. Because it is the first week of the regular season, the analysis below is based on 2007 numbers.

All times Eastern

Redskins at Giants (Thursday), 7 p.m.

Last year, the Giants led the league in the percentage of dropped passes. Incidentally, the Redskins defense was the beneficiary of the most drops by the other offense.

Not only did the Giants lead the league in Adjusted Sack Rate last year (explained here) but their ASR of 12.6 percent on third down was more than three percentage points higher than any other NFL defense.

• More Redskins-Giants: Intel Report

Lions at Falcons, 1 p.m.

Last year, the Falcons threw deep (15 or more yards through the air) on only 14 percent of all passes. Lions opponents threw deep on just 13 percent of all passes. Both figures were the lowest in the NFL.

A lot of Detroit's early success last year had to do with opponents' poor luck on field goals. Lions opponents were a mind-boggling 5-for-14 on field goal attempts through the first eight games, but 12-for-13 in the final eight games.

• More Lions-Falcons: Intel Report | EA simulation

Seahawks at Bills, 1 p.m.

Don't be surprised to see Marshawn Lynch break a big run in this game. Over the past two years, the Seahawks have had one of the strongest fronts against the run -- tenth in Adjusted Line Yards in 2006, third in 2007 -- but they have trouble tackling once backs get to the second level. Last year, the Seahawks ranked 30th in percentage of rushing yards that came 10 or more yards past the line of scrimmage. In 2006, they were worst in the league by the same measure. (Adjusted Line Yards explained here)

Many people believe that Buffalo has a larger home-field advantage than the average franchise, but the Bills have opened the season at home in six of the past seven seasons, and they are just 2-4 in those games.

• More Seahawks-Bills: Intel Report | EA simulation

Jaguars at Titans, 1 p.m.

It's not a shock that a team with a running game as good as Jacksonville's would use a lot of play-action, and the Jaguars used it on 24 percent of pass plays, third in the NFL. However, while the average NFL team was 1.5 yards better on passes with play-action, the Jaguars actually averaged the same yardage both with and without play-action, 6.8 yards per pass play.

Tennessee's Justin Gage had 14 yards per reception last year with an average of 4.3 yards after the catch, while the rest of the Titans wideouts had 12.0 yards per reception with an average of 3.7 yards after the catch. Gage also had the highest catch rate of any of the Titans wide receivers (65 percent) even though he ran deeper routes than his teammates -- the average pass to Gage went 14.8 yards in the air, but the average pass to another Titans wide receiver went just 10.6 yards in the air.

• More Jaguars-Titans: Intel Report | EA simulation

Jets at Dolphins, 1 p.m.

According to DVOA, this game matches two of the three worst run defenses in the NFL in 2007. Only the Raiders were worse than the Jets and Dolphins.

Although the Jets had a below-average offense last year, they went three-and-out on just 19 percent of drives, sixth-best in the NFL.

• More Jets-Dolphins: Intel Report | EA simulation

Chiefs at Patriots, 1 p.m.

Once upon a time -- as in, anytime before 2007 -- it was a Patriots hallmark that the team changed offensive strategy to match the opponent's weakness. Last year, they ran their shotgun spread no matter who they were playing, becoming the first team to ever use shotgun over half the time. However, the Chiefs had the best defensive DVOA in the NFL against the shotgun last year, while they ranked 20th against standard formations with the quarterback under center. Overall, they were 10th in DVOA against the pass and 24th against the run. Laurence Maroney time?

Think Tony Gonzalez is the Chiefs' outlet on third downs? Actually, he's not. Last year, Gonzalez was thrown 50 percent more passes than Dwayne Bowe on first and second down, but Bowe was actually the more frequent target on third down.

• More Chiefs-Patriots: Intel Report | EA simulation

Buccaneers at Saints, 1 p.m.

Last year, Tampa Bay ranked first in the league in percentage of passes thrown to running backs on both offense and defense. The Saints' offense ranked second in percentage of passes thrown to running backs, so Reggie Bush could have a big day – if he doesn't fumble twice like he did both times the Saints played the Bucs in 2007.

The 2007 Buccaneers averaged 11.0 yards per pass when using play-action, the best figure in the NFL. The Saints allowed 11.8 yards per pass against play-action, the worst figure in the league.

• More Bucs-Saints: Intel Report | EA simulation

Rams at Eagles, 1 p.m.

Get out that fullback, St. Louis. The 2007 Rams averaged 1.3 yards more per carry with two running backs in the backfield than when they had just one back in the game. The Eagles defense gave up a yard more per carry with two running backs compared to with one running back. Both figures were the highest in the NFL.

Both the Rams and Eagles love to send the big blitz. They were two of the three teams that sent seven or eight pass rushers on more than four percent of all plays (Washington was the other).

• More Rams-Eagles: Intel Report | EA simulation

Texans at Steelers, 1 p.m.

Houston's offense ranked 30th in average yards after catch last year (3.9), while Pittsburgh's defense allowed the fewest average yards after catch (3.6).

For two straight seasons, Pittsburgh has had the best defense in the league against passes to running backs.

• More Texans-Steelers: Intel Report | EA simulation

Bengals at Ravens, 1 p.m.

Terrell Suggs made his average tackle on running plays after a gain of just 1.5 yards. Jarret Johnson made his average run tackle after just 1.7 yards, and Bart Scott made his average run tackle after just 1.8 yards. These were the three of the four lowest figures by linebackers with at least 20 run tackles. (The lowest was actually Lance Briggs of Chicago, 1.3 yards). Suggs made the lead tackle on nine different plays that stopped runners behind the line of scrimmage.

Cincinnati was the only offense in the league to use a play-action fake on fewer than 10 percent of all pass plays in 2007.

• More Bengals-Ravens: Intel Report | EA simulation

Panthers at Chargers, 4:15 p.m.

In 2007, the Chargers were the league's best defense in the red zone, and ranked second on offense. The Panthers were in the bottom ten in the red zone on both offense and defense.

Last year, the Panthers were the only team in the league to run more than half the time on second-and-long. However, last year, the Chargers defense faced passes on second-and-long more often than any other defense (70.5 percent of plays).

• More Panthers-Chargers: Intel Report | EA simulation

Cardinals at 49ers, 4:15 p.m.

Some people think Vernon Davis can have a breakout year in the Mike Martz offense, but it isn't likely to start in Week 1. Last year the Cardinals defense ranked third in DVOA against tight ends, and they held Davis to 49 yards on eight catches in two games.

Don't get too excited if you see some pass pressure in this game. The 49ers had the only defense in the league to allow positive passing DVOA even when they hurried the quarterback. The Cardinals' defense wasn't much better, ranking 30th when they hurried the quarterback.

• More Cardinals-49ers: Intel Report | EA simulation

Cowboys at Browns, 4:15 p.m.

Cleveland and Dallas shared an interesting trend in common last year: they had two of the more powerful offenses in the league, but both offenses had trouble getting it going early. The Cowboys ranked 25th in DVOA during the first quarter, but third the rest of the game. The Browns ranked 29th in the first quarter and sixth the rest of the game.

According to the Football Outsiders game charting project, the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware led all NFL linebackers in quarterback hits and hurries last year; the Browns' Kamerion Wimbley was second in hits and fourth in hurries.

• More Cowboys-Browns: Intel Report | EA simulation

Bears at Colts, 8:15 p.m.

The Bears offense is a mess right now except for tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen, so perhaps it is a good thing that they are opening against the Colts. Last year, Colts opponents threw to tight ends 24 percent of the time, the highest percentage in the league.

One of the more common strategies against the Colts for the last few years has been the draw play; however, Chicago ran the fewest draws in the league in 2006, and ran the second-fewest last year, ahead of only Buffalo.

• More Bears-Colts: Intel Report | EA simulation

Vikings at Packers, 7 p.m. (Monday)

Beware the screen to Adrian Peterson: Green Bay allowed 6.6 yards per pass on passes behind the line of scrimmage, worse than any other defense in 2007.

The 2007 Packers ran shotgun formations 42 percent of the time, which led the NFC and was third in the league behind the Patriots and Jets. Minnesota opponents used shotgun on 37 percent of all plays, the highest figure in the NFL. The Green Bay offense was much better in shotgun, and the Vikings defense was much worse against it.

• More Vikings-Packers: Intel Report | EA simulation

Broncos at Raiders, 10:15 p.m. (Monday)

Last year, the Broncos allowed 8.8 yards per play after a play-action fake, but just 5.6 yards on the average pass play without a fake. When using a play-fake, the Raiders offense improved from a dismal 31st in yards per play (4.9 yards) to an underwhelming (but better) 23rd (6.4 yards).

Raiders quarterbacks ended up outside the pocket on 26 percent of all pass plays in 2007, the highest figure in the league.

• More Broncos-Raiders: Intel Report | EA simulation

Aaron Schatz is president of Football Outsiders Inc. and the lead author of "Pro Football Prospectus 2008," now on sale online and in bookstores everywhere.