Commentary

Week 3: Numbers Crunching

Updated: September 19, 2008, 8:29 PM ET
By Aaron Schatz | Football Outsiders.com

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. It is still early in the season, so this week's Numbers Crunching presents a mixture of 2007 full-season stats and early numbers from 2008. Remember that 2008 numbers represent a very small sample size.

All times Eastern

Chiefs at Falcons, 1 p.m.

So far this season -- not adjusting for strength of schedule -- Atlanta has the league's best offense on first down, and Kansas City has the league's worst offense on first down.

Last year, Atlanta and Kansas City were two of the league's three worst teams on field goals. So far this year, both teams have been above average.

• More Chiefs-Falcons: Intel Report

Panthers at Vikings, 1 p.m.

Carolina simply will have to stop the Vikings in the red zone. Last year, the Panthers' rush defense DVOA was only 20th in the league when the offense got inside the 20. The Vikings were best in the league at running the ball in the red zone.

Carolina was abysmal last year on third down; it was last in the league in offensive DVOA on third-and-short situations. Minnesota was surprisingly only 22nd at stopping them, but whichever team steps up its game in those situations will get a few extra series out of it.

• More Panthers-Vikings: Intel Report

Dolphins at Patriots, 1 p.m.

After two weeks, New England has the league's top defense on first down according to DVOA, but the Patriots rank just 25th on third down.

Last year, Miami used play-action more than any other team, but was one of the few teams that actually had a lower DVOA on play-action passes than on non-play-action passes. Meanwhile, Chad Pennington rarely used play-action as quarterback of the Jets, but when he did, he averaged over five yards more per pass compared to plays where he didn't use a play fake before the pass.

• More Dolphins-Patriots: Intel Report

Bengals at Giants, 1 p.m.

The Bengals ranked fourth in the league in third-and-long situations last year; unfortunately, they'll have to try to get off those long plays against the fearsome Giants pass rush.

If Cincinnati gets inside the 10, it'll be all right. The Bengals' offense had the best goal-to-go DVOA of any team in football a year ago; the Giants' defense was 30th in stopping those plays.

• More Bengals-Giants: Intel Report

Cardinals at Redskins, 1 p.m.

Running the ball on third and fourth downs could be an exercise in mutual futility. The Redskins were 29th in the league on offense last year, while the Cardinals were dead last on defense. What happens when the movable force meets the stoppable object?

Expect to see each team spread the field. The Cardinals were the third-most likely team to go four-wide in 2007, while the Redskins were ninth.

• More Cardinals-Redskins: Intel Report

Texans at Titans, 1 p.m.

In the fourth quarter of their first game last year, the Texans' Sage Rosenfels threw for 255 yards and four touchdowns; in the other seven quarters the two teams played, Rosenfels threw for a total of 220 yards and one score.

Houston's first downs will be a difficult proposition. Tennessee had the best run defense in the league on first down last year, but the Texans were 31st in the league when throwing on first down.

• More Texans-Titans: Intel Report

Buccaneers at Bears, 1 p.m.

Both these teams had bizarre second-half splits; the Bucs were third in the league in 2007 in third-quarter defensive DVOA, but 24th in the league in the fourth quarter, while the Bears were fourth in the third quarter and 25th in the fourth.

Another movable force versus stoppable object matchup: The Bears were 30th in the league in goal-to-go situations last year, while the Buccaneers were 28th at stopping teams inside the 10.

• More Buccaneers-Bears: Intel Report

Raiders at Bills, 1 p.m.

Oakland had the worst first-down offense in the league last year; Buffalo's defense was 11th in 2007 on first down, so expect a lot of second-and-12 situations for JaMarcus Russell to play with.

If the Raiders are buried deep in their own end, they might just want to consider punting. In the "deep" zone, the name we give to the space in between a team's own end zone and the 20-yard line, the Raiders had the worst offense of 2007. The Bills' defense was sixth in the same space.

• More Raiders-Bills: Intel Report

Saints at Broncos, 4:05 p.m.

Department of Things Unlikely to Continue: New Orleans ranks second in the NFL in defensive DVOA on third down this season, even though it ranks 27th in defensive DVOA overall.

Selvin Young, get ready to run: Through two games, Denver's offense leads the league in Adjusted Line Yards, while the New Orleans defense is 31st, ahead of only Detroit.

• More Saints-Broncos: Intel Report

Rams at Seahawks, 4:05 p.m.

In 2007, the Rams and Seahawks ranked third and fourth in the NFL when it came to sending seven or more pass-rushers on defense.

After two weeks, Seattle rookie John Carlson is second among all tight ends in Yards Above Replacement (YAR), behind only Jason Witten. However, second-year wideout Courtney Taylor is second to last among all wide receivers in YAR, ahead of only Braylon Edwards.

• More Rams-Seahawks: Intel Report

Lions at 49ers, 4:05 p.m.

The Lions were supposed to be running a more conventional, run-oriented offense with Mike Martz gone, right? Last year, they led the league by passing on 69 percent of all plays. This year, they're second behind Indianapolis, passing on 73 percent of all plays. Meanwhile, Martz's new offense in San Francisco is actually passing less often this year (64 percent of plays in 2007, 61 percent so far in 2008).

San Francisco's Andy Lee, the best punter in the NFL by leaps and bounds in 2007, has been below average through the first two games of 2008.

• More Lions-49ers: Intel Report

Browns at Ravens, 4:15 p.m.

Through two weeks, the Browns are one of only two teams with positive value in all five areas of special teams that we track (field goals, kickoffs, punts, kick returns and punt returns). The other team with positive value in all five is New England.

The Browns may be having offensive difficulties compared to 2007, but in one area they have remained strong: Derek Anderson has taken only three sacks, ranking the Browns sixth so far in Adjusted Sack Rate.

• More Browns-Ravens: Intel Report

Jaguars at Colts, 4:15 p.m.

Need an illustration of the offensive line disintegration in both Indianapolis and Jacksonville this year? Through two games, the Jaguars and Colts rank 31st and 32nd in Adjusted Line Yards, and they rank 32nd and 31st in percentage of runs stuffed at the line. The Colts currently rank 12th in Adjusted Sack Rate on offense; since drafting Peyton Manning in 1998, the Colts have never finished below seventh in ASR. (ALY and ASR explained here.)

Last year, the Colts went three-wide (including formations with Dallas Clark in the slot) more often than any other offense. The Jaguars went three-wide less often than any other offense except San Diego's.

• More Jaguars-Colts: Intel Report

Steelers at Eagles, 4:15 p.m.

Through two weeks, the Steelers have the league's top offense in the red zone, and the Eagles are third. However, on defense, the Steelers rank fourth in the NFL in the red zone, while the Eagles rank 27th.

Brian Westbrook leads all running backs with a Success Rate (explained here) of 62 percent this season. Although Willie Parker is third in the league in rushing yards, he ranks 27th in Success Rate (40 percent) among backs with at least 20 carries.

Last year, Mike Tomlin and Andy Reid were the NFL's two most conservative coaches on fourth down.

• More Steelers-Eagles: Intel Report

Cowboys at Packers, 8:15 p.m.

Through two weeks, the Cowboys and Packers are the league's top two offenses on third down.

The 2007 Packers threw to the middle of the field more often than any other team, and threw to the left side less often than any other team -- a trend that is even more curious when you consider that the official scorer at Lambeau Field marked passes as "middle" at a rate far below the league average. The Packers are even more likely to throw it in the middle of the field when you consider that Cowboys opponents last year threw up the middle 32 percent of the time, third in the league.

• More Cowboys-Packers: Intel Report

Jets at Chargers, 8:30 p.m. (Monday)

In 2007, the Chargers ran on first down 60 percent of the time, and the Jets ran on first down 58 percent of the time. Those numbers ranked second and third in the NFL behind Pittsburgh.

Department of Inconsistent Statistics: In 2006, the Chargers led the league in offensive DVOA during the fourth quarter. Last year, they sank to 30th in the league. So far through two games in 2008, the Chargers once again lead the league in offensive DVOA.

• More Jets-Chargers: Intel Report

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.