Commentary

Brown's performance good but not among all-time best

Originally Published: September 22, 2008
By Bill Barnwell | Football Outsiders.com

Three weeks ago, Ronnie Brown was the Dolphins' backup running back, sitting behind a guy who'd carried the ball six times in the previous two seasons.

Although it's simplistic to say he beat the Patriots by himself in Week 3, Brown was the class of the league. If the post-Tom Brady Patriots don't make it to the playoffs, their epitaph may very well be the miserable excuse for a tackle Brandon Meriweather attempted to put on Brown on the Miami running back's fourth touchdown run of the day. As Brown drilled Meriweather's attempted head butt into the ground, he seemed well on his way to a day that would put him in the annals of single-game YAR (yards above replacement) history.

Instead, for all of Brown's touchdowns, he and his 92 YAR don't even make the list of the top 20 running back games since 1995, the year our advanced stats begin. (You can find the full list here.)

It's surprising, but the reasons why are threefold. First, Brown carried the ball only 17 times for 113 yards. Although he scored on four of those runs, and gets bonuses for all his touchdowns, you can only rack up so much value in 17 carries. Second, though he threw for a touchdown, Brown caught only one pass; most of the top running back games featured at least 200 combined rushing and receiving yards. The best game, by Priest Holmes in Week 12 of 2002, earned 157 DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) with 197 rushing yards, 100 receiving yards, and three combined touchdowns.

Finally, all of the games of the past have been adjusted for opponent, but we haven't done that with Brown's game yet. Later in the year, once we start adjusting for the strength of New England's defense and retroactively apply those adjustments to games from earlier in the year, the context of Brown's performance will come to light and he'll likely receive a boost that could bump him into the top 20.

By then, maybe the Dolphins will even have given him the starting job outright.

Here are the rest of the best and worst players of Week 3, according to the Football Outsiders YAR statistics.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
YAR
Pass
YAR
Rush
YAR
EYds
1.
Drew Brees NO
39/47
421
1
0
222
240
-19
547
Think about how impressive this was for a minute. Brees completed nearly 83 percent of his passes and gained nearly 9 yards on each attempt. Not each completion -- each attempt. In the middle of the game, Brees completed 14 consecutive passes for 174 yards and nine first downs. And that's against Champ Bailey and Dre' Bly, too.
2.
Chad Pennington MIA
17/20
227
0
0
163
163
0
331
Vikings fans will go to their grave remembering that they could've had Pennington, the ideal quarterback for Minnesota's offensive scheme, for free this offseason. Brad Childress remained committed to Tarvaris Jackson, and Pennington went to Miami. The famously noodle-armed Pennington had five consecutive completions for 15-plus yards against the Patriots.
3.
Eli Manning NYG
26/42
289
1
0
158
158
0
443
No one thinks of Manning as having elite arm strength, but he has a habit of unleashing a howitzer over the middle when he gets close to the goal line. His touchdown pass to Kevin Boss on Sunday was reminiscent of the touchdown pass to David Tyree in the Super Bowl; just an absolute rocket of a throw.
4.
J.T. O'Sullivan SF
16/23
189
2
0
138
128
11
341
A performance that'll be tempered some when opponent adjustments are factored in, but O'Sullivan was efficient, effective and stayed upright: He was sacked only once.
5.
Jay Cutler DEN
21/34
264
2
1
132
127
5
377
Is there a better MVP candidate through three weeks than Cutler? There was something ironic about Cutler's Sunday ending on a fumble (by Tony Scheffler) inside the opposition's 10-yard line only a week after the Hochuli Disaster.
6.
Matt Hasselbeck SEA
12/20
172
1
0
114
102
12
291
Again, another figure that'll be altered downward by opponent adjustments. Remember, though: Hasselbeck's targets for this game included Michael Bumpus, Billy McMullen, Keary Colbert, Courtney Taylor, John Carlson and Will Heller. That counts for something, too.
7.
Jason Campbell WAS
22/30
193
2
0
110
97
12
328
Campbell looks more assured with each week in Jim Zorn's offense, as evidenced by his comfort level in targeting different receivers. Unlike Week 1, when Campbell focused almost exclusively on Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El, he targeted Chris Cooley seven times in Week 3 and gave two looks each to Devin Thomas, Clinton Portis and Todd Yoder. That's the sign of a quarterback with the patience -- and protection -- to go through his progressions.
8.
Matt Ryan ATL
12/18
192
1
0
106
99
7
242
Ryan's quarterback ratings over the first three weeks: 137.0, 29.6, 120.6. You'll never guess which week he played the real defense. Now, the Falcons get to go against Carolina, Green Bay, Chicago and Philadelphia; when Ryan struggles, astute fans will remember he beat up on creampuffs in Weeks 1 and 3.
9.
Carson Palmer CIN
27/38
286
1
0
80
69
11
356
Palmer should have been livid at Levi Jones after this game; the Bengals' left tackle allowed two sacks, committed two false starts and basically laid a path for Mathias Kiwanuka to get to Palmer throughout the day. The only time Palmer stayed upright was in the fourth quarter, and he picked up 122 YAR; the rest of the game saw him put up a woeful minus-53 YAR.
10.
David Garrard JAC
16/22
167
0
1
71
70
2
230
The Jaguars' season may very well have been saved by the questionable pass interference call given to Freddie Keiaho on a fourth-and-1on the Jaguars' final drive. It was a masterful drive from the Jaguars' quarterback; including the penalty as a completion with the related yardage (since it was just as good as a catch), Garrard went 6-of-7 for 47 yards when the Jaguars desperately needed it.
11.
Kerry Collins TEN
14/26
189
1
1
58
48
11
242
The biggest difference between Collins and Vince Young as passers is their touch on underneath throws. Young doesn't have any, while Collins can throw passes to Chris Johnson in stride and let the speed demon abuse embattled linebackers.
12.
Trent Edwards BUF
24/39
284
1
1
56
56
0
303
13.
Brian Griese TB
39/67
407
2
3
50
50
0
429
Four hundred seven yards looks great until you realize that it took Griese an astounding 67 attempts to get there. The worst 60-plus-attempt game of all time has to be Chris Weinke's against an awful Arizona defense in 2001; Weinke went 36-of-63 for 223 yards.
14.
Kyle Orton CHI
22/34
268
2
2
37
38
0
268
Our system doesn't give credit to Orton for attempting to tackle Gaines Adams on the goal line, although we applaud his attempt. Then again, our system also doesn't punish Orton any extra for throwing a screen pass straight into the hands of a defensive end to begin with.
15.
Kurt Warner ARI
16/30
192
2
1
36
36
0
232
16.
Aaron Rodgers GB
22/37
290
0
0
35
30
5
274
17.
Gus Frerotte MIN
16/28
204
1
1
29
30
-2
196
You remember when you were a kid and asked for, say, a radio-controlled car for Christmas? And then you got the car on Christmas and opened it up and put batteries in and went into the hallway and went to control the car, only to realize that your parents had got a cheaper version of the one your friend had and the remote didn't really work all that well? Gus Frerotte is that car, Vikings fans, and you have to make do with him for another whole year before you can ask for a cooler gift.
18.
Donovan McNabb PHI
24/35
196
1
1
28
28
0
228
In cunning fashion, McNabb missed just enough time with an injury to allow Kevin Kolb to throw an interception, pre-emptively silencing Philadelphia sports talk radio callers insisting on Kolb's ascension to the starting lineup for weeks to come.
19.
JaMarcus Russell OAK
9/19
156
1
0
16
7
8
137
Russell's still operating mostly on sheer talent, but he's beginning to show signs of being a quarterback as opposed to a passer. His play-fakes against the Bills were excellent, throwing off the cameramen on multiple occasions.
20.
Peyton Manning IND
15/29
216
1
2
-5
-11
6
167
This was the first game since Nov. 4, 2001, in which Manning accrued more DYAR rushing instead of passing. This happening more than once every seven years or so would be a bad idea for Manning and the Colts.
21.
Marc Bulger STL
18/31
184
1
1
-9
-9
0
150
22.
Tony Romo DAL
19/30
260
1
1
-22
-22
0
128
Romo scuffled all game, and took two damaging sacks in the red zone, but his throw to Miles Austin to seal the game was a thing of beauty.
23.
Joe Flacco BAL
13/19
129
0
2
-40
-22
-18
41
24.
Jake Delhomme CAR
17/29
191
0
0
-47
-47
0
106
25.
Jon Kitna DET
15/30
146
1
1
-78
-89
11
92
26.
Matt Cassel NE
19/31
131
1
1
-117
-86
-31
27
It could be worse. Last time the Patriots lost in the regular season, Tom Brady was 12-of-25 for 78 yards.
27.
Ben Roethlisberger PIT
14/25
131
0
1
-134
-119
-15
-25
28.
Tyler Thigpen KC
14/36
128
1
3
-184
-193
8
-43
We were as shocked as you are to discover that this was not the worst quarterback performance of the day.
29.
Matt Schaub HOU
17/37
188
0
3
-216
-220
4
-59
30.
Derek Anderson CLE
14/37
125
1
3
-241
-240
-1
-129
Remember -- the Browns didn't have a Day 1 pick this year because Phil Savage refused to deal Anderson this offseason. Forget Brady Quinn; Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman could do better than this. She'd probably only overthrow Braylon Edwards on curls by a couple of feet.
Five most valuable running backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
YAR
Rush
YAR
Rec
YAR
EYds
1.
Ronnie Brown MIA
113
4
9
0
92
55
5
230
Brown's DYAR and effective yards don't add up because we include his passing touchdown in the data; outside of the 62-yard run that sealed the game, Brown had only two runs of more than 5 yards.
2.
Maurice Jones-Drew JAC
107
1
59
0
65
44
21
193
It was questioned whether MJD would even suit up this week, but he did and was brilliant, picking up nine first downs and a touchdown on the day.
3.
Reggie Bush NO
73
1
75
1
50
17
33
225
If Bush could be this player every week, he'd be one of the most valuable players in the league. He had a 61 percent success rate on the ground after succeeding only 29 percent of the time when carrying the ball through the first two weeks, capping his day off with a 23-yard touchdown run.
4.
Joseph Addai IND
78
2
10
0
48
52
-4
157
If you panicked after two weeks and traded Addai even though he started the season against two elite run defenses, you should've looked at the schedule. If you acquired Michael Turner, who doesn't get to play Detroit or Kansas City again, you also should've looked at the schedule. Also, you might want to see if you can get out of your league dues.
5.
Derrick Ward NYG
80
0
26
0
43
29
13
123
Ward impressed with four gains of 13-plus yards; if he'd actually finished off one of his three carries inside the Bengals' 7-yard line and scored a touchdown, he'd be even higher on this list.
Least valuable running back
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
YAR
Rush
YAR
Rec
YAR
EYds
1.
Earnest Graham TB
16
0
0
0
-30
-30
0
0
Here's Graham's full day in regulation: minus-4 yards on first-and-10; 7 yards on first-and-10; 1 yard on second-and-5; stuffed on third-and-1; minus-4 yards on first-and-10 again; 1 yard on second-and-3; minus-1 yard on first-and-10; 1 yard on first-and-10; 2 yards on second-and-10. That's how to get Brian Griese to throw 67 times.
Five most valuable wide receivers and tight ends
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
YAR
EYds
1.
Brandon Marshall DEN
6
11
155
25.8
1
71
183
Suitably chastened by his failure to crack the top five last week, Marshall put on a show; he had five incompletions, but on the six completions and the pass interference penalty he earned, Marshall averaged 22 yards a play.
2.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh CIN
12
15
146
12.2
1
58
181
Houshmandzadeh absolutely took over this game for the Bengals. He caught 11 straight passes into overtime to help the Bengals tie the game.
3.
Brandon Lloyd CHI
6
9
124
20.7
1
51
136
Lloyd had never caught more than two passes in a game against the Buccaneers until Sunday. Despite being matched up on Ronde Barber's side, Lloyd used his size to box the smaller corner out and create options downfield for Kyle Orton. Now, just one question -- why hasn't he done that in the past four years?
4.
Roddy White ATL
5
7
119
23.8
1
51
118
White caught the 70-yard touchdown pass, but also caught four other first downs on the day and kept the chains moving for Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood.
5.
Miles Austin DAL
2
3
115
57.5
1
50
90
Going 2-for-3 is fine; at least it is when you pick up 115 yards and a touchdown on these three throws.
Least valuable wide receiver or tight end
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
YAR
EYds
5.
Kellen Winslow CLE
2
13
14
7.0
0
-48
-47
Let's just hope the vibrations caused by an entire nation jumping off the Browns bandwagon doesn't hurt Winslow's knee. Actually -- if he's going to go 2-for-13, well, it might be a step forward.

Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) is a staff writer for Grantland.

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