Commentary

Week 4: Numbers Crunching

Originally Published: September 25, 2008
By Bill Barnwell | 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

Browns at Bengals, 1 p.m

Last year, the Browns were 17th in the league in defensive DVOA on first down, but 29th in the league on second down. Through three games of the 2008 campaign, they're 30th in the league on first downs, and 21st in the league on second down.

Fortunately for the Browns, the Cincinnati offense has also seen its first-down performance deteriorate. Last year, the Bengals were fifth in the league on first down; this year, they're a woeful 29th.

• More Browns-Bengals: Intel Report | EA simulation

Texans at Jaguars, 1 p.m.

The Texans have absolutely fallen apart in the red zone in 2008; offensively, they rank 30th (including dead last when passing the ball); defensively, they're the worst in the league when the opponent gets inside the Houston 20.

Jacksonville's defense continues to struggle in the first half of games. Last year, the Jaguars' defense was 19th in the league in first-half DVOA, but sixth in the third and fourth quarters. This year, they're 25th in the first half, eighth in the second.

• More Texans-Jaguars: Intel Report | EA simulation

Falcons at Panthers, 1 p.m

Matt Ryan still has a ways to go when it comes to attacking in the red zone; while Atlanta's rushing offense is third best in the league inside the 20, its passing offense is only 24th.

Atlanta might enjoy being on the road this week; in 2007, Carolina's defensive DVOA was 24th in the league at home, but sixth away from Bank of America Stadium.

• More Falcons-Panthers: Intel Report | EA simulation

Broncos at Chiefs, 1 p.m.

Denver's repeating an interesting trend from a year ago. In 2007, the Broncos' offensive DVOA was 17th in the NFL on first down, but fifth on second down. This year, they go from 10th on first down to the best in football on second down.

If you're looking for a bright spot for Kansas City, the Chiefs are no slouches on second down themselves. Although their offensive DVOA has been the worst in the league by a wide margin on first down, they get all the way up to 10th on second down.

• More Broncos-Chiefs: Intel Report | EA simulation

49ers at Saints, 1 p.m

This year, the 49ers' offensive DVOA is 27th in the league for the first quarter, but fourth best in the NFL in the second quarter. That's a huge step forward from last year, when it was worst in the league in the first quarter and worst in the league for the second quarter as well.

The Saints still can't figure out second down offensively. In 2007, they were 15th in the league in second-and-short situations, and 11th in the league in second-and-medium situations, but 25th in the league on second-and-long. This year, they're 14th on second-and-short, fourth in second-and-medium, but 29th on second-and-long.

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

Cardinals at Jets, 1 p.m.

Last year, the Jets had the worst defense in the league against runs on second down. After acquiring Kris Jenkins, they've improved that to a respectable 13th. However, their pass defense on second down has gone from 28th to 31st.

The Cardinals are apparently coming to the stadium already awake this season. Their offense was 31st in the league in the first quarter of 2007 games, but it's seventh best in 2008 during the opening stanza.

• More Cardinals-Jets: Intel Report | EA simulation

Packers at Buccaneers, 1 p.m

Tampa will happily be near their pirate ship this week; the 2007 Packers were seventh in the league in home defensive DVOA, but 24th in the league on the road.

Through three weeks, the Buccaneers defense has been the best in football during the first half of games, but 25th in the second half.

• More Packers-Buccaneers: Intel Report | EA simulation

Vikings at Titans, 1 p.m

Minnesota was the best rushing team in the league inside the red zone last year; in 2008, the Vikings are only 18th in football.

One of our leading indicators that a team will do better or worse in the following season is how the team did on third down relative to first and second down. If there's a huge gap, it tends to disappear the year after. Last year, the Titans' defense was second in the league on first down, third on second down, but 17th on third down. This year? Fifth on first down, first on second down and second on third down.

• More Vikings-Titans: Intel Report | EA simulation

Chargers at Raiders, 4:05 p.m

Oakland's run defense has improved dramatically. After being last in the league in defensive rushing DVOA a year ago, the Raiders are up to 18th in the league this year.

The Chargers were 25th in the league offensively on first downs last year; so far in 2008, they're third in the league.

• More Chargers-Raiders: Intel Report | EA simulation

Bills at Rams, 4:05 p.m.

The Rams' defense is 31st in the league on first down, last in the league on second down and 29th on third down. There was not a single team in the league that was even below 25th in the league on all three downs last year.

Buffalo has the best red zone offense in football this year, only a year after being third worst in the league at moving the ball inside its opponent's 20.

• More Bills-Rams: Intel Report | EA simulation

Redskins at Cowboys, 4:15 p.m.

Last year, the Cowboys' defense was 20th on first and third downs, but second on second downs. This year, Dallas is 12th on first down, eighth on third down, but 28th on second down. That could bode well for the Redskins, whose offense is second best in the league on second downs through three weeks.

The 2007 Redskins defense was the best in the league during the first half of games, but 25th during the second half; that's totally flipped around in 2008, where the team is 22nd in first-half defensive DVOA, but ninth best in the second half.

• More Redskins-Cowboys: Intel Report | EA simulation

Eagles at Bears, 8:15 p.m

Philly could be heading for a fall defensively. The Eagles' defense has been 17th in the league on first down in 2008, and 12th on second down, but risen all the way to third on third downs.

One place Kyle Orton can do no wrong: the red zone. There, Orton's offense is fourth in the league in passing DVOA, up from 25th a year ago. (Note: Continued lack of failure by Orton is not guaranteed in the continental United States or Alaska.) .

• More Eagles-Bears: Intel Report | EA simulation

Ravens at Steelers, 8:30 p.m. (Monday)

The Ravens have been on another planet when it comes to third- and fourth-down performance so far this year. They're not only best in the league in defensive DVOA on those downs, but the second-place team (Tennessee) is closer to 25th place than it is to first. What will that mean for the Pittsburgh offense? Hard to say, because while the Steelers' offense is 30th on third down this season, it was second in the NFL on third down in 2007.

Pittsburgh's first halves have taken a step forward … and a step back. Last year, the Steelers' offense was 24th in the league in the first quarter, but all the way up to the seventh best in the second. This year, their first-quarter offense is sixth in the NFL, but their second-quarter offense drops all the way down to 30th.

• More Ravens-Steelers: Intel Report | EA simulation

Bill Barnwell is an analyst for FootballOutsiders.com.

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