Commentary

Week 7: Numbers Crunching

Originally Published: October 16, 2008
By Aaron Schatz | Football Outsiders

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. Unless listed otherwise, all rankings are of league-wide DVOA.

All times Eastern

Chargers at Bills, 1 p.m.

Don't be surprised if LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles see a lot of runs go nowhere -- as well as a couple of huge highlight plays. Buffalo's defensive line ranks third in the NFL stuffing opposing running backs at the line, but the Bills give up a lot of longer runs, and they rank 29th in the NFL against running backs in the passing game.

Buffalo and San Diego share an interesting characteristic: improvement after halftime. So far in 2008, both teams are below average on both offense and defense in the first half of games ... and then both teams are above average on both offense and defense in the second half.

• More Chargers-Bills: Intel Report | EA simulation

Saints at Panthers, 1 p.m.

New Orleans doesn't have a strong defense in general (18th in DVOA) but Carolina is going to have trouble scoring in the red zone. New Orleans ranks second in defensive DVOA in the red zone, while Carolina's offense ranks 25th.

Jonathan Stewart, meet Jonathan Vilma. Now that Vilma's knee is healthy, the new Saints middle linebacker has been part of 29 percent of his team's run tackles, the highest percentage of any player in the league.

• More Saints-Panthers: Intel Report | EA simulation

Vikings at Bears, 1 p.m.

The Vikings have a great running game, right? Not so far this year. Vikings running backs are averaging a reasonable 4.27 yards per carry, but thanks to fumbles and struggles on third down, Minnesota actually ranks 30th in rushing offense DVOA, including 31st running in the red zone.

Is a big Devin Hester day coming? So far, Minnesota ranks last in the Football Outsiders special teams ratings. The Vikings are below average in all five categories, including last in punting and 29th in net kickoff value.

• More Vikings-Bears: Intel Report | EA simulation

Steelers at Bengals, 1 p.m.

Pittsburgh's defense is strongest where Cincinnati's offense is weakest -- when the Bengals are stuck on their own side of the field. Cincinnati ranks 30th in offensive DVOA between the goal line and their own 40, while Pittsburgh ranks second in defense when their opponents are between the goal line and their own 40.

If you own Dhani Jones in a fantasy football IDP league, you are in for a great week. Jones already leads the league in tackles, but this week he faced a Steelers offense that runs up the middle 60 percent of the time, the fourth-highest frequency in the NFL.

• More Steelers-Bengals: Intel Report | EA simulation

Titans at Chiefs, 1 p.m.

DVOA says that Kansas City and Tennessee are the two worst offenses in the league passing on first down, but there's bad and then there's Kansas City-bad. Tennessee is 50 percent less efficient than the average offense when passing on first down. Kansas City is 131.5 percent less efficient.

Tennessee's defense is the best in the league during the first quarter and the fourth quarter ... but ranks 22nd in the second quarter and 16th in the third quarter.

• More Titans-Chiefs: Intel Report | EA simulation

Ravens at Dolphins, 1 p.m.

Baltimore's defense has forced three-and-out on a league-leading 38 percent of drives. Although Miami's offense has been excellent overall thanks to big plays (a surprising sixth in the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings), the Dolphins have gone three-and-out on 31 percent of drives. Only five offenses have gone three-and-out more frequently.

Who says Ray Lewis is over the hill? Lewis and Chicago's Lance Briggs share the league lead with 13 Defeats, a stat combining turnovers, tackles for a loss, and plays that prevent a third-down conversion.

• More Ravens-Dolphins: Intel Report | EA simulation

49ers at Giants, 1 p.m.

One longtime hallmark of the Mike Martz offense is that the quarterback takes a lot of sacks. That hasn't changed with J.T. O'Sullivan, who leads the league with 23 sacks even though Martz has tight ends and fullbacks stay back to block far more often than he did in St. Louis or Detroit. He might be a sitting duck for the Giants' pass rush, unless the 49ers can figure out something from the tape of Monday night's game. The Giants were leading the league in Adjusted Sack Rate, but dropped to sixth after they couldn't get to Derek Anderson once all night.

In the second half of close games (within a touchdown), the only team with an offense better than the Giants has been Washington ... but the only team with a defense worse than the Giants has been St. Louis.

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

Cowboys at Rams, 1 p.m.

The resistible force means the movable object: St. Louis ranks dead last in the NFL in power run situations, converting just 50 percent of the time. Dallas ranks dead last on defense, allowing conversions on 10 of 11 power runs so far. (Power situations include third and fourth down with 1-2 yards to go, plus any run within two yards of the goal line.)

The Dallas defense ranks fourth in DVOA during the first quarter, but 28th from the second quarter on.

• More Cowboys-Rams: Intel Report | EA simulation

Lions at Texans, 4:05 p.m.

The play-by-play database we use to create DVOA goes back to the 1995 season, and out of every team in those 14 seasons, the 2008 Lions and 2008 Texans have two of the five worst defenses through five games (The other three: another current team, the Rams, and the 2005 and 2006 Texans). Take the over. Detroit traded Roy Williams just in time to face a team that takes the opposition's top receiver out of the game.

Houston ranks fourth in DVOA against number-one receivers but 30th against number twos. Detroit, meanwhile, ranks last in the league against both number-one receivers and tight ends, not the best combination when playing a team whose top two weapons in the passing game are Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels.

• More Lions-Texans: Intel Report | EA simulation

Colts at Packers, 4:15 p.m.

The Colts' running problems are all on first down. Indianapolis ranks 30th in rushing DVOA on first down, but third on second down and second on third down.

Green Bay's defense has had trouble getting off the field on third downs. The Packers defense ranks 10th on first down, ninth on second down, but 25th on third down.

• More Colts-Packers: Intel Report | EA simulation

Jets at Raiders, 4:15 p.m.

Gibril Wilson has been in on more than 20 percent of Oakland's run tackles, the highest percentage of any safety in the league.

Oakland currently ranks first in the Football Outsiders special teams ratings after finishing 29th, 26th, and 29th over the past three seasons.

• More Jets-Raiders: Intel Report | EA simulation

Browns at Redskins, 4:15 p.m.

The best way to get your offense going is to make steady running gains on first down, creating second-and-short situations where you can run any kind of play you want. The Redskins should be able to do this since their DVOA ranks third running on first down, and the Browns defense ranks 27th against the run.

One hidden reason for Cleveland's struggles this season: injuries to Josh Cribbs. After having one of the greatest kickoff return seasons of all time in 2007, Cribbs' value is actually below-average so far in 2008.

• More Browns-Redskins: Intel Report | EA simulation

Seahawks at Buccaneers, 8:15 p.m.

The Tampa Bay defense ranks second against the run on first down, but 30th against the pass. However, the Seahawks will have trouble taking advantage of this, since their passing game also ranks 30th on first down.

Seahawks safety Brian Russell has made his average run tackle 12.3 yards away from the line of scrimmage, the highest figure in the league for a player with at least 10 run tackles.

• More Seahawks-Buccaneers: Intel Report | EA simulation

Broncos at Patriots, 8:30 p.m. (Monday)

Ready for the Wes Welker show? So far this year, Denver's defense has been average against number-one receivers, but ranks 29th against number twos and slot receivers.

The Patriots have the NFL's best defense in the second half of close games (within one touchdown). Of course, that doesn't include a lot of plays from their two losses, which weren't exactly close in the second half.

• More Broncos-Patriots: 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.