Commentary

Efficiency, quality of opponent elevate Favre

Originally Published: November 24, 2008
By Bill Barnwell | Football Outsiders

In fantasy football, all yards are created equal. The 14 yards Marvin Harrison gained on a fourth-and-1 to keep the Colts' final drive alive and put them in position for the eventual game-winning field goal are equal in fantasy value to the 14 yards Dante Rosario gained on first-and-10 with 4½ minutes left and Carolina down 17 points.

In the ledgers of raw statistics, Harrison's cumulative performance at the end of the season is reduced to a simple number: receiving yards. They don't measure what percentage of passes Harrison caught. They don't adjust for the context in which they were gained, against whom they were gained, in what situation they were gained or what they meant to the team's chances of winning.

Would this make sense in any other walk of life? Is a broken toe as stultifying as a broken back? Even in other sports, extreme differences in context have caused fans to become aware of the context in which stats are accumulated. Baseball fans know that the performance of a player in Colorado is dramatically affected by the thin air and huge ballpark he plays in 81 times a year, and take that player's statistics with a grain of salt.

Of course, we use yards when talking about football players because it's simple to so: Until the advent of advanced statistics, it was impossible to keep track of the context in which yards were garnered, so for better or worse, context was left out of the discussion -- despite being crucial to establishing the validity of the measure. Getting 536 receiving yards in 12 games in 2008 wouldn't be anything special, but in 1936, it made Don Hutson the league leader by nearly 30 percent. It's easy to understand how statistics can be twisted at the extremes like the examples above, but all those less-obvious situations need to be adjusted, too. DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) and DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement), our two core statistics, adjust every play in the league this season for down, distance, the strength of the opponent and the game situation.

In Week 12, those adjustments analyzed the performance of the quarterback who threw for the 17th-most yards and determined that he had the best week of any quarterback in the NFL. That quarterback is Brett Favre. Favre threw for 224 yards, but there are multiple factors that push him up to the top spot. He completed 78 percent of his passes, and four defensive pass interference penalties cost him an additional four completions and 42 yards. He was sacked only twice, and he threw a single pick against two touchdowns. He converted 6 of 13 third- and fourth- down situations.

The most important factor? He was facing the Tennessee Titans, who have had the best pass defense of any team in football through the first 11 weeks of the year. Those same numbers against the Lions in a blowout may have earned Favre the same number of fantasy points, but when it comes to Favre's actual performance -- the exact thing statistics are supposed to measure -- those numbers would likely be considered a disappointment, and with good reason.

Here are the rest of the best and worst players of Week 12, according to the Football Outsiders' DYAR statistics.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
1.
Brett Favre NYJ
25/32
224
2
1
204
204
0
492
We mentioned the four pass interference penalties Favre drew in the intro. That gives him a league-leading eight on the year. His eight have gained only 82 yards, though. Gus Frerotte has drawn six pass interference calls resulting in 143 yards.
2.
Matt Cassel NE
30/43
415
3
1
193
174
19
534
The last quarterback to throw for 400 yards in consecutive games: Billy Volek, who did so in Weeks 14 and 15 of the 2004 season. Volek has started only three games since those two huge weeks.
3.
Eli Manning NYG
26/33
240
3
0
178
178
0
424
Manning's day could have been even better had his receivers not dropped a couple of those seven incompletions. How many other guys could have done this well without their top running back for the game and their top wide receiver for virtually the whole thing?
4.
Kurt Warner ARI
32/50
351
1
1
162
162
0
507
Warner started 4-of-10 on third downs, but finished up by converting each of the final five.
5.
Matt Ryan ATL
17/27
260
0
0
156
159
-3
365
After Roddy White's fumble in the second quarter, Ryan threw five consecutive incompletions and took a sack before getting back on track.
6.
Philip Rivers SD
24/31
288
2
0
140
133
7
394
Rivers, on the other hand, had a string in which he completed 11 consecutive passes for 105 yards.
7.
Chad Pennington MIA
24/40
341
3
1
128
124
4
396
What problem throwing deep? On passes traveling 15 or more yards in the air, Pennington was 8-of-12 for 170 yards, although he did throw an interception.
8.
Jake Delhomme CAR
21/35
295
1
0
124
110
14
393
All three of Delhomme's passes to Dante Rosario earned the Panthers first downs. Throw to that guy more!
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
9.
JaMarcus Russell OAK
10/11
152
1
0
119
115
4
238
Our fearless prediction of the week: Russell will never again play a full game with a completion percentage above 90 percent.
10.
Tony Romo DAL
23/39
341
3
0
118
118
0
356
Romo still lacks some touch on his shorter throws, but he looks best when he can step up beyond the pass rush and put his legs into a throw. We don't dock him for it, but bullying Wade Phillips into making a stupid challenge was not Romo's finest hour.
11.
Ben Roethlisberger PIT
17/30
243
1
0
107
94
13
314
Roethlisberger's two scrambles earned the team a first down and a touchdown. He also didn't take a sack for the second time this year; the first time, naturally, was the Steelers' other matchup against the Bengals. The last time Roethlisberger didn't get sacked all game and wasn't playing the Bengals was in 2006.
12.
Trent Edwards BUF
24/31
273
2
0
107
96
11
342
What odds could you have gotten for the Bills to score 54 points with neither Lee Evans nor Roscoe Parrish finding the end zone? Rumors that the Bills had their starting wide receivers dress up in Browns jerseys during practice this week so Edwards would throw to them were apparently without merit.
13.
Kerry Collins TEN
21/39
243
1
0
92
92
0
335
14.
Peyton Manning IND
32/43
255
2
1
89
89
0
380
Manning in the third quarter: 8-of-8 for 60 yards. Twenty-nine of those yards came on one pass, though, so it was only good for two first downs and a touchdown.
15.
Quinn Gray KC
7/8
76
1
0
80
70
10
170
16.
Ryan Fitzpatrick CIN
20/36
168
1
1
80
75
4
302
Fitzpatrick in the third quarter: 2-of-8 for 11 yards, with nary a first down to show for his efforts. He had only seven first downs in the rest of the game, anyway.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
17.
David Garrard JAC
28/45
317
1
2
61
62
-1
328
Last year, Garrard threw three picks in 325 attempts -- that means he threw an interception on 0.9 percent of his attempts, tying him with Steve DeBerg's 1990 season for the lowest ratio ever for a quarterback with more than 300 attempts. The average quarterback with that many attempts throws an interception 3.2 percent of the time. After Sunday, Garrard has eight picks on 363 attempts, a ratio of 2.2 percent. That's closer to the average quarterback than it is to Garrard's 2007.
18.
Joe Flacco BAL
12/26
183
2
0
53
47
6
210
It was a boom-or-bust day. Flacco had only two completions of less than 7 yards, and five of the other 10 were for 19 yards or more. Getting sacked only three times has to be a moral victory for Flacco, who struggled at times with blitz recognition in college.
19.
Jay Cutler DEN
16/36
204
0
1
52
65
-13
246
20.
Jason Campbell WAS
20/33
206
1
0
50
40
9
271
21.
Shaun Hill SF
21/33
303
2
1
42
42
0
263
Hill's two biggest completions, both while the game was still a contest, were another exercise in how yards -- and indeed statistics as a whole -- can be deceiving. The first play resulted in a 34-yard reception by Isaac Bruce, but Hill was hit as he threw, and the result was a duck that Bruce happened to fall right underneath before a gimpy Terence Newman could do anything about it. The second throw was the exact opposite, a perfectly thrown corner route to Vernon Davis for 47 yards.
22.
Sage Rosenfels HOU
24/31
275
1
2
39
57
-19
207
23.
Kyle Orton CHI
18/29
139
1
0
-16
-16
0
132
He's still not 100 percent or even close to it, and it showed with those sort of numbers against the Rams. Not that there needs to be a quarterback controversy in Chicago, but it's the Rams -- the Bears could've let Orton rest another week under the guise that he came back too soon for the Packers game, given Rex Grossman the start and done just as well.
24.
Tyler Thigpen KC
17/31
242
3
2
-17
-11
-5
162
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
25.
Jeff Garcia TB
13/18
165
2
0
-47
-47
0
54
What those numbers don't show is that Garcia was sacked six times and fumbled once. Since 1995, we have only 11 cases of a quarterback who was sacked six or more times in a game in which he threw 20 pass attempts or less. The list is a who's who of awful NFL quarterbacks, with two very notable exceptions. Rob Johnson and Chris Weinke (eight sacks each), Joey Harrington and Shaun King (seven), and Danny Wuerffel, Doug Nussmeier, Luke McCown, Quincy Carter, and Ryan Leaf (six). The other two guys who took six sacks with fewer than 20 attempts in a game? Michael Vick and Daunte Culpepper.
26.
Gus Frerotte MIN
12/20
120
0
1
-66
-66
0
36
27.
Matt Hasselbeck SEA
13/24
103
2
2
-66
-70
4
42
28.
Kevin Kolb PHI
10/23
73
0
2
-69
-60
-8
24
29.
Donovan McNabb PHI
8/18
59
0
2
-70
-75
5
18
Yes, Kolb beats McNabb by exactly 1 yard above replacement. Does that vindicate Andy Reid? No? Oh well. At one point during the fourth quarter, Kolb's line (8-of-19, 65 yards, 2 INTs) was almost exactly the same as McNabb's (8-of-18, 59 yards, 2 INTs).
30.
Derek Anderson CLE
5/14
51
0
1
-86
-86
0
-50
You know, if you bench your quarterback after half a season of substandard play and then expect him to "spark" the team when you bring him in three games later, it's probably not going to work. You know what might spark the Browns' offense? Having a possession receiver.
31.
Daunte Culpepper DET
8/20
121
1
2
-105
-104
-1
-37
Culpepper didn't even get half a season.
32.
Brady Quinn CLE
8/18
94
0
2
-115
-115
0
-65
33.
Trent Green STL
16/30
219
0
4
-152
-157
6
-39
Rams quarterbacks the past four weeks: 80-of-144, 852 yards, three touchdowns, 10 picks, 12 sacks.
Five most valuable running backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
EYds
1.
Kevin Faulk NE
53
1
52
0
60
30
30
161
How is a guy with 53 rushing yards the best back of the week? He runs for 4 or more yards on every one of his carries except one, catches all six of the passes thrown to him, picks up three first downs and does it all against a very good rush defense.
2.
Darren McFadden OAK
38
2
14
0
57
31
25
167
OK, Falcons fans, calm down. Michael Turner is next. McFadden didn't have four touchdowns, but he did have two, and he picked up two more first downs in the passing game (one through defensive pass interference). He converted all three of the third downs he faced, including on both touchdowns.
3.
Michael Turner ATL
117
4
0
0
56
56
0
180
The reasons why Turner isn't on the top of this list (although he's rather close and only 4 yards above replacement short): He didn't contribute anything in the passing game. Although he was 2-for-2 on fourth down, scoring both times, one of those plays happened because he got stuffed on a third-and-1. He had nine carries on first down of 4 yards or less, pushing his team away from a new set of downs, not towards one. Two of his scores also came from 1 yard out, which still counts just as much on the scoreboard, but requires much less work and is far more likely to happen than a run from even 4 or 5 yards out. It was a very good day -- just not the best according to DYAR.
4.
Maurice Morris SEA
103
0
10
1
46
35
12
146
Morris strangely didn't have a single carry on third down, but he still managed to pick up five first downs and gained successful chunks of yardage on 57 percent of his carries.
5.
Clinton Portis WAS
143
0
16
0
41
36
6
194
It was somewhat of a mixed bag for Portis. He converted on three of his four chances on third and fourth down, but he also had 12 carries on first and second down in which he gained 4 yards or less. Portis is also currently on pace for 354 carries this year; the last time he had that sort of workload was 2005, and he broke down the following season.
Least valuable running back
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
EYds
1.
Cadillac Williams TB
27
0
0
0
-46
-46
0
-11
We're sure he could care less, and with good reason. It was great just to see Williams return to football after that gruesome knee injury he suffered last season. That being said, he had seven carries of a yard or less in the game.
Five most valuable wide receivers and tight ends
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
EYds
1.
Laveranues Coles NYJ
7
11
88
12.6
1
64
182
You can throw two pass interference penalties for 30 yards onto those numbers. With those included, Coles picked up seven first downs in addition to his touchdown.
2.
Randy Moss NE
8
13
125
15.6
3
62
178
Remember when Moss was supposed to shut it down after Tom Brady got hurt? Even though Matt Cassel struggled to get him the ball for the first half of the year, Moss has kept his head up and is being rewarded with chances now that Cassel's more comfortable in the pocket. That's not something for which Cassel deserves an award or anything, just a reminder that demonizing Moss based upon a nearly decade-old quote was probably a little hasty.
3.
Terrell Owens DAL
7
13
213
30.4
1
60
166
He's back! Well, sort of. The 49ers basically played off Owens and figured they could handle him one-on-one in zone coverage. They were very wrong. Owens literally ran through a statuesque Nate Clements en route to a 75-yard touchdown and followed it up with a 52-yard bomb in which he put on the afterburners and blew away Mark Roman. He might not be the player he was last year, but on Sunday Owens showed that he still has a lot to offer.
4.
Isaac Bruce SF
8
10
125
15.6
1
57
146
If the Cowboys do end up making it to the playoffs, they'll be doing it in spite of their secondary, not because of it. That's a huge fall for a team that sent three members of its defensive backfield to the Pro Bowl in 2007, but Roy Williams has missed most of the season; Ken Hamlin has absolutely disappeared in recent weeks; Terence Newman has struggled with health and really put together only one good game all year; and Anthony Henry's number might as well be changed to a bull's-eye. If Shaun Hill, Bryant Johnson and Bruce think they can take advantage of you and your coverage, chances are you need to improve.
5.
Ashley Lelie OAK
4
4
92
23.0
1
52
105
Sure, it's probably pretty enthralling for Lelie to go back to Denver and pick up three first downs and a touchdown on four throws. Do you really think, though, that Mike Shanahan's going to be tossing and turning in his bed tonight wishing that he'd given Lelie the No. 1 receiver money he wanted back in 2006?
Least valuable wide receiver or tight end
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
EYds
5.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh CIN
4
12
20
5.0
0
-46
8
It's not all Houshmandzadeh's fault; the Bengals were victimized by a terrible performance from the other wide receiver spot, as Glenn Holt dropped two passes in embarrassing fashion. Fitzpatrick decided that the better plan was to force throw after throw to Houshmandzadeh, and the result was a second half with five incompletions and an interception on throws in Houshmandzadeh's direction.

Bill Barnwell is an analyst for FootballOutsiders.com.

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