Commentary

Red zone feats put Westbrook above Turner, others

Originally Published: December 1, 2008
By Bill Barnwell | Football Outsiders

Our analysis of the games of Week 13 revealed something surprising, something that was the case for the first time since Week 2: The running back who led the league in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) had fewer rushing yards than the one who finished dead last.

While that top Week 2 back, San Diego's Darren Sproles, had 72 receiving yards to supplement his game, this week's top man, Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook, had just 20 receiving yards. Westbrook's 130 all-purpose yards surpassed Atlanta's Michael Turner's 120 yards by only a small margin. As we've pointed out repeatedly in this space, though, accruing yards in a vacuum means absolutely nothing. It's how those yards are gained, whom they're against and what they mean in the context of the game that give them meaning.

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Take Turner's 120 yards. They were gained against San Diego, whose rush defense is currently ranked 24th in the league by the advanced Football Outsiders DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) stats. Admittedly, the Chargers have played better of late, but they by no means have a great rush defense.

Turner required 31 carries to get those 120 yards, meaning he was gaining only 3.9 yards per carry. That's not an awful figure, but what doomed Turner were when and where the yards were gained. He was 1-of-3 on third and fourth downs, including a fourth-and-goal stop from the 1-yard line. In total, he had eight carries inside the red zone, gaining only 7 yards. Six yards came on one carry, meaning that on seven carries inside the most dangerous and opportunistic part of the field, he gained 1 yard total. Those 31 carries begat only five first downs. He gained 2 yards or less on 17 of his 31 carries. He wasn't thrown a single pass. He fumbled. He didn't score a touchdown. When you take a close look at Turner's day, all he has to show for it are the yards.

Compare him to Westbrook, who scored four times Thursday night. He was playing an Arizona rush defense that ranked eighth in DVOA. The Cardinals had held the Giants' Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw to 78 yards on 24 carries the week before. Westbrook touched the ball 25 times, gaining five first downs in addition to the four scores. He averaged a full 5 yards per carry. He didn't get a single carry on third down, mostly because of his work on second down, where he picked up the first down four times and left the Eagles with a third-and-1, third-and-2 and third-and-3 in other situations.

Westbrook had nine touches inside the red zone, scoring four times and picking up a first down. He caught all three passes thrown to him, resulting in two scores and a 13-yard gain on third-and-28. He held onto the ball. For Westbrook, the yards were a marker of how successful he was when he got the ball, not a marker of how often he got the ball.

Although both teams ended up with wins, the Eagles won because of the efforts of their star halfback. The Falcons won despite the efforts of theirs.

Here are the rest of the best and worst players of Week 13, according to the Football Outsiders DYAR statistics.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
1.
Aaron Rodgers GB
29/45
298
3
1
200
191
9
556
Rodgers threw his pick on the game's final drive in blustery conditions, basically a Hail Mary. He was brilliant in leading the Packers back from a 21-10 deficit, particularly when he ran the ball. He converted three first downs with his feet, including a first-and-15 and a fourth-and-1 that kept the Packers' game-tying drive going.
2.
Tony Romo DAL
23/34
331
3
1
180
173
7
431
Romo would be ahead of Rodgers were it not for an intentional-grounding penalty.
3.
Donovan McNabb PHI
29/39
260
4
0
162
159
2
449
It turns out he's better when he's not playing the Ravens. For all the talk of how poorly McNabb starts games, the beleaguered quarterback went 5-for-5 on the game's opening drive, ending with a touchdown pass to Westbrook.
4.
Matt Ryan ATL
17/23
207
2
0
155
152
3
344
This week, Ryan passed Ben Roethlisberger to take over the all-time lead (going back to 1995) in DYAR by a rookie quarterback. Of course, Ryan does benefit from having a good running game -- and more importantly, a running game that attracts defenses' attention. Still, he was the reason the Falcons won this week. On those 23 attempts, Ryan picked up 10 first downs and two touchdowns. That's a remarkable level of efficiency, and when it counted, Ryan was there -- he converted his last six third downs into three first downs, a 40-yard pass interference penalty and two scores.
5.
Eli Manning NYG
21/34
305
1
1
94
101
-7
316
Will Manning miss Plaxico Burress? It's hard to say. Although Domenik Hixon has achieved some success as Burress' replacement in the lineup, he doesn't inspire the same level of awe from defenses when going deep that Burress does. On Sunday, the only success the Giants had on longer passes was to Amani Toomer, not Hixon. Toomer is a lot of things, but a deep threat isn't one of them. For a team that has done so well manipulating matchups on defense and has two potential deep threats on the bench in Sinorice Moss and Mario Manningham, it'll be very interesting to see what exactly the Giants do to prevent safeties from creeping into the box.
6.
Joe Flacco BAL
19/29
280
2
0
93
90
3
298
Just in case you forgot how strong Flacco's arm is, we'll remind you: The pride of Audubon High threw passes in the air of 39, 41, 42 and 52 yards Sunday. Three of them were caught, a bad ratio for opposing teams.
7.
Jake Delhomme CAR
12/17
177
0
0
91
84
8
252
Delhomme gained 73 of his 84 passing DYAR on his final two drives, when he threw to Steve Smith for 36 and 54 yards, along with picking up a 14-yard pass interference penalty.
8.
Drew Brees NO
25/47
296
2
3
72
72
0
354
You can count us in the group that thinks having Reggie Bush around tends to muck up the gears of the Saints' offense more than anything else. Even ignoring the wonders of Bush's rushing line (three carries for 0 yards), Brees picked up successful chunks of yardage on only three of his 10 throws to Mr. 619. He was successful on 18 of his other 38 dropbacks.
9.
Jason Campbell WAS
23/38
232
0
1
50
37
13
300
When he threw to Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley, Todd Yoder and Mike Sellers, Campbell was 14-of-15 for 136 yards. Throwing to his wide receivers, he was 9-of-26 for 93 yards.
10.
Tyler Thigpen KC
15/22
162
0
1
45
42
3
204
No one knows whether Thigpen can be a franchise quarterback yet. What we do know, though, is that Thigpen needs another receiver besides Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe. Of Thigpen's 10 first downs, only one wasn't on a pass to Bowe or Gonzalez, and that one was to halfback Jamaal Charles. On a team with as many holes as Kansas City has, it might be hard to prioritize the wide receiver position, but if the Chiefs do trade Gonzalez as expected this offseason, Thigpen is going to be handcuffed.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
11.
Peyton Manning IND
15/21
125
0
2
35
42
-7
166
Is it weird that he's up this high? Not really -- the bigger problem with the Colts' offense was the ugly job the running game did. Manning threw two picks, but one of them was a Hail Mary, which doesn't register with much impact in our system. On the other hand, Manning's failure to convert on fourth-and-goal from the 1 did. Manning was 7-of-11 on sneaks from the 1-yard line before Sunday.
12.
Gus Frerotte MIN
16/25
210
1
1
30
20
10
195
13.
Kurt Warner ARI
21/39
235
3
3
25
25
0
270
14.
Chad Pennington MIA
13/23
166
0
0
25
17
8
161
Remember: Pennington threw for 166 yards, despite the fact that his receivers were Ted Ginn and Davone Bess. Not exactly Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery or Wayne Chrebet and Keyshawn Johnson there.
15.
Trent Edwards BUF
10/21
112
0
0
15
16
-1
151
16.
Matt Hasselbeck SEA
22/38
287
0
1
6
6
0
237
It's hard to do much when you get sacked seven times in 45 attempts. And after converting his first two third downs, Hasselbeck got only one of his other 10 attempts.
17.
JaMarcus Russell OAK
10/28
132
0
0
1
-15
15
163
18.
Daunte Culpepper DET
13/26
134
1
1
-4
-4
0
131
It's really amusing watching Culpepper behind center for the Lions because he essentially has to play like the quarterback who is pretty much his physical inverse: Jeff Garcia. Culpepper does the exact stuff Garcia does, the ducking in and out of holes to try to find a lane to throw in, the flushed-from-the-pocket dance as soon as he hits his last step of his backpedal, the pump-fakes to try to create half-seconds of space, the hopping out of attempted trips -- it's all there. To say he's not good at it is an understatement; to expect him to be good at it is unfair.
19.
J.P. Losman BUF
11/17
93
0
0
-13
-13
0
67
The somewhat irrational exuberance over Trent Edwards is over, but he still is a significantly better fit for this team than Losman, when he's healthy. The biggest reason? Edwards has been sacked on 6.2 percent of his dropbacks this season. Losman has been brought down an astounding 17.4 percent of the time. That's subject to a small sample, but even before this season, Losman had been sacked 9.2 percent of the time. If you can't stay upright, you can't get first downs. Remember Rob Johnson, Bills fans?
20.
Shaun Hill SF
14/23
161
1
0
-14
-10
-4
117
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
21.
Ben Roethlisberger PIT
17/33
179
2
1
-15
-22
6
169
It wasn't really a good game against an awful New England secondary, but Roethlisberger had to put up with poor conditions and was victimized by some ill-timed drops. Then again, so was his opponent.
22.
Kerry Collins TEN
11/18
127
0
0
-19
-25
6
82
On the bright side for Collins, he did an awesome job of handing the ball off.
23.
Ryan Fitzpatrick CIN
12/30
124
0
0
-23
-38
15
163
Fitzpatrick started the game 2-of-9 for 23 yards with two sacks. By that time, he was already down 13 points.
24.
Derek Anderson CLE
16/26
110
0
0
-27
-27
0
130
25.
Philip Rivers SD
18/30
149
0
0
-30
-14
-16
113
Nominal starting wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers: 1-of-5, 2 yards.
26.
Jeff Garcia TB
9/23
119
1
0
-72
-84
12
84
27.
Marc Bulger STL
16/35
149
0
3
-86
-86
0
73
The Dolphins noted after the game that they saw Bulger essentially tipping his pitches on film, letting them know where Bulger was going with the ball before it came out of his hands. Apparently, their intel was too good, because they started with two defensive pass interference penalties on Bulger's first three attempts before settling down. This is where we note that Bulger's contract has only around $40 million or so left on it.
28.
Matt Cassel NE
19/39
169
0
2
-115
-115
-1
87
29.
Kyle Orton CHI
11/29
153
2
3
-137
-137
0
-23
Orton could have used a better set of receivers Sunday, but he could have had five Todd Pinkstons running seams and 8-yard ins and still ended up with a better day than this. Orton had two touchdowns ... and two first downs in 29 attempts.
Five most valuable running backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
EYds
1.
Brian Westbrook PHI
110
2
20
2
102
69
33
268
Westbrook averaged only 2.5 yards on runs to the right. He averaged more than 6 yards on runs to the left. That's unique for him this season, as he's averaged 3.74 yards to the right side but only 3.55 yards to the left.
2.
Sammy Morris NE
45
1
12
0
40
33
6
112
Morris had 2 yards or more on each of his carries and had a 60 percent success rate against one of the league's best rush defenses.
3.
Kevin Faulk NE
73
0
48
0
38
32
6
120
On the other hand, Faulk had his big game with two big runs, specifically a 41-yarder in the second quarter. He had a 66 percent success rate, albeit on only six carries.
4.
Steven Jackson STL
94
0
16
0
31
29
2
133
He wasn't 100 percent, but it certainly wasn't his fault that the Rams lost. Much like Ronnie Brown across the field for the past several years, Jackson deserves better than what he goes to battle with every week.
5.
Chris Johnson TEN
125
2
9
0
30
29
1
114
The Titans' organization gets extra credit for this one, giving Johnson only five carries in the third quarter before shutting him down for the rest of the day. They'll be rewarded with a fresher back come playoff time.
Least valuable running back
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
EYds
1.
Michael Turner ATL
120
0
0
0
-41
-41
0
68
Another note that shouldn't make Falcons fans happy: Turner currently is on pace for 376 carries, which would put him past the vaunted "Curse Of 370" barrier we've written about in the past. If you're not familiar with the theory, take a gander at the guys who have run the ball 370 times or more in a recent NFL season. See what happened to them the season after they did so. End of theory.
Five most valuable wide receivers and tight ends
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
EYds
1.
Roddy White ATL
6
7
112
18.7
0
76
163
White's raw numbers don't include a 40-yard pass interference penalty, but it's factored into his DYAR. It seems strange to say, but at this point, it's entirely possible that White could be the best wide receiver in the NFL. Whom would you rather have? Larry Fitzgerald, perhaps? Calvin Johnson or Andre Johnson? Randy Moss, maybe, but only if you can build a little fence around your quarterback's knees.
2.
Mark Clayton BAL
5
7
164
32.8
1
59
132
We always have expected Clayton to take a big leap forward after a superb 2006. Last season, he struggled with injuries, but he hasn't had that excuse this season. Clayton's ability to stretch defenses vertically should be a huge weapon for Flacco to play with. If he can be anything close to this guy for the rest of the year, he makes Baltimore's offense legitimately dangerous.
3.
Jason Witten DAL
9
10
115
12.8
1
43
152
It seems impossible that a team with such good linebackers could be so bad against tight ends, but the Seahawks are, and Witten took advantage. He had four catches for 67 yards in the first quarter and was up to 93 by halftime. Imagine what he could have done without a busted rib.
4.
Larry Fitzgerald ARI
5
8
65
13.0
2
42
111
He didn't get started until the Cards were down 21 points, but his two touchdowns and the Eagles' good pass defense (Lito Sheppard excluded) overcame the garbage-time nature of when his performance was achieved.
5.
Terrell Owens DAL
5
9
98
19.6
1
41
120
Whatever has gotten into T.O. has to make it through the Week 14 game against the Steelers before we're willing to declare that it's for real and the old T.O. is back. Ninety-eight yards and a 21-yard pass interference call are nice, but it was the Seahawks. They were just happy they didn't have to tackle Witten again.
Least valuable wide receiver or tight end
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
EYds
5.
Anquan Boldin ARI
5
10
63
12.6
0
-37
1
Two 20-yard catches are nice. Having three other catches for a total of 16 yards and fumbling, well, that's not so nice.

Bill Barnwell is an analyst for FootballOutsiders.com.

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