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Red zone feats put Westbrook above Turner, others

12/2/2008 - NFL

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.

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.





Bill Barnwell is an analyst for FootballOutsiders.com.