Commentary

Week 14: Numbers Crunching

Originally Published: December 4, 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.

This week's Numbers Crunching features the season debut of data from the Football Outsiders game-charting project. Please be aware this data (such as formations and blitz tendencies) is unofficial and is missing a handful of games that are not charted yet.

All times Eastern

Jaguars at Bears, 1 p.m.

Attention Ron Turner: Run Matt Forte on first down, not second down. On first down, the Jacksonville defense ranks 31st in DVOA and 30th in yards allowed per carry (5.23). On second down, Jacksonville has the best DVOA in the league, allowing just 2.9 yards per carry with opponents needing an average of 6.8 yards for a first down. More than one out of every four carries against Jacksonville on second down is stopped for zero yards or a loss.

Jacksonville is much better running than passing in the red zone, but that's also the strength of the Chicago defense. The Jags' offense is sixth rushing but 29th passing in the red zone. The Bears' defense is third against the run but 25th against the pass in the red zone.

• More Jaguars-Bears: Intel Report | EA Sim

Vikings at Lions, 1 p.m.

This week, Detroit can't even get away with being good at the only thing that it is good at -- getting touchdowns in the red zone. The Lions rank No. 3 in red-zone offense, but the Vikings are No. 4 in red-zone defense.

Minnesota's defense ranks No. 1 in the NFL in Adjusted Sack Rate, and Detroit's offense ranks last in the NFL in Adjusted Sack Rate.

• More Vikings-Lions Intel Report | EA Sim

Texans at Packers, 1 p.m.

The Packers are 5-7 despite scoring more points than their opponents, gaining more yards than their opponents and converting third downs at a much better rate than their opponents, 44.4 percent to 37.8 percent.

The Packers have moved Charles Woodson, one of the best cornerbacks in the league over the last year and a half, to strong safety in order to cover for injuries to Aaron Rouse and Atari Bigby -- even though cornerback is more important than safety on a team that plays primarily man coverage. Wouldn't it make sense to move Tramon Williams (8.5 yards allowed per pass and 53 percent Success Rate according to our game charting) to safety and let Woodson (4.3 yards allowed per pass and 68 percent Success Rate) continue to cover receivers one-on-one?

• More Texans-Packers: Intel Report | EA Sim

Bengals at Colts, 1 p.m.

Cincinnati has sent six or more pass rushers on 17 percent of pass plays, the highest percentage in the AFC and third in the NFL behind the Redskins and Giants. Indianapolis, just like in past years, blitzes less than any other defense -- the Colts have sent six or more pass rushers on less than three percent of pass plays.

You can expect to see a lot of plays in this game. Indianapolis runs a play every 26.6 seconds, third in the NFL, and Cincinnati runs a play every 26.8 seconds, which is fourth. However, the Bengals would actually prefer to do things a lot slower. They rank 29th in situation-neutral pace, which we define here. Losing teams have to move faster to try to catch up, and, of course, the Bengals have sure been losing a lot this year.

• More Bengals-Colts: Intel Report | EA Sim

Falcons at Saints, 1 p.m.

New Orleans ranks 31st in DVOA when defending passes to running backs, worse than any team except Kansas City -- but it will be hard for Atlanta to take advantage of this when they've thrown only six passes to Michael Turner all season.

Atlanta converts third and long (7-plus yards to go) more often than any other offense -- 36 percent of the time. New Orleans doesn't convert quite as often (33 percent) but has the best DVOA in the league on third and long because Brees has no interceptions in those situations. The Falcons and Saints are the only two teams in the NFL that gain more than nine yards per play on third-and-long.

• More Falcons-Saints: Intel Report | EA Sim

Eagles at Giants, 1 p.m.

The Philadelphia offense and New York defense are strong overall, but they share a strange weakness: second-and-short (1-3 yards to go). Philadelphia ranks 28th in offensive DVOA, but the Giants are dead last in defensive DVOA. On second down with four or more yards to go, Philadelphia ranks third in offensive DVOA, and the Giants rank sixth in defensive DVOA.

According to the Football Outsiders game-charting project, the Eagles use more zone blitzes than any other team in the NFL -- 13 percent of pass plays. (For our purposes, a zone blitz is defined as any play where the defense rushes at least one linebacker or defensive back while at least one defensive lineman drops into coverage.)

• More Eagles-Giants: Intel Report | EA Sim

Browns at Titans, 1 p.m.

The Titans use two or more tight ends on nearly 40 percent of plays, more than any other offense in the NFL. The Browns so far this year have allowed 6.8 yards per play to offenses with two or more tight ends on the field -- worse than any defense besides Oakland. (The average team gains 4.9 yards per play with two or more tight ends in the game.)

If the Browns want a chance at an upset, they need to change their habits and run outside instead of inside. The Browns are one of four teams that send running backs up the middle on over 60 percent of runs. Yet they are much better running outside -- the Browns rank 16th in Adjusted Line Yards up the middle but seventh around left end and sixth around right end. Meanwhile, Tennessee's defense ranks in the top 10 in four of the five directions we track. That includes left end, but it doesn't include right end, where the Titans' defense ranks 28th. More Jerome Harrison, please.

• More Browns-Titans: Intel Report | EA Sim

Dolphins at Bills, 4:05 p.m.

Buffalo's main advantage in this game comes on special teams. Buffalo ranks second overall in the Football Outsiders special-teams ratings, while Miami is 31st. The biggest difference: Buffalo has the best kick returns in the NFL this season and ranks sixth in punt-return value, while Miami is near the bottom in both categories. Oddly, the one good part of Miami's special teams is the same as the only struggling part of Buffalo's special teams: field-goal kicking.

As Canadian fans know, second down is the most important down in any football game played at the Rogers Centre. That's bad news for Buffalo, because Miami's offense is second in the NFL in DVOA on second down while Buffalo is dead last.

• More Dolphins-Bills: Intel Report | EA Sim

Chiefs at Broncos, 4:05 p.m.

Last year, New England became the first team in NFL history to run more than half its offensive plays out of the shotgun. This year, the Patriots are on pace to break that record … unless the Chiefs break it with an even higher percentage. Kansas City has run an astonishing 57 percent of its offensive plays out of the shotgun.

Could this week bring us a breakout game from … Bears reject Mark Bradley? Denver's pass defense ranks 31st in DVOA and is near the bottom of the league in nearly every aspect except one -- covering the opponent's top wide receiver, where the Broncos are 12th. A Kansas City upset could be in the works if the Tyler Thigpen can use Dwayne Bowe as a decoy and mix up the usual Tony Gonzalez passes with some throws to Bradley, Devard Darling, and whoever else is being covered by inexperienced cornerback (and temporary Champ Bailey replacement) Josh Bell.

• More Chiefs-Broncos: Intel Report | EA Sim

Jets at 49ers, 4:05 p.m.

According to the Football Outsiders game-charting project, the Jets have used an empty backfield on 13 percent of all offensive plays. That's twice as often as any other offense and three times as often as the league average. San Francisco, despite its overall struggles, has allowed just 3.7 yards per play against empty backfields, much lower than the NFL average of 6.1 yards per play.

The Jets have the biggest difference in the NFL between their defense against the shotgun and against regular under-center formations. They give up 2.8 yards per play more when facing an offense in shotgun. This might be why Jets opponents have used the shotgun 45 percent of offensive plays, which is the highest percentage against any defense in the NFL. San Francisco has used shotgun on only 16 percent of plays, which ranks 29th among offenses -- but the 49ers gain 2.6 yards more per play in shotgun than with the QB under center, which is the second biggest difference, behind only New Orleans. Could more shotgun be the recipe for a 49ers upset?

• More Jets-49ers: Intel Report | EA Sim

Patriots at Seahawks, 4:05 p.m.

New England and Seattle are the two least-penalized teams in the NFL this year, averaging 4.4 and 5.1 penalties per game, respectively.

New England's defense ranks last in the NFL in DVOA in the red zone.

• More Patriots-Seahawks: Intel Report | EA Sim

Rams at Cardinals, 4:15 p.m.

Arizona's defense ranks fourth in Adjusted Sack Rate on first down and 11th on second down, but next-to-last on third/fourth down. The Cardinals have just five sacks on third or fourth down.

One the other hand, the Rams get most of their sacks on third down -- the St. Louis defense ranks 31st in Adjusted Sack Rate on first down and 12th on second down, but has the best ASR in the league on third/fourth down. The Rams have just one sack all year on first down, but 13 on third or fourth down.

• More Rams-Cardinals: Intel Report | EA Sim

Cowboys at Steelers, 4:15 p.m.

The offensive line isn't the only reason why Ben Roethlisberger always seems to be running for his life. Pittsburgh has faced more blitzes than any other offense -- Steelers opponents send six or more pass rushers over 20 percent of the time.

Dallas has the best offense in the NFL in the fourth quarter.

• More Cowboys-Steelers: Intel Report | EA Sim

Redskins at Ravens, 8:15 p.m.

In late and close situations (second half or overtime, score within a touchdown), Washington ranks better on offense than any other team except the New York Giants, but Baltimore ranks better on defense than any other team except Tennessee.

Baltimore led the league in run defense through eight games, but they ranked ninth in pass defense. Since Week 10, the Ravens lead the league in pass defense, but are only 11th in run defense.

• More Redskins-Ravens: Intel Report | EA Sim

Buccaneers at Panthers, 8:30 p.m. (Monday)

Only New Orleans and the New York Giants have a higher DVOA out of the shotgun than Carolina … but only Seattle and Houston use the shotgun less often than the Panthers, who use it on just 13 percent of plays.

It is very important for the Panthers to continuously gain yardage on first down, because they don't want to be stuck in second and long. Carolina's offense ranks third in DVOA on second down with 1-6 yards to go, but 25th with 7-plus yards to go. To make matters worse, Tampa Bay has the league's best defensive DVOA on second and long.

• More Buccaneers-Panthers: Intel Report | EA Sim

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.