Week 15: Numbers Crunching
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.
Some of this data, such as formations, blitzes and play-action tendencies, comes from the Football Outsiders game-charting project. Please be aware that 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
Buccaneers at Falcons, 1 p.m.
There's a reason Jon Gruden likes all those tight formations. According to the Football Outsiders game-charting project, the Bucs block with just the five offensive linemen only 41 percent of the time, less often than any other offense.
Atlanta ranks only 19th in run offense since Week 10 after ranking eighth in Weeks 1-9. On the other hand, the Falcons have had the best passing DVOA in the league since Week 10.
Redskins at Bengals, 1 p.m.
Washington's offense ranks 28th in DVOA in the first quarter, then improves to fourth from the second quarter on.
Cincinnati's offense uses play-action on only eight percent of pass plays, 31st in the NFL -- but the Bengals' defense faces play-action on 26 percent of pass plays, the most in the NFL.
Titans at Texans, 1 p.m.
Houston and Tennessee have similar-quality offenses -- they rank 13th and 14th in offensive DVOA, respectively -- but the Titans' offense is at its best in the red zone (second in the NFL), while the Texans' offense is at its worst (28th).
One reason why the Titans are so good: They generate a ferocious pass rush without taking linebackers and defensive backs out of coverage. According to the Football Outsiders game-charting project, the Titans have sent more than four pass rushers on only 16 percent of passes. The Colts are the only team that blitzes less.
Lions at Colts, 1 p.m.
Detroit's offense has the highest Adjusted Sack Rate in the NFL, and it gets even worse on third down. Lions quarterbacks have been sacked 25 times on third down -- which is more than twice the number of times Peyton Manning has been sacked on all downs combined. Manning has not taken a sack on third down since Week 6 against Baltimore.
Will the Colts use more standard formations if they get a big early lead against Detroit? The Colts use shotgun on 47 percent of offensive plays, third in the NFL behind Kansas City and New England. However, Lions opponents use shotgun only 17 percent of the time, which is the lowest figure in the NFL -- even though Detroit gives up an average of 8.8 yards per play when the offense is in shotgun, a yard per play worse than any other defense. If the Colts use shotgun the whole game, they might break Wilt Chamberlain's record.
Packers at Jaguars, 1 p.m.
Jacksonville has been the best team in the NFL on kickoffs this year, while Green Bay ranks 29th on kick returns.
If they lose two of their final three games, Green Bay will become the first team since the 1989 Chicago Bears to have double-digit losses despite winning three games by 20 points or more.
Chargers at Chiefs, 1 p.m.
Although the Chargers' pass defense has been a major problem this year, they've done a good job stopping opposing receivers before they can convert third downs, tackling them short of the sticks on 43 percent of complete passes. That's the best figure in the NFL.
Kansas City, on the other hand, is in big trouble even when its defense stops San Diego on first and second down. San Diego's offense ranks third in the NFL on third and long, while Kansas City has the league's worst defense in those situations.
49ers at Dolphins, 1 p.m.
Miami has the best red zone offense in the NFL this year. San Francisco ranks next to last in red zone offense.
San Francisco ranks second in the Football Outsiders special-teams ratings, above average in every aspect of special teams. Miami ranks 31st and is below average in everything except field-goal kicking.
Bills at Jets, 1 p.m.
Does someone want to tell D'Brickashaw Ferguson to wake up and start blocking like a fourth overall pick? The Jets rank 22nd in Adjusted Line Yards running left end or left tackle, but they rank fourth in ALY up the middle and first in ALY running right end or right tackle. (Adjusted Line Yards are explained here.)
The Bills and Jets are the top two teams in kick-return value this season. Buffalo kick returns have been worth 15.3 points of field position compared to average, and Jets kick returns have been worth 10.7 points.
Seahawks at Rams, 1 p.m.
Use of the shotgun in the NFL has increased over the last couple of seasons, but Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren remains a holdout. The Seahawks are the only team in the NFL to use shotgun less than 10 percent of the time, and with good reason -- they are also the worst team in the league in shotgun, gaining just 3.7 yards per play. The Rams are the perfect opponent for this shotgun-resistant offense -- they have the worst defense in the league against non-shotgun formations, giving up 6.4 yards per play. St. Louis is one of only five defenses that give up more yards to standard plays than to shotgun plays.
When it comes to the passing game on first down, the Rams rank dead last in DVOA on both offense and defense. Of course, the Seahawks aren't exactly a shining beacon of quality football either -- they rank 28th on first-down passing offense and 27th on first-down passing.
Vikings at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m.
Good luck to the Cardinals running up the middle on the Williams Wall. Arizona ranks 31st in Adjusted Line Yards going up the middle, while Minnesota is fourth on defense. The average team converts on two-thirds of power runs (runs on third and fourth down with 1-2 yards to go, plus any run within two yards of the goal line), but Arizona has converted only 58 percent of the time, and Minnesota opponents have converted only 51 percent.
According to the Football Outsiders game-charting project, the Cardinals are the least likely team in the NFL to use a zone blitz -- less than 1 percent of pass plays -- and the Vikings are one of the most frequent zone-blitz teams, dropping a lineman into coverage more than 7 percent of the time. Of course, dropping Jared Allen into coverage so he can try to cover Anquan Boldin or Larry Fitzgerald is probably not the best idea.
Patriots at Raiders, 4:15 p.m.
You probably know that this game matches the league's most penalized team, Oakland, and the least penalized team, New England. The Raiders have actually been flagged more than twice as often as the Patriots. On top of that, the Raiders rank 30th in the NFL in the number of penalties earned by their opponents -- only Seattle and Indianapolis have benefited from fewer opponent penalties.
Forty-five percent of Oakland's completed passes on third and fourth down still fail to reach the sticks for a new set of downs, the highest percentage in the league.
Steelers at Ravens, 4:15 p.m.
When you get two defensive teams like this together, there's going to be a lot of punting. The Ravens force punts on 49 percent of drives, the Steelers on 47 percent. They rank third and fourth in the NFL, respectively. Both teams are poor on punt returns, but the Ravens may get a nice field-position advantage because they've had the best punting unit in the NFL this year, worth 16 points worth of field position compared to an average team punting in the same situations.
The secret to Pittsburgh's beating Baltimore is play-action and throwing deep. The Ravens give up 11.2 net yards per pass when there's a play fake, but only 5.7 net yards per pass otherwise. The Rams are the only defense with a bigger difference.
Broncos at Panthers, 4:15 p.m.
You think the Panthers ran all over Tampa? You ain't seen nothing yet. Denver allows 5.31 yards per carry on first down, the worst figure in the league. Carolina gains 4.75 yards per carry on first down, which ranks fourth, and neither Panthers running back has fumbled the ball on first down yet this year.
A three-man pass rush is uncommon, but it is especially rare coming from a 4-3 defense. Denver bucks the trend, rushing only three on 18 percent of plays. Only the Jets and Browns (both 3-4 teams) are more likely to send only three pass rushers.
Giants at Cowboys, 8:15 p.m.
Dallas has the best offense in the league in goal-to-go situations, which may be the Giants' biggest defensive weakness -- they rank just 25th.
The Giants get better when they fall behind and relax when they have a big lead. If we count plays only when the Giants are losing or tied, they rank second in offensive DVOA, seventh in defensive DVOA. With a lead of a touchdown or less, the Giants rank fourth on offense, 13th on defense. With a lead of more than a touchdown, the Giants rank 13th on offense, 27th on defense.
Browns at Eagles, 8:30 p.m. (Monday)
The run is supposed to set up the play fake, but somebody forgot to tell Philadelphia. Even though they are known for eschewing the run, the Eagles use play-action more often than any other team, 28 percent of pass plays. They gain 2.2 net yards more per pass with a play fake, which is a little above the NFL average. Cleveland is an opponent that is susceptible to play-action -- Browns opponents use it 20 percent of the time, fifth in the NFL, and the Browns give up 2.8 net yards more per pass when there's a play fake.
In the first nine games of the season, Philadelphia struggled running the ball on third-and-1 or fourth-and-1. They were 5-for-14 running but 3-for-4 passing. Since Week 11, the Eagles have converted all six runs on third and 1 or fourth and 1 but are 0-for-4 on passes.
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.