Commentary

Week 17: Numbers Crunching

Originally Published: December 24, 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 defense-adjusted value over average, 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 leaguewide 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

Rams at Falcons, 1 p.m. (Sunday)

Atlanta gains 6.6 yards per play when using play-action, but 7.5 yards per play without a play fake, making it one of the few teams that gains more yards without play-action. That might change against St. Louis, because the Rams give up an astonishing 12.4 yards per play when the opponent uses play-action. (Only one other team, Buffalo, gives up more than 10 yards per play in these situations.)

Atlanta leads the league with the fewest penalties on defense, while St. Louis leads the league with the most penalties on offense.

• More Rams-Falcons: Intel Report | EA Sim

Patriots at Bills, 1 p.m.

This game matches the two teams with the fewest penalties in the NFL this season.

The Patriots begin their average drive on the 33-yard line; the Bills begin their average drive on the 32.8-yard line. They rank second and third; only Chicago starts the average drive closer to a touchdown.

A big day for Kevin Faulk: Buffalo has been the worst defense in the league against running back screen passes this year, giving up more than 12 yards per pass.

• More Patriots-Bills: Intel Report | EA Sim

Chiefs at Bengals, 1 p.m.

Kansas City's use of the shotgun is now up to 62 percent of all offensive plays. That's remarkable. Until the 2007 Patriots, no team had ever used shotgun more than half the time. However, Cincinnati is one of the few defenses that is stronger against shotgun plays than against plays with the quarterback under center.

• More Chiefs-Bengals: Intel Report | EA Sim

Lions at Packers, 1 p.m.

You don't think of these as two of the better running teams in the league, but they are on third downs. Detroit has the best rushing DVOA in the league on third and fourth down, while Green Bay ranks third.

Detroit gives up an average of 6.2 yards after catch, which leads the league -- but Green Bay ranks third, giving up an average of 5.7 yards after catch.

• More Lions-Packers: Intel Report | EA Sim

Bears at Texans, 1 p.m.

Chicago is far superior to Houston in the red zone, on both sides of the ball. Chicago ranks 10th in offensive DVOA in the red zone and sixth in defensive DVOA. Houston ranks 28th in offensive DVOA and 31st in defensive DVOA.

Only two players in the NFL have a Stop Rate above 50 percent when making tackles after completed passes: DeMeco Ryans of the Texans (63 percent on 24 tackles) and Lance Briggs of the Bears (51 percent on 47 tackles).

• More Bears-Texans: Intel Report | EA Sim

Titans at Colts, 1 p.m.

This game matches the league's best passing offense on third down against the league's best passing defense on third down -- until the inevitable appearance of Indianapolis backup quarterback Jim Sorgi and the Tennessee second-string defense.

The Titans and Colts have the league's two lowest Adjusted Sack Rates on offense.

• More Titans-Colts: Intel Report | EA Sim

Giants at Vikings, 1 p.m.

Adrian Peterson's butterfingers go beyond just fumbles: He has a catch rate of only 54 percent, the lowest for any running back with at least 25 pass targets. If Peterson can catch a pass, however, he'll be going up against a Giants defense with the league's worst DVOA against running backs in the passing game.

Based on our estimates, miserable punting and punt coverage have cost Minnesota 24.6 points worth of field position compared to an average team. Since 1995, the first year of our play-by-play database, the only team with more negative value from punting was the 2002 Cincinnati Bengals (worth a ridiculous minus 35.2 points worth of field position).

• More Giants-Vikings: Intel Report | EA Sim

Panthers at Saints, 1 p.m.

Jon Beason has been involved in 25 percent of Carolina's run tackles, the highest percentage of any player in 2008.

Saints safety Kevin Kaesviharn has made 34 tackles after completed passes. Not one of those tackles has stopped the receiver short of our definition of a successful play (45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down, 100 percent on third or fourth down).

• More Panthers-Saints: Intel Report | EA Sim

Browns at Steelers, 1 p.m.

It's hard to find a category in which Pittsburgh does not have one of the best defenses in the league and Cleveland does not have one of the worst offenses. Much more rare are categories where the Cleveland defense is far superior to the Pittsburgh offense. An important one: Pittsburgh ranks a surprising 31st running on third and fourth down, while Cleveland's defense (with a big Shaun Rogers wall in the middle) ranks fifth.

• More Browns-Steelers: Intel Report | EA Sim

Raiders at Buccaneers, 1 p.m.

Tampa Bay has the league's most consistent offense based on game-to-game DVOA, but only one defense is less consistent (the Giants, primarily because of the Monday night game at Cleveland in Week 6). Tampa Bay middle linebacker Barrett Ruud has been involved in 18.8 percent of the Bucs' total defensive plays (tackles and turnovers), the highest percentage of any player in 2008.

• More Raiders-Buccaneers: Intel Report | EA Sim

Cowboys at Eagles, 4:15 p.m.

Terrell Owens has caught only 48 percent of intended passes. Among receivers with at least 100 targets, only Braylon Edwards has a lower catch rate. This has very little to do with the weeks Brad Johnson played quarterback for Dallas; T.O. has a catch rate of only 49 percent on passes from Tony Romo.

Roy E. Williams also has a catch rate of less than 50 percent on passes from Romo.

Dallas leads the league in sacks and Adjusted Sack Rate, but Philadelphia has been surprisingly strong in pass protection this season; the Eagles rank eighth in Adjusted Sack Rate on offense after ranking 21st in 2007.

The Eagles send more big blitzes (six or more pass rushers) than any other defense, and Romo has had problems with those blitzes this year. With four or five pass rushers, Romo gains roughly 2 yards per pass more than the average NFL quarterback. With six or more pass rushers, Romo becomes a league-average quarterback.

• More Cowboys-Eagles: Intel Report | EA Sim

Dolphins at Jets, 4:15 p.m.

New York has a big advantage over Miami when it comes to kickoffs. The Jets rank seventh in our ratings for kickoffs, fifth for kick returns. Miami ranks 30th for kickoffs and 22nd for kick returns.

Even if the Jets stop the Dolphins on first down, they need to watch out for the passing game -- Miami has the best passing DVOA in the league on second down, and the best overall offensive rating on second-and-long. The Jets' defense is 30th in the league on second down passes, and 27th on second-and-long.

The Jets' defense ranks eighth in DVOA in the first half of games, but 26th after halftime.

• More Dolphins-Jets: Intel Report | EA Sim

Jaguars at Ravens, 4:15 p.m.

Baltimore's passing game gets better with each successive down: 30th on first down, 22nd on second down, and eighth on third and fourth down. Jacksonville, on the other hand, ranks 18th in the NFL on first and second down, but has the worst pass defense in the league on third and fourth down.

Baltimore leads the league in value on punts but is poor on kickoffs. Jacksonville leads the league in value on kickoffs but is poor on punts.

• More Jaguars-Ravens: Intel Report | EA Sim

Seahawks at Cardinals, 4:15 p.m.

This is the battle of the obstinate offensive coordinators, as the team that uses the fewest play-action fakes (Arizona) takes on the team that uses the fewest shotgun formations (Seattle).

Tumbling Cards
UnitDVOA Weeks 1-9DVOA Weeks 10-16
Pass offense315
Run offense2531
Pass defense1830
Run defense923
Special teams2031

How far has Arizona fallen since midseason? Since Week 10, the Cardinals' DVOA rating has gotten worse in every aspect of the game.

• More Seahawks-Cardinals: Intel Report | EA Sim

Redskins at 49ers, 4:15 p.m.

In the second half of close games (within a touchdown), Washington's offensive DVOA is second only to that of the New Orleans Saints, while San Francisco's offensive DVOA is worse than that of every team except the St. Louis Rams.

Washington's defense is above average from the opposing goal line to their own 20-yard line -- but then ranks 27th in DVOA in the red zone.

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

Broncos at Chargers, 8:15 p.m.

Denver leads the league with 38.1 yards per drive on offense -- and ranks 31st in the NFL giving up 35.9 yards per drive on defense.

Look for big games from Tony Scheffler and Antonio Gates, as Denver ranks 30th in defense against tight ends while San Diego ranks 25th. Denver has the worst defense in the league in the second half of games, while San Diego's defensive DVOA improves from 28th in the first half to 10th after halftime.

• More Broncos-Chargers: Intel Report | EA Sim

Aaron Schatz is president of Football Outsiders Inc. and the lead author of "Pro Football Prospectus 2008," on sale online and in bookstores.