Commentary

Wild-Card Weekend: Numbers Crunching

Originally Published: December 31, 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 (defense-adjusted value over average), which takes every single play during the season and compares them 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 this data is unofficial and is missing a handful of games that are not charted yet.

All times Eastern

Falcons at Cardinals, Saturday 4:30 p.m.

Through half the season, Arizona had 21 quarterback sacks and ranked eighth in adjusted sack rate (explained here). Since then, the Cardinals have just 10 sacks, and only Kansas City had a lower adjusted sack rate. Meanwhile, Atlanta's offensive line has only allowed five sacks since midseason, tied with Indianapolis for the lowest adjusted sack rate in the league since Week 10.

Arizona's offense generally starts slowly, then heats up. The Cardinals rank 26th in offensive DVOA in the first quarter (with just 5.6 yards per play) and then fourth for the rest of the game (with 6.2 yards per play). And Falcons fans, beware if this game stays close into the second half: Arizona's offense ranked second in the NFL during late and close situations (only New Orleans was better) while the Atlanta defense was a poor 29th.

There's a big difference between Arizona cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Roderick Hood. Arizona opponents averaged 5.6 yards per pass on the right side (where Hood usually lines up) but 8.6 yards per pass on the left side (Rogers-Cromartie and, before he became a starter, Eric Green). The Falcons usually have top receiver Roddy White on the right side. Will they switch things up and let White try to burn Rodgers-Cromartie?

• More Falcons-Cardinals: Intel Report

More Numbers Crunching
The experts at Football Outsiders take an in-depth look at the numbers for Wild-Card Weekend. Insider Insider

Colts at Chargers, Saturday 8 p.m.

The Chargers have a big advantage over the Colts when it comes to running in short-yardage situations. San Diego ranks second in power running success on offense, and eighth preventing such success on defense. Indianapolis is 21st on offense and 30th on defense. The Colts get around this problem by passing more on third-and-short. On third or fourth down with 1-3 yards to go, Peyton Manning converted 28 of 37 passes for a new set of downs (29 for 38 if we count a pass interference call). The league average was only 50 percent.

The Chargers also have an advantage on special teams, 12th in the FO rankings compared to 26th for Indianapolis. The biggest issue is the field-position advantage the Chargers will get when forced to punt. Both San Diego's Mike Scifres and Indianapolis' Hunter Smith had strong seasons as punters, but the Chargers had average punt returns while the Colts' punt returns rated the worst in the league. Although both Nate Kaeding and Adam Vinatieri are known as quality kickers, both had below-average seasons in field-goal value.

However, San Diego's defense is weakest where the Indianapolis offense is strongest. The Chargers are one of the top teams defending No. 2 receivers and running backs in the passing game, but they rank 24th against No. 1 receivers and 26th against tight ends.

• More Colts-Chargers: Intel Report

Ravens at Dolphins, Sunday 1:30 p.m.

This game matches the best offense in the red zone (Miami) against the best defense in the red zone (Baltimore). Another trait those two units have in common: Miami's offense and Baltimore's defense led the league in DVOA when tied or trailing by as much as one touchdown.

Baltimore had the best punting in the league, worth an estimated 20.7 points of field position; however, they were below average in all other aspects of special teams. That's still better than Miami, which ranked 29th overall in our special teams ratings and was particularly poor both punting and kicking off.

Our play-by-play database, and thus our DVOA metric, goes back to 1995. Baltimore had the 10th best defense of that 14-year period, including the seventh-best run defense. Four of the top 10 defenses in DVOA all-time are Baltimore's defenses in 2000, 2003, 2006 and this season.

• More Ravens-Dolphins: Intel Report

Eagles at Vikings, Sunday 4:30 p.m.

The Eagles spent a ton of free-agent money on cornerback Asante Samuel, but it's the other starter, Sheldon Brown, who may have been the best cornerback in football this year (non-Nigerian division). Brown leads all cornerbacks with at least 35 charted passes in both of FO's defensive coverage metrics, averaging just 4.6 yards per pass with a success rate of 74 percent. We don't have Brown down as allowing a single touchdown, at least through Week 14, and he wasn't flagged once all season for illegal contact or pass interference. Brown is usually on the offensive left, so he will spend much of the game covering Minnesota's best receiver, Bernard Berrian.

Minnesota and Philadelphia were the league's two best defenses on third-and-short this season. On offense, both teams struggled early but have dramatically improved over the last few weeks. Through Week 12, Minnesota had converted 52 percent of third (and fourth) downs with 1-3 yards to go, while Philadelphia had converted 51 percent. Since Week 13, Minnesota has converted 85 percent and Philadelphia 74 percent.

Philadelphia's Trent Cole leads all defensive linemen with 29 defeats, a stat which combines tackles for a loss, turnovers and plays that stop third-down conversions. Minnesota's Antoine Winfield leads all defensive backs in the same stat, with 27 defeats.

• More Eagles-Vikings: Intel Report

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