Commentary

Divisional Playoffs: Numbers Crunching

Divisional Playoffs: Numbers Crunching

Originally Published: January 10, 2008
By Aaron Schatz | Football Outsiders.com

This week, Football Outsiders takes a look at the 2007 NFL divisional playoffs and applies statistical analysis gathered during the regular season. Much of the analysis is based on DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), which takes every 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.

Seahawks at Packers (Saturday), 4:30 p.m. ET

The Seattle Seahawks ended the 2007 regular season with 69 penalties, the fewest in the league. The Green Bay Packers' total of 127 tied with Atlanta for fourth-most, and no team had more defensive penalties. The Packers' secondary is especially foul-prone -- it led the league in defensive pass interference and illegal contact penalties with 13 of each. The three most penalized defensive players in the league were Charles Woodson, teammate Al Harris, and Miami defensive end Jason Taylor.

How much did Ryan Grant's ascent to the starting role help the Packers running game? Green Bay ranked 15th in rushing DVOA over the first half of the season, and fourth in the second half. Unfortunately for Grant, Seattle's run defense made the exact same jump: 15th in the first eight games, fourth in the last eight.

LeRoy Hill led all NFC linebackers with a stop rate of 85 percent on running plays and made his average run tackle 2.9 yards from the line of scrimmage. Lofa Tatupu had a slightly lower stop rate (73 percent), but he made his average run tackle 2.2 yards from the line of scrimmage, the lowest figure for any starting middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense.

Seattle, however, did give up some serious yardage if running backs could get past the front seven, and Grant has a habit of making big plays. Compared to Seattle, only two defenses gave up a higher percentage of their rushing yardage beyond 10 yards. And compared to Green Bay, only two offenses gained a higher percentage of their rushing yardage beyond 10 yards.

Last week in the playoff win over the Washington Redskins, Seattle harassed Todd Collins all day with its excellent pass rush. It will be harder to get to Brett Favre. Thanks to good blocking and a quarterback who knows when to throw it away, the Packers offense led the league with the lowest adjusted sack rate (defined here).

Both Seattle and Green Bay ranked in the top five for value on punt returns, while Ryan Plackemeier and Jon Ryan were two of the three worst punters in the NFL this year. (The other was Mike Barr of Arizona).

• More Seahawks-Packers: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Jaguars at Patriots (Saturday), 8 p.m. ET

Based on our weighted DVOA formula, which lowers the strength of earlier games to give a more accurate view of how good teams are right now, this game matches up the two best teams in the NFL. As most fans know, the New England Patriots haven't dominated over the past few weeks the way they did in September and October, while the Jacksonville Jaguars have been getting better and better.

The Patriots offense has been spectacular for the entire season, but the defense has faltered a bit. Through their Week 9 game with Indianapolis, the Patriots ranked fourth in pass defense and 10th in run defense. Since that game, the Patriots rank just 22nd in pass defense and 21st in run defense.

Jacksonville has improved on both sides of the ball since Week 9 -- the week they were blown out by New Orleans with backup Quinn Gray at quarterback. During the first eight games of the year, the Jaguars ranked 10th in pass offense and 14th in run offense. Since Week 10, the Jaguars rank first in pass offense and second in run offense.

Yes, that says "first."

Contrary to public perception, the Patriots' running game has been more efficient than the Jaguars' running game over the past eight weeks, while the Jaguars have enjoyed the more efficient passing game. The Patriots have the better overall offense because they use the pass much more than the Jaguars do, and teams that pass more generally score more points. (The Jaguars also rank as a more efficient passing team because they didn't spend 30 minutes in Week 16 chucking the ball downfield with a series of bad passes meant solely to surpass individual NFL records.)

As for defense, Jacksonville has improved there as well. Through Week 9, Jacksonville ranked 13th in pass defense and 27th in run defense. Since Week 10, the Jaguars are fourth in pass defense and 14th in run defense.

There is a sense that teams were doing a much better job of pressuring Tom Brady in the last few games of the year, but even if that's true, they still aren't bringing him down very often. The Patriots offense had the same adjusted sack rate before and after their Week 10 bye.

Asante Samuel allows just 4.5 yards per pass when listed as the main defender in coverage; the only cornerback who did better (minimum 40 passes) was Roderick Hood of Arizona.

According to the Football Outsiders aggressiveness index, Bill Belichick and Jack Del Rio were two of the league's four most aggressive coaches going for it on fourth down in 2007.

The Patriots had the league's worst defensive DVOA when the score was within a touchdown in the third quarter ... but the best defensive DVOA when the score was within a touchdown in the fourth.


• More Jaguars-Patriots: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Chargers at Colts (Sunday), 1 p.m. ET

Both of this season games between the San Diego Chargers and theIndianapolis Colts might be decided by tight end health. Dallas Clark missed the first game, while Antonio Gates is very likely to miss this one.

Clark does not actually play tight end most of the time -- he's the Indianapolis slot receiver on virtually all first and second downs. That makes him very important this week, because San Diego's defense ranks seventh against No. 1 and first against No. 2 receivers, but 30th against "other receivers."

The Chargers gave up big games to guys like Detroit's Mike Furrey, Green Bay's James Jones, and Denver's Glenn Martinez. Nickel corner Drayton Florence is not having a good year; he lost his job to Antonio Cromartie at midseason. Rookie Eric Weddle is a hard hitter, but in general, safety is the Chargers' weakest position.

Without Gates, Philip Rivers loses his security blanket on third down. The Chargers threw to tight ends 38 percent of the time on third down -- more than twice the league average of 17 percent.

On first and second down, however, Gates' injury will affect the Chargers' running game more than their passing game. The Colts actually ranked second in DVOA against tight ends, behind only Tennessee. Perhaps you have heard of this Bob Sanders person? With Gates in the lineup, the Colts would need to use Sanders more in pass coverage. Without Gates, the Colts are free to make Sanders the eighth man in the box on anything that isn't an obvious passing situation.

According to the Football Outsiders' game-charting project, San Diego and Indianapolis were the two NFL defenses that blitzed six defenders the least often in 2007. Look at blitzing five, however, and things are very different. San Diego sent exactly five pass-rushers more often than any defense in the league, while the Colts still ranked last.

San Diego ranks fourth in the Football Outsiders special teams ratings, above average in every aspect of special teams. Indianapolis ranks last in special teams, well below average in everything except punt returns. The Colts have the highest-paid kicker in the league but ranked 29th in net kickoff value and 31st in field goal kicking.

The Colts had the best defensive DVOA of any team on the road, but they ranked just 19th in defensive DVOA at home. San Diego, on the other hand, ranks first in defensive DVOA at home but just 20th on the road. If you like offense, be happy this game isn't being played at Qualcomm Stadium.


• More Chargers-Colts: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Giants at Cowboys (Sunday), 4:30 pm ET

If the Dallas Cowboys go up on the New York Giants early, they'll be a tough opponent to come back on. The Cowboys offense ranks third in DVOA when leading by 1-8 points, first when leading by nine or more, and second in late and close situations (second half or overtime, score within one touchdown).

The more yardage needed on third down, the worse the Giants offense has been compared to the league average. The Giants rank 11th on third-and-short, 21st on third-and-medium, and 31st on third-and-long. (Obviously, they've looked a little better than that over the last two weeks.)

Which Giants defensive lineman made the most drive-killing plays? No, it wasn't Michael Strahan or Osi Umenyiora. It was Justin Tuck, who was third among all defensive linemen in the NFL with 29 defeats, plays in which the offense lost yardage, turned the ball over, or failed to convert third down. Jared Allen of Kansas City and Trent Cole of Philadelphia were the only linemen with more defeats than Tuck.

Jacques Reeves was targeted on 21 percent of charted passes against Dallas, the highest percentage of any cornerback in the league.


• More Giants-Cowboys: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Aaron Schatz is president of Football Outsiders Inc. and the lead author of Pro Football Prospectus 2007 and 2008.