Commentary

Numbers Crunching: Divisional Round

Originally Published: January 8, 2009
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.

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 ET

Ravens at Titans, Saturday 4:30 p.m.

The Titans led the league with 59 defensive penalties (including offsetting and declined). Oakland was the only other team with more than 50. Coincidentally, Baltimore drew more penalties by opponents than any other team in the league.

The Titans defense tends to let up once the team has a lead. Tennessee ranks 23rd in defensive DVOA when winning by more than a touchdown, even though they are fifth overall. However, the Titans also get even better when it really matters, with the best defensive DVOA in the league in late and close situations (second half, score within a touchdown).

Although both of these teams like to run the ball, there's a significant difference when it comes to picking up those important short-yardage runs. Baltimore converted these situations 78 percent of the time, third in the NFL, while Tennessee converted just 61 percent, which ranked 26th.

More Numbers Crunching
The experts at Football Outsiders take an in-depth look at the numbers for the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Insider Insider

• More Ravens-Titans: Intel Report | EA Sim

Cardinals at Panthers, Saturday 8:15 p.m.

Carolina pulled a rare double, finishing first in the league in running in short-yardage situations, but also first in the league in the percentage of their rushing yards that came more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. No other team since at least 1997 has led the league in both categories, on either offense or defense.

Cardinals vs. Panthers Preview

NFL.com Video

A preview of the NFC Divisional playoff matchup between the Cardinals and the Panthers.

The Cardinals switch between a 4-3 and 3-4 alignment, and often rush their outside linebackers. Only three teams rushed five defenders more often. That's a bit of a problem against Carolina, which was one of the few offenses that weren't hurt by blitzes. Carolina averaged the same 6.7 yards per play against five pass-rushers that it did against four pass-rushers, and it was even better -- 9.2 yards per play, fourth in the NFL -- against a big blitz of six or more defenders. The last time these teams played, the Panthers didn't have a lot of success against the blitz, but the success they did have was huge -- namely, a 65-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith on third-and-2 when Arizona sent six.

If this game stays close, don't be surprised to see the Panthers come from behind. The Panthers' offense ranks second in DVOA when tied or losing, but 14th when winning by a touchdown or less, and 24th when winning by more than a touchdown. Arizona's defense is above-average when the Cardinals are tied or losing, but 24th when the Cardinals are winning by a touchdown or less, and the worst in the league with a lead of more than a touchdown.

• More Cardinals-Panthers: Intel Report | EA Sim

Eagles at Giants, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

One reason the Eagles are a troubling matchup for the Giants: Eli Manning struggles against the blitz. Only four teams send five or more pass-rushers more often than the Eagles, and no team sends six or more pass-rushers more often. The Eagles do a great job of stopping the offense when they blitz, and Manning's numbers get worse with more pass-rushers (although he did have a couple of big gains on the few plays that opponents sent seven defenders).

Yards Per Pass/Scramble | Frequency of Pass Plays
Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6+ Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6+
NYG OFF 6.7 5.8 4.4 56 % 25 % 14 %
PHI DEF 6.0 3.6 4.2 59 % 20 % 18 %
NFL AVG 6.3 6.3 5.5 64 % 21 % 9 %

In the first two games between these teams, our charters marked nine plays in which the Eagles rushed six or more against Manning. One of those plays came on the goal line, and Manning hit Kevin Boss for a touchdown. The other eight passes were incomplete.

Another example of how well the Philadelphia blitz packages work: In the Football Outsiders' game-charting project, we mark sacks in four categories: overall pressure, rusher untouched, blown block or quarterback fault (for example, the quarterback slips on the grass on his own). Philadelphia leads the NFL in sacks marked as "overall pressure," and only Buffalo had more sacks marked as "rusher untouched."

The Eagles and Giants have a very clear weakness in one specific down-and-distance situation -- but it is the same one for both teams. The Giants had the worst defense in the NFL on second-and-short, but in the same situation, only the Bengals had a worse offense than the Eagles did.

• More Eagles-Giants: Intel Report | EA Sim

Chargers at Steelers, Sunday 4:45 p.m.

This game matches two of the three defenses that rush five or more defenders at least 30 percent of the time (the other is Dallas). Both Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger were better this year against four pass-rushers than against five, and better against five than against six or seven.

Chargers vs. Steelers Preview

NFL.com Video

A preview of the AFC Divisional Playoff matchup between the Chargers and the Steelers.

Pittsburgh's strength in the run game is on the left side, which is also the weakness of the San Diego defense. The Steelers were in the top 10 for Adjusted Line Yards going left end and left tackle, but below-average up the middle and to the right. San Diego was 26th against runs left end and 28th against runs left tackle. However, when these teams faced each other in Week 11, Pittsburgh's runs actually went against the season-long trends. Willie Parker gained 31 yards on seven runs listed as left end and left tackle (4.4 yards per carry) but 68 yards on 14 runs listed as middle or guard (4.9 yards per carry). Parker is normally a boom-and-bust runner with a lot of stuffs at the line, but 11 of those 14 runs up the middle went for at least three yards.

Pittsburgh's offense and San Diego's defense both get much better after halftime. The Steelers were 29th in offensive DVOA before halftime, 12th afterward. The Chargers were 27th in defensive DVOA before halftime, 12th afterward.

• More Chargers-Steelers: 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.