- Aaron Schatz
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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
Eagles at Cardinals, Sunday 3 p.m.
The Cardinals have gotten their running game going over the past couple of weeks, but that might have less to do with the Cardinals and more to do with their opponents. Atlanta ranked 25th in run defense DVOA this year. Carolina was 24th. Philadelphia, on the other hand, ranked third. The only teams that played better run defense this year are the two playing over in the other championship game.
Philadelphia led the league in usage of zone blitzes, the only team to zone-blitz more than 10 percent of the time. Arizona's offense had a problem with zone blitzes, gaining two fewer yards per play when the defense zone-blitzed. (Note that the phrase "zone blitz" here means that a lineman drops into coverage while at least one linebacker or defensive back rushes the passer. It does not necessarily imply complete zone coverage behind the blitz. Philadelphia would be better off going with a "double-cover Larry Fitzgerald and zone everywhere else" blitz.)
Based on gross value (i.e. assuming average returns), kicker Neil Rackers and punter Ben Graham were both above-average. However, the Cardinals gave up more value on kickoff returns than any team except Kansas City, and more value on punt returns than any teams except Minnesota and Washington. Combined, the Arizona coverage teams gave up an estimated 22 points' worth of field position compared to the NFL average.
The Cardinals were significantly better at home this year. At home, DVOA ranks them eighth in offense, 17th in defense. On the road, they were 17th in offense, 24th in defense.
• More Eagles-Cardinals: Intel Report
Ravens at Steelers, Sunday 6:30 p.m.
If Terrell Suggs cannot play this Sunday due to his shoulder injury, it will be a big loss for the Ravens. Suggs led the entire NFL this year with 36 Defeats, a stat which combines turnovers, tackles for a loss and tackles that prevent a third-down conversion. As you might expect, given the quality of these defenses, a number of Steelers and Ravens did well in Defeats. James Harrison was fifth in the NFL with 29 Defeats. Ray Lewis and James Farrior had 27 Defeats each, a three-way tie with Chicago's Brian Urlacher for the most among inside linebackers. Troy Polamalu led all safeties with 25 Defeats.
The Steelers and Ravens have very similar offenses, except in one area: third-and-short. The Steelers were better than the Ravens on first and second down, but the Ravens were far better than the Steelers on third and fourth down, and the difference is almost entirely based on performance with just 1-3 yards to go. Baltimore converted these situations 73 percent of the time. Pittsburgh converted only 58 percent of the time with a league-high six turnovers.
A strange thing happened during the second half of the season. Ben Roethlisberger started taking fewer sacks. In the first eight games, Roethlisberger was sacked 29 times. In the final eight, he was sacked only 20 times, while dropping back to pass almost 50 more times.
Baltimore's pass rush didn't get to the quarterback as often as Pittsburgh's did, but the Ravens certainly disrupted things. Our game charters mark the reason for every incomplete pass. The Ravens led the league in incompletes caused by hitting the quarterback in motion. They were second in passes intentionally thrown away and third in passes tipped or batted down at the line of scrimmage.
• More Ravens-Steelers: 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.
Championship Weekend: Numbers Crunching