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Over the first two weeks of the season, the Saints had the worst pass defense in the NFL. New Orleans was torched by Sam Bradford and then Alex Smith — which admittedly looks less embarrassing in hindsight — as those two quarterbacks produced arguably the best two performances of the NFL those weeks.

Since then? New Orleans has had the best pass defense in the NFL by a considerable margin. The table below shows passing stats for each defense from weeks 3 through 10. Here’s how to read the Saints line. New Orleans has the best pass defense over that time period, and has won 100% of the team’s games. Opponents have completed only 121 of 226 pass attempts for a 53.5% completion rate, and are averaging only 9.8 yards per completion. The Saints have allowed just 1,036 passing yards (this is net of sacks), 5 TDs, and 10 INTs, while producing 22 sacks. Opponents have a 57.4 passer rating and have thrown for just 54 first downs. Finally, opponents are averaging just 2.77 ANY/A, and 4.54 Adj YPA (which includes a bonus for first downs), and have allowed a whopping 1,005 fewer adjusted yards than average, easily the best in the league. [click to continue…]


In 2006, playing for the Detroit Lions, quarterback Jon Kitna was responsible for every pass attempt by the team. He wound up throwing for 4,208 yards, and ran for another 156 yards. The Lions, being a terrible 3-13 team, finished 32nd in rushing attempts (because they were always losing) and 2nd in pass attempts (because they were always losing).

So you won’t be surprised to see that the Lions threw for a lot of yards (7th most in the NFL) and ran for not many yards (last). And since Kitna took every passing attempt, well, Kitna was responsible for most of the Lions total yards. In fact, the 4,364 yards he totaled wound up representing 81.7% of the Lions 5,337 team yards from scrimmage. That is the most in a single season by any player in NFL history… until, maybe, now.

Here’s a good tip: if you see a stat that says Superstar X has the most Y in history, and it doesn’t tell you who currently has the most Y in history, there’s a good chance it’s a player who isn’t very good. (Also, and this is a more rare rule: if a stat says since X date, it usually means another player had a better season before X date. That’s not the case here; the “in the Super Bowl era” modifier was not necessary.)

Wilson has all 2,543 passing yards thrown by the Seahawks this year, and he also leads the team in rushing. Wilson has 290 rushing yards, so he’s accounted for 2,833 yards for Seattle this year, or 82.1% of the team’s 3,443 yards through ten weeks.

Below are the current list of single-season leaders in percentage of team yards: [click to continue…]


Adjusted Completion Percentage, Part 2

Last summer, I discussed that while completion percentage is a bad statistic, there’s one simple way to improve the metric: include sacks in the denominator.

If a quarterback takes a sack, that is *worse* than an incomplete pass, but it is *better* for the quarterback’s completion percentage. That is Just Plain Wrong.

As it turns out, this really impacts Peyton Manning and, to a lesser extent, Drew Brees. In 2003, Manning led the NFL in both completion percentage (67.0%) and adjusted completion percentage (64.9%). Technically, Manning didn’t win any other completion percentage crowns, although PFR gives him a tie in 2012. 1 However, he won the adjusted completion percentage crown a whopping five more times in his career: 2004, 2006, 2008, 2012, and 2013.

Brees has three completion percentage crowns (a fourth may come this season), but two more adjusted completion percentage titles. From 2003 to 2016, Manning won six AC% titles, Brees won give, and the rest of the league (Cousins, Brady, Palmer) won just three. In fact, from the six-year period covering 2008 to 2013, Manning and Brees won all of the adjusted completion percentage crowns.

The full list of leaders in each year since the merger are presented below, along with where that quarterback ranked in raw completion percentage (using a minimum of 224 passing plays per 16 team games for both metrics): [click to continue…]

  1. Technically, he lost it to Matt Ryan that year once you go out to two decimal places, 68.62% to 68.61% (although if you include sacks in the denominator but keep the minimum at 224 passing plays, Alex Smith was the completion percentage champion in 2012). []

Week 10 Game Scripts: Saints Stick To the Ground Game

The Broncos, Saints, Packers, and Steelers were your run-happy teams of week 10.

Denver made the quarterback switch to Brock Osweiler, which is a good reason why they decided to be run-happy. Osweiler had 33 pass attempts, while Broncos running backs had 27 carries… in a game Denver trailed 27-9 at halftime. Consider that New England had a +14.5 Game Script… and finished with a higher pass ratio than Denver!

New Orleans called a running play on 24 straight plays, and passed on fewer than 35% of their plays, the first time that’s happened for the Saints since 2001. Even with a +16.6 Game Script, that’s still incredibly run-heavy.

Green Bay was in a tight game throughout with the Bears, but Jamaal Williams had 20 carries and Green Bay rushed 37 times against the Bears, compared to just 28 pass plays for Brett Hundley (who also had only two rushing attempts).

Finally, Pittsburgh trailed most of the day against the Colts, but Le’Veon Bell still had 26 carries. The Steelers had a nearly 50/50 pass/run ratio, remarkable for a team playing with a -4.7 Game Script.

The full week 10 Game Scripts below: [click to continue…]


Let’s get to the week 9 Game scripts! Yes, these are a week late: my apologies, as well, other topics wound up being covered last week.

The biggest stories of week 9 were the blowout wins by Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. The Rams and Saints followed that up with another pair of blowout wins in week 10, while the Eagles were on bye. But before turning to week 10, let’s review some of the biggest outliers from week nine.

In week 9, the Jets and Panthers were very run-heavy. Lest you forget, the Jets beat the Bills on Thursday night in week 9, and while quarterback Josh McCown did have 5 carries, the running backs combined for 36 carries, while McCown had just 21 attempts. The Jets blew out Buffalo, but consider that the Lions had a similar Game Script and passes on 50% of plays.

Carolina beat Atlanta in a close game where the Panthers trailed for most of the first half. Still, behind Cam Newton and his 9 carries, Carolina wound up passing just 25 times while running 38 times! That’s really run-heavy.

The full Game Scripts data below: [click to continue…]


Note: The data in today’s post is current through week 10 but excluding the Monday Night game between Carolina and Miami.

The Jets, behind Josh McCown, rank 3rd in the NFL in completion percentage this season, with a nominally impressive 69.1% rate. However, as noted last month, that was pretty misleading — and it still is.

The Jets are one of just four teams that have picked up first downs on fewer than half of their completed passes, and the other three teams are a who’s who of ugly quarterback play this year (Ravens, Dolphins, and Giants). The Bears and Browns round out the bottom six, while the Texans (RIP Deshaun Watson) lead the NFL in this metric.

But if first downs per completed pass is akin to yards per completion — an interesting statistic but better used to describe style than competency — than first downs per pass play (including sacks) is the more useful metric (this is similar to Net Yards per Attempt). After all, on a dropback, if a quarterback throws for a first down, it’s a good pass play; if a first down is not picked up, it usually wasn’t a good pass play.

So first downs per pass play (again, including sacks) is a good measure of an offense’s success rate. And you probably won’t be too surprised to see that the Patriots and Saints lead the NFL in that metric this year. Apparently, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are pretty good at keeping their offenses on schedule. The Chiefs, Falcons, and Rams rank in the top 5 in this metric as well.

Let’s use the Patriots line to explain how to read the table below. New England has completed 234 of 346 passes, a 67.6% completion rate that ranks 4th in the NFL. The Patriots have taken 22 sacks but picked up 142 first downs. New England has picked up a 1st down on 60.7% of its completed passes, and 38.6% of its pass plays. That ranks 1st in the NFL, and is the metric by which the table below is sorted. [click to continue…]


A week ago, Iowa beat Ohio State 55-24 and recorded the single-best SRS game score (87.5) of the 2017 season. And after the Buckeyes crushed Michigan State on Saturday, that win looks even better: it now measures a whopping 88.5 in the SRS. And yet, it is no longer the top game of the year, not after what Miami just did.

At home against the then-#1 team in the SRS, Notre Dame, the Hurricanes crushed the Irish 41-8. Because Notre Dame still has an impressive 62.2 SRS rating, the 33-point win — which gets knocked down to 27 due to home field and as part of the compression against blowouts — produced an SRS score of 89.2, the best game of the year. And the Buckeyes win over MSU? That was the third best performance of the season, scoring an SRS score of 81.7. And let’s not forget about what Auburn did to Georgia — the Tigers produced the 7th-best game of the year by SRS standards. The table below shows the single-game SRS scores from this week: [click to continue…]


The Jets had an ugly 15-10 loss to the Bucs today, and quarterback Josh McCown was as responsible for it as anyone. Prior to some garbage yard throws, he had passed for just 157 net yards on 41 dropbacks with an interception, and the Jets first 11 drives (before a meaningless touchdown) ended with 7 punts, 2 turnovers, 1 FG attempt, and 1 turnover on downs.

But in the final seconds of the game, McCown managed to throw his 14th touchdown pass of the season. That set a new single-season career high for McCown, which is notable: that’s the oldest age any player set their single-season career high in passing touchdowns.

As I wrote earlier, McCown has turned into one of the great late bloomers in quarterback history. Of McCown’s 70 career starts, half of them have come with him at 34.4 years of age or older, giving him the fifth oldest median age of start in league history. But now he has another record all to his own.

Warren Moon set a career high with 33 touchdown passes at age 34 in 1990; 5 years later, Moon tied that mark at the age of 39. But he didn’t set a new career high at age 39, so the tie goes to McCown.

Similarly, Craig Morton originally set a career high in passing touchdowns in 1969 at the age of 26 with 21 scoring strikes; at age 38, in 1981, he again threw 21 touchdown passes.

Five player — Y.A. Tittle, Roger Staubach, John Elway, Steve Young, and Peyton Manning — set a new career high in touchdown passes at the age of 37. Those are the men McCown pushed aside it he record books today.

There are 301 quarterbacks in NFL history who threw for at least 10 touchdown passes in one season and are at least 35 years old in 2017. The graph below shows for each age, the number of QBs who set their career high at that age (and quarterbacks who tie that number later in their career get a 0.5 for each year; so age 26 and age 38 each get 0.5 for Morton). [click to continue…]

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The NFL Is Partying Like It’s 1978

For the majority of the NFL, the 2017 season feels pretty similar to the 1978 season.

In 1978, the Rams won 75% of their games and the Redskins went .500.
In 2017, the Rams have won 75% of their games and the Redskins are .500.

In 1978, the Colts had a superstar quarterback (Bert Jones) in the prime of his career, but he was hurt, and the team finished with the worst points differential in the NFL. In 2017, the Colts have a superstar quarterback in the prime of his career (Andrew Luck), but he is hurt, and the team has the worst points differential in the NFL.

The 1978 49ers had the worst record in the NFL. The 2017 49ers have the worst record in the NFL.

In 1978, the Packers won 8 games with a Hall of Fame QB on the sidelines in head coach Bart Starr; the 2017 Packers are 4-4 with a Hall of Fame QB on the sidelines in Aaron Rodgers.

The 1978 Giants finished in last place in the NFC East. The 2017 Giants are going to finish in last place in the NFC East.

The 1978 Jets went 8-8; with a win over the Bucs this Sunday, the 2017 Jets will be 5-5.

Speaking of Tampa Bay, the ’78 Bucs finished last in their division by two games; the ’17 Bucs are currently last in their division by two games.

But you know who was good in 1978? The Patriots, Steelers, Cowboys, and Eagles.

In 1978, New England started 6-2 and won the AFC East. In 2017, New England is 6-2 and in first place in the AFC East.

In 1978, Pittsburgh had a top-5 defense and a Hall of Fame quarterback in Terry Bradshaw; in 2017, Pottsburgh has a top-5 defense and a Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger.

In 1978, Philadelphia made the playoffs with Ron Jaworski in his second season as quarterback of the Eagles; in 2017, Philadelphia will make the playoffs with Carson Wentz in his second season as quarterback of the Eagles.

In 1978, Dallas made the playoffs with Pro Bowlers at QB, RB, WR, and TE in Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Tony Hill, and Billy Joe DuPree; in 2017, Dallas is 5-3 and on the road to the postseason thanks to star QB Dak Prescott, star RB Ezekiel Elliott, star WR Dez Bryant, and star TE Jason Witten.

In 1978, the Vikings won their division; in 2017, the Vikings are in first place in their division.

In 1978, the Bengals and their 29-year-old franchise quarterback Ken Anderson had a down year; Anderson went 4-8 as the starter. In 2017, the Bengals and their 30-year-old franchise quarterback Andy Dalton is having a down year; Dalton is 3-5 as a starter.

In 1978, the Bears had a losing record and yet still ranked last in pass attempts; in 2017, the Bears have a losing record and yet still rank last in pass attempts.

In 1978, the Falcons were a year removed from greatness on one side of the ball, and sputtered around .500; in 2017, the Falcons are a year removed from greatness on one side of the ball, and are sputtering around .500.

In 1978, the Lions finished 7-9 with an average offense and an average defense; in 2017, the Lions are 4-4 with an average offense and an average defense.

In 1978, the Cardinals had a losing record and an ugly offense; in 2017, the Cardinals have a losing record and an ugly offense.

In 1978, the Raiders disappointed; after an 11-3 season with a great quarterback in Ken Stabler, the team missed the playoffs. In 2017, the Raiders are disappointing; after a 12-3 season with Derek Carr in 2016, the Raiders are on track to miss the postseason.

In 1978, the Chargers had a Hall of Fame quarterback in Dan Fouts, but a 1-4 start and a tough division kept them out of the playoffs. In 2017, the Chargers have a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback in Philip Rivers, but a 1-4 start and a tough division might is likely to leave them out of the playoffs.

The 2017 Browns have lost 8 games, just like the 1978 Browns.

Not all teams are playing like it’s 1978, of course. The Ravens, Jaguars, Panthers, and Texans didn’t exist. The Saints were 7-9 that year, while this year’s Saints are 6-2 and look to be one of the better and more balanced (!) teams in the league. The Broncos were 10-6 with a great defense and a pretty good offense; this year’s Broncos are 3-5 with a terrible offense and a pretty good (and sometimes great) defense. This year’s Seahawks team is 6-3 and has a good chance of making the playoffs thanks to a good offense and a good defense; the ’78 Seahawks had a very good offense but a terrible defense, finishing 9-7 and out of the playoffs. Kansas City was one of the worst teams in the NFL in 1978, but one of the best in 2017. And the Bills were bad in ’78 but good in ’17, while the Dolphins are the reverse.


Today at Slate:

While we’ve known for a long time that going for it on fourth-and-short is the wise move, NFL coaches have typically eschewed this aggressive approach. Are coaches getting any smarter? I took a shot at answering that question in August, analyzing fourth-and-1 decisions that fell within the following three constraints:

  • The decision must have come in the first three quarters before end-of-game factors encourage or discourage aggressive play.
  • The offense had to be between its own 40-yard line and its opponent’s 40-yard line, so kicking a field goal wasn’t an option, but the team wasn’t so close to its own end zone as to make fourth down conservativism a defensible move.
  • The game needed to be competitive, defined as within 10 points, to ensure the scoreboard wasn’t the primary factor dictating those decisions.

From 1994–2004, teams went for it on these fourth-and-1 situations 28 percent of the time. From 2005–2014, that number ratcheted up, with teams going for it 35 percent of the time. And in 2015 and 2016, offenses stayed on the field for these fourth downs more than 40 percent.

That trend is still holding halfway through the 2017 season.

You can read the full article here.


Carolina is #1… in percentage of rushing yards not by running backs

The Carolina Panthers have rushed for 982 yards this year, an average of 109.1 per game.  That ranks 15th in the NFL, and just a hair above the league average rate of 108.1 rushing yards/game.  But the Panthers don’t have anything resembling a traditional ground game: of those 982 yards, starting running back Jonathan Stewart has just 350 of them, while quarterback Cam Newton has 341 rushing yards, the most of any quarterback in the NFL in 2017.

In addition, wide receivers Curtis Samuel, Damiere Byrd, and Russell Shepard have combined for 87 yards; that’s the third-most rushing yards in the league for any team behind the Rams (Tavon Austin) and Raiders (Cordarrelle Patterson) among non-QB/non-RBs. In fact, Panthers running backs are averaging just 61.6 rushing yards per game, the fewest in the NFL.

This is hardly shocking, of course: Newton has been an incredible rushing threat since he arrived in the NFL in 2011. But it’s still interesting to see the numbers and understand that the Panthers are an above average team in total rushing, but dead last in rushing by running backs. The table below shows each team’s rushing yards in 2017 through nine weeks, both by running backs only and overall. Here’s how to read the table below. The Jacksonville Jaguars rank 1st in running back rushing yards, with 145.1 per game. The Jaguars also rank 1st in total rushing yards per game, at 166.5. For Jacksonville, 87.2% of their rushing yards have come from running backs. The Panthers rank last in both running back rushing yards per game and percentage of rushing yards by their running backs. [click to continue…]


Guest Post: The Patriots’ League-Best Kickoffs

Today’s guest post comes from Miles Wray, a long-time reader of the site. He’s written an interesting post on special teams today, but you may know him as the host of the daily NBA podcast The 82 Review. You can also find him on Twitter @mileswray. What follows are Miles’ words: as always, we thank our guest writers for their contributions.

Bill Belichick Found Another Way to Bleed Yards From Opponents

Gostkowski, probably not kicking a touchback

Anytime the New England Patriots are at the top — or the bottom — of a league-wide leaderboard, no matter how insignificant that leaderboard is, it’s worth taking notice. The odds are that Bill Belichick and Ernie Adams are thinking a few steps ahead of every other team in the league, and are leveraging yet another corner of the game to their advantage.

Since the Patriots offense remains incredibly explosive, it’s pretty reasonable that they would be near the top of the league in the total number of kickoffs returned (i.e., opponent kickoff returns). New England has 47 kickoffs this year, or nearly double the number of a struggling offense like the Cleveland Browns (26). But how about this: the Patriots are dramatically ahead of everybody else in the league in the percentage of their kickoffs that are returned.

Since kickoffs were moved from the 30- to the 35-yard-line in 2011, it’s more common than ever to see a kickoff boomed out the back of the endzone. These plays have become so routine it’s basically part of the commercial break now. But not for the Patriots. The Patriots seem to be inviting their opponent to return their kicks.

I went through the kickoff statistics for each team in the league, and discarded any onside kicks, any short kicks in the last 10 seconds of the first half (which are often intentionally squibbed), and any kicks where the just-scored/kicking-off team had been penalized, moving the kickoff to the 30-, 25-, or 20-yard line. The remaining “clean” kickoffs give the best indication of a team’s intentional special teams strategy over time.

This season, most teams have about a third of their kickoffs returned. Only three teams have had over half of their kickoffs returned; the Patriots are alone at over 60%: [click to continue…]


Kirk Cousins is Spreading It Around

In the summer, I wrote an article describing the increased emphasis on spreading the ball around in team passing games. Through nine weeks of the 2017 season, which teams have the most and least concentrated passing games?

One way to measures this is to calculate the percentage of team targets had by every player on each team, square that result, and sum those squared results to get a team grade. Let’s use the Steelers as an example. Pittsburgh has 273 team targets this year, and star receiver Antonio Brown has seen 94, or 34%, of those targets. The square of 34% is 11.9%; perform those calculations for every Steelers who has a target this year, and the sum of those squares is 19.6%.

[click to continue…]

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Jared Goff was the worst quarterback in the NFL last season, and had one of the worst rookie quarterback seasons in modern history. This year, Goff is averaging 8.04 ANY/A, the 2nd-best in the NFL, and is on pace to set the NFL record for the largest year-over-year increase in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt.

Dak Prescott had one of the best rookie quarterback seasons of all time in 2016, taking Dallas from the basement to the division crown. Prescott averaged 7.86 ANY/A last year, and isn’t far behind this year: he’s at 7.13 ANY/A, 7th-best in the NFL.

Carson Wentz had a very up-and-down rookie season, ultimately finishing with poor numbers and showing a lack of big play ability. This year, he’s having an MVP-caliber season: he ranks 5th in ANY/A at 7.55, and leads the NFL with 23 touchdowns as his Eagles have a 8-1 record. [click to continue…]


Let’s start today’s post in a different direction: with a look at the biggest surprises of the week. And there was no bigger surprise than Iowa’s blowout win over Ohio State.

After week 10 (which, of course, compresses the ratings since the year-long ratings include the week 10 results), Iowa has an SRS of 55.0, while Ohio State is at 61.6. Given that the game was in Iowa, we would have expected Iowa to lose by 3.6 points.  But Iowa won 55-24, for a difference of 31 points, and an adjusted MOV of 26 points.  That means Iowa exceeded SRS expectations by 29.6 points, the most of any FBS team this week.

Army, Bowling Green, Baylor, and Utah round out the top 5 in terms of biggest overachievers in week 10:

[click to continue…]

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Largest Decreases in Team Scoring

Yesterday, I looked at the largest increases in team scoring from one year to the next. Today, the opposite: which teams have seen the largest decreases in scoring?

In the post-merger era, that “honor” would belong to the 1974 Falcons. In 1973, the Falcons averaged 22.7 points per game, 7th-best in the NFL. The team was led by fullback Dave Hampton and quarterback Bob Lee, and while both returned the next season, the results were disastrous. Atlanta averaged just 7.9 points per game, the lowest in the NFL. Along with the 1977 (not ’76) Bucs, the ’74 Falcons are one of just two teams since 1950 to average fewer than 8 points per game.

In more modern times, the 2015 Cowboys (after losing Tony Romo), 2011 Colts (after losing Peyton Manning), and 2010 Vikings (in year two under Brett Favre) are the biggest decliners. The top 100 biggest declines below: [click to continue…]


Largest Increases in Team Scoring

Last year, the Los Angeles Rams scored 224 points, or just 14.0 points per game. That ranked last in the NFL, 40 points behind the 31st-ranked Cleveland Browns. But as noted earlier this week, the 2017 Rams have scored 212 through seven games, a 30.3 points per game average that ranks 2nd in the NFL.

If that holds, the Rams increase of 16.3 points per game would rank as the third largest ever, and the biggest increase since 1950. The table below shows the 100 biggest per-game increases in scoring in pro football history: [click to continue…]


Let’s get to the week 8 Game scripts! The Raiders and Redskins stood out as pass-happy this week, as Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins kept passing in losing efforts. They were the two most pass-happy teams without accounting for Game Scripts in week 8, at 78% (Oakland) and 74% (Washington), respectively. But even after accounting for Game Script, both team’s pass-heavy nature stands out.

The Washington-Dallas game was competitive most of the way, but Cousins had 43 dropbacks while the team had just 15 rushing attempts.  Meanwhile, the Raiders called 49 pass plays against just 15 rushing plays, although that may have been due to Marshawn Lynch being suspended and both backup running backs underwhelming. This was just the second time in the last five years the Raiders passed on 77% of more of their plays. 

The full Game Scripts data from week 8, below: [click to continue…]


The JaMarcus Russell Raiders weren’t very good, and that includes the 2009 season, Russell’s last with the team. That year, Oakland scored 197 points in 16 games, one of just five teams from ’02 to ’16 to finish a season with fewer than 200 points.

In 2010, Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski took over, and Darren McFadden returned from injury to have the biggest year of his career. The 2010 Raiders scored 410 points and finished 6th in scoring, but here’s the money stat. Through 8 games, Oakland had scored 212 points, exceeding their 2009 points total in half a season!

Is that unusual, you ask? Well, yes it is.  In fact, the 2010 Raiders are the only team to outscore the franchise’s team the prior season (in the 16-game season era) after just 8 games.  But the Raiders are about to have some company.

In 2016, the Jared Goff and Case Keenum Rams scored just 224 points, fewest in the NFL.  This year, through 7 games, the Goff-led Rams have already scored 212 points, which was the most in the NFL prior to the team’s week 8 bye! That’s a rags-to-riches story of remarkable proportions.  But for today’s purposes, note that Los Angeles is just 13 points away from exceeding last year’s total. The Ramsface the Giants this weekend.  Assuming L.A. can score a couple of touchdowns, they will join the Raiders as the only teams to exceed last year’s points total in just 8 games (again, during the 16-game season era).

In fact, only seven other teams in the 16-game era have outscored their slightly older brothers after 9 team games. Those are the 2013 Chiefs, 2007 Browns, 2006 Bears, 2001 Browns, 1999 Rams, 1994 Colts, and 1993 Seahawks.


Yards per Play Statistics Through Eight Weeks

Through eight weeks, the Philadelphia Eagles have the best record in the NFL at 7-1. But it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars who have arguably been the most impressive team in the league this year on a per-play basis.

Jacksonville is averaging 6.42 net yards per pass play this year, which is simply passing yards (net of sack yards lost) divided by pass attempts (including sacks). That ranks 15th in the NFL, but more impressively, the Jaguars are allowing just 4.22 net yards per pass to opposing passers, easily the best rate in the NFL. Jacksonville also has a very weird rushing split: the Jaguars rank 1st in yards per carry (4.97) but last in yards per carry allowed (5.16).

The Eagles are much more balanced, though not necessarily more impressive: Philadelphia ranks 10th in NY/A, 15th in YPC, 14th in NY/A allowed, and 12th in YPC allowed. ((One reason the Eagles are 7-1: the team ranks 2nd in red zone percentage and 1st in goal-to-go percentage, which means Philadelphia has been able to convert those yards into points. The Eagles defense ranks 15th in both categories).

The table below shows the per play yardage statistics on both pass and rushing plays for each team’s offense and defense this year. It also shows the raw yardage margin per game. Finally, I calculated a grade for each team that places twice as much weight on the passing game as the rushing game. The grade column is simply (NY/A – Opp NY/A) *2 + (YPC – Opp YPC). As you can see, Jacksonville tops that category, in large part because of the team’s pass defense: [click to continue…]


The New Browns Are Still The Worst Expansion Team Ever

Five years ago, in one of the very first posts at Football Perspective, I wrote that the new Browns were the worst expansion team in NFL history through 13 seasons. That claim felt a little controversial at the time; it has held up surprisingly well.

After 13 years, Cleveland had a pitiful 68-140 record (0.327). Since then? The Browns have gone 20-68, for a pitiful 0.227 winning percentage. Overall, after 18.5 seasons, the 0-8 2017 Browns have brought the New Browns’ record since 1999 to 88-208, a 0.297 wining percentage.

And things are not exactly trending in the positive direction: [click to continue…]


You probably weren’t expecting that headline after Penn State lost its first game of the season on Saturday.

A week ago, I wrote that Penn State rose to #2 in the SRS after blowing out Michigan. Now, this week, Penn State is #1 after losing on Saturday? What happened?

#1 Alabama was idle this week, but Penn State had as good a loss as you can get. The Nittany Lions had an SRS rating of 68.2 last week, and only dropped to 67.6 this week. That’s because Penn State lost by 1 point, on the road, to an Ohio State team that ranks 3rd in the SRS. But the real issue is that Alabama dropped significantly, by 3.5 points from week 8 to 9, despite not playing.

How? Alabama is 8-0 with zero of those wins coming against teams that rank in the top 45 in the SRS. Four of those wins have come against terrible SEC teams that rank outside of the top 70 in the SRS in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Vanderbilt. The other four wins came against Florida State, Fresno State, Texas A&M, and Colorado St.

FSU lost 35-3 to Boston College this weekend, causing the Seminoles to drop from 51.1 to 44.5 in the SRS, a -6.6 point drop.

Fresno State lost 26-16 to a terrible UNLV team, causing west coast FSU to drop from 49.5 to 43.4, a -6.1 SRS point drop.

The Aggies lost 35-14 to Mississippi State, dropping Texas A&M by 3.9 points, from 46.2 to 42.3 in the SRS.

And Colorado State lost at home to Air Force by 17 points; that led to a 4.4 point SRS drop, from 43.4 to 39.0.

A week ago, Alabama’s SOS was 42.6 points; that was a little weak, but overwhelmed by the Crimson Tide’s dominance. Now? The average Alabama opponent has a 39.1 SRS rating, and that 3.5-point drop was enough to move Alabama from #1 to #4 in the SRS. It’s weird for sure to see Alabama drop this far, but look at the big picture: the Crimson Tide haven’t faced an opponent in the top 45 of the SRS, and their three best wins are against #48 Florida State, #50 Fresno State, and #58 Texas A&M. [click to continue…]

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Jameis Winston‘s average pass completion has traveled 8.24 yards in the air, the longest distance in the league.

On Carson Wentz‘s average completion, the ball traveled 8.11 air yards.

And Marcus Mariota? His average completion picked up 7.61 air yards before being caught.

Those are the three most vertical passers in the NFL this season by that metric.

Last year, Winston and Mariota ranked 2nd and 3rd in this category: Winston’s average gain was 7.89 yards before being caught, Mariota’s 7.86. Cam Newton led all passers at 8.14 air yards on completed passes. But Wentz? He ranked 27th out of 30 qualifying passers, at 5.34 yards.

In 2015 — the rookie years for Winston and Mariota — Winston ranked 2nd behind Carson Palmer with an 8.13 average; Mariota was in the top 10 at 7.24.

Wentz is having a remarkable season: he ranks 4th in yards per pass attempt, and ranks 1st in yards per completion. Winston ranks only 4th in yards per completion, while Mariota is down at 11th in yards per completion. That’s because those two — and especially Mariota — aren’t getting much yards after the catch from their receivers. Mariota and Winston are both getitng just 4.2 yards of YAC per completed pass, ranking them both in the bottom six of that metric. Wentz ranks 19th with 4.8 YAC per completion.

The graph below shows Air Yards per completed passes for each quarterback in the 2017 season on the X-Axis, and Yards After the Catch per completed passes on the Y-Axis. Mariota, Wentz, and Winston are all to the far right of the graph, of course: [click to continue…]


Adam Gase was hired as the Dolphins head coach last year. His tenure with the team has been both successful and underwhelming, which is pretty hard to do. The Dolphins are 14-9 under Gase, tied with the Packers for the 8th-best record in the NFL. It feels hard to imagine, but Miami has a better record than Philadephia or Denver since 2016, and has as many wins as the Falcons.

On the other hand, Miami has a -77 points differential, which is the 7th-worst in the league. That’s a very stark difference: most teams have records that are proportional to their points differential, but not Miami. Tennessee (11th in record, 20th in points differential) and Houston (14th, 23rd) are the next two biggest outliers in that direction, with winning percentage ranks that are 9 slots better than their points differential ranks; Miami is at +17.5, by being tied for 8th in record and 26th in points differential. The Saints (t-19th; 8th), Jaguars (29th; 19th), and Chargers (t-27th; 18th) are the biggest underachievers by this method.

The graph below shows each team’s winning percentage (on the X-Axis) and points differential (on the Y-Axis) since 2016. Miami is a pretty large outlier: [click to continue…]


Last week, the Bears and Steelers were two of the most run-heavy teams in the league. That repeated itself in week 7, as Chicago and Pittsburgh finished with the two lowest pass ratios of the week.

The Bears ran just 37 plays on Sunday against the Panthers, the fewest by any NFL team in a game since 2010. So while the headlines may have been that Chicago threw just 7 passes (plus four sacks), to be fair to the Bears, that represented a 30% pass ratio, higher than what the team did last week.  Chicago had two long return touchdowns, which limited the offense to just 9 drives, six of which were three-and-outs.  But the Bears are clearly looking to throw as infrequently as possible, making them the most run-happy team in the NFL.

In Pittsburgh, Le’Veon Bell had over 30 carries for the second straight week. The Steelers had a Game Script of +7.3, but consider that they had a lower run rate than the Cowboys or Jaguars, who both had nearly 20-point Game Scripts! Pittsburgh finished the day with 25 runs and 43 pass attempts. The Steelers defense limited the Bengals to just 18 yards on 6 second-half drives (two of which ended on interceptions); with that dominant a performance, expect Pittsburgh to continue to rely on the ground game.
[click to continue…]


Drew Brees Finally Has A Defense Again

Did you know: The Saints currently lead the NFC in the Simple Rating System? And for a change, it’s not *all* because of Drew Brees and the passing game. The graph below shows how the Saints pass offense and pass defense have fared in ANY/A in each year since 2006. As a rule of thumb, you want the gold line (offense) to be a lot higher than the black line (defense); but despite Brees, that hasn’t always been the case.

As an aside, how remarkable is it that the 2015 Saints with such a historically bad defense still went 7-9?

Anyway, you can see that the pass defense is faring very well by Saints standards, similar to what New Orleans had in 2009 (13-3), 2010 (11-5) and 2013 (11-5).  New Orleans is on a four-game winning streak, and all four games have been won in large part due to the defense: [click to continue…]


The Jaguars Are Maybe Really Good?

In games when they allow 10 or more points, the Jaguars are 0-3 so far this year.

In games when they score fewer than 27 points, the Jaguars are 0-3 so far this year.

If those stats sounds like those of a really bad team one month into an NFL season, well, you’re right. The thing is, Jacksonville has played 7 games this year. Which means maybe they’re a really good team? Because in Jacksonville’s 4 non-losses — things commonly referred to in most parts of the country as wins — the average score has been Jacksonville 32.5, Opponent 5.75. The Jaguars four wins have come by 21+ points, the first team to record four such wins through seven games since 2007.

Entering the 2017 season, the Jaguars had allowed fewer than 10 points in four out of their last 100 games. In 2017, the Jaguars have allowed fewer than 10 points in four out of seven games. The Jaguars had scored 27 or more points in just 13 of their last 100 games entering 2017; so far this year, they’ve scored 27 points in four out of seven games. So yeah, Jacksonville is suddenly a lot better than they used to be.

Jacksonville ranks 2nd in the NFL in points differential at +73. So… are the Jaguars actually good? Well, through seven weeks (but before Monday Night Football), Jacksonville also leads the NFL in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt differential, which would have sounded impossible two months ago (especially if you knew Allen Robinson would tear his ACL one catch into the season): [click to continue…]


In 2014, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown combined to account for 57.9% of the Steelers 6,777 total yards. In 2015, Bell missed most of the year with a knee injury, but in 2016, the duo combined to account for 51.8% of Pittsburgh’s offensive yards, despite the pair combining to miss five games! Through six games in 2017, Brown had 700 yards and Bell had 706 yards, placing both of them in the top five in yards from scrimmage. In fact, since the Steelers had 2,165 yards through six weeks, it means Bell and Brown were responsible for 64.9% of the team’s offensive production.  In week seven, Bell and Brown combined for 257 yards; only a fake punt that netted 44 yards prevented the pair from again picking up two-thirds of the offense (Pittsburgh had 420 yards of offense, so Bell and Brown had 61.1% of the Steelers yards from scrimmage; that number would have been 68.4% without the fake punt).

That made me wonder: which pair of teammates have accounted for the largest share of their offense’s production? The 1978 Bears had a really good player in the backfield who rushed for 992 yards and caught 43 passes for 340 yards.  They also had Walter Payton, who led the NFL for the second straight year with 1,875 yards from scrimmage. His backfield teammate was fullback Roland Harper, who actually finished second on the team to Payton in receptions (WR James Scott did lead the team be a healthy margin in receiving yards).

The ’78 Bears had a mediocre offense, finishing with 4,747 yards from scrimmage (Chicago ranked 27th out of 28 teams in ANY/A, tho the Bears of course were a very good rushing team). But since Payton had 1,875 yards (39.5%) and Harper had 1,332 yards (28.1%), the two combined for over two-thirds of all Chicago yards from scrimmage that season.

The table below shows the top 200 seasons: [click to continue…]


Week 8 of the college football season didn’t see any big contenders fall. In fact, none of the top 14 teams in last week’s ratings lost. And the two best teams that lost all fell to better teams: last week’s #15 lost to last week’s #3 Penn State, #16 USC lost to #5 Notre Dame.

Let’s start with the most impressive wins of the week, which go to Notre Dame and Penn State. Beating a strong opponent helps, but both teams blew out top 20 opponents.  And Iowa State — a school that hadn’t won more than 3 games since 2012 — continued their remarkable run.  In week 6, the Cyclones shocked a great Oklahoma team to win 38-31 in Norman. The next week, Iowa State stomped on Kansas 45-0, the second largest margin of victory for Iowa State in a game in the last 15 years.  Then, on Saturday, the Cyclones upset Texas Tech, 31-13.  This marked the third straight game where Iowa State covered the point spread by more than 21 points!

The table below shows the SRS ratings from each game in week 8: [click to continue…]


You remember the 2008 Bengals, don’t you? Remarkably, that Cincinnati team was led by two quarterbacks still in the league: Carson Palmer started the first 4 games (all losses) before elbow issues caused him to shut things down for the rest of the year. From there, a young Ryan Fitzpatrick took over, leading the team to a 4-7-1 record the rest of the way.

Cincinnati had some talented weapons at wide receiver. T.J. Houshmandzadeh had led the NFL in receptions in 2007, and in 2008 he still had another 92 receptions. Chad Johnson had just come off his fifth straight Pro Bowl season, but the ’08 year was the beginning of the end for the man once known as Ochocinco. Chris Henry, who had been a big play receiver the past few years in Cincinnati, was reduced to a possession player in this offense in ’08.

The offensive coordinator was longtime coach Bob Bratkowski, who manned that role in Cincinnati from 2001 to 2010. But the 2008 season was very different. The Bengals averaged just 8.83 yards per completion, the single lowest output in NFL history. On a team with two longtime NFL quarterbacks and two Pro Bowl wide receivers, Cincinnati somehow couldn’t manage to push the ball down the field with any sort of consistency. The longest reception of the year was a 79-yard completion to… running back Cedric Benson! Johnson and Henry combined for 72 receptions, but none of them went for more than 26 yards.

So why am I bringing up the 2008 Bengals? Well, the 2017 Dolphins (through 5 games) and 2017 Ravens (through 6 games) are both averaging just 8.5 yards per completion. Yes, those gunslingers formerly known as Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco are running two of the most anemic passing attacks we have ever seen.

Here’s the breakdown on the Miami side: [click to continue…]

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