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With the 2017 season in the books, I wanted to review the top offenses and defenses from the regular season. Today we will look at how each team did in the four major categories: passing offense, rushing offense, passing defense, and rushing defense.

Passing Offense

The base stat we use to measure passing offenses is Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, but if we want to be even more precise, we should incorporate first downs. As a result, the formula is:

(Passing Yards (net of sack yards lost) + Passing Touchdowns * 11 + First Downs * 9 – Interceptions * 45) divided by (Attempts + Sacks)

In the table below, we are using team passing yards, which already deducts sack yards lost. And since every touchdown is automatically a first down, this means that all touchdowns are worth 20 adjusted yards. But to not make them worth 29 yards, we have to only credit each touchdown with 11 yards.

Drew Brees and the Saints had the top passing offense by this measure, although the Patriots and Chargers passing attacks weren’t far behind. The Browns were, by a large margin, the worst passing offense in the NFL, with the Broncos and Packers joining them in the bottom three.

RkTmAttYdsTDIntSkFDAdj YdDBEff
1New Orleans Saints536418923820201589155610.60
2New England Patriots587441832835232649862210.45
3Los Angeles Chargers5834431281118220622460110.36
4Los Angeles Rams518383128728185548954610.05
5Kansas City Chiefs543410426837198581258010.02
6Atlanta Falcons530399021122420054815549.89
7Minnesota Vikings52737532582719654325549.81
8Pittsburgh Steelers590438029152421759776149.73
9Tampa Bay Buccaneers605436626144024362096459.63
10Detroit Lions570418329114721058976179.56
11Philadelphia Eagles56437373893619354876009.15
12Jacksonville Jaguars527359321132419349765519.03
13Washington Redskins540375127134119151825818.92
14Seattle Seahawks555365734124318351385988.59
15Oakland Raiders558363123142417848565828.34
16Dallas Cowboys493314122133216242565258.11
17San Francisco 49ers607392515154320652696508.11
18Cincinnati Bengals510312225124016543425507.89
19Houston Texans525327828175418044415797.67
20New York Jets510318219124715742645577.66
21Carolina Panthers501307722163516741025367.65
22Tennessee Titans496319114173515739935317.52
23Arizona Cardinals598364021185220048616507.48
24Buffalo Bills476282516104714938925237.44
25Indianapolis Colts48728921395514839625427.31
26New York Giants608347920143417846716427.28
27Chicago Bears473281113123914437105127.25
28Miami Dolphins602353524213318745376357.14
29Baltimore Ravens567303020132716841775947.03
30Green Bay Packers562316725185117642166136.88
31Denver Broncos566333319225218041726186.75
32Cleveland Browns574322815285015735466245.68
Avg Team547359023.213.437.318549055848.40

Rushing offense

You won’t be surprised to learn that the Saints running back duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram led the most efficient rushing attack in 2017.  New Orleans ranked 2nd in yards per carry this year, but that’s misleading: New Orleans had 20 kneel downs, while the 1st-ranked Chiefs had just 9; remove kneels, and the Saints led the NFL in yards per carry. Given that New Orleans also led the NFL in rushing touchdowns and was third in first downs, you can make the case that the Saints passing attack was the inferior part of the team’s offense.

To measure rushing efficiency, I used the following formula:

(Rushing Yards + Rushing TDs * 11 + Rushing First Downs * 9 + Kneel Yards Lost) divided by (Rushing Attempts – Kneels)

Because kneels are included in rushing data, we need to add back in kneel yards lost to the numerator and subtract kneels from the denominator. The Saints and Cowboys are the top two rushing attacks in the NFL, with the Packers, Chiefs, and Browns rounding out the top five. The Cardinals, Lions, and Redskins ranked in the bottom three.  Brett Hundley obviously helped the Packers running game, but Green Bay still ranked 4th in first downs per carry. Without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers were a bottom three passing team and a top three rushing team.

RkTmAttYdsTD1DKNYardsAdj YdRunsAvg
1New Orleans Saints44420702311120-2233004247.78
2Dallas Cowboys4802170181277-835034737.41
3Green Bay Packers386172413998-827503787.28
4Kansas City Chiefs405190312959-1228783967.27
5Cleveland Browns384171411973-327053817.10
6Carolina Panthers49021021512118-2533314727.06
7Philadelphia Eagles4732115910819-1831684546.98
8New England Patriots44818891610715-1430144336.96
9Los Angeles Rams4541953179719-2329904356.87
10Atlanta Falcons43018471210110-1028784206.85
11Baltimore Ravens46018561411116-1729924446.74
12Tennessee Titans4431833189713-1328914306.72
13Oakland Raiders3701554137810-1023893606.64
14Chicago Bears422178813925-727524176.60
15San Francisco 49ers4081664158810-1026113986.56
16Jacksonville Jaguars52722621810115-1533545126.55
17Buffalo Bills48720171210516-1730774716.53
18Pittsburgh Steelers4371667129621-2926344166.33
19Minnesota Vikings50119571510023-2629964786.27
20Denver Broncos45718528929-1227564486.15
21Seattle Seahawks409162948514-1724213956.13
22New York Jets4271702137715-1525234126.12
23Houston Texans44818428863-327014456.07
24Los Angeles Chargers4191595108416-2024414036.06
25Indianapolis Colts4511661119410-1126174415.93
26Tampa Bay Buccaneers38914508766-722153835.78
27Cincinnati Bengals377136667218-1820623595.74
28Miami Dolphins36013884668-720193525.74
29New York Giants39415496667-1021993875.68
30Washington Redskins401144810669-1021423925.46
31Detroit Lions363122110589-918443545.21
32Arizona Cardinals409138666614-1420323955.14
Average430175511.99112.3-13.82693417.46.45

Pass Defense

The Jaguars, unsurprisingly, ranked as the best pass defense in the NFL. We use the same formula to measure pass offenses and pass defenses, and Jacksonville’s pass defense was a full adjusted yard per dropback than any other team. The Chargers, Vikings, and Ravens were all in a tightly packed window as the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best pass defenses. It’s remarkable that the Chargers had a top-3 passing offense, a top-3 passing defense, and still missed the playoffs. The Packers, meanwhile, had the worst pass defense in the league, followed by the Raiders, Colts, Bucs, and Texans. Among playoff teams, the Chiefs, Patriots, and Titans had the worst pass defenses.

RkTmAttYdsTDIntSkFDAdj YdDBEff
1Jacksonville Jaguars509271817215514332475645.76
2Los Angeles Chargers524315617184315339105676.90
3Minnesota Vikings555307813143716841035926.93
4Baltimore Ravens569342118224117942406106.95
5Philadelphia Eagles601363724193817746396397.26
6Pittsburgh Steelers499321720165615741305557.44
7Los Angeles Rams555347521184818145256037.50
8New Orleans Saints554359722204217244875967.53
9Seattle Seahawks554334719143918145555937.68
10Cincinnati Bengals561337920114117346616027.74
11Washington Redskins531342023164217144925737.84
12Arizona Cardinals564354124153718748136018.01
13Buffalo Bills573368814182719948236008.04
14Dallas Cowboys559342528103818149125978.23
15Detroit Lions570389221193520551136058.45
16Chicago Bears52933761884218048345718.47
17Atlanta Falcons55334292283919750845928.59
18Carolina Panthers550366525105018751736008.62
19Denver Broncos491321029103316645735248.73
20Tennessee Titans605382827124223156646478.75
21New England Patriots590402024124220455806328.83
22Kansas City Chiefs570395223163120453216018.85
23New York Jets558374930112819153035869.05
24Miami Dolphins52836032693019051945589.31
25New York Giants561403832132718955065889.36
26San Francisco 49ers544376427103019853935749.40
27Cleveland Browns52536842873418953785599.62
28Houston Texans501379930113217652185339.79
29Tampa Bay Buccaneers549416922132220256445719.88
30Indianapolis Colts513394623132519253425389.93
31Oakland Raiders53038582453118755805619.95
32Green Bay Packers5133789301137211552355010.04
Avg Team546.53589.723.213.437.31854906.9583.88.41

Rush Defense

We will use the same formula for rushing defense as we did for rushing offense. Here, the Broncos lead the way, while the Bills, Chargers, and Patriots had the worst three rushing defenses.

RkTmAttYdsTD1DKNYardsAdj YdRunsAvg
1Denver Broncos428143096815-1621254135.15
2Tennessee Titans398142056810-1020773885.35
3Arizona Cardinals406143412687-721713995.44
4Minnesota Vikings3641337105910-1219663545.55
5Cleveland Browns4671566149520-3025454475.69
6Philadelphia Eagles33712677626-618963315.73
7Green Bay Packers4641793109514-1627424506.09
8Carolina Panthers353140976911-1420933426.12
9New York Jets466188713888-828144586.14
10Chicago Bears4321730108517-1725884156.24
11San Francisco 49ers49118611310819-2229544726.26
12Indianapolis Colts4881927159915-2229614736.26
13Seattle Seahawks4521824149011-1127774416.30
14Baltimore Ravens435178012879-826874266.31
15Houston Texans4401747148821-2226714196.37
16Oakland Raiders4331743119315-1926824186.42
17Miami Dolphins4311768148819-1826964126.54
18New York Giants46419331010119-2129314456.59
19Cincinnati Bengals4892046131117-731814826.60
20Jacksonville Jaguars429186099111-1127674186.62
21Dallas Cowboys403166479613-1525903906.64
22Atlanta Falcons402166599713-1426233896.74
23New Orleans Saints406178711928-927273986.85
24Tampa Bay Buccaneers44018801710214-1629694266.97
25Pittsburgh Steelers385169314897-826403786.98
26Washington Redskins47221461310510-1132234626.98
27Kansas City Chiefs44318901511210-1230514337.05
28Los Angeles Rams417195715867-628904107.05
29Detroit Lions43218001810914-1729624187.09
30New England Patriots39018366989-1127733817.28
31Los Angeles Chargers430209811994-431064267.29
32Buffalo Bills46619942212122-2033054447.44
Avg Team430176612.092.012.3-13.727124186.49

Team Strength

With grades for each four units, we can now put together team grades. You can use whatever weights you want, but here’s what I did. To come up with team offense grades, I used 60% of the passing efficiency grade and 40% of the rushing efficiency grade. I used the same ratios for defense, and then for overall team strength, I weighted offense and defense equally, and subtracted the team defensive efficiency rating from the team offensive efficiency rating.

By this measure, the Saints were the best team in the NFL this year, on the strength of the best offense in the NFL and a defense that just snuck into the top ten. The Browns, of course, were 32nd.

RkTmPass EffRush EffOff EffPass DefRush DefDef EffTotal
1New Orleans Saints10.607.789.477.536.857.262.21
2Minnesota Vikings9.816.278.396.935.556.382.01
3Jacksonville Jaguars9.036.558.045.766.626.101.93
4Philadelphia Eagles9.156.988.287.265.736.651.63
5Los Angeles Chargers10.366.068.646.907.297.061.58
6Los Angeles Rams10.056.878.787.507.057.321.46
7Pittsburgh Steelers9.736.338.377.446.987.261.12
8New England Patriots10.456.969.058.837.288.210.84
9Atlanta Falcons9.896.858.688.596.747.850.83
10Kansas City Chiefs10.027.278.928.857.058.130.79
11Seattle Seahawks8.596.137.617.686.307.130.48
12Dallas Cowboys8.117.417.838.236.647.590.23
13Baltimore Ravens7.036.746.916.956.316.690.22
14Washington Redskins8.925.467.547.846.987.500.04
15Detroit Lions9.565.217.828.457.097.91-0.09
16Tennessee Titans7.526.727.208.755.357.39-0.19
17Carolina Panthers7.657.067.418.626.127.62-0.21
18Cincinnati Bengals7.895.747.037.746.607.28-0.25
19Arizona Cardinals7.485.146.548.015.446.98-0.44
20Chicago Bears7.256.606.998.476.247.58-0.59
21Tampa Bay Buccaneers9.635.788.099.886.978.72-0.63
22San Francisco 49ers8.116.567.499.406.268.14-0.66
23Buffalo Bills7.446.537.088.047.447.80-0.72
24Denver Broncos6.756.156.518.735.157.30-0.79
25New York Jets7.666.127.049.056.147.89-0.84
26Oakland Raiders8.346.647.669.956.428.54-0.88
27Houston Texans7.676.077.039.796.378.42-1.39
28Green Bay Packers6.887.287.0410.046.098.46-1.42
29New York Giants7.285.686.649.366.598.25-1.61
30Miami Dolphins7.145.746.589.316.548.20-1.62
31Indianapolis Colts7.315.936.769.936.268.46-1.70
32Cleveland Browns5.687.106.259.625.698.05-1.80

What do you think?

{ 20 comments }
  • Josh Sanford

    Typical great analysis. I love these stats. I think the following sentence should have the word _team_ instead of _defense_ at one point: “Today we will look at how each defense did in the four major categories: passing offense, rushing offense, passing defense, and rushing defense.”

    • Good catch, thanks! Took a lot of data crunching but glad you enjoyed!

  • Chiefs/Titans preview:

    Passing offense: Kansas City ranks 5th, Tennessee ranks 22nd
    Rushing offense: Kansas City ranks 4th, Tennessee ranks 12th
    Passing defense: Kansas City ranks 22nd, Tennessee ranks 20th
    Rushing defense: Kansas City ranks 27th, Tennessee ranks 2nd
    Overall: Kansas City ranks 10th, Tennessee ranks 16th

    So the Titans have one huge advantage: an awesome rush defense, while the Chiefs have a terrible rush defense. But in the passing game, the Chiefs have the big advantage.

    • Adam

      “big advantages here as the TEN rushing O vs. the KC rushing D”

      Normally the running game doesn’t have much of an impact, but TEN really put the game away late with key rushing first downs.

  • Robert Wise

    Great analysis as always. Is it feasible to calculate 2017 strength of schedule based on these metrics?

    • Maybe… but that’s a lot of work, so my hunch is probably not worth the effort.

  • Falcons/Rams preview:

    Rams passing: LA O ranks 4th in pass O, ATL D ranks 17th in pass D
    Rams rushing: LA O ranks 9th, ATL D ranks 22nd

    The Rams offense should be able to move the ball in a balanced way here: the Rams are 13 ranks better in both passing and rushing.

    Falcons passing: ATL O ranks 6th in pass O, LA D ranks 7th in pass D

    Falcons rushing: ATL O ranks 10th, LA D ranks 28th

    Overall: Rams rank 6th, Falcons rank 9th

    The Falcons strength is their passing offense, but they may be able to manufacture a win via the run, similar to how the Redskins did it in week two. But otherwise, there aren’t many paths to victory for the road team here.

    • Adam

      “there aren’t many paths to victory for the road team here.”

      Except for a gigantically lopsided special teams battle, which is about as non-predictive as it gets. This is why I will never bet actual money on NFL playoff games.

      • Yep.

      • Wolverine

        There was a guy on Scott Kacsmar’s Twitter timeline who posted before the game that he bet $46,000 on KC to win $10,000. I feel like someone should call the police to check on that guy.

        • Four Touchdowns

          Holy shit.

  • Jaguars/Bills preview:

    Jacksonville passing: JAX O ranks 12th, BUF D ranks 13th
    Jacksonville rushing: JAX O ranks 16th, BUF D ranks 32nd

    Jacksonville’s passing game is better than people think, but the clear advantage for them comes in the ground game. The Bills run defense is horrible, and allowed the most FPs to opposing RBs, too. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/2017/fantasy-points-against-RB.htm

    Buffalo passing: BUF O ranks 24th, JAX D ranks 1st
    Buffalo rushing: BUF O ranks 17th, JAX D ranks 20th

    It seems like the best path for Buffalo to win is to have McCoy have a big game, but with him gimpy, that dramatically reduces their odds.

    The Jaguars should be able to shut down the Bills passing game and run all over Buffalo, which should really limit what Bortles is asked to do.

  • Adam

    I think the weights should be 80% passing and 20% rushing. Notice how rushing offense and defense have little correlation with winning? I mean, the BROWNS are in the top five in rushing on both sides of the ball, and we know how much it helped them.

    • I think the fact that there’s naturally more deviation in passing efficiency than rushing efficiency makes this less applicable. What do you think?

      • Adam

        That’s a good point. 60/40 probably becomes roughly 80/20 when we consider the wider variance in passing efficiency.

  • Wolverine

    Two of the biggest surprises are that Jacksonville was #12 in passing efficiency, and Philadelphia finished outside of the top 10. I guess the Nick Foles games dragged them down a bit. The result is that the Eagles are an unprecedented underdog as the #1 seed next week.

    Great post, thanks for the hard work!

  • Awesome stuff. Amazing how well Jacksonville ranks in this. You’ve covered all year how strong they have been statistically, but they are as far ahead of the Patriots as the Patriots are of the Bengals.

    Also, the Packers….woof. Their total efficiency is way down with the bottom-dwellers. I know they lost Aaron Rodgers, but he needed second half comebacks to win 3 of the 4 games he won. They were a really bad team this year and were extremely fortunate to go 7-9.

  • Four Touchdowns

    How did you calculate efficiency for defenses? The same formula as offense efficiency, only for their opponents?

    Really cool article. And despite the Pats ranking lower than other playoff teams, I somehow get the feeling they’re going to be fine…

  • Saints/Vikings preview:

    Saints passing game: New Orleans ranks 1st in pass efficiency, Minnesota ranks 3rd in pass defense
    Saints rushing game: New Orleans ranks 1st in rush efficiency, Minnesota ranks 4th in rush defense

    This is a great matchup of strength versus strength. Hard to find a more compelling matchup in most playoff seasons.

    Minnesota passing game: Vikings rank 7th in pass efficiency, Saints rank 8th in pass defense
    Minnesota running game: Vikings rank 19th in rush efficiency, Saints rank 23rd in rush defense

    The Saints have a very slight edge when they have the ball, and the Vikings have a very slight edge when they have the ball.

    Overall: These are the top two teams in football on a per play basis. Both teams are really balanced, with NO having an incredible offense and a good defense, with the Vikings having the reverse. Minnesota has home field advantage, but coaching and special teams may prove to be the difference maker today.

    Prediction: Minnesota 23, New Orleans 21