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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…]


Through six weeks, the 49ers and Browns were both 0-6, while the Giants were 1-5. That’s bad, but it’s notable because those were the only three teams in the NFL with a record that was worse than 2-4. And on the flip side, only two teams — the 5-1 Chiefs and 5-1 Eagles — had a record that was better than 4-2. In other words, 27 of the 32 teams in the NFL were within two games of .500; or thought of differently, 84% of the NFL teams had a winning percentage between 0.333 and 0.667.

That… is… unusual. The graph below shows the percentage of NFL teams that had a record between 0.333 and 0.667 after six weeks in each year since 1970. As you can see, 2017 has set a new mark for parity: [click to continue…]


Chicago upset Baltimore in week 6, and rookie QB Mitch Trubisky picked up his first career victory in the process.  But if you want to award credit to the Bears for the win, the passing game would be a distant third.

The Bears picked up a first down on just 23.8% of all passing plays, and that includes a halfback pass that went for a touchdown; Trubisky gained 4 first downs on 20 dropbacks.  But the Bears defense was outstanding, limiting the Ravens passing offense to a 20.5% first down rateJoe Flacco had a 48.8 passer rating; for his career, he is 2-16 in the regular season when he has a passer rating below 55.0.

But for Chicago, it was the running game that carried the day.  The Bears passed on just 28% of dropbacks, and Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard combined to run 50 times for 199 yards. They also caught two passes for 23 yards and threw one pass for a 21-yard touchdown.  Given how competitive the game was (Chicago had a Game Script of just +3.3), you could argue it was the most run-heavy game of the season.

The full week 6 Game Scripts data below: [click to continue…]


Young Running Backs Are Taking Over The NFL

Kareem Hunt has dominated the NFL so far

Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, and Dalvin Cook (who is now on IR after tearing his ACL in week four) were all drafted in 2017.

Jordan Howard, Ezekiel Elliott, Alex Collins, and Derrick Henry were all drafted in 2016.

Todd Gurley, Jay Ajayi, Melvin Gordon, and Ameer Abdullah were each drafted in 2015.

Those 11 running backs are all ranked in the top 20 in rushing yards. Last year, 11 of the top 20 rushing leaders were also were 1st, 2nd, or 3rd year players, but that is pretty unusual. The table below look at every NFL season since 1970, and shows the number of players in the top 20 in rushing that were in their first, second, or third years, and the total number of players in their first three years. [click to continue…]


The Purple People Eaters

Last Monday, I provided some initial thoughts on the relative values of completion and passing first down percentage. The next day, I looked at how teams with disparate performances in those two metrics. And last Wednesday, I looked at the best passing offenses in NFL history in first down rate on passing plays.

Today? A look at the best pass defenses at preventing first downs.  This time, I am also going to era adjust these ratings. In 1969, the Vikings faced 459 pass plays (410 pass attempts, 49 sacks) but allowed only 88 passing first downs. That’s a remarkable rate of just 19.2%, the best since World War II.   It’s also the best rate on an era-adjusted basis.  The league average in the NFL in 1969 was 29.0%, which means this iteration of the Purple People Eaters was 9.8% better than league average, the highest differential ever. [click to continue…]


Brown is averaging more yards per game than his uniform number.

Yep, that’s pretty good.

Dating back to December 16, 2012, and including the playoffs, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has 578 receptions for 7,755 yards in his last 77 games. Brown has 48 catches in six games this season for 700 yards, a 116.7 yards per game average.

Before the 2015 season, I wrote that Julio Jones had maintained a 100 receiving yards per game average over 57 straight games. I did not include the postseason when I wrote that post, but Jones still would have qualified had I done so: he had 5,703 receiving yards in his last 57 regular season games and 305 receiving yards in his 3 playoff games during that time. Through the end of last regular season, Jones was still keeping this pace up, at 7,417 receiving yards through his last 74 games.

And following the Super Bowl, Jones was at 7,751 yards — or just 4 yards behind Brown’s pace — through his last 77 games. Even through week 3 of this year, Jones had 8016 receiving yards in his last 80 games, but he has had two poor games since: as a result, he’s fall slightly under the 100 yard/game pace in his last 82 games.

But Jones still is at over 100 yards per game through his last 79 games (that’s because the first 3 games in his 82-game streak weren’t great). In his last 79 games, Jones has 7,932 receiving yards, a 100.4 yards per game average. [click to continue…]


Last week, I introduced the first version of the SRS ratings. Well, there were some big upsets this week which have moved the rankings.

Clemson, which ranked 5th last week and 2nd in the polls, was upset by a Syracuse team that ranked 73rd in the SRS.

Washington, which ranked 8th in the SRS, was upset by Arizona State, which ranked 45th last week.

Washington State looked to be soaring this time a week ago: they ranked 14th in the SRS and were 6-0. But the Cougars were obliterated 37-3 by a Cal team that ranked 58th in the SRS a week ago.

Auburn, Texas Tech, Texas, and San Diego State were also SRS top 25 teams that suffered a loss in week seven.

Even Georgia moves down this week by virtue of a sluggish win over a terrible Missouri team. Entering this week, Missouri was 0-4 against FBS opponents (Auburn, Purdue, South Carolina, Kentucky) with an average loss of 23.25 points; therefore, a 25-point home win over Missouri drops 3 to 4. Right now, Ohio State and Penn State joint Alabama in the top 3.

As for the Buckeyes, yes, they rank #2 despite a 15-point home loss to Oklahoma. Why? They beat Rutgers by 56, Maryland by 48, Nebraska by 42, UNLV by 33, and Army by 31 points: those are the worst losses each of those five teams have had this year. They also beat Indiana by 28, and the Hoosiers have only had one loss worse this year (31 points to Penn State). Yes, the Oklahoma loss was bad, but it’s not easy dropping 40-point wins against Big 10 teams. Think of the SRS as a proxy for the Vegas rankings: and right now, I expect Ohio State to be a home favorite against Penn State in two weeks.

As always thanks to Dr. Peter R. Wolfe for providing the weekly game logs. Below are the SRS ratings through 7 weeks: [click to continue…]


The Jaguars used the fourth overall pick on LSU RB Leonard Fournette. The addition of Fournette was supposed to change the team’s identity, and it seems… to have worked? Fournette finished with 28 carries for 181 yards and 2 TDs, although the last of those carries was a 90-yard touchdown run when the game was over. Still, the Jaguars finished with 37 carries against just 16 pass plays: that’s a 30% pass rate, easily the lowest of the week. Jacksonville has a great defense and seems to have figured out its running game, and that may be the formula for success for this team.

Blake Bortles completed just 8 passes on his 16 dropbacks for only 5 first downs, but that was enough given that the Jaguars forced five interceptions and returned two of those for touchdowns. The Raiders and Bears were the other teams that showed up as run-happy this week, which probably isn’t surprising given that both teams were starting new quarterbacks in week five. For Oakland, EJ Manuel had 29 dropbacks but gained just 137 yards, while the running game had 25 carries for 108 yards and a touchdown (Manuel had two carries for 15 yards). For Chicago, Mitch Trubisky picked up just 108 yards on 26 dropbacks, while the running game had 115 yards on 29 attempts (with Trubisky picking up 22 yards on the ground on three carries).

Below are the week 5 Game Scripts data:
[click to continue…]


Today at ESPN, you can hear me talk about football for 42 minutes before talking about the Jets. If you are an iTunes listener, you can listen here.

If you enjoyed today’s show, let me know in the comments, or let Bill know here.


How Vegas Has Changed Its Mind On The Week 6 Games

Back in May, CG Technology released point spreads for games during each of the first 16 weeks of the season. Today, I want to check how the spreads for the week 6 games have changed since then.

There are 22 teams we can analyze using this method. Here are those 11 games, sorted by the games that have changed the most. [click to continue…]


Two guys who were pretty good at picking up first downs.

On Monday, I provided some initial thoughts on the relative values of completion and passing first down percentage. Yesterday, I looked at the difference between the 1972 and 2017 Jets when it came to those two metrics, along with a breakdown of every team’s passing performance so far in 2017.

Since passing first down percentage — which is simply the number of passing first downs a team gained divided by their pass attempts (including sacks) — is so important, I wanted to present a list of the top teams in NFL history using this metric. My data on first downs goes back to 1950, and since then, the top three teams all have something in common: Peyton Manning. The 2004 Colts picked up a first down on a whopping 44% of passing plays, the most in league history. That team is followed by the 2013 Broncos and the 2006 Colts, and the 2016 Falcons and 1984 Dolphins round out the top five. Here’s how to read the table below, which shows the top 200 passing offenses by this metric. The 2004 Colts completed 67% of their passes, had a sack rate of 2.6%, and 67.4% of their completed passes went for first downs. The final column is what the table is sorted by: the percentage of pass plays that went for a first down.

The table below shows the top 200 teams by this metric: by defaut, it only lists the top 20, but the table is fully sortable and searchable. [click to continue…]


Back when passes were completed for first downs.

The New York Jets have the second best completion percentage in the NFL through five weeks.  That’s a shocking thing to say for many reasons, including the key fact that 38-year-old Josh McCown has taken every snap at quarterback for the team this season. The Jets are completing 71.6% of their passes, which is truly remarkable for this franchise.

Today I want to compare the 2017 Jets to their predecessors from 45 years earlier. The 1972 Jets were an interesting team.  That year produced a low key entry for the best Joe Namath season: he went 7-6 (missing one game due to injury) but led the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, Net Yards per Attempt, and Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt.  Namath was the best QB in the NFL that year, and was named a first-team All-Pro by the Pro Football Writers, the NEA, and Pro Football Weekly.1 But Namath completed just 50% of his passes that year, and as a team, the Jets completed just 49.6% of their passes.

It’s easy to look at the 2017 Jets with their 71.6% completion rate — a whopping 22 points higher than the ’72 squad — and conclude that, era adjustments aside, the 2017 Jets passing offense is more efficient. To be clear, era adjustments are enormously important when comparing passers across eras. You almost never want to compare players from different eras without making those adjustments. But today is the rare day where that’s not where I want us to focus. Because as discussed yesterday, completion percentage ignores two key elements of a passing game. [click to continue…]

  1. Namath was a 2nd-team choice by the AP, which went with Earl Morrall, 9-0 QB of the undefeated Dolphins, as their first-team choice. But it’s not controversial to say that Namath was the best QB in the NFL that year, given that he led in ANY/A and won the majority vote for best QB, and also beat out Morrall in the organizations that made All-Conference (Sporting News and UPI) votes rather than All-Pro votes.  Of the five organizations that chose between Namath and Morrall, only one went with Morrall. []

Against the Saints in week four, Jay Cutler completed 20 of 28 passes for 164 yards, which translates to a sparkling 71.4% completion percentage. But that was about as misleading as it gets. Cutler also was sacked four times — a 12.5% sack rate — and several of those completions were pretty meaningless. In fact, Cutler threw just 7 first downs against New Orleans.

When you hear the 71.4% completion rate, you think: pretty good. You’d be wrong. Completion percentage ignores sacks (it shouldn’t), and it treats a completed pass for a first down the same as a completed pass for zero yards. On 32 dropbacks, Cutler threw just 7 first downs — a 21.9% rate that is more meaningful than his completion percentage. Why is it more meaningful? Well, the Dolphins were shutout against the Saints.

Want another example? Against the Redskins in week 3, Derek Carr completed 19 of 31 passes, for a nominally effective 61% completion rate. But Carr was also sacked four times (which, again, should be in the denominator when looking at completion percentage) and picked up just three first downs. Three! So while he completed 61% of his passes, Carr threw for a first down on only 9% of his pass plays against Washington.

How about from this weekend? In his first start of the year, Titans quarterback Matt Cassel completed 66% of his passes and produced a passer rating of 85.5 against Miami. That’s pretty good, right? Well, it isn’t when you have drives that like this that increase your completion percentage and passer rating:

Cassel was sacked six times on the day and threw for just 9 first downs. So while he was 21/32 on the stat sheet, he was also 9/38 at throwing for first downs, a very poor 24% rate. The Titans had 14 drives, and one of them was a 4-play drive for -3 yards that resulted in a field goal because it started at the Dolphins 24; the other 13 drives produced one touchdown, two fumbles, and ten punts. Tennessee lost, 16-10, despite Cassel completing 66% of his passes: or, maybe they lost because Cassel completed 66% of his passes playing that style.

A high completion percentage shouldn’t be any offense’s goal; instead, it feels like more and more quarterbacks (and offensive coordinators) are treating it like the ends and not the means.

The graph below shows completion percentage in the NFL (excluding the AFL) from 1950 through five weeks of 2017. That line is in blue and plotted against the Left Y-Axis; as you can see, it’s been increasing steadily over the last seven decades.  Plotted in orange and against the Right Y-Axis is the percentage of pass plays that have gone for first downs.  That’s also increasing, although it’s been a little bit bumpier. [click to continue…]


For the last few years, I have introduced the first edition of the College Football SRS Ratings after five weeks. I’m a week late this year, so it’s time to release the first college football ratings. And while it’s too early to put too much weight on these ratings, they help to at least begin framing the discussion of which are the most impressive teams in college football. As a reminder, here is the methodology:

1) For each game not played at a neutral site, 3 points are given to the road team. After that adjustment, all wins and losses of between 7 and 24 points are recorded exactly as such. This means that a 24-10 road win goes down as +17 for the road team, -17 for the home team.

2) With one exception, wins of 7 or fewer points are scored as 7-point wins and losses of 7 or fewer points are scored as 7 point losses. So a 4-point home win goes down as +7 (and not a 1) and a 1-point home loss is a -7 (and not a -4). The one exception is that road losses of 3 or fewer (and home wins of 3 or fewer) are graded as ties. So a 21-20 home victory goes down as a 0 for both teams.

3) Wins/Losses of more than 24 points are scored as the average between the actual number and 24. This is to avoid giving undue credit to teams that run up the score. So a 75-point home win goes down as a 48-point win.

Once we have a rating for each team in each game, we then adjust each result for strength of schedule. This is an iterative process, where we adjust the ratings hundreds of times (to adjust for SOS, you have to adjust for the SOS of each opponent, and the SOS of each opponent’s opponent, and so on.) in Excel. Then we produce final ratings, where the SRS rating is the sum of the Margin of Victory and Strength of Schedule in every week. [click to continue…]


Let’s travel back in time to December 7th, 2013.

Adrian Peterson was 28 years and 255 days old, and had just rushed for 211 yards in a win against the Bears. Peterson, who had rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012, was looking to repeat as rushing champion: he had just cracked the 1,200-yard rushing mark in 2013, while no other running back had yet hit 1,100 yards.

Frank Gore was 30 years and 201 days old, and had just had another mediocre week.  Against the Rams, he rushed 15 times for only 42 yards, his second poor game in a row and his sixth straight game with fewer than 100 rushing yards. He ranked 10th in the NFL in rushing.

Gore, by virtue of being two years older and having entered the NFL two years earlier than Peterson, had just finished his 128th game; Peterson had just completed his 101st.  But despite the two-year head start, Peterson had edged in front of Gore on the career rushing list.  In fact, his stellar effort against Chicago extended Peterson’s career edge to 397 yards: the Vikings star had 10,057 rushing yards, while the 49ers star had 9,660.

Peterson, at 28 years old, had a career average of 100 rushing yards per game; Gore, at 30, was at 75 rushing yards per game for his career.  At the time, it would have been laughable to wonder who would finish with more career rushing yards: Peterson was better, younger, and was already in the lead!

But the next week, Peterson injured his foot against the Ravens, and he dealt with foot and groin injuries for the rest of 2013.  In 2014, he missed nearly the entire season due to a suspension after being indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to his son.  In 2015, he had another great season and led the NFL in rushing, but in 2016, a knee injury limited him to just 72 yards in three games, his second season in three years with under 100 rushing yards. And this year? He’s now with the Saints, but has only 27 carries for 81 yards through four games: he ranks 3rd on New Orleans in rushing and 8th in yards from scrimmage.   Since December 7, 2013, he’s rushed for only 1,771 yards.

As for Gore? Well, he’s just kept chugging along, rushing for about 65 yards seemingly every week. He’s basically doubled Peterson since then, with 3,486 yards since that poor game against the Rams in his age 30 season.  So despite being older, a less effective player, and behind in the standings, Gore has now jumped out to a 1,428 yard career edge on Peterson.  That’s the largest his lead has been since 2008, when Peterson was in his second year with the Vikings.

The best way to understand Gore and Peterson’s career, though, is with a visual. In the graph below, I’ve plotted Gore’s (in Niners red) and Peterson’s (in Vikings purple) career rushing yards through each week of the NFL since 2005.  Their totals are marked against the Left Y-Axis. Gore had a lead of over 2,000 yards by the time Peterson entered the league, but you can see that Peterson’s line — once it starts — is much steeper. Eventually, he overtook Gore, and that lead hit its peak in early December 2013. Since then, he’s flattened out other than his strong 2015 season, and while Peterson is just shy of 12,000 rushing yards, Gore has already topped 13,000.

Plotted against the Right Y-Axis is the amount of Gore’s lead: some weeks he would beat Peterson, of course, but in general, that lead kept declining until that Peterson injury in 2013 and his suspension in 2013.  His lead went back down again during 2015, but Gore’s advantage is again on the rise: [click to continue…]


Week 4 Game Scripts: Buffalo Runs To Victory

The Buffalo Bills and their run-heavy ways are at it again. The Bills upset the Falcons in week 4, but it wasn’t because their offense stole the show. Buffalo scored only 23 points, and that included a defensive touchdown, a 55-yard field goal, and a 56-yard field goal. The Bills had just 15 first downs, and four of the team’s 8 drives ended with three or fewer yards. But Buffalo is going to stick with the ground game, even when it isn’t working. And that makes them a unique team in 2017.

The highlight for the offense came on a 19-play, 82-yard drive that took over 11 minutes off the clock. Here’s the full summary: bonus points if you can figure out whether or not this counts as run-heavy:

Full Play-By-Play Table
Quarter Time Down ToGo Location Detail BUF ATL EPB EPA Win%
3 8:20 1 10 BUF 12 LeSean McCoy left tackle for 8 yards (tackle by Keanu Neal) 14 10 -0.350 0.290 44.4
3 7:49 2 2 BUF 20 LeSean McCoy for 2 yards. Penalty on Eric Wood: Offensive Holding, 10 yards 14 10 0.290 -0.780 49.1
3 7:31 2 10 BUF 12 Mike Tolbert right guard for 7 yards (tackle by Dontari Poe) 14 10 -0.780 -0.600 48.1
3 6:51 3 3 BUF 19 Tyrod Taylor right end for 5 yards (tackle by Deion Jones) 14 10 -0.600 0.540 42.1
3 6:17 1 10 BUF 24 LeSean McCoy right end for 7 yards (tackle by Keanu Neal) 14 10 0.540 0.940 39.7
3 5:29 2 3 BUF 31 LeSean McCoy right tackle for 7 yards (tackle by Deion Jones) 14 10 0.940 1.470 36.4
3 4:51 1 10 BUF 38 Mike Tolbert right guard for 3 yards (tackle by Brooks Reed) 14 10 1.470 1.330 36.5
3 4:14 2 7 BUF 41 Mike Tolbert left guard for 6 yards (tackle by De’Vondre Campbell) 14 10 1.330 1.420 35.4
3 3:35 3 1 BUF 47 LeSean McCoy right tackle for 4 yards (tackle by Deion Jones) 14 10 1.420 2.320 30.4
3 3:02 1 10 ATL 49 Tyrod Taylor pass complete deep left to Zay Jones for 18 yards 14 10 2.320 3.510 24.5
3 2:19 1 10 ATL 31 LeSean McCoy right tackle for 4 yards (tackle by Keanu Neal) 14 10 3.510 3.510 23.6
3 1:39 2 6 ATL 27 LeSean McCoy right tackle for 7 yards (tackle by Sharrod Neasman) 14 10 3.510 4.240 19.8
3 1:01 1 10 ATL 20 Mike Tolbert left end for 8 yards (tackle by Damontae Kazee). 14 10 4.240 5.040 16.1
3 0:09 2 2 ATL 12 Patrick DiMarco left guard for -2 yards (tackle by Grady Jarrett) 14 10 5.040 3.890 19.3
4th Quarter
4 15:00 3 4 ATL 14 Penalty on John Miller: False Start, 5 yards (no play) 14 10 3.890 3.100 22.5
4 15:00 3 9 ATL 19 Tyrod Taylor pass complete short middle to Andre Holmes for 10 yards 14 10 3.100 5.140 14.5
4 14:20 1 9 ATL 9 LeSean McCoy left end for 6 yards (tackle by Brooks Reed and Keanu Neal) 14 10 5.140 5.530 12.4
4 13:37 2 3 ATL 3 LeSean McCoy right tackle for 1 yard (tackle by Brooks Reed and Grady Jarrett) 14 10 5.530 4.950 13.3
4 12:59 3 2 ATL 2 Tyrod Taylor pass complete short left to Jordan Matthews for 1 yard 14 10 4.950 3.550 17.7
4 12:09 4 1 ATL 1 Penalty on Tyrod Taylor: Delay of Game, 5 yards (no play) 14 10 3.550 2.990 18.8
4 12:03 4 6 ATL 6 Steven Hauschka 24 yard field goal good 17 10 2.990 3.000 18.6

The drive opened with NINE straight running plays, and 15 of the 18 plays were rushes! A pass on 1st-and-10 following those nine runs was the only non-third down pass of the drive. That’s just crazy. The Bills ended the day passing on just 39% of plays despite this being a back-and-forth game throughout.

Below are the week 4 Game Scripts: [click to continue…]


They’re not very good.

You’ve undoubtedly heard that only one team in NFL history has started a season 0-4 and made the playoffs. That team was the 1992 San Diego Chargers, who shocked the world by going 6-10 in 1990, 4-12 in 1991, and then making the playoffs in 1992 after an 0-4 start.

But as Jason Lisk has pointed out before, many stories about 0-X teams missing the playoffs ignore the fact that 0-X teams usually are not very good. There are four 0-4 teams in the NFL right now: the two worst teams in the NFL by record last year, the Browns and 49ers, and two pretty good teams from last year, the Giants and Chargers. If New York or Los Angeles was to make the playoffs this year, it would be pretty remarkable. But probably not as remarkable as you might think.

Prior to 2017, there were 113 teams that began a season 0-4 in the 16 game era, which might make you think there’s only about a 1% chance of making the playoffs from this far behind. Indeed, of that group, the ’92 Chargers won 11 games, no team won 10 games, and the 2004 Bills were the only team to win 9 games.

But what would the Giants or Chargers need to do to make the playoffs? Probably win 10 games: i.e., finish 10-2 in their final 12 games. How rare is that? Prior to 2017, there have been 1,116 team seasons during the 16-game era. And 80 of those teams went 10-2 or better in their final 12 games (including the ’03 and ’07 Patriots, and ’04 Steelers, who went 12-0). In other words, about 7% of NFL teams finish 10-2 in their last 12 games. Which is a lot higher than one percent.

So the real question when discussing the Chargers and Giants isn’t how likely is an 0-4 team to make the playoffs, but how likely as the Chargers and Giants to play like a top 7% team the rest of the season.


The Jacksonville defense ranks 32nd in rushing yards allowed and rushing yards per carry allowed, making it the worst rushing defense in the league by either measure. Some of this is the result of the small sample size of a four-week season: Bilal Powell had a 75-yard fluke touchdown run on Sunday against the Jaguars, and backup Elijah McGuire had a 69-yard run a couple hours later that, while not fluky, is probably not going to happen every four games.

But that’s not what’s weird about the Jaguars defense.  What’s weird is that opposite the worst rushing defense in the league is the stingiest pass defense, in terms of both yards (meaningless) and ANY/A (very meaningful). The Jaguars lead the league in sacks, with 18, while ranking 3rd in passer rating (which doesn’t include sacks). So this is a really strong pass defense, at least through four games.

In theory — more on this in a minute — a team shouldn’t be really good at pass defense and really bad at rush defense, absent some extreme roster composition. And with Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, Paul Posluszny, Myles Jack, and Telvin Smith, the Jaguars front seven has more than enough talent to turn this thing around.  If I had to guess, the rush defense will improvement significantly, while the pass defense will still play like a top-10 unit the rest of the way.  In other words, this should be a really good defense, not just a really great pass defense. [click to continue…]


Over their last 16 games — the final 12 games of 2016 and the first 4 games of 2017 — the Cleveland Browns are 1-15. Over the Browns last 16 games before that, Cleveland is 2-14: Cleveland began the 2016 season 0-4, and was 2-10 over the final 12 games of 2015. But the first game in that streak was the 5th game of the 2015 season, a rare Browns victory. Which means if the Browns lose to the Jets on Sunday, Cleveland will be 1-15 in their last 16 games, and 1-15 in the 16 games prior to that.

How bad is a 2-29 stretch over 31 games? Well, the Browns are just the fourth franchise to pull off that feat.

The World War II Cardinals

The Chicago Cardinals lost 29 games in a row during World War II, and went 1-36 during one 37-game stretch. [click to continue…]


Making The Playoffs With A Backup QB

The Texans opened this season with Tom Savage as the team’s starting quarterback. This was intentional, and by that I mean Houston really wanted to do this (as opposed to situations like the 2016 Patriots or 2014 Panthers who opened the season with — despite what pedants might say — their starting quarterback on the sidelines due to suspension or injury). Even the 2016 Cowboys opened the season with Prescott as their starting quarterback, although that wasn’t exactly how they opened the preseason.

But if the Texans make the playoffs, it will be because of Deshaun Watson (at least, as opposed to because of Tom Savage). Absent injury, Watson will be the team’s starting quarterback for the majority (if not all) of Houston’s wins in 2016. That separates Houston from teams like the 2016 Dolphins or 2014 Cardinals, who may have made the playoffs with backup quarterbacks but still saw Tannehill and Palmer lead their team in wins.

So how rare would it be for a playoff team to make the playoffs while riding a true backup quarterback? Obviously the definition of a true backup is open to interpretation, but I am referring to situations where the quarterback who led the team in wins was not atop the team’s depth chart as the season began (excluding injuries/suspension — Watson didn’t begin the year on the bench for that reason). [click to continue…]

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