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This week at the New York Times: a look at the big days by some older plays.

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NYT Checkdowns: Panthers/Cowboys Preview

On paper, a matchup between a 10-0 team and a 3-7 team might seem like a good reason to spend more time with your family. Think again. The 10-0 Carolina Panthers travel to Dallas to take on a 3-7 Cowboys team that is anything but typical.

For starters, the 3-7 Cowboys are actually favored by 1.5 points to beat the Panthers on Thanksgiving. This marks the first time since 1978 that a a team with 7 more wins than its opponent was an underdog, excluding end-of-season games where playoff bound teams have rested starters. The reason that Dallas is favored, of course, is because Tony Romo is now back. Romo led the N.F.L. in a variety of metrics last season, including completion percentage, touchdown rate, and passer rating, but the star quarterback’s value has never been so clear than it has over the last three months. The Cowboys went 0-7 with Romo injured and out of the lineup; meanwhile, Dallas has gone 7-0 in its last seven regular season games started Romo.

You can read the full article here.




This week at the New York Times: the Kansas City Chiefs are making history, and invoking memories of a distant relative:

The 1970 Cincinnati Bengals have been widely credited with bringing the West Coast Offense to the N.F.L. The team’s head coach, Paul Brown, and offensive coordinator (and future San Francisco 49ers head coach) Bill Walsh were faced with a challenge, as quarterback Virgil Carter was a smart player with a weak arm. Under Walsh’s tutelage, the Bengals operated a short-passing game that was effective in those run-heavy days of the N.F.L. A year later, Carter led the N.F.L. in completion percentage.

But that 1970 Cincinnati team is famous for another reason: Of the 158 teams from 1970 to 2014 that started an N.F.L. season with a 1-5 record, it is the only one to make the playoffs. It actually began the season 1-6, before winning its final seven games to finish 8-6.

Now, 35 years later, the Kansas City Chiefs are poised to join them.

You can read the full article here.

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New York Times, Post Week-10 (2015): Rob Ryan


Also at the New York Times today: newly-fired Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is not very good.

This is Ryan’s 12th season in the N.F.L., and he has consistently fielded below-average defenses. Among the 18 coaches who have been defensive coordinators for at least ten seasons since 1990, Ryan’s defenses have allowed more points per game and more yards per game to opponents than any other:

You can view the full table here.




This week at the New York Times, a look at a record-breaking number of “long” touchdown passes on Sunday:

The modern N.F.L. is defined by the short-passing game. And on Sunday, the short-passing game helped set a record for long plays. It might seem counterintuitive, but some of the longest pass plays of the season came from some of the shortest passes of the day:

On a 2nd-and-11 play in the first quarter from the Chicago 13-yard line, the backup Bears tight end Zach Miller ran a curl to the left flat. Quarterback Jay Cutler dumped the ball off to Miller, who caught the ball at the 15 yard line, before rumbling 85 yards through poor Rams tackling for a touchdown.

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York Times, a look at some star wide receivers, and how their numbers have dipped without their top quarterbacks.

Brown has averaged 10.7 yards per target this year on passes from Roethlisberger, but 4.5 on passes from Vick. Brown caught fewer passes per target and averages fewer yards per completion on targets from Vick, and he has also been targeted less frequently when Vick is in the game. Brown has done better with another Steelers backup, Landry Jones. On 16 targets from Jones, Brown has averaged 14.0 yards a pass, including a 57-yarder against Oakland that set up the game-winning field goal.

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York Times, a look at how it’s a season for old quarterbacks:

Through eight weeks this season, over half of all passing yards have come from quarterbacks who are on the “wrong” side of 30. The same is true of passing touchdowns. What’s more incredible is that 55 percent of all wins this season have come from quarterbacks who are 30 years or older. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are the two oldest starting quarterbacks in the N.F.L., but are two of the four quarterbacks on 7-0 teams. The top four leaders in passing touchdowns are 34 or older: Brady, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. And the seven leaders in passing yards through eight weeks were 30 or older, too: Rivers, Brady, Matt Ryan, Palmer, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco and Eli Manning.

You can read the full article here.


New York Times, Post Week-7 (2015): Todd Gurley; AFC South

This week at the New York Times: Todd Gurley is awesome; the AFC South is not.

Incredibly, Gurley turned 21 in August: He is now the youngest player to rush for 125 or more yards in three consecutive games since at least 1960. Despite not getting his first N.F.L. start until Week 4, Gurley is already making history. He is the first rookie in the N.F.L. since Eric Dickerson in 1983, a Hall of Famer and another Rams player, to rush for 125 yards and average at least 5 yards per carry three times in his team’s first eight games.


But this year, the division may reach a new low. Through seven weeks, the four teams in the A.F.C. South have won just four of 19 games outside the division. That puts the division 11 games below .500 in interdivision games. That is the second worst performance in the last 30 years and the worst by any division through seven weeks since the N.F.C. East began the season 4-17 in 1998.>.

You can read the full post here


This week at the New York Times, a look at how the famous rookie wide receiver class of 2014 is faring this year:

The 2014 N.F.L. draft provided the greatest rookie class of wide receivers in football history. Last year’s rookies recorded 12,611 receiving yards, the most receiving yards produced by any single class year in the N.F.L. last season. Even more incredibly, 2014 rookie receivers caught 92 touchdowns, 20 more than any other class year produced during the 2014 season. So how are these players doing as sophomores?

You can read the full article here.

Also, I wrote about how the NFL’s idea of parity is well, kind of a joke.

The Panthers have made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, making them the closest thing to an upstart among the unbeaten franchises. Both the Broncos and the Bengals have made it to the postseason in four consecutive years, while the Packers and the Patriots have made the playoffs in six straight seasons. Right now, the odds overwhelmingly favor each franchise making it to the playoffs again.

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York TimesPeyton Manning is now being carried by his defense.

The Denver Broncos have been synonymous with offensive success since Peyton Manning joined the team in 2012. In Manning’s first three years in Denver, the Broncos scored 1,569 points, 100 more than any other team in football. But this year, the Broncos are 5-0 despite ranking 30th in offensive yards, 27th in yards per pass, and 31st in yards per carry. That’s because Denver’s success has been powered by a dominant defense.

It starts with the defense’s production on a per-play basis, where the defense leads all teams. The Broncos are allowing just 4.3 yards per play to opposing offenses; if that holds, it would be the lowest average allowed by any defense since the 2009 Jets. The Broncos are allowing a league-low 4.7 yards per pass attempt, thanks in part to an incredible 22 sacks, the most by any defense through five weeks. And there is no weakness to this unit, as the rush defense ranks in the top quarter of the league in both yards and yards per carry. Situation defense? The Broncos are covered there, too, as Denver’s third down defense has been the best in the league, allowing first downs just 29.7% of the time.

You can read the full article here

I also wrote this week about Devonta Freeman on Thursday at the Times.

In his first 18 N.F.L. games, Freeman had never gained more than 84 yards from scrimmage. In his first three starts, he has gained at least 149 yards in each one, making him the first Falcons player since Jamal Anderson (1998) with such a streak. He is currently the N.F.L. leader in yards from scrimmage (645) and total touchdowns (eight). And he is one of the best bargains in the N.F.L., too, costing the Falcons only $631,106 in salary cap dollars.

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York Times, a record-breaking stat to highlight the 180-degree turn in Houston.

In 2014, the Houston Texans rushed on 52% of all plays, the most run-heavy ratio in the N.F.L. The team rushed a league-high 551 times last season, as the Texans quickly self-identified as a power-running team in head coach Bill O’Brien’s first season in the league.

Instead, the Texans — through four games — have become one of the most pass-happy teams in N.F.L. history. Including sacks, Houston had 52 pass attempts against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, 59 against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 and 58 Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. In the process, the 2015 Texans became the first N.F.L. team with more than 50 pass attempts (including sacks) in three of its first four games. The Texans have recorded 209 pass attempts (including sacks) through four games, also the most in league history.

You can read the full article here.  And check back later in the day for some equally astonishing stats to chronicle the turnaround by the Jets defense.

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This week at the New York Times, we begin with a look at the impressive triplets being groomed in Oakland: quarterback Derek Carr, running back Latavius Murray, and wide receiver Amari Cooper.  They made a bit of history on Sunday:

Against the Browns, Carr threw for 314 yards, Murray rushed for 139 yards, and Cooper gained 134 receiving yards. It was the first time the Raiders had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver since 2010. But perhaps more impressive, this game marked only the 12th time since 1970 that any franchise had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver, with all three being 25 years or younger.

You can read the full article here.

Also, here is yet another ode to the greatness that is Aaron Rodgers.


It has been over three years since Rodgers lost a regular-season game at Lambeau, excluding a November 2013 game against the Bears in which he left the game because of an injury after two pass attempts. Putting aside that contest, the Packers have won 20 consecutive regular-season home games under Rodgers, with an average margin of victory of over 16 points.

The raw totals are mind-boggling. In Rodgers’s last 18 games at home (excluding that Bears game), he has completed 394 of 572 passes (68.9 percent) for an incredible 5,212 yards (9.1 yards per attempt), with 48 touchdowns and zero interceptions. During that time, the Packers have gone 17-1 and averaged 34.8 points per game, with the only loss coming in the 2013 playoffs to the San Francisco 49ers.

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York Times, a look at how four young quarterbacks gave their team’s long-suffering fans some hope:

Bortles helped the Jaguars upset the Miami Dolphins, 23-20, courtesy of a number of big plays. Bortles was responsible for eight plays of at least 15 yards, including a 28-yard scramble on one third down. A second-year quarterback, he was responsible for 76 percent of Jacksonville’s yards on the day, and helped drive the team to the game-winning field goal.

Carr was responsible for 83 percent of Oakland’s offensive output on a day in which the Raiders were extremely pass-happy. Carr saved his best work at the end of the game: Taking over at his 20-yard line, trailing by 33-30 with 2 minutes 10 seconds remaining, Carr marched the Raiders to the game-winning score. He was seven for nine for 65 yards, and connected with Seth Roberts for a 12-yard touchdown with 26 seconds remaining.

You can read the full article here.


Arizona Is 14-2 In Carson Palmer’s Last 16 Games

Part II this week focuses on Arizona, which has been one of the best teams in football when Palmer stays healthy.

Expectations were not very high for the Cardinals entering 2015, despite the return of their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer. But through two weeks, the Cardinals lead the N.F.L. with 79 points. And dating to the 2013 season, Arizona has a 14-2 record and has outscored its opponents by 160 points in its last 16 games started by Palmer. Over that stretch, Palmer has completed 365 of 568 passes for 4,479 yards and 32 touchdowns with just 12 interceptions in what amounts to a full season’s worth of action. In other words, Arizona with a healthy Palmer deserves to be in the discussion for best team in the league.

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York Times, some thoughts on Marcus Mariota’s insanely productive debut:

Mariota became the youngest player in N.F.L. history to throw for four touchdowns in the first half of a game. Just one other rookie quarterback has thrown four first-half touchdowns in a single game: Johnny Green of Buffalo in 1960. Mariota also joined Matthew Stafford, Drew Bledsoe, and Fran Tarkenton as the only players since 1950 to pass for four touchdowns in a single game before turning 22 years old, and he and Tarkenton are the only rookie quarterbacks to throw for four touchdowns in their team’s first game.

You can read the full article here.

I also wrote about the A.F.C. East going 4-0 in week 1. You can read that article here.

The Dolphins may be the most balanced team in the division, with a better defense than New England and a more reliable offense than either New York or Buffalo. But Miami is also the one team without a clear identity. The strength of the team last year was the rushing attack and running back Lamar Miller, but Miami had a curious tendency to refrain from relying on the ground game. That trend continued in Week 1: Before the final, run-the-clock-out drive, Miller had only 9 carries (for 49 yards). The Dolphins finished the day with 18 carries, five fewer than any other team that won in Week 1. The rush defense, which was supposed to be bolstered by the off-season acquisition of Ndamukong Suh, was shredded for 161 rushing yards, the third highest total of the week. But one bright spot for the Dolphins was on special teams. According to Football Outsiders, Miami had the worst special teams in the N.F.L. in 2014; on Sunday, Jarvis Landry’s 69-yard fourth-quarter punt return was the game winner.

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This week at the New York Times, a look at the most heartbreaking losses in Super Bowl history.

The Seattle Seahawks were a yard from history. Trailing by 4 points in the final minute of Sunday’s Super Bowl, Seattle had the ball, on second down, at the Patriots’ 1-yard line. According to the website Advanced Football Analytics, that gave the Seahawks an 88 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl.

With a win, Seattle would have become just the ninth team in the Super Bowl era to repeat as champion, and the first since the 2003-4 Patriots. The defense, which had allowed the fewest points in the N.F.L. in each of the last three seasons, would have strengthened its argument to be considered the greatest in football history.

But it was not to be. Brandon Browner jammed Jermaine Kearse at the line, and Malcolm Butler shot in front of Ricardo Lockette to make a game-changing interception. For Patriots fans, it was a play to remember forever. For Seahawks fans, it was one they wish they could forget.

But where does Super Bowl XLIX rank among the most painful Super Bowl losses in history?

You can read the full article here.


Yes, Malcolm Butler sealed the win for the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX.  But if not for a great play by Brandon Browner, Butler never would have had a chance to be the hero.

With less than a minute remaining in the Super Bowl on Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks lined up in a three-wide-receiver set at the 1-yard line. To the right of quarterback Russell Wilson, Ricardo Lockette stood nearly directly behind another wide receiver, Jermaine Kearse, a yard back and on Kearse’s outside shoulder — an alignment commonly used on pick plays.

New England Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner stood across the line of scrimmage from Kearse, a couple of yards in front of Malcolm Butler, who was tasked with guarding Lockette.

For Seattle, the concept was simple. Kearse would run what is known as a clear-out route: With Browner and Butler aligned so close together (in response to the way the Seahawks’ receivers were set), Kearse’s job was to make Browner backpedal. That would block Butler from cutting across the field to cover Lockette, who was to run a slant to the inside.

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York Times, a look at the Patriots trick formations, and how New England has creatively worked around the NFL’s rules on eligible pass receivers.

In the divisional round of the N.F.L. playoffs, the New England Patriots dived deep into their playbook for a series of trick plays. What the Patriots did surprised even rule book aficionados, to say nothing of the team’s opponent, the Baltimore Ravens. It was also entirely legal, and the result of Coach Bill Belichick’s limitless ingenuity and deep understanding of the N.F.L. rules.

The N.F.L. publishes a rule book each year titled the “Official Playing Rules of the National Football League.” Rule 7, Section 5 of the 2013 edition covers eligibility. It is that section that contains one of the most basic elements of N.F.L. play, a rule so commonly adhered to that it goes unnoticed by most observers: There must be at least seven players on the line of scrimmage at the snap of each play.

Of those seven players, only the two outside players are eligible to catch a pass on a play; the inside five players on the line of scrimmage are, by definition, ineligible. But not only are the two outside players the only ones on the line of scrimmage eligible to catch a pass, those players must be eligible receivers.

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York Times, a look at the second straight “historically great offense vs. historically great defense” Super Bowl:

Last year’s Super Bowl pitted one of the greatest single-season offenses in N.F.L. history against one of the greatest single-season defenses. Using slightly different time frames, this year’s Super Bowl can boast similar claims.

Both the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks had slow starts in 2014. After New England’s 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4, pundits wondered if we were witnessing the end of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick-era Patriots. But since that game, the offensive line emerged as a cohesive unit, Rob Gronkowski’s health improved and Brady became red-hot. Since that game, New England has averaged 35.3 points per game, including the playoffs (but excluding the meaningless Week 17 finale, in which the Patriots benched many starters).

From Games 5 to 15 of the regular season, New England scored 379 points, the seventh most during such a stretch of any team since 1970. Then, the Patriots scored 35 points in the team’s first playoff win over the Baltimore Ravens, and 45 last weekend against the Indianapolis Colts. New England joins the 1994 San Francisco 49ers and the 1990 Buffalo Bills as the only Super Bowl participants to average 40 points per game through multiple playoff games before the Super Bowl.

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York Times, a look at the two matchups this weekend, arguably pitting the most valuable quarterbacks against the most talented teams.

At Stanford, Andrew Luck was immensely hyped as the next great quarterback prospect. The Indianapolis Colts selected him with the first overall pick in 2012, and remarkably, Luck has managed to meet even the highest of expectations. After helping turn a 2-14 team in 2011 into a playoff team in 2012, Luck won his first playoff game during the 2013 season and has now guided the Indianapolis Colts to the A.F.C. championship game.

Just 25 years old, Luck threw for a league-high 40 touchdowns during the regular season. On Sunday, against the heavily favored Denver Broncos, he delivered another strong performance, throwing for two touchdowns and guiding an offense centered on the passing game.

Luck is perhaps the most important person to his franchise of any player in the N.F.L. But it is Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and not Luck, who is likely to be named the league’s most valuable player this month. Rodgers averaged 7.68 net yards per attempt during the regular season, the highest in football. Rodgers also led the N.F.L. in interception rate (a minuscule 1.0 percent) and finished second to Dallas’s Tony Romo in touchdown rate (7.3 percent).

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York Times, an early look at the division round of the playoffs:

In 1990 the N.F.L. switched to its current playoff format, featuring six teams from each conference, with the top two seeds earning first-round byes.

For the first 15 years, this structure appeared to provide an enormous edge for the top two seeds: Teams coming off byes won 81.7 percent of all games in the division round of the playoffs from 1990 to 2004.

Then, over the next six seasons, the rested teams were 12-12 and it seemed as though being “hot” negated any advantage teams gained from a week off. In the last three postseasons the pendulum has swung back, with three bye teams winning each year. Last year, all four favorites were victorious in the division round of the playoffs, with the road 49ers winning at Carolina as 1-point favorites.

This year projects to mark a return to the old days. For the first time since 2007 all four home teams in the division round are favored by at least 4 points, and any more than one upset would qualify as shocking. So while the home teams are heavily favored this weekend, here is one tidbit to keep in mind for each game.

You can read the full article here.


New York Times, Post Week-17: Reviewing the Surprises

This week at the New York Times, a look at the bigger over- and under-achievers with respect to the pre-season Vegas lines:

Every year, Las Vegas sets forth a projected number of wins for each N.F.L. team. Most years, the majority of teams finish within a couple of games of that projection; this year, 20 of the league’s 32 teams finished within two wins of their projected wins total from before the season. But every year, there are also a few outliers; today, a review of the two biggest overachievers and two largest underachievers of the 2014 season.

Dallas Cowboys (Projected wins: 8. Actual: 12.)

Projecting an eight-win season for the Cowboys seemed like a safe bet: Dallas finished with an 8-8 record in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and there was little reason for optimism in 2014. The defense allowed the most yards in the N.F.L. in 2013, then lost three of its best players: DeMarcus Ware moved on to the Broncos, Jason Hatcher signed with the Redskins, and Sean Lee tore an anterior cruciate ligament in May. The expectation was that the offense would be good, but that the defense could be one of the worst in history.

But the defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli turned a unit short on talent into a respectable on-field product. Marinelli got the most out of linemen like Jeremy Mincey, Tyrone Crawford and Henry Melton. Inside linebacker Rolando McClain isn’t just a candidate for comeback player of the year: His production was one of the more shocking developments of the season. A former draft bust, McClain officially retired in May 2013. More than a year later, the Cowboys traded a sixth-round pick to Baltimore for McClain and a seventh-round pick. But he was the Cowboys’ most dependable linebacker in 2014 and finished as a top 10 inside linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus.

You can read the full article here.

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New York Times, Post Week-16 (2014): Projected Award Winners

This week at the New York Times — the players I expect to win the major NFL awards.

Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a pair of strong candidates in Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell, as do the Dallas Cowboys with Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray. There will be a faction who vote for J. J. Watt, who is having another monster year at defensive end. Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck (N.F.L. high 38 touchdown passes) or Tom Brady (New England has the best record in the league) could also wind up picking up some votes.

But the best player this year has been Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay star leads the league in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, an advanced metric that incorporates several aspects of quarterback play. Rodgers ranks first in interception rate (1 percent), second in touchdown rate (7.2 percent), and third in net yards per pass attempt (7.57), an across-the-board level of dominance that cannot be matched. Green Bay leads all teams in points scored per drive, while the Packers have punted a league-low 48 times. The Packers offense is a ruthlessly efficient offensive machine, and Rodgers is the driving force behind the team’s success.

You can read the full article here.


New York Times, Post Week-15 (2014): AFC Parity

This week at the New York Times: AFC and its (lack of) parity:

The New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos have the two best records in the A.F.C. The Indianapolis Colts are the class of the A.F.C. South, at 10-4, but no other team in that division has a winning record. The Cincinnati Bengals are first in the North, while the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, longtime division heavyweights, are tied for second.

The San Diego Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs cannot challenge the Broncos in the West, but both teams have winning records. The Miami Dolphins, despite some early optimism, have fallen to .500. On the other side of the spectrum, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Oakland Raiders are both again in line for a top-five pick. The Jets have scored the third fewest points among teams in the conference, and quarterback Geno Smith has the lowest passer rating in the N.F.L.

This is an accurate snapshot of how the A.F.C. looks with only two weeks left in the 2014 regular season. It also describes the conference at the conclusion of the 2013 regular season. Despite the perception that parity exists to a greater degree in the N.F.L. than in other major professional sports, that has not been the case over the last several years in the A.F.C.

You can read the full article here.


New York Times, Post Week-14 (2014): Under-the-Radar Ravens

I was on vacation last week, but the weekly New York Times posts are back! This week, a look at the Ravens, a team quietly positioning itself as one of the league’s best.

With three weeks remaining in the N.F.L. regular season, the cream is rising to the top.

The Green Bay Packers have scored 369 points over their last 10 games and Aaron Rodgers is the front-runner for most valuable player. The New England Patriots have won eight of their last nine games (with the only loss at Green Bay) and outscored opponents by a league-best 10.3 points a game. The Seattle Seahawks are the defending Super Bowl champions; after an uneven start they are starting to play like it. They have allowed 507 yards over the last three weeks, the fewest in the N.F.L. by any team in a three-game stretch in over three years.

But the Baltimore Ravens are the only team that ranks in the top quarter of the league in both points scored and points allowed. It is hard to imagine a team two years removed from winning the Super Bowl flying under the radar, but that is what is happening in Baltimore, with national coverage of the domestic violence episode involving their former player Ray Rice overshadowing the team’s performance.

You can read the full article here.


New York Times, Post Week-12 (2014): Total QBR

This week at the New York Times, I take my annual look at ESPN’s Total QBR:

In 2011, ESPN introduced Total QBR, or Total Quarterback Rating, a proprietary statistic intended to capture several of the hidden aspects of quarterback play. The next year, the Indianapolis Colts drafted quarterback Andrew Luck. And while he has helped revitalize the franchise, he has also served as one of the shining examples of how Total QBR credits players for positive plays that are otherwise ignored.

As a rookie, Luck ranked 26th in passer rating but ninth in Total QBR; last year he finished 18th in passer rating but eighth in Total QBR. So what was traditional passer rating missing when it came to Luck? In both years, he ranked in the top three in value added via penalties and on the ground. He did the little things — drawing a significant number of penalties (including value pass interference flags), making key contributions with his legs — that traditional passer rating ignored.

This year, though, Luck ranks slightly higher in passer rating (seventh) than Total QBR (eighth). Alok Pattani and Sharon Katz of ESPN Stats & Information, via email, shed some light on Luck’s season, along with other quarterbacks who have exhibited key differences between their Total QBR and passer rating numbers.

While Luck is having a breakout year via traditional metrics — he leads the N.F.L. in passing yards and is on a pace to set career highs in completion percentage, passer rating and touchdown percentage — he has taken a step back in some of the areas in which he used to excel. Luck picked up a first down on 78 percent of his rushes last year, but that number has dropped to 40 percent in 2014. Scrambles represent the majority of his rushes, and he gained a first down on 75 percent of them last year, compared with 29 percent of them this year. He also ranked third among quarterbacks in Expected Points Added via penalties in 2012 (+12.6), in part because he drew 13 defensive pass interference plays for 238 yards. This year Luck ranks 14th in penalty E.P.A. (+3.5), with five pass interference calls for 104 yards

You can read the full article here.

Finally, a Brian Hoyer note or two that made its way to the cutting room floor. Hoyer ranks 10th in ANY/A but 23rd in Total QBR. I was curious about that, and here is what Alok and Sharon were able to tell me:

  • Hoyer has really struggled on third downs. He ranks 2nd-to-last among qualifiers in completion percentage (49%), Y/A (5.7), and first down pct (32%) on 3rd downs.  Not coincidentally, the Browns rank 2nd-to-last in NFL in 3rd down conversion rate.
  • Hoyer has also been really bad at running, with 4 yards on 22 carries (only 4 1st downs).  Total rush EPA of -5.6 is lowest in NFL this season.
  • Hoyer’s also getting bad grades for the context of his interceptions: five of his interceptions cost his team 4+ EPA, including two of his picks against Falcons.  Only Cutler, Bortles, and Dalton have more “really bad” interceptions.

New York Times, Post Week-11 (2014): Time To R-E-L-A-X

This week at the New York Times, a look at the best quarterback in football.

When an athlete is having an excellent season, it is common for the home fans to break out into chants of “M.V.P.” from time to time. This year, in Green Bay, a five-letter cheer may be more appropriate.


That is what quarterback Aaron Rodgers told Packers fans after a loss to Detroit dropped Green Bay’s record to 1-2. One could understand the fans’ frustration: The Packers scored 16 points and looked overmatched in an opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks; looked inconsistent in a comeback victory over the Jets; then scored 7 points in the Week 3 loss to the Lions. Of course, a bad stretch for Rodgers looks like a great stretch for just about every other quarterback: Through the three games he had still thrown five touchdown passes against one interception.

But the Packers’ offense was struggling: Green Bay ranked 27th in scoring through three games. The passing attack ranked 24th in yards per attempt and the team was tied for 26th in rushing yards. The Packers gained 223 yards of offense against the Lions, the fewest in a game under Rodgers since the 2008 season. The 7 points were the fewest in any game that Rodgers had started for the Packers other than another 7-point effort against the Lions in 2010 when Rodgers left the game with an injury in the first half. For a fan base used to dominant offenses, the 2014 Packers were off to an ugly start.

You can read the full article here.


New York Times, Post Week-10 (2014): Kansas City Dominance

This week at the New York Times, a look at the surprisingly dominant Chiefs.

It was the most surprising result of the season. We just didn’t know it at the time.

In the summer, Las Vegas oddsmakers pegged the Kansas City Chiefs for eight wins this season. So in Week 1, when the Tennessee Titans visited Kansas City and won, 26-10, it was easy to acknowledge that it was going to be a down year for the team. After the loss, ESPN justifiably dropped Kansas City to 26th in its power rankings.

In Week 2, Kansas City lost a close game at Denver. Since then, the Chiefs are 6-1 and have outscored opponents by 89 points. They are tied with the Indianapolis Colts for the best point differential since Week 3, and no team has a better record over that period. The Chiefs’ 41-14 rout of the New England Patriots stands as perhaps the best performance by any team this season, and yet they continue to fly under the national radar. Is it still because of Week 1? The Titans have won only once since, and there is still no good explanation for the result. But there are a lot of reasons for Kansas City’s success.

You can read the full article here.


New York Times, Post Week-9 (2014): AFC North Dominance

This week at the New York Times, I look at the surprisingly successful AFC North.

At the midway mark of the season, the A.F.C. North is the best division in football. By the end of the year, it may be viewed as one of the strongest divisions in N.F.L. history.

The Cleveland Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens are a combined 14-5-1 when not facing one another, which includes a five-game winning streak (no A.F.C. North team has lost an interdivision game since Oct. 19). That equates to a 72.5 winning percentage; the next-best record in interdivision games belongs to the N.F.C. West, but at 15-9 (62.5) that division is a full 10 percentage points behind the A.F.C. North. Since 1970, only five divisions have won more than 70 percent of interdivision games over the course of a full season.

The numbers may overstate the case because the division has benefited from some fortuitous scheduling. Teams in every division play all four teams from two other divisions each year. This year, the A.F.C. North was lucky to land the A.F.C. South and the N.F.C. South, the two worst divisions in football in 2014. Still, all four teams have winning records. In fact, the 2014 A.F.C. North is only the third division in N.F.L. history in which all of its teams posted a winning record after nine weeks, joining the 2008 N.F.C. East and the 1935 N.F.L. West. This sort of success is close to unprecedented, especially for a division that was an afterthought to many only two months ago. So what has been the secret behind the success of each team in the division?

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York Times, I look at what may be the greatest class of rookie receivers in NFL history.

In fact, through eight weeks, wide receivers from the class of 2014 have caught 38 touchdown passes. That number may not mean much out of context, but consider that no other class of receivers can match that total.

The class of 2010 receivers — players in their fifth season — are next. That group has 37 receiving touchdowns, and is led by Antonio Brown (seven touchdowns), Demaryius Thomas (six), Dez Bryant (five) and Emmanuel Sanders and Brandon LaFell (four each).

Third- and fourth-year wideouts, who entered the league in 2012 and 2011, are tied for third place with 30 touchdowns for each class. The third-year receivers are a deep group: Kendall Wright has four touchdown catches, while Mohamed Sanu, Travis Benjamin, Brian Quick and Alshon Jeffery each have three scores. The 2011 class is more top-heavy, and led by Randall Cobb (nine), Andre Holmes (four), Torrey Smith (four) and Julio Jones (three).

But no class can match what is being done by the 2014 rookies, at least when it comes to receiving touchdowns. And the performance of the group is not impressive only among current players; this level of production is a historical outlier, too. Last year, rookie wide receivers caught 58 touchdowns, the most by any class of N.F.L. rookies in history (excluding the 1987 rookies who were replacement players).

The 2014 class is on a pace to exceed that mark, but it is striking how far rookies have come in such a short time. It was just 2006 when rookie wide receivers were responsible for only 26 receiving touchdowns all year. That number increased to 28 in 2007 and 31 a year later, marks that have been eclipsed by this rookie class before the calendar hit November.

You can read the full article here.


This week at the New York Times, I look at some of Seattle’s struggles to win as defending champs.

Staying on top of the football mountain is often more difficult than getting there. That is a lesson the defending champion Seattle Seahawks have been painfully experiencing this season. The Seahawks often face each opponent’s best effort, and that reality was clear against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

The Rams pulled off a 28-26 victory powered by a pair of special teams trick plays; these are the sort of plays that teams hold back for years before unveiling them at a key time against a significant rival, and Seattle played the guinea pig in Week 7.

In the first half, St. Louis called an unusual punt return fake, in which the team sent both Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey as potential returners. The punt went in the direction of Bailey, but Rams blockers crossed the field to set up for a return by Austin as if that was where the ball was heading. The Seahawks, following the blockers and not the ball, wound up out of position. The end result was an easy touchdown on a play St. Louis will not be able to use again for years.

As I’m wont to do, I end with a look at some quirky stats from the season to date. Including, of course, a depressing Jets stat. You can read the full article here.

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