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Pass Defense Heat Maps, 2002 to 2014

We spend a lot of time focusing on pass offenses, but not necessarily as much looking at the other side of the ball. After running my Rearview ANY/A numbers, it struck me just how bad Washington’s pass defense was last year. And if it feels like that team has struggled against the pass for awhile, well, that’s because it has. Over the last five years, there’s been no worse pass defense in the NFL.

As regular readers know, ANY/A stands for Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, which is Yards per Attempt with a 45-yard penalty for interceptions, a 20-yard bonus for passing touchdowns, and includes sack data. Relative ANY/A simply subtracts the league average ANY/A from each team’s individual ANY/A. Last year, Washington’s pass defense allowed 7.88 ANY/A while the league average was 6.14; as a result, the team’s pass defense had a RANY/A of -1.7. In fact, the team’s defense has had a negative RANY/A in each of the last five years. [click to continue…]

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On Monday, I looked at the SOS-adjusted Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt ratings of every quarterback and defense in the NFL in 2014. And just like last year, I want to follow that post by looking at the best and worst games of the year, from the perspectives of both the quarterbacks and the defenses.

Let’s start with the top 100 passing games from 2014. The top spot belongs to Ben Roethlisberger, for his scorched-earth performance against Indianapolis. The Steelers star threw for 522 yards and 6 touchdowns on just 49 pass attempts with no sacks or interceptions. For the game, that means Roethlisberger averaged 13.10 ANY/A. The league-average last season was 6.13 ANY/A, which means Roethlisberger was 6.97 ANY/A above average. Now since the game came against a Colts team that was 0.28 ANY/A worse than average last year, we have to reduce that by the same number. That puts Roethlisberger at 6.70 ANY/A above expectation; multiply that by his 49 dropbacks, and he produced 328 adjusted net yards of value above average after adjusting for strength of schedule. That was easily the top game of 2014. [click to continue…]

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2014 Rearview Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt

Every year at Footballguys.com, I publish an article called Rearview QB, which adjusts the fantasy football statistics for quarterbacks (and defenses) for strength of schedule. I’ve also done the same thing for years (including last season) using ANY/A instead of fantasy points, which helps us fully understand the best and worst real life performances each year. Today I deliver the results from 2014.

Let’s start with the basics. Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt is defined as (Passing Yards + 20 * Passing Touchdowns – 45 * Interceptions – Sack Yards Lost) divided by (Pass Attempts plus Sacks). ANY/A is my favorite explanatory passing statistic — it is very good at telling you the amount of value provided (or not provided) by a passer in a given game, season, or career.

Let’s start with some basic information. The league average ANY/A for quarterbacks in 2014 was 6.13, the highest in NFL history. Aaron Rodgers led the way with a 8.65 ANY/A average, the highest rate in the league among the 39 quarterbacks who started at least five games. Since the Packers quarterback had 520 pass attempts and was dropped for 28 sacks, that means he was producing 2.52 ANY/A (i.e., his Relative ANY/A) over league average on 548 dropbacks. That means Rodgers is credited with 1,383 Adjusted Net Yards above average, a metric labeled “VALUE” in the table below. That was the most in the NFL last year: [click to continue…]

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Bryan Frye, owner and operator of the great site http://www.thegridfe.com, is back for another guest post. You can also view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link, and follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.


On Monday, I looked at which quarterbacks since 1960 helped or hurt their teams the most by taking or avoiding sacks. On Tuesday, I looked at the quarterbacks who gained the most or fewest yards through the air per attempt or dropback, and on Wednesday, we looked at completions relative to league average. Yesterday, the metric of the day was touchdown pass rate.

As promised, this article, “Dr. Safelove or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Fear the Bomb,” centers on interceptions. The methodology here is no different from before: Figure out each player’s rate stats relative to the average of the rest of the league minus that player (LMP) that year and multiply it by his attempts to find the marginal total.

The caveat for this article is a big one: it is mathematically impossible for modern players to rank highly on a per play basis. In 1945, Sammy Baugh threw interceptions at a rate 7.4% lower than his peers. Because the league average today is so low (about 2.5%), a current quarterback would have to throw negative interceptions to match a -7.4% relative pick rate. Even if a quarterback threw 700 passes without an interception, the best he could possibly do is about -2.5%. [click to continue…]

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Bryan Frye, owner and operator of the great site http://www.thegridfe.com, is back for another guest post. You can also view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link, and follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.


On Monday, I looked at which quarterbacks since 1960 helped or hurt their teams the most by taking or avoiding sacks. On Tuesday, I looked at the quarterbacks who gained the most or fewest yards through the air per attempt or dropback. And yesterday, we looked at completions relative to league average.

Today’s article, “Mile High Club or: Scoring through the Air,” is an examination of how often quarterbacks threw touchdowns.1

I have used the same methodology as before (similar to Chase’s model for Relative Adjusted Net Yards), and I have maintained the same minimum attempt cutoffs. That means we’ll only look at seasons with 224 or more attempts and careers with 1,000 or more attempts. Like before, I didn’t prorate for shorter seasons.2 [click to continue…]

  1. Note that I didn’t say “how well quarterbacks threw touchdowns.” A screen with 80 YAC, a bomb to a wide open speedster, and a missile into tight coverage all count for six on the stat sheets. []
  2. Feel free to copy the table and make your own spreadsheet if you’d like. Or don’t. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. []
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Bryan Frye, owner and operator of the great site http://www.thegridfe.com, is back for another guest post. You can also view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link, and follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.


On Monday, I looked at which quarterbacks since 1960 helped or hurt their teams the most by taking or avoiding sacks. Yesterday, I looked at the quarterbacks who gained the most or fewest yards through the air per attempt or dropback. As you may have guessed, I’m keeping the theme going today. This article, “Sharpshooters or: Quarterbacks who were Good at Completing Passes,” is an examination of how passers stacked up statistically against their peers in the not-super-important category of completion rate. [click to continue…]

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Bryan Frye, owner and operator of the great site http://www.thegridfe.com, is back for another guest post. You can also view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link, and follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.


Yesterday, I looked at which quarterbacks since 1960 helped or hurt their teams the most by taking or avoiding sacks. In this post, “Frequent Flyers or: Quarterbacks who Gained Yards through the Air,” I’ll do something similar but with passing yards instead of sacks.

Because we have the necessary passing stats dating back to 1932, I can take this study back nearly three decades further than the previous one. However, I will use Chase’s estimated sack statistics to examine net yards for all post-1960 quarterbacks.

The math is simple: for each player, subtract his individual raw totals from those of every other quarterback in the league to find the league minus player (LMP) Y/A or NY/A. Next, subtract the LMP rates from the individual player rates to find each player’s marginal rate stats. Last, multiply each quarterback’s marginal Y/A by his attempts (or marginal NY/A by his dropbacks) to find marginal yards (or marginal net yards).1

Enough explanation – Let’s look at some stats. The first table displays the 1,563 qualifying QB seasons, sorted by marginal yards. Read it thus: In 2001, Kurt Warner threw 546 passes for 4,830 yards, giving him 8.85 Y/A. The average of the rest of the league was 6.69, so Warner had a marginal Y/A of 2.15. This means his 2001 season is worth 1,176 yards above expectation. [click to continue…]

  1. It took as much time to explain as it did to set up in Excel. []
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Bryan Frye, owner and operator of the great site http://www.thegridfe.com, is back for another guest post. You can also view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link, and follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.


Last Wednesday, Chase unveiled his estimated sack numbers for 1960-1968.1 I already had this post planned, but I wanted to wait for the estimated stats before running the numbers, as doing so would allow me to go back to 1960 instead of 1969.

This article, “Upright Citizens (Quarterbacks who Avoided Sacks)” is a brief examination of those quarterbacks who saved their teams valuable field position by avoiding sacks. By extension, it is also an examination of those quarterbacks who did the opposite. When Chase presented his 1960-1968 data, he included everyone who threw a pass during that timeframe. Because I am only concerned with quarterbacks, I have removed all non-quarterback plays and recalculated the metrics. [click to continue…]

  1. I can neither confirm nor deny that he did this, at least in part, to give Joe Namath some love. []
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You remember the November 20th game between the Bears and Lions in 1960, right? If you look at the boxscore on PFR, you will see that Detroit quarterback Jim Ninowski was 10 for 26 for 121 yards with 0 touchdown passes and 2 interceptions. You’ll also see that the Lions as a team went 10 for 26 for 121 yards with 0 touchdown passes, 2 interceptions, and 12 sacks for 107 yards. But the PFR boxscore does not indicate how many sacks Ninowski took that game, because the individual game log data wasn’t kept on that metric.

But, you know, I’m a pretty smart guy. I have a feeling that Ninowski was probably sacked 12 times in that game for 107 yards. I could be wrong, of course — maybe a backup came in and took two dropbacks, and was sacked on both of them — but it seems like making a good faith effort here is better than ignoring it completely. [click to continue…]

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Last weekend, we looked at the league-average ratios between receiving yards and touchdowns, and which players scored far more touchdowns than we would expect. Today, we do the same but for rushing yards.

For whatever reason, Jerome Bettis’ 2005 has become etched in the memories of many folks. That year, he rushed for 368 yards and 9 touchdowns. Back in ’05, the NFL average was 133.6 rushing yards per rushing touchdown. So we would expect Bettis, with 368 rushing yards, to rush for 2.8 touchdowns. That means Bettis actually rushed for 6.2 more touchdowns than we would “expect” given his rushing total. [click to continue…]

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On Tuesday, I looked at which receivers produced the most Adjusted Catch Yards over the baseline of worst starter. Yesterday, I used that data to help identify which receivers produced their numbers in the most pass-happy offenses. Today, instead of measuring wide receivers by how often their teams passed, I want to measure them by how well they passed.

Some teams are very efficient at passing because they have great wide receivers: to be clear, today’s post doesn’t prove anything about which way the causation arrow runs. But I do think it’s worth quantifying the reality that receivers produce their numbers in very disparte environments. Let’s use Joey Galloway as an example. Galloway, longtime readers will recall, was a favorite of an early iteration of Doug Drinen’s attempts at ranking wide receivers. For similar reasons, Galloway comes out “very good” in this system, if good means producing numbers while playing for bad passing offenses (a proxy, one could argue, for playing with bad quarterbacks).

Galloway produced 2,071 Adjusted Catch Yards above the baseline in his career, good for an unremarkable 84th place on Tuesday’s list. But let’s look at the 8 seasons that get Galloway there: [click to continue…]

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Yesterday, I looked at which receivers produced the most Adjusted Catch Yards over the baseline of the worst starter. Today, I want to use that data to help identify which receivers put up their numbers in the most pass-happy offenses.

Let’s use Calvin Johnson as an example. He’s been with the Lions for each season of his career, and Detroit has been very pass-happy throughout his career. Last year, Detroit averaged averaged 40.56 dropbacks (pass attempts plus sacks) per game, while the league average was 37.29 dropbacks per game. So Detroit passed 108.8% as often as the average team.

In 2013, Detroit’s ratio to the league average was 108.2%, but it was 129.8% in 2012. To measure pass-happiness as it pertains to Johnson, we can’t just take Detroit’s average grade from ’07 to ’14; instead, we need to assign more weight to Johnson’s best years. Johnson gained 1,358 ACY over the baseline in 2012, which represents 29% of his career value of 4,721 ACY over the baseline. As a result, Detroit’s 129.8% ratio in 2012 needs to count for 29% of Johnson’s career pass-happy grade.

If we do this for each of the players in yesterday’s top 100, here are the results. [click to continue…]

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Brown stuck the lanning.

Brown stuck the lanning.

Adjusted Catch Yards are simply receiving yards with a 5-yard bonus for each reception and a 20-yard bonus for each receiving touchdown. In 2014, Antonio Brown led the NFL with 2,603 Adjusted Catch Yards, the 5th highest total in NFL history. That was the result of a whopping 129 receptions for 1,698 receiving yards (both of which led the league) and 13 touchdowns.

Brown was dominant in 2014, and he led the NFL in more advanced systems, too. But today, I wanted to do something relatively simple. How do we compare Brown’s 2014 to say, three Packers greats from years past?

In 1992, Sterling Sharpe had 108 catches for 1,461 yards and 13 touchdowns. Those are pretty great numbers for 1992, although they don’t leap off the page the way Brown’s 2014 stat line does. If we go back farther, Billy Howton in 1956 had 55 receptions for 1,188 yards and 12 touchdowns. Like Brown, that was good enough to lead the NFL in two of the three major categories, and rank 2nd in the third. And 15 years earlier, Don Hutson caught 58 passes for 738 yards and 10 touchdowns. How do we compare that statline to Brown’s?

Here’s what I did.

1) Calculate each player’s Adjusted Catch Yards. For Brown, that’s 2,603. For Sharpe, Howton, and Hutson, it’s 2,261, 1,703, and 1,228, respectively.

2) Next, calculate the Adjusted Catch Yards for every other player in the NFL. Then, determine the baseline in each year, defined as the number of ACY by the Nth ranked player, where N equals the number of teams in the league. For Brown, that means using 1,398 Adjusted Catch Yards, the number produced by the 32nd-ranked player in ACY in 2014. For Sharpe, we use 1,078 ACY, the number gained by the 28th-ranked player in ’92. For Howton, it’s just 797, the number of ACY for the 12th-ranked player (keep in mind that ’56 was a very run-heavy year). And finally, for Huston, we use the 10th-ranked player from 1941, who gained only 413 Adjusted Catch Yards.

3) Next, we subtract the baseline from each player’s number of Adjusted Catch Yards. So Brown is credited with 1,205 ACY over the baseline, Sharpe gets 1,183 ACY over the baseline, Howton is 906 ACY over the baseline, and Hutson is 815 ACY over the baseline.

4) Finally, we must pro-rate for non-16 game seasons. For Brown and Sharpe, we don’t need to do anything, so Brown wins, 1,205 to 1,183. Howton played in a 12-game season, so we multiply his 906 by 16 and divide by 12, giving him 1,208 ACY, narrowly edging Brown. And in 1941, the NFL had an 11-game slate; multiply 815 by 16 and divide by 11, and Hutson is credited with 1,185 ACY.

As you can see, it wasn’t a coincidence I chose those three Packers seasons to compare to Brown. Those four seasons are the 19th-through-22nd best seasons of all time by this metric, and stand out as roughly equally dominant for their eras (both Sharpe and Hutson won the triple crown of receiving in their years).

This is not my preferred method of measuring wide receiver player, but it’s my favorite “simple” one. I put simple in quotes, of course, since there’s a lot of programming power behind generating these numbers. But at a high level, it’s simple: we combine the three main receiving stats into one, we adjust for era because the game has changed so much, and we pro-rate for years where the league didn’t play 16 games. Nothing more, nothing less. [click to continue…]

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Julius Thomas and Expected Touchdowns

In 2013, NFL players combined for 129,177 receiving yards and 804 receiving touchdowns. That means, on average, a touchdown was scored every 160.7 receiving yards. Denver tight end Julius Thomas gained 788 receiving yards that year, which means we might have “expected” him to catch 4.9 touchdowns. But Thomas was no average scorer: he finished with 12 touchdowns, or 7.1 more than expected.

In 2013, only Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis scored more receiving touchdowns relative to expectation than Thomas (Davis scored 13 times on just 850 receiving yards, or 7.7 more than expected, while Graham converted 1,215 receiving yards into 16 touchdowns, or 8.4 more than expected).

Well, as good as Thomas was in 2013, he was even crazier at scoring touchdowns last year. Despite gaining just 489 receiving yards, Thomas again scored 12 touchdowns, 8.9 more than expectation (the league average was 159.7 receiving yards per receiving touchdown). That was the most in the NFL, and only Dez Bryant (1,320/16/+7.7) was within shouting distance of him. [click to continue…]

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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows are Brad’s thoughts on a stat-based quarterback ranking system.


I recently concluded an eight-part series on the greatest quarterbacks in the history of professional football. Those rankings were subjective, based on everything I know about the players: stats, awards and honors, coaching and teammates, team success and postseason performance, reputation, the eye test, and so forth.

But I also have a method for classifying quarterbacks statistically. I actually published the results of this formula three months ago, but without revealing the process that produced those results. A number of readers were curious about my methodology, and in this post, I’ll finally explain how the sausage gets made. The math is not complicated — you don’t need a stats background to understand this — but there’s a lot of it: you could calculate most of this with a pencil and paper, but by the end, you’re going to want a spreadsheet. [click to continue…]

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An alternate uniform for the greatest tight end ever

An alternate uniform for the greatest tight end ever

Over the last three days, we’ve looked at the most dominant fantasy quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. Today, we look at tight ends, using the methodology described over the three previous days.

I am using the following scoring system throughout this series: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 4 points per passing TD, 6 points per rushing/receiving TD, 0.5 points per reception.

You probably expect to see Rob Gronkowski’s 2011 season grade as the best fantasy season by any tight end. But, as it turns out, an AFC West tight end had one season that was ever so slightly more dominant.

You might think I’m talking about Tony Gonzalez, who has an unreal eleven seasons in the top 200. Or Kellen Winslow, who has eight top-200 seasons, half of which rank in the top 25. And if not one of those two, then surely Antonio Gates, who has nine top-200 seasons, including two in the top twenty. Or Shannon Sharpe, of course, who also has nine top-200 seasons, with six of those being in the top 70.

In fact, AFC West teams1 have 14 of the top 25 seasons by a tight end in fantasy history, and and 19 of the top 35 years. No division has dominated this position like the AFC West, but the best tight end season in fantasy history came from someone else: Oakland’s Todd Christensen. [click to continue…]

  1. And we don’t even need to include Seattle, which has 0 entries in the top 200 []
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The fantasy GOAT

The fantasy GOAT

Yesterday, we looked at the most dominant quarterbacks in fantasy history. Today, the running backs, using the methodology described yesterday. Let’s look at the three best seasons in fantasy history, since all shed light on the formula here. Those three are LaDainian Tomlinson, 2006, which is easy to argue as the best year ever as Tomlinson shattered the record for fantasy points scored. But O.J. Simpson in 1975 (not ’73) was also dominant, and did so in a 14-game season and when the baseline was lower. The darkhorse candidate is Priest Holmes, 2002, who put up insane numbers but missed two games due to injury.

I am using the following scoring system throughout this series: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 4 points per passing TD, 6 points per rushing/receiving TD, 0.5 points per reception.

In 2006, Tomlinson rushed for 1,815 yards with 28 TDs, caught 56 passes for 508 yards and 3 touchdowns, and even threw for 20 yards and two touchdowns. He totaled a still mind-boggling 455.3 fantasy points. On a per game basis, Tomlinson averaged 28.46 FP/G, while the baseline — which for these purposes is RB241 — was at 10.75 FP/G. Therefore, Tomlinson averaged 17.71 FP/G over the baseline, and he did it for 16 games, giving him a VBD of 283.3 fantasy points (17.71 x 16). [click to continue…]

  1. Baselines used in this series: From 1968 to 2014, RB24. In ’66 and ’67, RB20, and from ’61 to ’65, RB16. In the 1960 AFL, the baseline is RB6, while it is RB8 in the NFL. From 1950 to 1959, the baseline used is RB8. []
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What was the most dominant fantasy season of all time? You might think Peyton Manning 2013, but let me throw out another candidate: Steve Young, 1998.

I am using the following scoring system throughout this series: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 4 points per passing TD, 6 points per rushing/receiving TD, 0.5 points per reception.

In 2013, Manning threw for 5,477 yards and 55 TDs with just 10 interceptions, while rushing for -31 yards but with one TD. That comes out to 486.75 fantasy points. In 1998, Young threw for 4,170 yards with 36 TDs and 12 INTs, but also ran for 454 yards and 6 TDs. That is equal to 421.90 fantasy points. So, advantage Manning.

But we measure fantasy dominance “not by the number of points he scores[, but] by how much he outscores his peers at his particular position.” Those are the words of Joe Bryant in his famous VBD article, and I’ll make an appendix to that for historical purposes: the key is how much a player outscores his peers at his particular position in that particular year.

When calculating VBD scores, the standard is to use the 12th-ranked quarterback. In 2013, the 12th=-ranked QB scored 309.2 fantasy points, which means Manning outscored him by 177.55 fantasy points (or we could say that Manning produced 178 points of VBD). In 1998, the 12th-ranked quarterback scored just 235.6 fantasy points, which means Young finished with 186.3 points of VBD. So, advantage, Young.

But there’s another piece of the puzzle that tips the scales even more towards the 49ers quarterback. In 1998, Young missed one game. For fantasy purposes, it’s more valuable to have a quarterback produced X points in 15 games than it is for him to produce X points in 16 games, because you can play someone else during that 16th game. [click to continue…]

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On Sunday, I calculated the average number of pass attempts (including sacks) per game for each season since 1950, and then looked at which were the highest era-adjusted passing games in football history. On Monday, I looked at the single seasons that were the most and least pass-happy, from the perspective of each quarterback and after adjusting for era. Today, career grades.

How much do you know about Frank Tripucka? Probably not that much. If you’re a younger fan, you might know him because Denver “unretired” his #18 when Peyton Manning came to town, or because his son Kelly played in the NBA.

If you’re a Football Perspective regular, you may recall that he was the first quarterback in pro football history to throw for 3,000 yards in a season.1 Well, after today, you’re never going to forget about Tripucka.

I looked at all quarterbacks who started at least 48 regular season games since 1950.2 As a reminder about the methodology, I then calculated the league average dropbacks per game (i.e., pass attempts + sacks) in each season. Then, I determined the number of dropbacks by each quarterback’s team in each game started by that quarterback.

Then, I compared that number to league average to determine the ratio. Do this for every game of a quarterback’s career, and viola, career ratings! Here’s how to read the table below. Tripucka started 50 games in his career since 1950. In those games, his teams averaged 38.5 dropbacks per game, while the league average was 31 dropbacks. As a result, Tripucka’s teams in games he started finished with 124% as many pass attempts as the average team, or 7.5 more attempts per game. That makes him the most pass-happy quarterback ever. The final column shows whether the quarterback is in, or very likely to wind up in, the Hall of Fame.3 [click to continue…]

  1. And by first, I mean that in the most literal sense: in 1960, Tripucka, playing in the AFL and a 14-game season, crossed the 3,000 yard mark in the final game of the season. For Denver, that happened to be a Saturday. The next day, another AFL quarterback, Jack Kemp, crossed the 3,000-yard threshold with the Chargers. The AFL opened with a 14-game schedule to get a jump on the NFL, which was still playing a 12-game schedule in 1960. The NFL’s regular season ended at the same time, and Johnny Unitas became the first NFL passer to hit 3,000 yards on the same day as Kemp. []
  2. For quarterbacks who played prior to 1950, like Tripucka, they are included, but only their post-1950 stats are counted. []
  3. Note that I have included Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, and Aaron Rodgers as HOF quarterbacks for these purposes. This is not based on my subjective opinion of those players, but based on my subjective opinion of their likelihoods of enshrinement. If one was to sort by the HOF category, I thought it would be more useful to have them as a “Yes” than as a “No.” Your mileage may vary. []
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Yesterday, we looked at which teams had the most pass attempts (including sacks) in individual games relative to league average. Today, we will analyze things on the season level.

Let’s use Tobin Rote as an example. As Brad Oremland noted, Rote was stuck playing for terrible Packers teams in the ’50s that were weak on defense and light at running back. In 1951, Green Bay ranked 12th in the 12-team NFL in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns, and 11th in points allowed and yards allowed. The Packers often went with just one running back in the backfield — a rarity in those days — which is a sign that the emphasis on the passing game wasn’t just a result of the team’s losing record. Green Bay also went with a quarterback-by-committee approach: Rote started 11 of 12 games, but he finished the year with 256 pass attempts, while backup Bobby Thomason had 221. Individually, neither had great numbers, but together, they helped Green Bay finish with 50 more pass attempts than any other team in football.

The method I used yesterday, and will be using throughout this series, is to give the starting quarterback credit for all team pass attempts in that game. The reason? If a quarterback gets injured and finishes a game with just 5 attempts, that will kill his average in a misleading way. That would do more harm, I think, than giving him credit for all attempts in the game. But that decision has its drawbacks, and in particular, it seems ill-suited for teams in the early ’50s that employed a QBBC approach. This is particularly relevant here, because “Rote’s” 1951 season checks in as the most pass-happy on our list.

So the Rote line for ’51 should really be thought of as Rote and Thomason. Rote’s 1956 season also makes the top ten, and there’s no fine print necessary there. Rote started 11 of 12 games and threw 308 passes, while Bart Starr started the remaining game and had just 44 attempts that season. The ’56 Packers were not very good, ranking last in both points and yards allowed, and last in rushing attempts, too.

The table below shows the top 300 seasons (minimum 7 games started) in terms of pass attempts relative to league average. You can use the search function to see that Rote’s season in 1954 with Green Bay also makes the cut. To explain what’s in the table below, let’s use season #15 on the list, Shane Matthews in 1999, as an example. That year, Matthews started 7 games, but in those games, the Bears averaged an incredible 47.1 dropbacks per game, the second highest rate ever. Matthews shared some snaps with rookie Cade McNown that year, so you wouldn’t know it just by looking at Matthews’ raw numbers, but the ’99 Bears were insanely pass-happy under Gary Crowton. The league average was 36.3 dropbacks per game, so the Bears in “Matthews games” were 10.8 attempts above average, and 129.8% above league average. [click to continue…]

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Let’s take a look at the league average dropbacks (pass attempts + sacks) per game for each year from 1950 to 2014.

dropback per game [click to continue…]

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You remember 1976, don’t you? Two teams — the Colts with Bert Jones and Roger Carr, and the Raiders with Ken Stabler and Cliff Branch — stood out from the pack when it came to pass efficiency that season. The Colts led the NFL in passing yards, ranked 2nd in passing touchdowns, and threw just 10 interceptions, tied for the fewest in the NFL. Oakland threw 33 touchdown passes — nine more than the Colts and 12 more than any other team in football — while ranking 3rd in passing yards. Both teams averaged 7.5 Net Yards per Pass Attempt, while every other team was below seven in that metric. Those two teams went a combined 24-4.

The next four best passing teams were St. Louis, Dallas, Minnesota and Los Angeles. Each of those teams went 10-4 or better. In fact, the linear relationship between pass efficiency and team record was quite strong that year. Take a look at the chart below, which plots Relative ANY/A — i.e., Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt relative to league average — on the X-Axis, and Winning Percentage on the Y-Axis: [click to continue…]

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On Saturday, we looked at the top passing performers against each franchise. Yesterday, we did the same thing but with rushing statistics. Today, we revive a post from two years ago and complete the series with a look at the top receiving producers against each franchise (all data beginning in 1960).

Let’s begin with receptions. In the past two seasons, Jason Witten has emerged as the number one franchise nemesis for both Washington and New York, eliminating Art Monk and Michael Irvin, respectively, from the tops of those record books. Witten was already the top guy against the Eagles, making him the career leader in receptions against each of the Cowboys three NFC East rivals.

Other non-surprising news: Jerry Rice is the top man against the Falcons, Saints, and Rams, with his numbers against Atlanta being particularly mind-blowing. Tim Brown is number one against his old AFC West teams, and was also number one against the Seahawks until Larry Fitzgerald just passed him. Andre Reed takes the top spot against the Dolphins/Colts/Jets (Marvin Harrison is #1 against the Patriots), Hines Ward has more catches than anyone against the Browns/Bengals/Ravens, while Cris Carter is number one against all four of his old NFC Norris rivals. [click to continue…]

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A couple of years ago on the July 4th holiday, I looked at each team’s franchise nemesis in a number of statistics. Let’s revisit that, beginning today with passing yards and passing touchdowns.

You won’t be surprised to know that John Elway has thrown for more yards against the Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders, and Seahawks — his four division rivals — than any other player has gained against those four teams. Similarly, Dan Marino has thrown for more yards against the Bills, Jets, Patriots, and Colts than any other quarterback. Brett Favre threw for more yards than anyone else against the Lions, Bears, and Vikings (but not the Bucs), and Peyton Manning is the top nemesis for the Oilers/Titans franchise, the Jaguars, and the Texans.

Drew Brees is the big enemy of the Bucs, Panthers, and Falcons, while Ben Roethlisberger is the top passer against the Ravens, Bengals, and Browns. Perhaps more surprising is that Eli Manning has already thrown for more yards against Philadelphia, Washington, and Dallas than any other quarterback: that’s particularly surprising since he wasn’t #1 against any of those teams two years ago.

One that always kind of surprises me is seeing Johnny Unitas as number 1 against the 49ers, but it does make some sense. My guess is you could win quite a few bar bets with that one. Here’s the full list, which includes all passing yards thrown by each quarterback against each of the 32 teams (and includes playoff games): [click to continue…]

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Yesterday, I looked at the best defenses in football history in terms of (estimated) points allowed on an (estimated) per drive basis. Today, the reverse: the worst defenses in history, at least, without adjusting for era, in terms of points allowed per drive.

The 1981 Colts take the top spot, and that’s not going to be a surprise to any fan of NFL history. Those Colts teams were terrible, particularly on defense. In ’81, Baltimore beat New England 29-28 in week 1, beat New England 23-21 in the last game of the season, and lost every game in between. In ’82, Baltimore finished 0-8-1. In fact, beginning in December 1980, over the team’s next 31 games, the Colts went 3-1 against the Patriots and 0-26-1 against the rest of the NFL! And beginning in ’81, the Colts went 24 straight games without being favored.

The ’81 Colts finished last in just about every defensive category, including points, yards, turnovers, first downs, passing touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, and net yards per attempt. Baltimore’s defense ranked in the bottom three in both rushing yards and passing yards, too. Baltimore allowed 533 points, which remains the most in a single season in NFL history, undisturbed by the modern era. [click to continue…]

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The Purple People Eaters

The Purple People Eaters

The 1969 Minnesota Vikings were really good on defense. It began with the defensive line, as that Minnesota squad was the only team in NFL history to send all four defensive linemen to the Pro Bowl. Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, and Gary Larsen may have been the greatest combination of defensive linemen playing together in their primes in NFL history. The Vikings also had Hall of Fame safety Paul Krause playing in the prime of his career.

Minnesota was quarterback by Joe Kapp, but propped up by the defense: after the season, Kapp was traded to the Patriots, and proceeded to suffer the second worst decline in passer rating in NFL history. The Vikings went 12-2 that season, losing on opening day and in a meaningless game at the end of the year.

Minnesota allowed just 133 points, or 9.5 points per game, in 1969. That’s the 2nd fewest in a season since World War II, trailing only the Gritz Blitz 1977 Falcons. The Vikings allowed 16 touchdowns in 1969, but four came on returns (two on interceptions, one fumble, one interception)! Exclude those, and the Vikings allowed just 84 points on touchdowns and 21 points on field goals, for a total of 105 points allowed to the opposing offense. [click to continue…]

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Single-Season Cellar Dwellars in OPPED

On Sunday, I looked at the single-season leaders in estimated offensive points per estimated drive. Today, let’s look at the reverse: the teams since 1950 with the fewest points per estimated drive.

The 1977 Bucs ranked last in the NFL in points, yards, first downs, passing yards, passing touchdowns, net yards per attempt, rushing yards, and rushing yards per carry. The team ranked third from last in rushing touchdowns and interceptions. It was that kind of year for Tampa Bay, as the team was shut out 6 times in 14 games, and held to just a field goal in three others.

Tampa scored just 103 points, but the defense scored four touchdowns! As a result, the Bucs get credit for just 76 estimated offensive points (the offense does get credit for one missed extra point), the fewest of any team since 1950. [click to continue…]

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As regular readers know, PFR’s Approximate Value statistic uses Offensive Points Per Estimated Drive (OPPED) as its base statistic. Given the discussion yesterday regarding estimates drives and scoring, I thought it would be useful to provide a list of the single-season leaders since 1950 in this metric.

Let’s use the 2007 Patriots as an example. For modern teams, we have the data available on how many drives each team had, but for historical teams, it’s not so easy. There are two ways we can measure drives for all teams. One is to measure the end of drives. For example, the ’07 Patriots had:

  • 50 passing touchdowns;
  • 9 interceptions;
  • 17 rushing touchdowns;
  • 24 field goal attempts;
  • 45 punts;
  • 6 fumbles lost; and
  • 0 safeties (i.e., the offense was never sacked in the end zone)

That gives us a total of 151 estimated drives. What we’re missing here are drives that end when the clock runs out and turnovers on downs. Unfortunately, that data is simply not out there historically, although it’s probably not all that important (and, at least with respect to the former, those drives arguably should be excluded, anyway).

We can also measure the start of drives.  The ’07 Patriots:

  • Played 16 games, which means 16 times where the team received the ball at the start of each half;
  • Recorded 0 safeties recorded on defense (which would lead to a possession);
  • Allowed 23 passing touchdowns;
  • Forced 19 interceptions;
  • Allowed 7 rushing touchdowns;
  • Faced 14 opponent field goal attempts;
  • Forced 76 punts;
  • Forced and recovered 12 fumbles.
  • In addition, New England also had 3 pick sixes and returned 3 fumbles for touchdowns.  as a result, we need to subtract 6 from our total, since those turnovers did not lead to drives for the offense.

This method of estimating drives isn’t perfect, either, but if we average the two results, hopefully we get something pretty close.  New England’s offense had 161 estimated drives by this metric, giving them an averaged of 156 estimated offensive drives.1

What about estimated points? That one is relatively simple:

  • Award 7 points for each rushing touchdown or passing touchdown;
  • Award 3 points for each made field goal

There are flaws here, well, but this is probably the best we can do.  By this method, New England had 532 estimated offensive points, and 3.41 OPPED.  That is the most of any team since 1950.  The full list:

RkTeamYrLgEst Drive (End)Est Drive (St)Est OptsOPPED
1New England Patriots2007NFL1511615323.41
2New Orleans Saints2011NFL1621675183.15
3Green Bay Packers2011NFL1621735133.06
4Minnesota Vikings1998NFL1681685113.04
5Indianapolis Colts2004NFL1581704872.97
6Denver Broncos2013NFL1901995722.94
7New England Patriots2010NFL1491684582.89
8St. Louis Rams2000NFL1701875132.87
9San Diego Chargers1982NFL991022862.85
10New England Patriots2012NFL1721815002.83
11Green Bay Packers2014NFL1521634452.83
12New England Patriots2011NFL1661764832.82
13Miami Dolphins1984NFL1651874962.82
14Indianapolis Colts2007NFL1511554262.78
15San Francisco 49ers1994NFL1601754652.78
16Indianapolis Colts2006NFL1441594142.73
17Kansas City Chiefs2004NFL1631764572.7
18San Francisco 49ers1993NFL1551684332.68
19St. Louis Rams2001NFL1731774682.67
20Indianapolis Colts2005NFL1461634122.67
21Dallas Cowboys2014NFL1661694462.66
22San Diego Chargers2009NFL1501644182.66
23Denver Broncos1998NFL1741874752.63
24San Francisco 49ers1992NFL1491644112.63
25San Diego Chargers2006NFL1711874702.63
26Dallas Cowboys1995NFL1541594102.62
27New Orleans Saints2008NFL1611794442.61
28New England Patriots2014NFL1641714342.59
29Green Bay Packers1962NFL1501563952.58
30San Diego Chargers2008NFL1531654102.58
31Kansas City Chiefs2002NFL1601844402.56
32Washington Redskins1983NFL1962055122.55
33Washington Redskins1991NFL1721814502.55
34Houston Oilers1961AFL1871974892.55
35San Diego Chargers2004NFL1651744312.54
36New Orleans Saints2009NFL1701854512.54
37Houston Oilers1990NFL1491613922.53
38San Francisco 49ers1984NFL1731814462.52
39St. Louis Rams1999NFL1741804452.51
40San Diego Chargers2010NFL1661664172.51
41Minnesota Vikings2009NFL1721864492.51
42Indianapolis Colts2003NFL1661754262.5
43Denver Broncos2014NFL1731934572.5
44New England Patriots2008NFL1531694022.5
45New England Patriots2004NFL1601624012.49
46Jacksonville Jaguars2007NFL1461643852.48
47New England Patriots2009NFL1571714072.48
48Dallas Cowboys2007NFL1681774282.48
49Cincinnati Bengals2005NFL1601744132.47
50San Francisco 49ers1989NFL1671814302.47
51New York Giants2012NFL1621684072.47
52Green Bay Packers2009NFL1721784312.46
53San Diego Chargers2011NFL1531603852.46
54Oakland Raiders2002NFL1581734072.46
55New Orleans Saints2013NFL1611774152.46
56Cincinnati Bengals1988NFL1671764212.45
57San Francisco 49ers1987NFL1721814332.45
58San Diego Chargers1981NFL1892014772.45
59Buffalo Bills1990NFL1561683962.44
60San Diego Chargers2013NFL1551643892.44
61Kansas City Chiefs2003NFL1761854402.44
62Atlanta Falcons2012NFL1631714072.44
63San Francisco 49ers1998NFL1872024742.44
64New York Giants2008NFL1581724022.44
65Buffalo Bills1991NFL1731884392.43
66Minnesota Vikings2004NFL1481673832.43
67Indianapolis Colts2009NFL1581703982.43
68San Francisco 49ers1953NFL1461563662.42
69Green Bay Packers1961NFL1471533632.42
70Miami Dolphins1986NFL1701834272.42
71Seattle Seahawks2005NFL1761824322.41
72Detroit Lions1995NFL1681864272.41
73Baltimore Colts1976NFL1641764102.41
74Los Angeles Rams1950NFL1801804342.41
75New Orleans Saints2014NFL1591734002.41
76Minnesota Vikings2000NFL1601683952.41
77San Francisco 49ers1995NFL1611683962.41
78Baltimore Colts1964NFL1641764082.4
79Indianapolis Colts2014NFL1831904472.4
80Kansas City Chiefs1966AFL1711774162.39
81New Orleans Saints2012NFL1741834252.38
82Oakland Raiders2000NFL1721874262.37
83Buffalo Bills1975NFL1651774052.37
84Miami Dolphins1972NFL1521633732.37
85Indianapolis Colts2008NFL1361523402.36
86Los Angeles Rams1951NFL1611573752.36
87Dallas Cowboys1966NFL1711754082.36
88Carolina Panthers2011NFL1641713952.36
89Cleveland Browns1966NFL1561703842.36
90Pittsburgh Steelers2014NFL1581723882.35
91Indianapolis Colts2010NFL1681734002.35
92Denver Broncos2000NFL1701894212.35
92Denver Broncos2012NFL1741854212.35
94Houston Texans2010NFL1551773892.34
95Green Bay Packers2012NFL1691784062.34
96Baltimore Colts1958NFL1481643652.34
97New York Giants1963NFL1731794112.34
98San Diego Chargers2005NFL1731754062.33
99Washington Redskins2012NFL1601783942.33
100San Francisco 49ers2001NFL1621733902.33
101Green Bay Packers1995NFL1641773962.32
102Detroit Lions1972NFL1361523332.31
103Chicago Bears2013NFL1671733932.31
104Cincinnati Bengals1982NFL91972172.31
105Baltimore Ravens2014NFL1571803882.3
106Seattle Seahawks2012NFL1541703732.3
106New York Giants1967NFL1561683732.3
108New York Jets1982NFL1001052362.3
109Indianapolis Colts2000NFL1691824042.3
110Cincinnati Bengals1985NFL1771964292.3
111New England Patriots2013NFL1821854222.3
112Cleveland Browns1960NFL1321433162.3
113Philadelphia Eagles2013NFL1811904262.3
114Carolina Panthers1999NFL1751834112.3
115Seattle Seahawks2014NFL1541713732.3
116Miami Dolphins1995NFL1681713892.29
117Denver Broncos1997NFL1651833992.29
118Cleveland Browns1964NFL1501643602.29
119Dallas Texans1962AFL1621803922.29
120Green Bay Packers2007NFL1681763942.29
121Dallas Cowboys2006NFL1631773892.29
122Denver Broncos2008NFL1511603552.28
123Denver Broncos1995NFL1631703802.28
124Baltimore Colts1959NFL1401583402.28
125Chicago Bears1995NFL1591723772.28
126Green Bay Packers2003NFL1791894192.28
127Baltimore Colts1968NFL1551633622.28
128Arizona Cardinals2008NFL1631803902.27
129Carolina Panthers2008NFL1711803992.27
129Dallas Cowboys2013NFL1721793992.27
131San Francisco 49ers1965NFL1691723872.27
132Minnesota Vikings2003NFL1601783832.27
132Cleveland Browns1968NFL1641743832.27
134Baltimore Colts1967NFL1541653612.26
135Miami Dolphins1975NFL1531603542.26
136Miami Dolphins1994NFL1671703802.26
137Miami Dolphins1985NFL1771924162.25
138San Diego Chargers1963AFL1721723872.25
138New Orleans Saints2010NFL1611673692.25
140Pittsburgh Steelers2007NFL1581713702.25
141Kansas City Chiefs2005NFL1641763822.25
142Green Bay Packers2013NFL1691813932.25
143Green Bay Packers2004NFL1681773872.24
144Atlanta Falcons2010NFL1651723782.24
145Green Bay Packers1996NFL1681883992.24
146Detroit Lions2011NFL1851924222.24
147Chicago Bears1965NFL1621743762.24
148San Francisco 49ers1991NFL1631753782.24
149Dallas Cowboys1968NFL1681723802.24
150New York Jets1998NFL1691813902.23
151San Francisco 49ers2000NFL1581783742.23
152Philadelphia Eagles2010NFL1821944182.22
153Indianapolis Colts1999NFL1691813892.22
154Cincinnati Bengals1981NFL1791894092.22
155Dallas Cowboys1980NFL1832004252.22
156Washington Redskins1999NFL1771924092.22
157St. Louis Rams2003NFL1831884112.22
158Atlanta Falcons2011NFL1651803822.21
159Los Angeles Rams1973NFL1581773702.21
160Atlanta Falcons2008NFL1561703602.21
161New York Jets2008NFL1611713662.2
162San Diego Chargers1985NFL2022094532.2
163Dallas Cowboys1993NFL1541693562.2
164New York Giants1962NFL1651793792.2
165New Orleans Saints1987NFL1771874002.2
166New Orleans Saints2006NFL1721843912.2
167Dallas Cowboys1971NFL1711783832.19
168Jacksonville Jaguars1997NFL1621783732.19
168Dallas Cowboys1992NFL1631773732.19
170Cincinnati Bengals1989NFL1671843852.19
170Denver Broncos1996NFL1711803852.19
172Oakland Raiders1972NFL1561653522.19
173Atlanta Falcons1998NFL1731843912.19
174Seattle Seahawks2013NFL1711823862.19
175San Francisco 49ers2012NFL1661703672.18
176Dallas Cowboys1994NFL1691803812.18
177Denver Broncos2002NFL1601813722.18
178New York Jets1972NFL1581673542.18
179Kansas City Chiefs1967AFL1691723712.18
180Denver Broncos2005NFL1641793732.17
181Tennessee Titans2003NFL1711833832.16
182Buffalo Bills1998NFL1711873862.16
183Miami Dolphins2014NFL1581763602.16
184Cleveland Browns1987NFL1631753642.15
185Chicago Bears1956NFL1421583232.15
186Cincinnati Bengals1986NFL1771903942.15
187San Francisco 49ers1983NFL1711863832.15
188Minnesota Vikings2002NFL1781803842.15
189Los Angeles Rams1989NFL1821964052.14
189New England Patriots2006NFL1681823752.14
189Green Bay Packers2010NFL1631733602.14
192Dallas Cowboys1973NFL1601753582.14
193New York Giants2009NFL1691823752.14
194Atlanta Falcons2002NFL1751843832.13
195Cleveland Browns1980NFL1661753632.13
196Pittsburgh Steelers2005NFL1631813662.13
197Philadelphia Eagles2004NFL1691843752.12
198Seattle Seahawks1987NFL1631753592.12
198Baltimore Colts1965NFL1641743592.12
200Atlanta Falcons2014NFL1621773602.12
  1. Note that the Patriots went 15/21 on 4th down attempts that year. FWIW, Football Outsiders has New England with 158 offensive drives. []
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The 1972 Detroit Lions Offense

There are lots of ways to measure a team’s offensive production.  But if a drive does not end in a punt or a turnover, it’s probably a pretty good drive.  Last year, the Packers had just 64 possessions end in a punt (51) or turnover (6 interceptions, 7 fumbles lost).  The Raiders led the way with 138 Bad Drives — defined as possessions that ended in a punt or turnover — so this metric passes the sniff test.

Here’s some more positive evidence for this statistic: Since 1970, the team with the fewest Bad Drives was the 2007 Patriots at 60.1  That New England team was followed by the ’14 Packers, the ’11 Saints (66), the ’06 Colts (67), the ’10 Patriots (68), the ’72 Lions (68), the ’11 Packers (69), and the ’09 Chargers (69. The Colts from ’04 to ’08 were extremely consistent and extremely strong in this metric, with 71 Bad Drives in ’04, 71 in ’05, ’67 in ’06, 71 in ’07, and 70 in ’08. [click to continue…]

  1. And excluding 1982. []
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In 2008, Jamaal Charles had 67 carries and averaged 5.33 yards per carry. Those 67 carries represent 5% of Charles’ career attempts to date (excluding playoffs). That season, the NFL league average was 4.20 yards per carry, which means Charles was 1.12 (after rounding) YPC above average in 2008, or 1.12 YPC above average on 5% of his career carries.

In ’09, Charles had 190 carries, representing 15% of his career YPC. He averaged 5.89 YPC, and the league average was 4.24, which means Charles was 1.65 YPC above average for 15% of his career carries.

In 2010, those numbers were 230, 18%, 6.38, and 4.21, so Charles was 2.17 YPC above league average on 18% of his career carries.

I performed that analysis for every season of Charles’ career — and every other player in NFL history — to determine each player’s career YPC average relative to league average. The table below shows the 200 running backs (by default, only the top 10 are shown) in pro football history with the most carries. The table is sorted by YPC over league average. Here’s how to read it. Jamaal Charles ranks 1st in YPC over league average. His first year was 2008 and his last year (so far) was 2014. For his career, Charles has 1,249 career rush attempts, which ranks 118th in pro football history. He has 6,856 yards, giving him a 5.49 career YPC average. His “expected” career yards per carry average — based on the league average YPC in each season of his career, weighted by his number of carries — is 4.21. Therefore, Charles has averaged 1.28 YPC above league average for his career, the highest rate in football history. [click to continue…]

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