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Yesterday, I looked at the best seasons in TD/INT Ratios after adjusting for era. Today? The worst, using the same formula.

Only one quarterback has ever qualified for the league passing crown but also failed to throw a touchdown: Bobby Hoying in 1998. That season is the only thing keeping rookie Ryan Leaf from the bottom of this table.

Here’s how to read it, using Leaf as an example. Leaf threw 2 TDs and 15 INTs in 1998, a 0.13 TD/INT Ratio on 245 passes. Leaf averaged 0.82 TD passes per 100 attempts – a laughably low number that is one of just four below 1.00 seasons — when the league average was 4.23. As a result, meaning he was at just 19% of league average. He threw 6.12 interceptions per 100 attempts, when the league average was 3.27, so he was at just 53% of league average. Multiply those two numbers (19%, 53%) and Leaf has a value of just 0.10, second worst in NFL history. That said, Hoying was so bad he would have needed two touchdown throws to move out of the cellar: [click to continue…]

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Tony Galbreath, A Forgotten Record Holder

Galbreath with the Saints

Galbreath with the Saints

Throughout his playing career, Walter Payton was chasing the ghost of Jim Brown.  At the end of the 1981 season, Payton was in 5th place on the career rushing list.  By ’82, he was in 4th; after ’83, he was up to 3rd place. Then, in 1984, Payton passed both Francos Harris and Brown to move into the top spot on the career rushing yards list.

But at the same time that he was chasing a much more flesh-and-blood figure: Saints/Vikings/Giants running back Tony Galbreath. Let’s jump in a time machine back to 1982. At that time, just seven players had at least 75+ career rushing attempts and 375+ career receptions. Three were Hall of Famers Bobby Mitchell, Charley Taylor, and Elroy Hirsch, but all three players made the HOF in large part because of their work as wide receivers. All three players entered professional football as running backs.

Crazy Legs switched after four years (and just one with the Rams) to become a wide receiver on the high-flying Rams of the early ’50s. Taylor was a running back his first two seasons — and a Pro Bowl one at that — but switched positions midway through the 1966 season and remained at wide receiver the rest of his career. Mitchell was stuck behind Brown in Cleveland, but it wasn’t until he was traded to Washington after his fourth season that he become a receiver.

A fourth member of the 75/475 list was Bobby Joe Conrad. who played with the Cardinals in the ’60s. He also switched positions early in his career, and turned into a star receiver almost immediately. As a result, only three true running backs were on the list: Lydell Mitchell, Rickey Young, and Joe Morrison. A star with the Giants in the ’60s, Morrison retired in 1972; he was still the career leader in receptions by a running back a decade later, with 395 receptions. Mitchell, a borderline HOF running back with the Colts, got up to 376 before retiring. Through age 29, he had 355 receptions and had topped 55 catches in each of his last five years; while he would have seemed like a lock to break Morrison’s record, he caught just two more passes the rest of his career.

That leaves Young, a fullback with the Chargers and Vikings. He caught a league-high 88 passes in ’78, and was at 387 receptions as of 1982. He turned 30 in 1983, his final season in the NFL, but caught another 21 passes, breaking Morrison’s record and retiring as the running back catch king, with 408 grabs. But Morrison didn’t retire with an easy stomach: both Payton and Galbreath were hot on his tails.

As of 1983, Payton, who entered the league in 1975, had 328 receptions. But Galbreath was already at 364 receptions, despite entering the NFL a year later. In ’84, Galbreath became just the second pure running back to hit the 400-catch mark; by ’85, Payton had become the third, and Galbreath had supplanted Morrison as the running back catch king. After ’86, Payton had really narrowed the gap: he had 459 career receptions, while Galbreath was at 464. Who would win up as the all-time running back catch king? That left the 1987 season as the battle ground for the highest of stakes: both Payton and Galbreath would retire after the season.

In the season opener, the duo squared off, with all eyes watching the race with a secondary battle between the Giants and Bears taking place. Payton caught three passes, giving him 462 for his career; Galbreath had just one, upping his total to 465.

By November 8th, Payton had closed the gap entirely: both players stood with 475 career receptions. The next week, Payton had a Pyrrhic victory: his Bears lost in Denver, but he became the running back catch king with the first of his three receptions that day (Galbreath had none). [click to continue…]

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Antonio Brown is the Steelers leader in touchdown celebrations

Antonio Brown is the Steelers leader in touchdown celebrations

Is Antonio Brown already the best wide receiver in Steelers history? That depends on how you define “best”, of course. But from at least one statistical standpoint, Brown already stands out as the most dominant.

One of my favorite simple methods to measure dominance is to measure receiving yards above the worst starter. For example, the 32nd-ranked player in receiving yards last year gained 922 receiving yards. Brown, meanwhile, had 1,834. As a result, he had 912 receiving yards above the “worst starter” last year.

In 2014, the 32nd-ranked receiving yards leader gained 916 yards; Brown had 1,698, so that’s +782. In 2013, Brown’s 1,499 yards were 603 yards above the baseline of 896, i.e., the amount of yards gained by the 32nd-ranked receiver.

In 2012, the baseline was 855 receiving yards; Brown, with 787 in 13 games, did not rank in the top 32 in receiving yards. Therefore, he gets a 0 for 2012. Finally, in 2011, Browns’ 1,108 receiving yards were 221 receiving yards above the threshold of 887 yards.

As a result, Brown’s six-year career looks like this: +912, +782, +603, 0, +221, 0. That sums to 2,518 yards above worst starter.

Last year, I looked at the leaders in Adjusted Catch Yards over worst starter using the same formula. I re-ran that methodology using receiving yards and pro-rating non-16 games to come up with a career list. The table below shows the top 200 players in football history using this methodology; Brown checks in at #31: [click to continue…]

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For over two decades, the Green Bay Packers have been lucky to have a Hall of Fame quarterback. How good have things been? Well, last year was only the third time since 1994 that the Packers finished below league average in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. But in general, Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the league, and the return of Jordy Nelson should ensure another stellar year for Rodgers.

When discussing Green Bay’s passing attack in the days since the merger, you get a pretty stark split between the pre-Favre/Rodgers eras and the post-Favre/Rodgers eras.  The graph below shows the Packers Relative ANY/A — i.e., the team’s Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt minus the league average ANY/A — in every year since 1970: [click to continue…]

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A Tale Of One Season

Let’s review the season of a mystery team from last year. This team had a pretty difficult schedule, but wound up with an average record. Here is how things broke down, starting with the good.

  • Mystery team played two home games against teams in the bottom quarter of the league (all team ratings in this post are using SRS). Those are the games where an average team should do well, and in fact, those were the only two games all year that the team won by double digits.
  • Mystery team had three other games where an average team would be “expected” to win based on strength of opponent and game location: Mystery team went 3-0 in those games, with an average margin of victory of 5.3 points.

But things were not so simple for our mystery team all year.

  • Mystery team played five games against teams in the top quarter of the NFL. The result? An 0-5 record, with an average margin of defeat of 16.4 points.
  • The remaining six games were ones where an average team would be “expected” to lose based on strength of opponent and game location, but were not against top-8 teams.  Mystery team had an average points differential of -3.7 in those games, and a 2-4 record.

To recap, Mystery team blew out the bad teams, beat the below-average teams, lost to the above-average teams, and was blown out by the great teams.  That, I think, is as unexciting as a season narrative can get.  But if a team goes 1-7 to start the season, and then 6-2 to finish, it’s easy to spin the “tale of two halves” narrative. [click to continue…]

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Adjusted Completion Percentage

In 1991, Dave Krieg led the NFL in completion percentage. He completed a career-high 65.6% of his passes, and while that mark was very good for that era, it doesn’t mean Krieg was great that season. In fact, he arguably wasn’t even good: Krieg actually finished just 24th in ANY/A that year.

One reason, I think, that Krieg was able to lead the NFL in completion percentage is because Krieg “ate” a lot of his incomplete passes. What do I mean by that? Krieg took a ton of sacks — he was sacked every ten times he dropped back to pass. When under duress, some quarterbacks eat the ball, to avoid an interception; that’s bad (well, it’s better than n interception) but it doesn’t get graded that way when calculating completion percentage. Other quarterbacks will throw the ball away; that’s good (assuming it isn’t intercepted) because no yards are lost, but it does hurt the quarterback’s completion percentage.

Even ignoring the yards lost due to sacks, fundamentally, a sack is no better than an incomplete pass. So why are quarterbacks who take sacks rather than throw the ball out of bounds given an artificial boost when it comes to completion percentage? Well, that’s largely just an artifact of how the NFL always graded things. The NFL was not always good at recording metrics, and somewhere along the way, sacks were either included as running plays, ignored, or included as pass plays. I don’t think a lot of thought went into it, but in my view, it makes the most sense to include sacks in the denominator when calculating completion percentage. Otherwise, we give undue credit to quarterbacks that take a lot of sacks, and penalize quarterbacks who throw the ball away when under pressure. [click to continue…]

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Today’s post is a follow-up to my recent article on adjusting quarterback stats for schedule length and passing environment. In the original piece, I provided you with single-season stats with various era adjustments made. While my main goal was to glean as much as I could from your opinions, I noticed that some readers also liked looking at the different results based on which adjustments I made. With that in mind, I figured it only made sense to submit the career list as well.

When measuring single seasons, I think value over average is the way to go. However, I believe a lower baseline is in order when looking at entire careers. It seems to me that average play is an overlooked aspect of quarterback evaluation, and guys like Brett Favre or John Elway are significantly underrated by statistical models that compare to league average instead of replacement level. I would say that using a higher threshold shows us who was the most dominant, while using a lower threshold shows us who contributed the most value over an extended period. [click to continue…]

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Shouldn't this guy be in the HOF?

Shouldn’t this guy be in the HOF?

In Brad Oremland’s latest post on wide receivers — and you should really be following the whole series — we got into a bit of a debate on Charlie Joiner in the comments. I’m not ready to provide my full analysis, but I thought I would start with presenting some data. And the quickest and easiest starting point is a gray ink test based on receiving yards.

The way it works is simple. For finishing first in a category, a player gets 10 points; for finishing 2nd, he gets 9 points; for 3rd, he gets 8 points, and so on. I did the same thing when analyzing Eli Manning and whether or not he was HOF-worthy (spoiler: he was not).

Joiner does not fare terribly here, but he doesn’t do all that well, either. He ranked 4th in receiving yards in 1980, so that is worth 7 points. His 6th-place finish the next year is worth 5 points, and his 3rd-place finish in 1976 is worth 8 points. That totals 20 points: it’s ahead of a number of HOF receivers (Lynn Swann, Fred Biletnikoff, Paul Warfield, Art Monk, Charley Taylor, and Andre Reed being the most notable), but it also ranks behind a lot of really good receivers not in the Hall of Fame. That includes contemporaries like Cliff Branch, Harold Jackson, and Drew Pearson. The table below shows every player with at least 14 points of Gray Ink: [click to continue…]

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A quick data dump today following up on yesterday’s post. The table below shows the percentage of receiving yards gained by 1st-year, 2nd-year, 3rd-year…. and 11th-year and more senior NFL players, in each year since 1950 (excluding 1987). [click to continue…]

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Recently, I posted a quick and dirty method to measure quarterback career value above average and above replacement. I used Adjusted Yards per Pass Attempt as the foundational stat because its inputs (yards, touchdowns, interceptions, and attempts) are on record back to 1932.

Today, I wanted to use the same model with Adjusted Net Yards per Dropback (ANY/A) as the base metric. I believe ANY/A is a more accurate reflection of quarterback production, but it does have the downside of only being recorded back to 1969 in Pro Football Reference’s database.

Thus, while the previous post covered every passer in the official stat era, this post will only cover value added since 1969. This means greats like Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman are completely overlooked, while legends like Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath only have their worst years included (an unfortunate byproduct of this study’s limitations, to be sure).

In case you didn’t want to click back through the previous article to see the details of the formula, I’ll briefly cover the basics here: [click to continue…]

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NFL Gray Ink Sack Leaders

Watt has a lot of gray ink in a short amount of time

Watt has a lot of gray ink in a short amount of time

Gray Ink tests are fun ways to measure player dominance by giving some — but not too much — credit to longevity. In simplest form, gray ink tests give 10 points for finishing 1st in a category, 9 points for finishing 2nd, and so on. Let’s use Kevin Greene, third all-time (shorthand for since 1982, of course) in career sacks with 160, and Bruce Smith, the career leader with 200, as examples.

Smith was the better player — he was an 11-time Pro Bowler and an 8-time AP first-team All-Pro, compared to just 5/2 for Greene — and consequently was a clear first-ballot Hall of Famer. For whatever reason, it took Greene 12 years, but this summer, he will finally be inducted into the Hall. Given the fact that Smith has 25% more career sacks than Greene, you probably think that Smith was the better pass rusher. To that, the Gray Ink test says not so fast, my friend. [click to continue…]

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The best player in the AFC South is in this photo.

The best player in the AFC South is in this photo.

Good article from Peter King this morning on J.J. Watt and the injury struggles he dealt with last year.  King also noted that Watt has 69 sacks over the last four seasons, the most in the NFL.  In fact, that’s the second most by any player in any four-year stretch over at least the last 31 years. FRom 1985 to 1988, Reggie White had 70 sacks, and he did it in seven fewer games (he missed the first three games of ’85 due to being a member of USFL,1 and then four games in ’87 due to the players’ strike.)  Of course, White did play in a friendlier era for sacks (2.63 sacks per game vs. 2.37 over the last four years), so cross-era comparisons always have their limitations.

But I thought it would be interesting, especially in light of Jared Allen retiring, to look at the leaders in sacks on a trailing four year basis: [click to continue…]

  1. The Eagles, after starting 0-2, paid a million dollars to Memphis to essentially buy White from the league. []
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More Thoughts on the Jaguars Passing Attack

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been looking at measuring the age of a team’s passing attack. On Friday, I noted that the Jaguars had the 2nd youngest passing offense in the NFL behind only Tampa Bay. And yesterday, I measured the youngest passing offenses in football history, with Jacksonville checking in at #20.

The Jaguars threw for 4,428 gross passing yards last season (or, 8,856 combined passing/receiving yards), though, so that makes them a bit more of an outlier. The table below shows all teams with at least 8,500 combined passing/receiving yards, and ranks them in ascending order based on average age: [click to continue…]

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Yesterday, I measured the age of each team’s passing attack by calculating the yards-weighted age of each player who gained either a passing or receiving yard. Today, the historical results.

I’ve written a bit about Terry Bradshaw and his terrible rookie season of 1970, mostly in the context of number one picks taking a long time to break out. But here’s something that often gets lost in the mix: Bradshaw was just one of many inexperienced players on the ‘70 Steelers.

Bradshaw played as a rookie that year at age 22 (Terry Hanratty also started 6 games, and was also 22). The top 6 players in receiving yards on the ’70 Steelers were wide receiver Ron Shanklin (age 22), wide receiver Dave Smith (23), tight end Dennis Hughes (22), fullback John Fuqua (24), wide receiver Hubie Bryant (22), and wide receiver Jon Staggers (22). Incredibly, five of those six players were rookies, with Frenchy Fuqua being the sole exception — and he was drafted in 1969! In the ’70 draft, Pittsburgh took Bradshaw with the 1st overall pick, drafted Shanklin at 28, Staggers in the 5th round, and Smith in the 8th round, while both Hughes and Bryant were undrafted free agents that year. That’s unbelievable, and makes the ’70s Steelers passing attack akin to an expansion team — or rather, an expansion team with almost no access to the veteran market. As a result, Pittsburgh’s 1970 passing attack ranks as the youngest in history: [click to continue…]

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AV-Adjusted Team Age (Defense) from 2012-2015

Part of the last non-awful Bears defense

Part of the last non-awful Bears defense

Background:

I thought it would be fun to do a quick checkdown and look at the AV-Adjusted team age for each defenses over the last four years. Here’s how to read the table below, using the Bears as an example. In 2012, Chicago’s average age on defense was 29; in 2013, it was 27.7, then 27.5, and finally, 26.1 last season. That means the Bears average age has had a variance of 1.1 years, the second largest in the data set behind only San Diego. [click to continue…]

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Bob Ford, a longtime fan of Pro-Football-Reference and Football Perspective, has contributed a 2-part guest post on Yards Per Carry Leaders. Bob is the owner and founder of GOATbacks.com, which looks at the greatest running backs of all time. Thanks to Bob for today’s (and tomorrow’s) article!


I’ve been curious about YPC leaders over the years, particularly as they’re sorted through increasing numbers of carries. Over the next two days, I will look at the YPC leaders using six different carry minimum thresholds: 100, 120, and 150 today, and 180, 220, and 280 carries tomorrow. These cutoffs weren’t arrived at in an analytically rigorous way, just through instinct and personal judgment. I ran a number of different carry thresholds and simply tried to keep my statistical eyes peeled; in my view, these are at least 6 of the minimums where interesting changes seemed to emerge.

As a general rule, though not an absolute one, I’m in the camp that regards YPC as, at best, a questionable stat when it comes to assessing skill and performance, and at worst a misleading and even bunkum stat, to borrow a term from Chase and the crew over at Intentional Rounding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting YPC is useless. In fact in some narrow contexts I think it’s even key. But I think it’s woefully overused and over relied on, and I do regard it with suspicion when it comes to assessing rushing and running back value and effectiveness, particularly in “real-game” situations. I think the same holds for mobile quarterbacks, too.

I decided to look at YPC leaders for the 46 seasons since the merger was completed, 1970-2015. Again, no special reason, just to make things more manageable. This would probably get really interesting if we included all pre-merger seasons, but I didn’t do that here. If anyone does, kudos. At any rate, here are the YPC leaders since 1970, sorted at 6 different carry thresholds. [click to continue…]

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Yesterday, I posted some graphs on league-wide passing distribution. In that post, I noted that tight ends grabbed about 16% of all receiving yards in 2002-2003, but that number has increased to over 20% in recent years.  But that’s just receiving yards: as you might expect, targets and receptions have seen a similar climb:

te rec tar
But more targets aren’t the only thing driving the increase.  Tight ends are also averaging slightly more yards per catch, too.  That increase has come despite the general decrease in yards per completion, so this may be a sign that tight ends are more athletic than they were 15-20 years ago, and that teams are sending them on more downfield rights.  In addition, catch rate has also been increasing, although in a more volatile way; still, tight ends are catching more passes, at higher rates, and for more yards.  In the picture below, yards per reception is plotted against the left Y-Axis, and catch rate is plotted against the right Y-Axis.
tar catch rate

Whatever the reason, tight ends seem to be a larger part of NFL offenses they were a decade ago, and for good reason: they’re getting better.

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Some quick but interesting data dumps today. First, let’s take a look at receiving yards by wide receivers as a percentage of league-wide receiving yards in each year since 2002. In the early part of that era, wide receivers had about 2/3 of all receiving yards, but that number dipped to just 62% this year, the lowest during this period.

wr 2002 2015 [click to continue…]

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In 2015, there were just 15 games where a player rushed for at least 150 yards in a single game. That’s the smallest number since 1996, when just 14 players hit that mark. Thomas Rawls (!) was the only player with multiple games of 160+ rushing yards, and Adrian Peterson was the only other player with two 150+ yard rushing games.

Games with at least 150 rushing yards were much more common in the early ’00s, but they have not exactly been frequent throughout history. The graph below shows the number of times players rushed for 150+ yards in a game in each season since 1960. Note that in seasons with fewer than 32 teams/16 games, the number of instances were prorated as if it was a 512-game league season.

150+ rush2

The same trend holds up if we look at 125+ rushing yard games, with 2015 representing a modern low. Again, throughout this post, I have pro-rated non-512 game seasons. [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: QB Playoff Support: Part II

Adam Steele is back, this time with some playoff support stats for eight more quarterbacks. You can view all of Adam’s posts here.


Two weeks ago, I published a study detailing the playoff supporting casts of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Today I’m going to look at eight more notable quarterbacks under the same microscope. Below are the career tables for each QB, in no particular order. [click to continue…]

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Anderson clinches the title for Denver

Anderson clinches the title for Denver

The Denver Broncos didn’t exactly ride the team’s offense to a Super Bowl title, but C.J. Anderson did have a great postseason run. The Broncos back rushed for at least 72 yards and gained at least 83 yards from scrimmage in all three games. He had 32.6% of all yards from scrimmage gained by Denver players in the postseason, which ranks 15th among the leaders in that category on the 50 Super Bowl champions.

The player with the most yards from scrimmage in a single postseason is John Riggins, who rushed for an incredible 610 yards and picked up 625 yards from scrimmage for Washington after the 1982 season. But on a per-game basis, Marcus Allen a year later was even better: in three games, Allen rushed for 466 yards and four touchdowns, while also gaining 118 yards through the air. That gave him an incredible 584 yards from scrimmage and 5 touchdowns in three games, and one of the most famous highlights in NFL history.

Allen also holds the record for most yards from scrimmage during the postseason among the 50 Super Bowl champions. Anderson ranks a respectable 15th in this category: [click to continue…]

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A quick checkdown today, looking at the net points allowed in the playoffs by each of the 50 teams that won the Super Bowl. What do I mean by net points? It’s pretty simple:

(Touchdowns allowed to opposing offenses) * 7 + (Field Goals allowed) * 3 – (Touchdowns scored by the defense) * 7 – (Safeties scored by the defense) * 2

I have decided to ignore special teams touchdowns — both for and against that team — as this is just a look at defenses. And obviously this is a very basic look: it doesn’t incorporate number of drives faced, average starting field position, missed field goal attempts, or quality of opposing offense (or era). But hey, I said it was a quick checkdown!

Here’s how to read the table below. Let’s use the 1985 Bears as an example. You may know that Chicago shut out both NFC opponents en route to the Super Bowl, where the Bears allowed 10 points. But that’s a bit misleading, because Chicago’s defense was better than that. The 1985 Bears played in three playoff games, and the defense scored two touchdowns and recorded a safety (total of 16 points). The defense did allow 10 points, via a touchdown and a field goal, but that means the Bears defense allowed -6 net points in the playoffs, or -2 NP/G. [click to continue…]

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Today’s guest post comes from Adam Harstad, a co-writer of mine at Footballguys.com. You can follow Adam on twitter at @AdamHarstad.


On Saturday, the Hall of Fame selection committee will meet, lock themselves in a room, and debate the relative merits of the 15 modern-era finalists for induction. After an intense discussion, the results will be announced nationally as the final event in the festivities leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl.

While the list of 15 finalists includes several names who have been waiting longer than they should for their call, the one that stands out the most to me is Terrell Davis, who has been a semi-finalist more than anyone else in this year’s class, reaching the top 25 ten times in his ten years of eligibility.

Hopefully the Hall of Fame committee can manage to make room for him in what could easily be a stacked class. Whatever they do this Saturday, however, will not change one simple fact: Terrell Davis should have long ago been elected to the Hall of Fame. [click to continue…]

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This pass probably wasn't completed.

This pass probably wasn’t completed.

In the NFC Championship Game, Carson Palmer was really bad.  He completed 23 of 40 passes for 235 yards, with three sacks that lost 8 yards.  That by itself is not very good — it translates to a 5.3 net yards per attempt average — but the real damage came when it comes to turnovers.  Palmer threw one touchdown againt four interceptions, giving him an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average of just 1.56.  And even that inflates things a bit, as Palmer also fumbled twice, with both fumbles being recovered by Carolina. On the season, Carolina allowed 4.46 ANY/A to opposing passers, the best in the NFL, so that does mitigate things a bit.  As a result, Palmer’s game is considered -125 ANY below expectation, because he was 2.9 ANY/A below expectation over 43 dropbacks.

That’s bad, but nowhere near as bad as the worst performance from even this year’s playoffs (Brian Hoyer) or the last Cardinals playoff loss (thank you, Ryan Lindley).  But the reason Palmer’s performance appeared so bad was precisely because it came from someone like Carson Palmer, and not a Hoyer or a Lindley.  Palmer, after all, was arguably the best passer in the NFL this season.  He led the NFL in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, at 8.11, which was 2.14 ANY/A better than league average. [click to continue…]

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Antonio Brown has 1,586 receiving yards, most in the NFL, which puts him on pace for 1,813 receiving yards this season.

Adrian Peterson has 1,314 rushing yards, most in the NFL, which puts him on pace for 1,502 rushing yards in 2015.

That’s pretty weird.  In general, the rushing leader usually gains more rushing yards than the receiving yardage leader picks up through the air.  From 1970 to 2014, the receiving yards leader  “outgained” the rushing yards leader in only 10 of 45 seasons.  And in only three of those years did the receiving leader “win” by more than 100 yards: in 1999 (Marvin Harrison had 1663 receiving yards; his teammate Edgerrin James had 1553 rushing yards), 1990 (Jerry Rice over Barry Sanders, 1502 to 1304), and 1982 (Wes Chandler over Freeman McNeil in the strike-shortened season, 1032to 786). On a per-game basis, it’s tough to beat what Chandler did, but Brown is on pace to become the first receiving leader since the merger (in fact, the first in the NFL since 1952) to “outgain” the rushing leader by over 300 yards. [click to continue…]

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Team Pass Identities Through 10 Weeks (2015)

I’ve published the Game Scripts data from every game this year at the 2015 Game Scripts page, available here. What would it look like if we plotted Game Script score (on the X-Axis) against Pass Ratio (on the Y-Axis) for every game this year? Something like this:

avg game script

(Note that this looks pretty similar to how it was through seven weeks last year, although the constant (i.e., league-average pass ratio) has increased by nearly a full percentage point.)
[click to continue…]

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GronkSmash

GronkSmash

Rob Gronkowski is in a scoring slump. It’s one of the worst scoring slumps of his career. But more on that in a bit.

Jerry Rice once1 caught 67 touchdowns over a 57-game period. This stretch was during all of 1987, 1988, and 1989 (including playoffs) and the start of the 1990 season. That pro-rates to an insane 19-touchdown per-season average for three-and-a-half seasons. Then again, the weirder thing is when Rice doesn’t top a receiving category.

Lance Alworth once caught 55 touchdowns2 over one 57-game stretch from 1963 to 1967.

Only three other players since 1960 have ever had more than 50 touchdowns in any 57-game stretch (including playoffs): Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Art Powell, each of whom topped out at 53 touchdowns in 57 games. Cris Carter, Sonny Randle, Sterling Sharpe were at 49, Larry Fitzgerald was at 58, and Gary Collins, Anthony Freeman, Marvin Harrison, and Andre Rison were at 47.  Calvin Johnson topped out at 46 at one point in 2013.  Dez Bryant hit 46 in his last 57 after the Lions playoff game, but then went three straight games without a touchdown catch. [click to continue…]

  1. Well, he actually did it three times, although the same 55 games were in all three stretches. []
  2. Three times, like Rice, with 55 of the same games. []
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The Jets, and Rushing in Wins and Losses

The Jets are 4-3, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that the team’s success is heavily tied to New York’s ability to control games on the ground. The Jets running backs have rushed for over 150 yards in three games this year, wins over Washington (190), Miami (173), and Cleveland (155). The Jets have also had three games with 60 or fewer rushing yards, losses against New England (60), Philadelphia (34), and Oakland (28). The seventh game, a win over the Colts, saw the Jets running backs operate at a reasonably effective pace of 26 carries for 95 yards.

In other words, when the Jets run well, they win, and when they don’t, they lose. That sounds simplistic, and it is: it’s a bit of an over exaggeration, although one grounded in some truth. In general, teams run more when they win — or, more precisely, when they have favorable Game Scripts — and run less often when they have negative Game Scripts. And the Jets games have had pretty strong Game Scripts in the four wins, scoring a +6.1 against Washington, +6.5 against Cleveland, +7.3 against the Colts, and +11.9 against Miami. Those are the sorts of games where it’s easy to produce good numbers, and Jets running backs1 have averaged 153.25 rushing yards in these four wins.

The losses to Philadelphia (-10.6) and Oakland (I haven’t calculated it yet, but it will certainly be in the double digits) were ugly; the Patriots game (-0.6) was the only game that unfolded with a neutral Game Script. Still, in three losses, the Jets running backs have rushed 54 times for just 122 yards. So the causation arrow isn’t pointing only one way here: the Jets are winning when they run more effectively, and losing when they aren’t, on top of whatever bonus the raw totals get out of Game Scripts. [click to continue…]

  1. This is meant to exclude Ryan Fitzpatrick and other non-running backs. []
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Running Back Class of 2008 Still Going Strong

Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Justin Forsett, Jonathan Stewart, Danny Woodhead, Mike Tolbert, Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece, and Jerome Felton all entered the NFL in 2008. So did Steve Slaton, the rookie rushing leader that year, and Ray Rice, Rashard Mendenhall, Michael Bush, Peyton Hillis, and Felix Jones. Analyzing where the ’08 class ranks in NFL history is a project for the offseason, but today, I thought it would be fun to look at rushing yards by running backs by class year.

The graph below shows that data through six weeks of the 2015 season. As you can see, players in their 8th NFL season — those who entered the league in 2008 — are doing quite well.

wk6 2015 rushing yards class year

The class with the most rushing yards so far in 2015 are the rookies. That class is currently led by Thomas Rawls, but has also received strong production from higher picks like Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, and T.J. Yeldon. After the class of ’15, there’s a gradual decline with respect to production by older classes. And then, there’s the class of 2008. [click to continue…]

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WP: Pre-Week 6 – 4th Down Aggressiveness

This week at the Washington Post, a look at some of good and bad fourth down decisions in both week 5 and this season.

The Atlanta Falcons are 5-0, and are quickly becoming one of the major stories of the 2015 NFL season. With a win tonight in New Orleans, the Falcons will match the team’s entire win total from the 2015 season. But without some aggressive coaching from Dan Quinn last weekend, the Falcons likely wouldn’t be among the league’s five remaining unbeaten teams.

With just under five minutes left in the third quarter, the Falcons faced a 4th-and-6 from the Washington 40-yard line, trailing by four points. Given that Atlanta had thrown incomplete passes on the previous two plays, most coaches would have punted or tried a long field goal. Instead, Quinn played to his team’s strengths, and Matt Ryan connected with Julio Jones for a nine-yard gain. Atlanta wound up scoring a field goal on that drive, which put the team in a position to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, and eventually win in overtime.

You can read the full article here.

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