≡ Menu

The Philadelphia Eagles are 10-1 for the fourth time in franchise history. The Eagles have never started a season 11-0, so this season makes the short list for best start in franchise history.

In 1948, behind head coach Greasy Neale, QB Tommy Thompson, and future HOFers RB Steve Van Buren and WR Pete Pihos, and RB Bosh Pritchard, the Eagles went 9-2-1 and won the NFL title.  In 1949, the Eagles brought back Neale, Thompson, Van Buren, Pihos, and Pritchard, and had similar success.  The team lost to the Bears in week 4 but finished the regular season with a sparkling 11-1 record. Philadelphia repeated as champions, defeating the Rams 14-0 in the NFL title game.

In 1980, the Eagles lost to the Cardinals in week 4, but started the season 11-1 before finishing 12-4 and winning the NFC.  The head coach was Dick Vermeil, the QB was Ron Jaworski, and while RB Wilbert Montgomery and WR Harold Carmichael were the stars on offense, Philadelphia sported a dominant defense that ranked 1st in points allowed, and 2nd in rushing yards allowed, net yards per pass attempt allowed, and rushing yards allowed.  Alas, despite being 3-point favorites, the Eagles lost in the Super Bowl to the Raiders.

The 2004 Eagles was the best Philadelphia team of the modern era.  The team began the season 13-1, with the only loss coming to the 15-1 Steelers in Pittsburgh.  Philadelphia clinched the NFC East after week twelve. The Packers were the 2nd best team in the NFC, and the Eagles bludgeoned them in December 47-3 before a pair of garbage time touchdowns. Philadelphia had a great defense, but the offense centered around Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and Terrell Owens was unstoppable. In the 14th game, however, Owens broke his fibula and injured his ankle; expected to miss the rest of the year, Owens returned for the Super Bowl, but it was not enough: Philadelphia fell to the Patriots.

If you are an Eagles fan, that’s some pretty good company: all three teams made it to the championship game.

This year’s team seems worthy of being in that discussion. Philadelphia leads the NFL with a 31.9 points per game average, thanks in part to an otherwordly (and unsustainable) red zone success rate of 73.3%.  The Eagles rank 8th in points per game allowed (17.4), and rank in the top 10 in just about every major defensive category.  The Eagles rank 1st in the NFL in points differential, at 14.5 per game.  That’s also the 3rd best in Eagles history through 11 games, behind the ’49 team (+19.6), ’48 team (17.8), and ahead of the 1980 team (+14.3). [click to continue…]

{ 6 comments }

Let’s get to the week 9 Game scripts! Yes, these are a week late: my apologies, as well, other topics wound up being covered last week.

The biggest stories of week 9 were the blowout wins by Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. The Rams and Saints followed that up with another pair of blowout wins in week 10, while the Eagles were on bye. But before turning to week 10, let’s review some of the biggest outliers from week nine.

In week 9, the Jets and Panthers were very run-heavy. Lest you forget, the Jets beat the Bills on Thursday night in week 9, and while quarterback Josh McCown did have 5 carries, the running backs combined for 36 carries, while McCown had just 21 attempts. The Jets blew out Buffalo, but consider that the Lions had a similar Game Script and passes on 50% of plays.

Carolina beat Atlanta in a close game where the Panthers trailed for most of the first half. Still, behind Cam Newton and his 9 carries, Carolina wound up passing just 25 times while running 38 times! That’s really run-heavy.

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

{ 0 comments }

The Jaguars Are Maybe Really Good?

In games when they allow 10 or more points, the Jaguars are 0-3 so far this year.

In games when they score fewer than 27 points, the Jaguars are 0-3 so far this year.

If those stats sounds like those of a really bad team one month into an NFL season, well, you’re right. The thing is, Jacksonville has played 7 games this year. Which means maybe they’re a really good team? Because in Jacksonville’s 4 non-losses — things commonly referred to in most parts of the country as wins — the average score has been Jacksonville 32.5, Opponent 5.75. The Jaguars four wins have come by 21+ points, the first team to record four such wins through seven games since 2007.

Entering the 2017 season, the Jaguars had allowed fewer than 10 points in four out of their last 100 games. In 2017, the Jaguars have allowed fewer than 10 points in four out of seven games. The Jaguars had scored 27 or more points in just 13 of their last 100 games entering 2017; so far this year, they’ve scored 27 points in four out of seven games. So yeah, Jacksonville is suddenly a lot better than they used to be.

Jacksonville ranks 2nd in the NFL in points differential at +73. So… are the Jaguars actually good? Well, through seven weeks (but before Monday Night Football), Jacksonville also leads the NFL in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt differential, which would have sounded impossible two months ago (especially if you knew Allen Robinson would tear his ACL one catch into the season): [click to continue…]

{ 5 comments }

In 2014, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown combined to account for 57.9% of the Steelers 6,777 total yards. In 2015, Bell missed most of the year with a knee injury, but in 2016, the duo combined to account for 51.8% of Pittsburgh’s offensive yards, despite the pair combining to miss five games! Through six games in 2017, Brown had 700 yards and Bell had 706 yards, placing both of them in the top five in yards from scrimmage. In fact, since the Steelers had 2,165 yards through six weeks, it means Bell and Brown were responsible for 64.9% of the team’s offensive production.  In week seven, Bell and Brown combined for 257 yards; only a fake punt that netted 44 yards prevented the pair from again picking up two-thirds of the offense (Pittsburgh had 420 yards of offense, so Bell and Brown had 61.1% of the Steelers yards from scrimmage; that number would have been 68.4% without the fake punt).

That made me wonder: which pair of teammates have accounted for the largest share of their offense’s production? The 1978 Bears had a really good player in the backfield who rushed for 992 yards and caught 43 passes for 340 yards.  They also had Walter Payton, who led the NFL for the second straight year with 1,875 yards from scrimmage. His backfield teammate was fullback Roland Harper, who actually finished second on the team to Payton in receptions (WR James Scott did lead the team be a healthy margin in receiving yards).

The ’78 Bears had a mediocre offense, finishing with 4,747 yards from scrimmage (Chicago ranked 27th out of 28 teams in ANY/A, tho the Bears of course were a very good rushing team). But since Payton had 1,875 yards (39.5%) and Harper had 1,332 yards (28.1%), the two combined for over two-thirds of all Chicago yards from scrimmage that season.

The table below shows the top 200 seasons: [click to continue…]

{ 10 comments }

Back when passes were completed for first downs.

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, the headlines speak for themselves. After last night — the Chargers lost when the potential game-tying field goal was blocked in the final second — Los Angeles nee San Diego has now lost 18 of its last 23 games decided by 8 or fewer points.

Query Results Table
Poin Poin Poin
Rk Tm Year Date
Time Opp Week G# Day Result OT PF PA PD
1 SDG 2017 2017-09-11 10:20 @ DEN 1 1 Mon L 21-24 21 24 -3
2 SDG 2016 2016-12-24 1:00 @ CLE 16 15 Sat L 17-20 17 20 -3
3 SDG 2016 2016-12-18 4:25 OAK 15 14 Sun L 16-19 16 19 -3
4 SDG 2016 2016-12-04 4:25 TAM 13 12 Sun L 21-28 21 28 -7
5 SDG 2016 2016-11-27 1:00 @ HOU 12 11 Sun W 21-13 21 13 8
6 SDG 2016 2016-11-13 4:05 MIA 10 10 Sun L 24-31 24 31 -7
7 SDG 2016 2016-11-06 4:25 TEN 9 9 Sun W 43-35 43 35 8
8 SDG 2016 2016-10-30 4:05 @ DEN 8 8 Sun L 19-27 19 27 -8
9 SDG 2016 2016-10-23 4:05 @ ATL 7 7 Sun W 33-30 OT 33 30 3
10 SDG 2016 2016-10-13 8:25 DEN 6 6 Thu W 21-13 21 13 8
11 SDG 2016 2016-10-09 4:25 @ OAK 5 5 Sun L 31-34 31 34 -3
12 SDG 2016 2016-10-02 4:25 NOR 4 4 Sun L 34-35 34 35 -1
13 SDG 2016 2016-09-25 4:25 @ IND 3 3 Sun L 22-26 22 26 -4
14 SDG 2016 2016-09-11 1:05 @ KAN 1 1 Sun L 27-33 OT 27 33 -6
15 SDG 2015 2016-01-03 4:25 @ DEN 17 16 Sun L 20-27 20 27 -7
16 SDG 2015 2015-12-24 8:26 @ OAK 16 15 Thu L 20-23 OT 20 23 -3
17 SDG 2015 2015-12-13 1:03 @ KAN 14 13 Sun L 3-10 3 10 -7
18 SDG 2015 2015-11-29 1:03 @ JAX 12 11 Sun W 31-25 31 25 6
19 SDG 2015 2015-11-09 8:30 CHI 9 9 Mon L 19-22 19 22 -3
20 SDG 2015 2015-11-01 1:02 @ BAL 8 8 Sun L 26-29 26 29 -3
21 SDG 2015 2015-10-25 4:05 OAK 7 7 Sun L 29-37 29 37 -8
22 SDG 2015 2015-10-18 4:25 @ GNB 6 6 Sun L 20-27 20 27 -7
23 SDG 2015 2015-10-12 8:30 PIT 5 5 Mon L 20-24 20 24 -4

For his career, Philip Rivers has a 54-26 record in games decided by more than 8 points, and a 43-54 record in games decided by 8 or fewer points. Read differently, Rivers has lost 28 *more* times in close games than in non-close games. That is (for now) tied with Rich Gannon for the largest spread ever. [click to continue…]

{ 17 comments }

Look Who Is Alone In First Place In The AFC East

The New England Patriots are 0-1. The Dolphins, due to Hurricane Irma, have had their week 1 game postponed to week 11, giving Miami a week 1 bye. And the Jets and Bills square off in Buffalo today. The winner of that game will therefore be alone in first place in the division. Which is pretty unusual in the Tom Brady era.

The last time that Buffalo was alone in first place in the AFC East was after week 2 of the 2014 season, when the Bills were 2-0 and the rest of the division was 1-1. Before that, the last time was week 3 of 2011, and other than a few weeks during 2008 (the year Miami won the division and Matt Cassel started 15 games for New England), the only other times since 2001 were after the first two weeks of the 2003 season.

For the Jets, it’s been even longer. New York was last alone in first place in the division after week 6 of the 2010 season, when the Jets were 5-1 and the Patriots were 4-1 (a week later, both teams were 5-1). Since 2002, the only times the Jets have been alone in first place were weeks 11-13 of the 2008 season, weeks 2 and 3 of the 2009 season, and weeks 5 and 6 of the 2010 season.

Looking ahead to week 2, the Bills travel to Carolina while the Jets head to Oakland. So there’s a very good chance the winner of the Jets/Bills game will be 1-1 next week, and New England (playing in New Orleans) will either be 1-1 or 0-2. That would allow the Dolphins, with a win over the Chargers in the first NFL regular season game at the StubHub Center, to be alone in first place in the division. The last time that happened? Week 2 of the 2010 season, and before that, week 4 of the 2005 season! Yes, there has been exactly one week in the last 11 years where Miami was alone in first place (in 2008, the Dolphins never achieved that status, despite winning the division on a tiebreaker).

The graph below shows how many games above .500 each team in the AFC East after each week of the NFL season for the 2001 through 2016 seasons. The Bills and the Patriots share blue and red as their primary colors, but that’s not a huge issue in this chart. [click to continue…]

{ 1 comment }

Brown continues to dominate the NFL.

Antonio Brown averaged “only” 12.1 yards per reception last year, although his great reception, receiving yards, and receiving touchdown totals earned him a third straight first-team All-Pro selection. If Brown wasn’t so good and just 28 years old, you might look at that average and think Brown was on the decline or at least was becoming less of a big play threat.

But that’s not really true: with 22 receptions (in 15 games) of at least 20+ yards, Brown had the third most big plays of any receiver last year, and 21% of his catches went for at least 20 yards. What really hurt Brown’s average was that he also caught a ton of short passes: he had 57 receptions of 10 or fewer yards. Kelvin Benjamin caught 63 passes for 941 yards last year, a 14.9 yards per reception average. But while that sounds good, Benjamin only caught 10 passes — or 16% of his total — for 20+ yards. How did Benjamin average nearly three more yards per catch than Brown? You probably already figured this one out: just 20 of his receptions (32%) went for 10 or fewer yards. Either Benjamin wasn’t running short routes or he wasn’t catching passes on those routes. If it’s the latter, it’s a bad thing; if it’s the former, well, it’s also a bad thing (relative to Brown, at least) that all he was doing was running long routes and Brown still caught more long balls than him!

The graph below shows the top 100 wide receivers and tight ends in receiving yards last season, sorted by number of 20+ yard receptions. In addition, I have included the percent of their receptions that went for 20+ yards, the number of receptions that went for 10 or fewer yards, and that percent as well.
[click to continue…]

{ 10 comments }

The top QB/WR duo by touchdowns, and another top-10 combo.

Three years ago, I looked at the top quarterback/receiving pairings in terms of total passing touchdowns between the two players. Per a comment suggestion, let’s update that list today. The top two pairs have not changed, but there has been some movement in the top ten.

Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have now connected for 84 passing touchdowns, all of which came in the regular season. The list below includes the playoffs, and Young and Rice have combined for 85 regular season touchdown passes and 7 playoff scores. That means Rivers and Gates are two more touchdowns away from the second most regular season touchdowns in NFL history. Gates is tied for 6th all time in receiving touchdowns (111) with Tony Gonzalez: despite that, Gates has connected with a touchdown more often with Rivers than Gonzalez has with both Matt Ryan and Trent Green combined.

There’s another tight end duo creeping up the list: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have connected for 76 touchdowns, tied for fifth place on the list. Also at 76 touchdowns: Marques Colston and Drew Brees. The interesting note there: Colston retired without ever catching a touchdown pass from anyone besides Brees.

The table below shows the full list for combinations that have at least 25 touchdown strikes: [click to continue…]

{ 23 comments }

Peterson with a rare cameo by a good quarterback.

After a ten-year career with the Vikings, Adrian Peterson is now headed to New Orleans where he will get to play with Drew Brees.  It will be the second time Peterson has played with a Hall of Fame quarterback, after Brett Favre’s stint with the team beginning in 2009.

In ’09, the Vikings had a Relative ANY/A of +2.05, easily the best passing game the franchise has produced in the last decade.  In fact, the only other time in the last ten years that Minnesota had an above-average ANY/A was last year, when Peterson rushed for just 72 yards in three games.

Most of his time in Minnesota, though, the team’s passing attack has been below-average — or outright bad.  For example, in 2012, Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards.  That represented 17.9% of his career total, and it came when the Vikings had a Relative ANY/A of -0.94.  Overall Peterson has a weighted average RANY/A — i.e., the Vikings RANY/A in each season of Peterson’s career, weighted by the number of rushing yards Peterson had — for his career of -0.52.  Take a look. [click to continue…]

{ 6 comments }

More Thoughts On Pick Sixes

Four years ago, I wrote that interceptions were being returned for touchdowns at a much higher rate. As it turns out, that may have just been a blip: the 2012 season set a record for both pick sixes and pick sixes per interception.

We can look at pick sixes in a few ways. On Monday, I noted that on a per-game basis, interceptions per game were down to near-historic lows. Given that pass attempts are way up, you won’t be surprised to learn that pick sixes per attempt are really, really down.

The graph below shows the number of interceptions returned per 1,000 pass attempts throughout NFL history. Last year was the lowest in history, at 1.86; thought of another way, there was just one pick six for every 538 pass attempts.

[click to continue…]

{ 4 comments }

Return Touchdowns Were Way Down in 2016

Most years, there are about 3.5 to 4.0 return touchdowns per team season in the NFL, or about 115 in the entire NFL. But in 2016, there were just 73 return touchdowns, the fewest in a single season since 1988. I’m defining a return touchdown as a punt return, kickoff return, fumble return, or interception return for a score; this does exclude some unusual returns, such as a blocked field goal return, blocked punt return, missed field goal return, etc.

By this measure, the average team had just 2.3 return touchdowns last year. That’s a pretty unusually low number: [click to continue…]

{ 9 comments }

Adjusting Passer Rating for Era: Part V: The Results

Background reading:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

All week, I have been discussing how to adjust passer rating by era. Now that I have explained the formula, it’s time to generate the results. In a given season, ratings won’t change (unless a player moves below or above a limit as a result of the era adjustment), so the most interesting thing to do is to present career passer ratings.

To calculate career passer ratings, I first calculated each player’s passer rating in each season. Then, I created their career rating by averaging the player’s passer rating in each season, weighted of course by their number of attempts in that season. And now, the results.

The table below shows all 185 players with at least 1500 career pass attempts (this includes the 2016 season). Here is how to read the table below. Otto Graham is the career leader in era adjusted passer rating (this includes his AAFC time). He ranks 115th in career pass attempts with 2,626. Since passer rating is the sum of four variables multiplied by 100 and divided by 6, I figured we might as well present the era adjusted variables, too. In completion percentage, Graham scores a 1.40; in yards per attempt, he is at a whopping 1.53; in touchdown percent, 1.25, and in interception percentage, a remarkable 1.53. As a result, his era adjusted passer rating is 95.2. [click to continue…]

{ 18 comments }

There are no fewer than four problems with passer rating.

1. It does not adjust for era.

2. It only includes four variables — completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate, and interception rate — which means valuable information like sacks, first downs, and rushing are excluded.

3. The variables it does include are improperly weighted: a completion is worth 20 yards (too much), a touchdown is worth 80 yards (also too much), and an interception is worth -100 ways (again, too much).

4. Like nearly all non-proprietary formulas, it does not provide any situational context: an interception on 1st-and-goal from the 1 is the same as an interception on a Hail Mary, a 10-yard catch on 4th-and-9 is the same as a 10-yard catch on 3rd-and-30, etc.

These are just some of the reasons why passer rating is stupid. For reasons I can’t quite articulate, I only want to focus on solving the issue presented by problem number one. Yes, it may be silly to artificially tie one hand behind my back, but my goal here is not to come up with a new formula, but just to fix one specific issue with passer rating that everyone can acknowledge.

The past two days, I have been writing about passer rating. If you ignore the upper and lower limits in the formula, passer rating’s four variables can be re-written like this: [click to continue…]

{ 14 comments }

Larry Fitzgerald led the NFL in receptions this year, with 107. That’s good, but how important is leading the league in catches? The triple crown is thought of as the leaders in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns, but I think we can all agree that receiving first downs is a better indicator of receiver play than receptions. If I was in charge of stats-keeping, I’d place far more emphasis of receiving first downs than receptions, because receptions that don’t go for first downs are far less valuable than receptions that do go for a first down. And while receptions may be a decent proxy for receiving first downs, there’s a lot of variance there.

The leader in receiving first downs this year was Mike Evans, and he certainly had a better statistical year than Fitzgerald.  Evans had a stat line of 96-1321-12, with 81 first downs, compared to Fitzgerald’s 107-1023-6 and 59 first downs.  That’s right: Evans had 22 more first downs on just 11 fewer grabs, thanks to his 84.4% first down rate compared to Fitzgerald’s 55.1%. Evans dominated the league in this metric, finishing with 15 more than anyone else.1 Evans finished with 6 out of the 100 votes cast for the AP All-Pro team, which seems like a criminally low number that would be higher in first downs were as widely-reported as they should be.

In the interest of data disclosure, the table below shows the receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns, *and receiving first downs* for the top receivers last season. I have also included each player’s receiving first down percentage, and their total number of Adjusted Catch Yards, defined here as receiving first downs * 9, plus receiving yards, plus receiving touchdowns * 11 (because a receiving TD already gets 9 yards since it is counted as a first down, too). [click to continue…]

  1. Best as we can tell, the record for receiving first downs in a season was 92, shared by Calvin Johnson (2012) and Marvin Harrison (2002), until Julio Jones broke it last year with 93. []
{ 58 comments }

On average, the fumbling team has recovered 56% of all fumbles this year. But that hasn’t been the case with the Giants. New York has fumbled 11 times this year, which means you would expect them to recover 6.2 of those fumbles. But the Giants have 8 lost fumbles this year, which means the team has recovered only 3 of those 11 fumbles, or 3.2 fewer fumbles than expected.

That’s really bad, although not the worst in the league. Carolina has fumbled 7 times, so we would expect the Panthers to have recovered 3.9 of those fumbles. Instead? Carolina is 0-for-7, so the Panthers have recovered 3.9 fewer fumbles than expected.

But the Giants haven’t recovered the ball frequently when their opponent fumbles, either. New York’s opponents have 8 fumbles, so you would expect the Giants to have recovered 3.5 of them (or, stated another way, that their opponents should have recovered 4.5 of them). But Giants opponents have lost just one fumble this year, so New York has recovered 2.5 fewer fumbles than expected in this area of the game, too. Add it up, and that means the Giants have recovered 5.7 fewer fumbles than you would think. And that New York has recovered just 21% of all footballs to hit the ground in their games, regardless of the fumbling team

Here’s the data for all 32 teams through week 8 plus Thursday night. Here’s how to read the Steelers line. Pittsburgh has 9 fumbles of its own, but has only lost 2 fumbles, so the Steelers own fumble recovery percentage is a robust 78%, and Pittsburgh has recovered 2.0 more fumbles than expected. Meanwhile, Steelers opponents have 10 fumbles, and Steelers opponents have lost 5 of them, so the Steelers have recovered 50% of all fumbles here, too.1 This means the Steelers have recovered 0.6 more fumbles than expected of their opponents, and therefore 2.6 more fumbles overall than expected. The final column shows that Pittsburgh has recovered 63.2% of all fumbles in play this year, second most to those always-lucky Browns. [click to continue…]

  1. Note that “Opp FR%” means percentage of opponents fumbles that your team recovers. So Denver, at 72.7%, has recovered a lot of those fumbles. []
{ 16 comments }

Let’s start with a piece of good news: I’ve created a 2016 Game Scripts page! On the top right of every page, there is a link to the 2016 Game Scripts, along with a dropdown option to view prior seasons.  Here’s a screenshot:

capture

So that’s the good news. The bad news is the Jets. In other news, Houston had the second-biggest comeback of the season as measured by Game Script: the Texans beat the Colts with a Game Script of -6.9. In many ways, this was more shocking than what the Chiefs did to the Chargers in week one (-10.3). That game was a 7-point contest with three minutes left; on Sunday Night Football, the Colts led by 14 with three minutes left, yet still managed to lose the game.

Let’s get to the Week 6 Game Scripts: [click to continue…]

{ 1 comment }

Previously:

Back in February, Mike Mularkey declared that his vision for Tennessee offense would be something best described as exotic smashmouth.  Then, the Titans passed on 2 out of every 3 plays in a week 1 loss to the Vikings.

Since then, Tennessee has been more run-heavy each week, culminating in a very run-heavy performance in week four. Against Houston, the Titans finished with 32 runs and 30 passes (tho that includes three Marcus Mariota scrambles), despite trailing for most of the game.  Tennessee had a Game Script of -5.8, yet was the only losing team with 30 rushing attempts this week.

Is it working? That’s tough to say: the Titans had 32 carries for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns, which sounds pretty good; meanwhile, Mariota had 196 net passing yards on 30 dropbacks with an interception and no touchdowns, which represents a league average NY/A gain.   So the running game may be a strength for the team, and the passing game may be a weakness; if that holds up, exotic smashmouth makes sense.

On the other hand, taking a big picture look at the Tennessee offense, and it is not good: The Titans are 31st in scoring, and that’s despite ranking 4th in rushing yards and 3rd in yards per carry.

Below are the week 4 game scripts data: [click to continue…]

{ 1 comment }

Today at 538: Is it time to freak out for fans in Carolina and Arizona?

The Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals were the two most successful teams during the 2015 regular season. Carolina posted the league’s best-record, at 15-1, and led the league in scoring margin (+192). Arizona had the second-best record in the NFL (13-3) and finished with the second-best margin (+176). Carolina’s quarterback, Cam Newton, was selected as the league’s most valuable player and the first-team All-Pro quarterback by the Associated Press, while Arizona’s quarterback, Carson Palmer, received the second-most votes for that All-Pro slot.

The two teams met in the NFC championship game, with Carolina winning in a blowout, 49-15. And, of course, the Denver Broncos upset Carolina in the Super Bowl. But ugly performances by Carolina and Arizona in their final games of the 2015 season didn’t temper preseason expectations: NFL.com’s preseason power rankings had the Panthers and the Cardinals as its top two teams. But with both teams starting the 2016 season with a 1-3 record, is it time for panic?

You can read the full article here.

{ 6 comments }

Today at 538:

The Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings are both 3-0 to start the year, two of just five undefeated teams remaining in the NFL. But given the way that both teams have played so far, there are a lot of questions about how sustainable their success will prove to be as the season continues.

Let’s start with the Ravens. Although 27 other teams wish they had Baltimore’s record, I’m not sure 27 other teams wish they had Baltimore’s team. Being 3-0 is great, but the Ravens have managed to achieve their perfect record while racking up about as few style points as possible.

You can read the full article here.

{ 23 comments }

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…]

{ 14 comments }

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…]

{ 5 comments }
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…]

{ 3 comments }

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…]

{ 7 comments }

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…]

{ 3 comments }

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…]

{ 34 comments }

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…]

{ 47 comments }

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…]

{ 5 comments }

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…]

{ 3 comments }

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…]

{ 42 comments }
Previous Posts