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Good at catching footballs, in the event his team throws one

Good at catching footballs, in the event his team throws one

The Houston Texans finished 31st in pass attempts in 2014, ahead of only the Seattle Seahawks. The Texans were not exactly the beneficiaries of stellar quarterback play, either: Ryan Fitzpatrick handled 64% of the team’s pass attempts, with Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett, and Tom Savage taking the rest.

As a result, the 1,210 yards DeAndre Hopkins gained in 2014 is a lot better than it sounds. Houston threw for just 3,460 yards last year (excluding sacks), which means Hopkins gained 35% of all Texans receiving yards. Antonio Brown led the NFL with 1,698 receiving yards, but even that was just 34% of all Steelers receiving yards.

The table below shows the top 53 leaders in percentage of team receiving yards: [click to continue…]

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Last year, I wrote a post on the plays that had the biggest impact on the eventual Super Bowl champion. These were the plays that affected the Super Bowl win probability by the biggest amount among teams that did not win the title. At the time, the Buffalo Bills were on the short end of the most influential play in the Super Bowl era. When Frank Reich put the ball down for Scott Norwood, I estimated that the Bills had a 45% chance on winning the Super Bowl.1 After the kick went wide right, the Bills’ win probability fell to zero. The 45 percentage point fall was the biggest change for a non-champion of any play in the Super Bowl era. Over 48 years, a bunch of plays fell in that range, but no team could point to a single play as having lowered its championship chances by so large an amount.

A couple weeks ago, that long-held record got broken kind of like Michael Johnson broke the 200-meter record in the Atlanta Olympics. Malcolm Butler’s pick obliterated the old mark. My estimate has the Butler interception as increasing the Patriots’ chances of winning by 0.87. There is no doubt that what some have called the Immaculate Interception is on an island by itself as the most influential play in NFL history.

To get that change in win probability from Butler’s play, I am going to assume that the Seahawks would have run on third and fourth down. I am going to give a run from the one a 60% chance of working. That might seem high, but the Patriots were the worst team in football in stuffing the run in important short-yardage situations either on third or fourth down, or down by the goal line. And their limited success mostly came against terrible running teams. It is not a huge sample, but against teams outside the worst quarter of rushing teams by DVOA, the Patriots had allowed opponents to convert 16 of 17 times with two yards or less to go for a first down or touchdown. If we add the playoffs, they actually had three more stops against good running teams (Baltimore and Seattle), albeit in games where the opponent had a good amount of success on the ground.2 With Seattle being the best rushing team in football by a mile and the Patriots being at best not great in run defense in that situation, it seems hard to think that Seattle had anything less than a 0.60 chance of scoring on a run. [click to continue…]

  1. Recent research by Chase suggests something similar. []
  2. Note that the stop against Baltimore should not even count. In an otherwise great game for Gary Kubiak, he called for a reverse to Michael Campanaro on third-and-1 in the second quarter. The run was stopped for a loss. The Patriots basically could not stop Justin Forsett, making the reverse call very unnecessary. []
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Additional Thoughts on Turnover Rates

On Sunday, I looked at turnover rates for every year in the NFL since the merger. Today, I want to re-examine turnover data but in a different light. In 2014, the average team committed 23.7 turnovers. As you might suspect, there’s a strong relationship between turnovers and winning percentage, with a correlation coefficient of -0.56. This says nothing about causation, of course, and the causal arrow does in fact run in both directions (committed fewer turnovers leads to more wins, and winning in games leads to fewer turnovers).

Here’s another way to think about the relationship between winning percentage and turnovers. The Patriots were responsible for 4.7% of all wins this year and committed 13 turnovers; as a result, when calculating a weighted league average turnover total, I made New England’s 13 turnovers worth 4.7% of that total. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers and their 33 turnovers were only worth 0.8% of the weighted league average turnover total, since Tampa Bay was responsible for just 0.8% of all wins.

Using this methodology, the weighted league average turnover total in the NFL was 22.5 per team, or 95% of the unweighted league average. I used that same methodology to calculate the percentage of “weighted league average turnover total” to “unweighted league average turnover total” for each year since 1960. In the graph below, the blue line represents the NFL ratio, while the red line represents the AFL ratio. [click to continue…]

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The Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX, and whatever your thoughts on the end of the game, there’s no doubt that New England was one of the top teams in the NFL in 2014. But it’s not quite so easy to identify why, at least when looking at the traditional per-play metrics. New England ranked 17th in Net Yards per Pass Attempt and 16th in Net Yards per Pass Attempt allowed, hardly the stuff of Super Bowl champions. The Patriots didn’t stand out as particularly excellent as a rushing offense or a rushing defense, either.

But those passing statistics belie the fact that the Patriots did, in fact, have a great offense this year. Part of the issue was the slow start and a meaningless week 17 game. Beginning in week 5, and excluding the week 17 game, New England scored 487 points, a 34.8 points per game average. That matches what the team did in 2012, when the Patriots had a historically lethal offense. And it’s not too far off from even the heights reached by the ’07 team.

The Patriots passing attack ranked 5th in TD rate, 3rd in INT rate, and 4th in sack rate; as a result, they jump from 17th to 6th when moving from NY/A to ANY/A. But the Patriots were even better at pure scoring.1 That’s been a trend for the team: during the Tom Brady era, New England has fared better in points scored than it has in ANY/A, and fared better in ANY/A than the team has in NY/A. And New England has generally been improving in all three statistics, too.

There is one area where the 2014 Patriots stand out as special. New England had just 13 turnovers all season: 9 Brady interceptions, three Brady fumbles, and one Brandon LaFell fumble. That is tied for the third best ever, although that sounds better than it is. The record for turnovers per game is 10 turnovers per 16 games, a feat accomplished by the 2010 Patriots and then the 2011 49ers. In 2014, the Packers also committed just 13 turnovers, and the Seahawks had just 14. As you might suspect, yes, this does mean that turnover rates have declined significantly in recent history. Take a look at the following graph, which depicts turnovers per 16 games for the average NFL team since 1970.  The purple line shows all turnovers; the blue and red lines are for interceptions and fumbles lost, respectively. [click to continue…]

  1. While New England moves at a fast pace, they actually ranked 3rd in points per drive and 4th in overall points, because the Broncos had even more drives than New England. []
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Are NFL Playoff Outcomes Getting Less Random?

In September 2012, Neil Paine wrote a great article at this website titled: Are NFL Playoff Outcomes Getting More Random? In it, Neil found that randomness had increased significantly in the NFL playoffs, with “recently” defined as the period from 2005 to 2011.

In fact, while 2005 was a pretty random postseason, 2006 was one of the more predictable playoff years.  But the five-year period from 2007 to 2011 was a really random set of years. Consider that:

  • In 2007, the Giants won three games as touchdown underdogs, including the Super Bowl as a 12.5-point underdog.  The Chargers also won a playoff game against the Colts as an 11-point dog.
  • In 2008, five of the eleven playoff games were won by underdogs! That list was highlighted by the Cardinals winning in Carolina as a 10-point underdog in the divisional round.
  • The following year, five of the eleven playoff games were upsets, including the Jets winning as 9-point underdogs in San Diego.
  • In 2010, for the third straight year, there were five playoff upsets, including two huge ones: the Jets as 9.5 point dogs in Foxboro, and the Seahawks as 10-point home dogs against the Saints.
  • Noticing a trend? Well, in 2011, five of the playoff games were again won by the underdog. The two big upsets here were the Tim Tebow-led Broncos against the Steelers, and the Giants winning in Lambeau Field against the 15-1 Packers.

[click to continue…]

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A massively disappointing quarterback and Josh  McCown

A massively disappointing quarterback and Josh McCown

Passer rating is a stupid stat. But my interest in trivia trumps my disdain for passer rating, so let’s move on.

Josh McCown had a passer rating of 109.0 last year, the third best in the NFL in 2013. With one game left in the 2014 season, McCown has a passer rating of 70.5, and he is in a tight three-way race with Geno Smith and Blake Bortles to see who finishes the season with the worst passer rating. Update: McCown had a passer rating of 70.0 in week 17, and finished the year with a 70.5 passer rating. A decline of 38.5 points in a quarterback’s passer rating is enormous, but not unprecedented. In fact, eight other players (minimum 200 pass attempts both years) have seen larger declines:

#8) Daunte Culpepper (2004-2005)

In 2004, Culpepper set an NFL record with 5,123 yards of total offense.  I wrote about Culpepper’s great ’04 season and his subsequent decline at the PFR blog back in 2007, and I maintain that Culpepper was a very underrated quarterback during his time in Minnesota.  In 2004, he finished with a passer rating of 110.9; the next year, his final with the Vikings, he threw 6 touchdowns against 12 interceptions in seven games, before an ACL year ended his season.  He finished with a 72.0 passer rating, representing a 38.9 point drop from his lofty ’04 standard. [click to continue…]

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Rushing Defense and the Lions, Ravens, and Steelers

Earlier this year, I noted that the Seahawks were operating at a historic level when it came to yards per carry differential. Seattle hasn’t slowed down since then: through 15 games, the team has rushed 491 times for 2,630 yards, a 5.36 YPC average. Defensively, the Seahawks have allowed just 1,262 yards on 362 carries, which translates to an anemic 3.49 YPC average. As a result, the team is averaging 1.87 more yards per carry than its opponents, which would place them second since 1950 behind the 2007 Vikings.

Over the last 30 NFL seasons, just one team has rushed for 2800 yards: the 2006 Atlanta Falcons, in the year where Michael Vick rushed for over 1,000 yards. Seattle has a good chance of being the second such team, thanks in no small part to Russell Wilson and his 842 rushing yards. Seattle’s rushing offense has been absurdly dominant this year, but that’s fodder for another day. Today I want to look at rush defense, and there’s another NFL team having a dominant season in that regard.

The Detroit Lions haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this year. Through 15 games, 31 NFL teams have allowed at least 1200 rushing yards, while Detroit has given up just 957 yards on the ground. That’s only 63.8 rushing yards per game, which would rank 4th among all teams since 1950, behind only the 2000 Ravens, 2006 Vikings, and 2010 Steelers. Detroit would need to allow just 46 yards against the Packers to pass the Steelers for 3rd place, 27 yards to pass the Vikings for 2nd, or 12 yards to pass the Ravens for first place. Okay, that probably won’t happen, but Detroit has been outstanding against the run this year. The Lions have been even better in the second half of the season against the run, allowing just 52.1 yards per game on the ground over the team’s last seven games.

And here’s a bit of good news for NFL fans: we could be heading towards a tremendous showdown or two in the postseason.  Assuming the Packers beat the Lions on Sunday, Detroit will fall to the sixth seed in the NFC, which would likely mean a trip to Dallas — and NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray — in the first round. And if the Lions win that game, the second round would have them headed to Seattle to face the Seahawks unstoppable rushing attack, if Seattle beats the Rams in week 17.

Detroit is one of just two teams this year that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher; the other is Baltimore, and the Ravens have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 25 games, dating back to week six of the 2013 season (when Eddie Lacy rushed for 120 yards). That makes the Ravens just the 34th team since 1960 to go 25 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher; of course, for Baltimore, they need to extend the streak into the 2016 season to break the franchise record of 46 straight games.

It feels as though the Ravens have had a great run defense for the team’s entire history, courtesy of Ray Lewis and a host of talented rush defenders. As it turns out, Baltimore has allowed just 44 100-yard games since entering the league in 1996, but that’s only the second best mark. Over that same time period, the Steelers have allowed just 36 100-yard rushing games.

Baltimore’s run defense was nothing special in the early days of the franchise, while the mid-’90s Steelers run defense was dominant. If we look back just to 1999, the Steelers have allowed 33 100-yard rushers, while the Ravens have allowed only 32. Then again, change the cut-off to 2000, and Pittsburgh drops to 28, with Baltimore staying at 32.

Undoubtedly the most impressive part of the streak from either franchise belongs to Pittsburgh. From 2004 to 2010, the Steelers allowed just five 100 yard rushers. That’s mind-boggling. Among all teams since 1978, the only team other than Pittsburgh to allow fewer than ten 100-yard rushers over any seven-year period was the ’82 to ’88 Bears, who allowed nine.

Rudi Johnson hit the century mark in week four of the 2004 season; over Pittsburgh’s next 53 games, only Edgerrin James (124 yards in a 26-7 Colts win in 2005) rushed for 100 yards against the Steelers. In 2007, Thomas Jones and Fred Taylor each did it in the second half of the year, and then that was it until Ray Rice in week 16 of the 2009 season.  No 100-yard rushers allowed in either the 2008 or 2010 season.

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Nuke

Would you believe this guy is good at catching footballs?

Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is having a fine year. While his 69 receptions is tied for only 24th in this era where catching passes is easier than ever, he’s averaging an impressive 16.9 yards per reception. No player with more than 50 receptions has a higher yards per catch average, which is why Hopkins ranks 9th in receiving yards despite ranking 24th in receptions.

But 9th is still just 9th, which is a long cry from 1st. But consider that the Texans are just 31st in pass attempts this year: in that light, ranking 9th looks a lot more impressive. And then consider the state of the Houston quarterback play. The Texans actually rank above average in yards per attempt, but there’s a reason that statistic is misleading: that reason is DeAndre Hopkins.

Houston passers (Ryan Fitzpatrick, mostly, with some Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage cameos) are averaging 7.4 yards per attempt, but that is the result of a 10.7 Y/A average on passes to Hopkins and 6.2 yards per attempt on all other passes.

So start with a player who ranks 9th in receiving yards, adjust for the fact that he’s on the team with the second fewest passes in football, and then consider that his quarterbacks are terrible on passes to everyone else on his team. That’s how you end up with Hopkins being responsible for a league-high 38.6 percent of his team’s receiving yards. [click to continue…]

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2014 College Bowl Preview

The Army/Navy game concluded our college football regular season. As a result, it’s now Bowl season for the Football Bowl Subdivision. The table below shows all 38 games, along with each team’s SRS ratings, the average of the two teams’ ratings, and the difference between the two ratings.

DateFavoriteSRSUnderdogSRSBowlLocationAvgDiff
12-20-14Utah45.3Colorado St41.1Royal Purple Las Vegas BowlLas Vegas NV43.24.1
12-20-14Utah St37.8UTEP29.6Gildan New Mexico BowlAlbuquerque NM33.78.2
12-20-14Western Michigan34Air Force32.8Famous Idaho Potato BowlBoise ID33.41.2
12-20-14Nevada34.2Louisiana-Lafayette30.2R+L Carriers New Orleans BowlNew Orleans LA32.24
12-20-14South Alabama25.9Bowling Green23.9Raycom Media Camellia BowlMontgomery AL24.92
12-22-14Memphis41.6Brigham Young38.2Miami Beach BowlMiami FL39.93.4
12-23-14Marshall46.3Northern Illinois34Boca Raton BowlBoca Raton FL40.112.3
12-23-14Navy34.6San Diego St32.1San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia BowlSan Diego CA33.42.4
12-24-14Western Kentucky35.5Central Michigan30.2Popeyes Bahamas BowlNassau BA32.85.2
12-24-14Rice30.6Fresno St29.8Hawaii BowlHonolulu HI30.20.8
12-26-14Louisiana Tech43.4Illinois33.7Zaxby`s Heart of Dallas BowlDallas TX38.59.8
12-26-14North Carolina St37.8Central Florida36.8Bitcoin St. Petersburg BowlSt. Petersburg FL37.31
12-26-14North Carolina37Rutgers34.2Quick Lane BowlDetroit MI35.62.8
12-27-14Southern Cal51.3Nebraska47.7National University Holiday BowlSan Diego CA49.53.6
12-27-14Arizona St47.5Duke42.4Hyundai Sun BowlEl Paso TX455.2
12-27-14Miami FL44.1South Carolina41.6Duck Commander Independence BowlShreveport LA42.82.5
12-27-14Virginia Tech41.8Cincinnati39Military BowlAnnapolis MD40.42.9
12-27-14Boston College42.5Penn State37.3New Era Pinstripe BowlBronx NY39.95.2
12-29-14Oklahoma52.8Clemson47.1Russell Athletic Florida Citrus BowlOrlando FL49.95.7
12-29-14Texas A&M47.6West Virginia47.2AutoZone Liberty BowlMemphis TN47.40.4
12-29-14Arkansas52.2Texas41.9Advocare V100 Texas BowlHouston TX4710.3
12-30-14Georgia56.9Louisville47.1Belk BowlCharlotte NC529.9
12-30-14LSU52.3Notre Dame42.9Franklin American Mortgage Music City BowlNashville TN47.69.4
12-30-14Stanford48.3Maryland39.9Foster Farms BowlSanta Clara CA44.18.4
12-31-14TCU60.5Mississippi58Chick-fil-A Peach BowlAtlanta GA59.32.5
12-31-14Mississippi St55.5Georgia Tech50.7Capital One Orange BowlMiami Gardens FL53.14.8
12-31-14Arizona48.6Boise St44.8VIZIO Fiesta BowlGlendale AZ46.73.8
01-01-15Alabama61.6Ohio State57.6Allstate Sugar BowlNew Orleans LA59.64.1
01-01-15Baylor57.4Michigan St56.1Goodyear Cotton Bowl ClassicArlington TX56.81.3
01-01-15Oregon61Florida St51.6Rose Bowl Presented by Northwestern MutualPasadena CA56.39.4
01-01-15Auburn55.9Wisconsin49.7Outback BowlTampa FL52.86.3
01-01-15Missouri48.9Minnesota44Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus BowlOrlando FL46.54.8
01-02-15Kansas St53.7UCLA50.3Valero Alamo BowlSan Antonio TX523.4
01-02-15Tennessee47Iowa41TaxSlayer BowlJacksonville FL446.1
01-02-15Washington44.2Oklahoma St37.8TicketCity Cactus BowlTempe AZ416.4
01-02-15Pittsburgh40Houston33.1Lockheed Martin Armed Forces BowlFort Worth TX36.57
01-03-15Florida47.4East Carolina38Birmingham BowlBirmingham AL42.79.4
01-04-15Arkansas St34.1Toledo33.8GoDaddy BowlMobile AL340.4

Best Bowls

The Sugar Bowl, featuring Alabama and Ohio State, checks in as the best game of Bowl season, as measured by the average ratings of the two teams. The Crimson Tide have the best SRS rating, while Ohio State has the 5th highest rating.

The other playoff matchup comes in the Rose Bowl, but Florida State’s poor rating actually drops them game to #4 behind the Peach Bowl (TCU/Ole Miss) and even the Cotton Bowl Classic (Baylor/Michigan State).

The worst game? That’s South Alabama and Bowling Green in the new Camelia Bowl. Yes, the inaugural game of a new Alabama Bowl game featuring two six-loss teams will kick off at 9:20 on the opening night of Bowl season. Make sure you have your schedule cleared for that one.

Biggest Mismatches

Marshall and Northern Illinois face off in a game that, on the surface, appears to be a very good one. Marshall is 12-1 and a legitimately good team. On the other hand, while Northern Illinois is 11-2, a bunch of close wins against MAC teams doesn’t make UNI a good team. The Huskies lost by 38 against Arkansas and by 17 at home against a bad Central Michigan team. Northern Illinois is 12.3 points worse than Marshall in the SRS, which makes traveling to Boca Raton even more depressing.

Arkansas/Texas, Georgia/Louisville, and Louisiana Tech/Illinois are all 10-point mismatches, too. Of course, Bowl season has a habit of deviating from the regular season script, so don’t blame me when all the underdogs win. According to Vegas, the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara is the most lopsided matchup. One reason for that: Stanford is the de facto host here, and the Cardinal are 14 point favorites against Maryland. [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: Marginal Drops

Munir Mohamed, a reader of Football Perspective, has agreed to write this guest post for us. And I thank him for it.



Regular readers are familiar with Adam Steele’s three-part series here on Marginal YAC; today, I want to look at drops, and marginal drops.  As Adam noted, Sportingcharts.com keeps track of dropped passes.1

Her’s how to read the table below, which is sorted by career Marginal Drops.  Over the course of this data set, Eli Manning completed 2,929 of his 5,008 passes, for a completion percentage of 58.5%.  Manning’s Giants dropped an estimated 299.4 of his passes; if we add those to his 2,929 completions, Manning was therefore “On Target” with 64.5% of his throws.  Relative to league average, Manning had 44 more drops than we would expect. Manning’s drop percentage — i.e., his number of drops divided by his total number of completions and drops, was 9.3%, which represents his percentage of catchable balls that were dropped. Manning lost 516.5 yards from his marginal drops, or 52.9 yards last from marginal drops per 300 completions. [click to continue…]

  1. Some fine print: Unfortunately, that data is only recorded on a team level, not at the individual passer level.  As a result, I gave each quarterback his pro rata portion of his team’s dropped passes relative to the percentage of team incompletions for the entire team.

    For example, let’s say the Jaguars have 30 dropped passes. Assume QB A for the Jaguars has 200 incompletions, and QB B has 100 incompletions. My methodology handled this by crediting QB A with 20 dropped passes and QB B with 10 drops. The numbers in this article are from 1992-2013. In the table below, “Marginal Drops” represents how many drops above average a quarterback had compared to league average rate. If a passer has positive Marginal Drops, this means he had more drops than expected. []

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NFL Passing, 1950 Through Week 13, 2014

In case you haven’t noticed, 2014 is on pace to become the greatest passing season in NFL history. Which may not be surprising, since just a few months ago, the three best passing seasons in NFL history were the 2012, 2011, and 2013 seasons. Falling into fifth place will be the… 2010 NFL season. So passing numbers are on the rise, but you already knew that.

Through week 13 of the 2014 season, the NFL average Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt — defined as gross passing yards, plus 20 yards for every touchdown pass, minus 45 yards for every interception, and minus sack yards, all divided by the total number of pass attempts plus sacks — was at 6.26.  Most passing statistically typically take a trip south in December (and prior to SNF, the week 14 average was 5.85), but 6.26 would be a significant outlier even in our high-flying times. The graph below shows the NFL average ANY/A for each season since 1950.  Of course, we are doing a bit of apples-to-oranges comparisons by using full season numbers for all years and through-13-weeks numbers for 2014, but so be it: [click to continue…]

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Brady likes the second half of the season

Brady likes the second half of the season

When we think about the most dominant teams of all time, the New England Patriots of the last few years don’t leap immediately to mind. Yet, their performance late in the year has been mind-bogglingly good. From 2010-13, New England went 29-3 in the final eight games of each season, a record that no other team since 1960 can match over any four-year period. Including their three games this year, the Patriots are on a 32-3 run in regular-season games in the second half of the season. From 2010-2013, the Patriots also have the biggest four-year point differential in second-half games in the history of football.

Part of that huge point differential comes from the higher point totals that teams have than they did in the past, and from New England’s offensive-centric philosophy. As a result, when we look at Pythagenpat records, the Patriots are not as dominant.1 Here are the hundred best late-season teams over any four-year period, according to Pythagenpat record. The Patriots from 2010-13 rank only 38th on the list, behind four other recent Patriots’ runs, some of those overlapping with 2010-13. The Patriots have been great and it is an unlikely outcome that they’d have no Super Bowls in the decade so far, but they also have not been quite as strong in terms of their true strength as their second-half records would suggest. As a high-scoring team, we would have expected them to lose more of their regular season games than they have. [click to continue…]

  1. I used 0.251 as the value in the Pythagenpat formula to find exponents for each team-year. []
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Cardinals, Lions, and Pythagnenpat Records

Two teams once known for their great receivers are now known for being great teams

Two teams once known for their great receivers are now known for being great teams.

The Arizona Cardinals are 8-1, giving them the best record in football. The Detroit Lions are 7-2, tied with the Patriots and Broncos for the second-best record through ten weeks.1 In week 11, the Lions head to Arizona in a game that may well decide which team gets home field advantage in the NFC playoffs: it certainly will decide which franchise is in the pole position with five weeks left.

We should be celebrating these teams. Detroit has only had one year in its last 70 seasons when it started with a better record through 9 games: that was the ’54 squad, which began 8-1 and finished with the Lions in the NFL title game. Detroit also started 7-2 in 1993: that’s the only other time in the last 50 years that the Lions have started so well through nine games.

For Arizona, the situation is even bleaker. The team has won at least 8 of its first 9 games just two times before this year. One was in 1948, back when Hall of Famer Jimmy Conzelman  was coaching the team (then in Chicago). And the other was in 1925, when Chicago was led by Hall of Famer Paddy Driscoll. That’s it. The oldest franchise in NFL history has started with an 8-1 record (it has never began 9-0) now just three times. On the first two occasions, the Cardinals wound up winning the title, albeit with one asterisk.

But both the Lions and Cardinals have been overachieving this year, at least according to their Pythagenpat Records. Detroit has scored 182 points and allowed 142 points; that gives the Lions a 0.648 Pythagenpat winning percentage. Among the 72 teams to start 7-2 between 1990 and 2013, 59 had better Pythagenpat winning percentages. [click to continue…]

  1. The Eagles can match that record tonight with a win against the Panthers. []
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Checkdowns: YPC Differential Leaders

Wilson's rushing prowess has powered Seattle this year

Wilson's rushing prowess has powered Seattle this year

[End of Year update: Seattle finished the season with 2,762 rushing yards on 525 carries, good enough for a 5.26 YPC average. The Seahawks allowed just 1,304 yards on 380 carries, which translates to a 3.43 YPC average. Therefore, the 2014 Seahawks averaged 1.83 more yards per carry than they allowed; that’s the second best differential since the merger, and just a behind the ’63 Browns for the third best since 1950.]

Last season, the Seahawks posted the best ANY/A differential in the NFL. In fact, it was the 9th best ANY/A differential of any team since the merger, and Seattle wound up becoming the 5th team in the top ten in that statistic to win the Super Bowl.

You heard all about Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas and the great Seahawks pass defense, and it’s not as though Russell Wilson was flying under the radar, either. But this year, the Seahawks are recording even more extreme statistics in a different differential stat.

Yards per carry is super overrated: Danny Tuccitto did a nice job revealing that just a couple of days ago. But hey, I love trivia, so let’s move on.

Seattle ranks 1st in the NFL in yards per carry (5.08). Marshawn Lynch is at 4.2 YPC on 132 carries, but it’s Wilson’s 7.6 yards per carry average on 52 carries that sets the Seahawks apart. But the defense — so unstoppable against the pass in 2013 — ranks 1st in this metric, too. Seattle is allowing just 3.19 yards per carry this year; if it holds, that would be the best mark since the 2010 Steelers.

Combine, though, is where the Seahawks really stand out. Seattle has a 1.89 YPC differential, defined as YPC for the offense minus YPC allowed for the defense. How good is that? If it holds, it would be the 2nd best mark since 1950: [click to continue…]

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Week Eight Game Scripts: The New Comeback of the Year

If you watched the Lions/Falcons game — you know, the Wembly WhyamIwatchingthisgame — you probably left with the feeling that neither team deserved a win. The game was a disaster of epic proportions at the coaching level, but the game was also notable for another reason: after trailing 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and 21-0 at halftime, the Lions came back to win, 22-21. Detroit posted a Game Script of -11.3, making it the largest comeback of the year.

The biggest blowout of the week was in Foxboro, where the Bears lost by 28 points and posted a Game Script of -21.0. In a weird twist, though, both teams had pretty similar pass/run ratios. Was this due to New England being pass-happy despite leading, Chicago being run-heavy despite trailing, or a combination of both? As it turns out, both teams veered off their expected pass/run ratios by about 10%. A team with a Game Script of +21.0 should be expected to pass on about 45% of plays, while the Patriots 56% of the time. On the flip side, the Bears would have been projected to pass 70% of the time, but wound up throwing on just 59% of all plays. Chicago ran well — Matt Forte and Ka’Deem Carey combined for 147 yards on 25 carries — while New England was passing uh, very well, with Tom Brady completing 30 of 35 passes and throwing five touchdowns.

The table below lists the Game Scripts from each game in week 8: [click to continue…]

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Pass Identities Through Seven Weeks

I’ve published the Game Scripts data from every game this year at the 2014 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:

game scripts
As you move from a more negative Game Script to a more positive one, the expected Pass Ratio decreases. But the relationship is not purely linear: in extreme cases, the Pass Ratios tend to move a bit more towards league average, and I think that trend is probably even stronger than it might appear on this graph. In any event, you can derive a best-fit polynomial equation from that data, which could give us an expected Pass Ratio.

Luck's Colts have been very pass-heavy in 2014

Luck’s Colts have been very pass-heavy in 2014

For example, with a Game Script of +3.0, teams should be expected to pass on 56.3% of all plays. But in the Eagles/49ers game, Philadelphia passed on 78.6% of all plays. At the time, I thought it was an oddly pass-happy performance, as it turns out, it was the most pass-heavy game of the year, with a pass rate 22.3% higher than expectation.

If we perform that calculation for every game this year, we can derive season grades. Let’s look at the Colts line in the table below. In 7 games this year, Indianapolis has an average Game Script of +7.9, which happens to be the highest in the NFL (the table is fully sortable). Based on how each game has unfolded, Indianapolis would be expected to pass on just 52.7% of all plays if it was an average team; however, the Colts have passed on 59.4% of all plays. That means the Colts have passed 6.7% above expectation, the second highest rate in the NFL this year. The table below lists that data for each team through week 7: [click to continue…]

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Passing Kings, From Friedman to Manning

Friend-of-the-program Bryan Frye has contributed a fantastic guest post for us today. Bryan lives in Yorktown, Virginia, and operates his own great site at nflsgreatest.co.nf, where he focuses on NFL stats and history. Be sure to check out Bryan’s site, and let him know your thoughts on today’s posts in the comments.


Last Sunday, Peyton Manning broke the record for career touchdown passes. You may have heard about it. Rather than add more flotsam and jetsam to the vast sea of internet articles dedicated to Manning, I thought I would instead focus on the rich history of the record itself.

[click to continue…]

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Week 6 (2014) Game Scripts: Bucs Blown out Again

It was only back in week 3 when the Falcons posted a Game Script of 32.5 against the Bucs. In week 6, the Ravens nearly duplicated that effort in Tampa Bay!

Joe Flacco threw two touchdowns to Torrey Smith in the first 6 minutes of the game. He would hit Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro before the quarter was over, becoming just the second quarterback in NFL history with four first-quarter touchdown passes. The other? Tommy Kramer in 1986 against the Packers.

Baltimore’s Game Script produced the 2nd best Game Script of the year; meanwhile the Eagles’ 27-0 shutout against the Giants came with a Game Script of +17.1, the 7th highest mark this season.

The table below lists the Game Scripts data from each game in week 6. As is customary around these parts, I’ve highlighted the Bengals/Panthers game in blue as a result of their tie (you can move your cursor over that row to see it more clearly, not that I know why you would want to). [click to continue…]

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Brian Football

Brian Football.

Last week in this space, we bemoaned the large number of blowouts and the lack of exciting comebacks. Apparently, bemoaning works.

After falling behind against Atlanta by a score of 20-10, the Giants scored the final 20 points of the game to steal the win. The Saints jumped out to a 13-0 lead against Tampa Bay, but the Bucs responded by going on a 31-7 run. With the season teetering on the edge, New Orleans responded by scoring 17 straight points to pull off the rare come from ahead comeback.

In Detroit, the Lions jumped out to a 14-0 lead. But the Bills scored 17 straight, and won with a Game Script of -6.4. In Carolina, the Bears took an early 21-7 lead, but the Panthers scored 24 of the game’s final 27 points, winning with a -3.8 Game Script. But by far the biggest comeback of the day came in Tennessee, when the 2014 edition of the Kardiac Kids pulled off the largest road comeback in NFL history.

With 2:55 left in the first half, the Titans led the Browns, 28-3. But from that point forward, Brian Hoyer completed 16 of 27 passes for 259 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell, and Terrance West rushed 24 times for 107 yards. By the end of the day, Cleveland had won 29-28 despite a Game Script of -10.5. That checks in as the worst Game Script by a winning team since the Colts won with a -11.0 against the Texans in week 9 of last season.

The table below shows all the Game Scripts data from week 5:

[click to continue…]

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Thursday Night Football. New York and Washington. Can you feel the excitement? Probably not. Despite being 3-point underdogs, the Giants won in a snoozer, 45-14, while posting a Game Script of +12.9.

Okay, what about Sunday Night Football? Dallas and New Orleans. Tony Romo and Drew Brees. Can you feel the excitement? Probably not. Despite being 3-point underdogs, the Cowboys won in a snoozer, 38-17, while posting a Game Script of +14.4.

The week ended with Monday Night Football and Tom Brady! Can you feel the excitement? Probably not. Despite being 3-point underdogs, the Chiefs won in a snoozer, 41-14, while posting a Game Script of +14.5.

In between, two other teams — Miami and Indianapolis — also finished with Game Scripts of 13-14 points. Green Bay and San Diego won by a combined 40 points, although the Game Scripts indicated slightly more competitive action against the Bears and Jaguars than that final score. In fact, just two games were won by teams with negative Game Scripts, and those were the only two real comebacks of the week.1

TeamH/ROppBoxscorePFPAMarginGame ScriptPassRunP/R RatioOp_POp_ROpp_P/R Ratio
KANNWEBoxscore41142714.5283842.4%331667.3%
DALNORBoxscore38172114.4303446.9%451278.9%
INDTENBoxscore41172413.8414150%311567.4%
MIA@OAKBoxscore38142413.5313547%461773%
NYG@WASBoxscore45143112.9403851.3%351767.3%
BALCARBoxscore38102811.9313050.8%362559%
GNB@CHIBoxscore3817217.1281959.6%364146.8%
SDGJAXBoxscore3314196.2411968.3%402561.5%
DET@NYJBoxscore241775.9382758.5%352657.4%
MINATLBoxscore4128135.6304440.5%422265.6%
HOUBUFBoxscore231761.5392263.9%462366.7%
TAM@PITBoxscore27243-1.3442068.8%462663.9%
SFOPHIBoxscore26215-3344244.7%441278.6%

The two teams to win with negative Game Scripts were San Francisco and Tampa Bay. The 49ers trailed for most of the first half, and the Eagles extended their lead to 21-10 in the 2nd quarter. That means that in every Philadelphia game this year, the first team to obtain a 10-point lead has wound up losing. And the 49ers, after blowing a 17-point lead to the Bears and an 8-point lead to the Cardinals, finally found themselves on the positive side of a comeback. In Pittsburgh, the Bucs jumped out to a 10-0 lead, Pittsburgh responded with a 24-7 run, and then Tampa Bay scored the final 10 points of the game.

For the Patriots, this was the 3rd worst Game Script of the Tom Brady era. The worst performance came in the 31-0 loss to the Bills on opening day 2003, when the Patriots had a Game Script of -18.0. The only other game with a lower Game Script was a -16.6 in the playoff loss to the 2009 Ravens.

Finally, let’s look at some of the unusual pass/run ratios from week 4:

  • Against the Packers, the Bears became the first team since 1976 to run 40+ times despite losing by at least three touchdowns. To some extent, there was a perfect storm of events to make that happen: the Packers scored the final 24 points of the game, and the 21-point margin was much worse than the -7.1 Game Script number indicates. But Chicago still was very run-happy in this game: consider that the Bears ran more than they passed, while the Packers threw on about 60% of their plays. That stat line is typically associated in a game where the Bears would be posting the +7.1 Game Script, not the other way around. Of course, Chicago rushed for 235 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry, which might explain the run-heavy offensive game plan.
  • The Chargers are known as a run-oriented team, but injuries to Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead may change things. Donald Brown and Branden Oliver rushed 19 times for just 42 yards against the Jaguars. As a result, San Diego threw on about twice as many plays as it ran, which is out of character for a team (especially the Chargers) with a +6.2 Game Script. Jacksonville actually ran more frequently, although without much success (to be fair, five of the Jaguars runs were by Blake Bortles). Were the Jaguars trying to protect their rookie quarterback? Probably. But giving Toby Gerhart, Denard Robinson, and Jordan Todman 20 carries isn’t worth much if they can only muster 61 yards. Another sign of the team’s conservative attack: Other than a 44-yard bomb to Allen Hurns, Bortles averaged 7.6 yards per completion on his other 28 completions.
  • The Jets and Lions had nearly identical pass/run ratios, with Detroit passing slightly more often. That is only unusual because the Jest trailed by an average of 5.9 points throughout the game on Sunday. As we’ve said just about every week, the Jets like to run the ball, and teams do not like to run the ball against the Jets. By the end of the year, expect New York to rank in the bottom three in both pass identity and in opponent’s pass identity.
  • The Eagles had an incredible 78.6% pass rate against San Francisco. Nick Foles did not have a very good day, completing just under half of his pass attempts.  So why did the Eagles abandon the run? LeSean McCoy couldn’t do much against the 49ers front: he had just 10 carries for 17 yards, with Darren Sproles chipping in with only one rush.  The Eagles offensive line has been decimated, although it’s not clear that the response to that circumstance is a very pass-happy attack. There’s nothing wrong with passing so often, but it’s always worth noting when the team that was the most pass-happy of the week was in one of the more competitive games. The Eagles had been passing on around 60% of their plays through the first three weeks, with a consistent ratio each week.  Perhaps Sunday’s result says more about the opponent than it does the Eagles.
  1. Technically, the Vikings had a 4th quarter comeback against the Falcons, but Minnesota took the lead for good with about 11 minutes left in the game. []
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Ryan posted his 2nd monster game in three weeks on TNF.

Ryan posted his 2nd monster game in three weeks on TNF.

In 2013, the largest Game Script was 23.8, courtesy of the Chiefs 45-10 blowout in Washington. But that game was child’s play compared to the NSFW game that was Atlanta/Tampa Bay on Thursday Night.

The Falcons finished with a Game Script of +32.5, the sixth highest in NFL history. Matt Ryan finished the day 21 of 24 for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns. Incredibly, Atlanta turned it over 4 times, although that didn’t stop the Falcons from finishing +1 in the turnover margin.

In a normal week, Indianapolis would stand out for its thrashing of the Jaguars: the Colts posted a Game Script of 19.8, which is even large by Indianapolis/Jacksonville standards. Last year, the Colts finished with Game Scripts of 15.5 and 17.8 against the Jags. What’s weird, though, is that Indianapolis — which has a tendency to get very conservative at times — has thrown on about 60% of its plays in the team’s last three games against the Jaguars, despite monster leads. Andrew Luck fantasy owners, take note, although I’m not quite sure what this says about the Colts mindset.

The Bengals continued their dominant ways in week 3, holding an average margin of victory of 14.8 points against the Titans. Cincinnati had a Game Script of +8.5 in week 2, while the Titans had -8.5 Game Script in week 2, so I guess 8.5 + -8.5 = 14.8? Leave the math to the professional bloggers, folks.

The table below shows the Game Scripts data from each team in Week 3: [click to continue…]

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Thoughts on the value of a fumble vs. an interception

In the late ’80s, The Hidden Game of Football determined that an interception was worth -45 yards and a lost fumble was worth -50 yards. Why was a fumble five yards worse than a pick? That’s because Carroll, Thorn, and Palmer found that, on average, the team gained possession via the turnover was five yards closer to their opponent’s end zone when that turnover was a fumble.

Makes sense, but is that still true? Courtesy of Mike Kania of Pro-Football-Reference, here are some data on turnovers since 1999:

  • Ignoring interceptions returned for touchdowns, the team recording the interception loses about 4.41 yards of field position, on average, on each interception. So let’s assume the Patriots are playing the Jets, the Patriots have the ball at their own 40, and New England throws an interception. On average, the Jets will (ignoring pick sixes) have 1st and 10 at the Patriots 44.4-yard line on the next play.
  • If, instead, the Jets gained possession via a fumble, New York would, on average, start on the Patriots 39.2-yard line. That’s because following a fumble by an offense that is not returned for a touchdown, the line of scrimmage moves about 0.8 yards closer to the offense’s end zone.
  • In other words, teams gain about 5.2 yards of field position when recovering a fumble rather than an interception. That’s kind of remarkable, considering it matches the results found from researchers in the ’80s. However…
  • We still have to consider turnovers that are returned for touchdowns.  Roughly 10.7% of interceptions were returned for touchdowns during this period, compared to only 7.9% of recovered fumbles. Remember, interceptions are now much more likely to be returned for touchdowns than they were in the mid-’80s.

Thirty years ago, the penalty was 45 yards for an interception and 50 yards for a lost fumble.  We haven’t shown today whether those numbers in the abstract were correct, but the five yard relative difference still seems supported by current data, with one notable exception.  But as more interceptions are returned for touchdowns1, interceptions are becoming about as bad for offenses as lost fumbles.

  1. I’ll note that fumbles are also being returned for touchdowns at higher rates — that’s probably worth its own post — but it is not increasing at the same rate. []
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Here is graphic video of a famous football player performing an act of cowardly violence against a defenseless victim. The offender did not receive any penalty for his actions. After committing that crime, the assailant showed no remorse at the condition of the victim, who lay prostrate on the ground. Not disciplined for earlier acts of violence, that player struck again, this time paralyzing his defenseless victim. That victim would eventually die far too young, in part as a consequence of that attack.

For this perpetrator, the response was much worse than insufficient punishment or radio silence. Jack Tatum was celebrated for many of his hits, perhaps most notably the one on Sammy White in Super Bowl XI. The Ray Rice punch makes all of us cringe, but the hit on White―and even more so the one on Darryl Stingley ― should also make us cringe. [click to continue…]

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Marshall wonders why the Bears Game Script was so poor.

Marshall wonders why the Bears Game Script was so poor.

It was a week for comebacks in the NFL. Chicago trailed San Francisco 17-0 with just 30 seconds left in the first half, but won 28-20. With 20 minutes left, the Eagles trailed the Colts 20-6, but came back to win 30-27. Midway through the 2nd quarter, the Jets led the Packers 21-3, but Green Bay came back to win, 31-24.

All three games produced Game Scripts by the winning team of between -4 and -7 points. Game Scripts, regular readers know, measure the average points differential over the course of the entire game. Week 2 brought a pair of games with very large game scripts, with Oakland (Game Script of -15.9) and Jacksonville (-15.3) failing to look competitive in losses to houston and Washington, respectively. Minnesota (-11.7) wasn’t much better. Not surprisingly, the Raiders, Jaguars, and Vikings all passed significantly more often than their opponents. [click to continue…]

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Regular readers are familiar with the concept of Game Scripts, the term I’ve used to represent the average margin of lead or deficit over the course of every second of a game. Let’s use the Washington/Houston game (since it featured just four scoring plays) to explain how to calculate the Game Script score.

The first score of the game came with 6:11 left in the second quarter, when Darrel Young rushed for a touchdown (the extra point was blocked, of course, by J.J. Watt).  This means for the first 23 minutes and 49 seconds, the score was tied.  On Houston’s ensuing drive, Ryan Fitzpatrick hit DeAndre Hopkins for a 76-yard touchdown with 4:28 left in the half.  That means Washington held a 6 point lead for only one minute and 43 seconds.

After a three-and-out, Washington’s punt was blocked, and Alfred Blue recovered, giving Houston a 14-6 lead with 2:09 left in the half.  This means that Houston held a 1-point lead for two minutes and 19 seconds.

Then, the Texans held that 8-point lead for just over 30 minutes: Houston kicked a field goal right at the two minute warning, and ultimately won, 17-6.

Now, to calculate the Game Script, all you need to do is average the Texans’ margin over the course of the 3600 seconds in the game. As you can see in the table below, that number is 4.3. [click to continue…]

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Just above these words, it says “posted by Chase.” And it was literally posted by Chase, but the words below the line belong to Bryan Frye, a longtime reader and commenter who has agreed to write this guest post for us. And I thank him for it. Bryan lives in Yorktown, Virginia, and operates his own great site at nflsgreatest.co.nf, where he focuses on NFL stats and history.


In February, Chase used a regressed version of Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric to derive 2014 expected wins. If you are reading this site, you probably have some familiarity with Football Outsiders and DVOA, FO’s main efficiency statistic. Given the granularity of DVOA, it is no surprise that Year N DVOA correlates more strongly with Year N + 1 wins (correlation coefficient of .39) than Year N wins does (correlation coefficient of .32).

By now, even casual NFL fans probably have at least heard of Pythagorean wins, and regular readers of this site are certainly familiar with the concept. Typically, an analyst uses Pythagorean records to see which teams overachieved and underachieved, which can help us predict next year’s sleepers and paper tigers. Well, I wondered what would happen if we combined the two formulae to make a “DVOA-adjusted Pythagorean Expectation” (or something cooler sounding; you be the judge).

Going back to 1989, the earliest year for DVOA, I used the offensive, defensive, and special teams components of DVOA to adjust the normal input for Pythagorean wins (points). Because DVOA is measured as a percentage, I adjusted the league average points per team game accordingly (I split special teams DVOA between offense and defense). Let’s use Seattle, which led the league in DVOA in 2013, as an example.

In 2013, the league average points per game was 23.4. Last year, Seattle had an offensive DVOA of 9.4% and a defensive DVOA of -25.9% (in Football Outsiders’ world, a negative DVOA is better for defenses).  The Seahawks also had a special teams DVOA of 4.7%.  So to calculate Seattle’s DVOA-adjusted points per game average, we would use the following formula:

23.4 + [23.4 * (9.4% + 4.7%/2)] = 26.15 DVOA-adjusted PPG scored

And to calculate the team’s DVOA-adjusted PPG allowed average, we would perform the following calculation: [click to continue…]

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Gronk can catch, block, and spike. But can he do all that without getting injured?

Gronk can catch, block, and spike. But can he do all that without getting injured?

In the 2011 AFC Championship Game against the Ravens, Bernard Pollard happened to Rob Gronkowski. And the Patriots offense ground to a halt for the rest of the game before being held to just 17 points in the Super Bowl.1 In 2012, it was a freak injury on an extra point and then a reinjury in the divisional playoffs against the Texans. After that, the Patriots offense put up only 14 against the Ravens in the 2012 AFC Championship Game. Last year against the Browns, he took one of those horrible hits that make you cringe and want to keep him away from running seam routes in any regular season game.2 And the Pats put up 16 points against a mediocre and banged-up Broncos defense in the AFC Championship game.3

The Gronkowski injuries provide a tantalizing set of what-ifs. The Patriots have been within two games of a title the last three years. A healthy Gronkowski could have made the difference in any of those years. The Football Outsiders’ Almanac shows that the Pats’ offense was actually pretty good late in the season without Gronk, but they were terrible early in the year―they actually had a negative DVOA without him. Over the last two regular seasons, the Pats have averaged 34 PPG with Gronkowski, but six points fewer in New England’s 14 Gronk-less games.

And as much as I believe in stats, I’m not sure we really need them to tell us that Gronkowski is one of the most important non-quarterbacks in football. If he’s healthy through the playoffs, the Patriots seem likely to be neck-and-neck with the Broncos. With a defense that may be one of the best in football, I’d argue that the Pats should be a little better than the Broncos, even.4 Regardless, the Pats offense has been uniformly excellent with a healthy Gronkowski since 2010. Taking just the games where Gronk played, the Pats have ranked 1st, 3rd, 1st, and 2nd in offensive DVOA over the last four years.

That means one of the most important questions in the NFL in 2014 is whether we’ll see a healthy Gronkowski through the end of the season and into the playoffs. At this point, I think the reflexive answer is to assume that the answer is “no.” It certainly doesn’t feel like he’s going to be healthy. But previous examples of players getting hurt can provide some insight into Gronkowski’s actual chances.

Recovery for Injured Young-and-Excellent Players

In his second year, Gronkowski had an Approximate Value (AV) of 14. He then played only parts of the next two seasons due to injury. Considering players who started their careers since 1970, there have been 34 who had an AV season of at least 13 in their first two years and who then did not start at least 25% of the games in the following two years. This is a reasonable list of young-and-excellent players who then missed significant time in years 3 & 4. Most of these players missed time due to injuries, although some of those cases were a bit debatable.5 Regardless, the conclusions are pretty much the same if we drop some of those cases. [click to continue…]

  1. Yes, a very limited Gronk played in SB XLVI, but he had only two catches and jumped like me when battling Chase Blackburn on Brady’s underthrown fourth quarter pick. []
  2. The link is of Gronk shopping for groceries instead of the hit, because who wants to see that again? []
  3. The only two games all season where the Broncos gave up fewer points were against Houston and Oakland. []
  4. Unless Manning is just much better than Brady, I guess. I’m not seeing that. Denver’s only other big advantage is at receiver. Fine, but a healthy Gronkowski seems to even up a fair bit of that. And then there’s Brandon LaFell’s impending record-breaking season. I’m about to get shouted down. [Chase note: I don’t know how much longer I can stomach Andrew writing for Football Perspective.] []
  5. In addition, I omitted two players who were obviously benched for other reasons: Shaun King and Derek Anderson. And Joe Cribbs, who went to the USFL for the fifth year of his pro career. []
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Yesterday, I looked at how long it took the best quarterbacks to break out. Today, I want to apply what we learned from that post to 15 current NFL quarterbacks with fewer than 50 starts, all of whom were 26 years old or younger during the 2013 season.

Bradford looks to check down

Bradford looks to check down.

Sam Bradford (49 career starts): Career Relative Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of -0.68.

Bradford was overrated after he put up good counting stats but weak efficiency numbers as a rookie; he posted a -1.0 RANY/A in 2010, a -1.4 average in 10 starts in 2011, was at -0.3 in 16 starts in 2012, and then +0.2 in seven starts last year. Yesterday, we noted that great quarterbacks who came to terrible teams (Warren Moon and Drew Brees, in addition to former number one picks like Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Vinny Testaverde, and Steve Young) struggled initially. Bradford would seem to fit that mold, although he’s now 49 starts into his career. Are there other reasons to give him a pass?

St. Louis had the third-youngest offense in the NFL last year, and the man who has gained the most yards from Bradford over the last four years is Brandon Gibson. The former first overall pick has received very little help, and been saddled with a revolving door of mediocre receivers.

On the other hand, Kellen Clemens posted better numbers than Bradford last year, at least when you adjust for strength of schedule. As Bill Barnwell pointed out last week, Bradford’s big problem is his inability to throw the ball down the field, which jives with some of the work I’ve done Bradford’s historically low yards per completion averages.  If not for Bradford’s first season of above-average work last year, I’d say his odds of ever being a franchise quarterback are very low.  But there has been some progression, and he does fit the mold of number one pick being saddled with bad teammates.  Of course, the presence of Brian Schottenheimer is enough to make me skeptical of Bradford’s ability to put it all together this year.  Perhaps the best case scenario is a Testaverde-like revival with another team years from now.

Cam Newton (48 career starts): Career RANY/A of +0.30.

Not much to see here. Newton’s RANY/A has moved from +0.3 as a rookie to +0.7 in 2012 to -0.2 last year; it went under the radar because #QBWINZ, but Newton did have a down season in 2013.  It’s hard to find any reasons for optimism for the Panthers this year after a mass exodus in the offseason, but that doesn’t say much about Newton’s long-term prospects.   Add in his rushing ability, and Newton has shown enough to say that he’s still in contention (if he’s not already there) to go down as a franchise quarterback.

Andy Dalton (48 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.01.

Look at that, Dalton is almost perfectly average! Bill Barnwell did a nice job profiling Dalton last week, and it does seem like what you see is what you will get from Dalton.  After posting slightly below-average RANY/A numbers in 2011 and 2012, he was above-average (+0.4) last year.  But the Bengals have one of the most talented offenses in the NFL if you exclude the quarterback position; at this point, you’d be hard-pressed to find many folks who believe Dalton will turn into a future star.

Of the 42 quarterbacks I looked at yesterday, 13 failed to be significantly above-average during any of their first three 16-game samples.  Dalton doesn’t really resemble any of them: Bradshaw/Testaverde/Elway/Vick were former number one picks; Brady/Favre/Krieg/Kelly were on the border of being good enough on to not make the list, and were certainly ahead of where Dalton is now; McNabb and Cunningham were running quarterbacks.  Moon played for a terrible team, and Gannon and Theismann sat for long stretches.  That’s the full thirteen. The best case scenario may be that Dalton turns into a Krieg or a poor man’s Jim Kelly.  Of course, he could also win a Super Bowl by riding the coattails of one of the more talented (and youngest) rosters in the league.

Christian Ponder (35 career starts): Career RANY/A of -1.19.

There are always excuses to be made for bad quarterbacks, and I’m sure that there are still some Vikings fans who believe in Ponder.  He produced a -1.7 RANY/A as a rookie, improved to -0.9 in 2012, but was back at -1.1 in nine starts last year.  Minnesota may not have a ton of talent at wide receiver, but Ponder’s failure to produce even with Greg Jennings is yet another strike against him. The Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the first round in the 2014 draft, which seems like the beginning of the end for the former Florida State star.

Wilson is watching game tape right now.

Wilson is watching game tape right now.

Russell Wilson (32 career starts): Career RANY/A of +1.15.

Franchise quarterback achievement badge mode: unlocked.

Ryan Tannehill (32 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.80.

Tannehill was at -0.7 RANY/A in 2012 and at -0.9 RANY/A last year; neither of those numbers put his future prospects in a positive light.  There are excuses, to be sure: he was a raw prospect, the Dolphins offensive line was the worst in the NFL, he and Mike Wallace have the chemistry of a pair of tomatoes, etc., but the numbers are bleak enough to cast doubt on Tannehill’s future.  Unless the argument is that Tannehill landed on one of the very worst offenses in the league — which would allow you to lump him in with the Aikmans, Bradshaws, Breeses, and Testaverdes of the world — there is simply no precedent for a quarterback being this below average for this long and then turning into a franchise passer.1 Barnwell is a little (and only a little) more bullish on Tannehill than I am, but 2014 would appear to be Tannehill’s last chance to convince the Dolphins that he was not a wasted pick.  There are a couple of mitigating factors here — the running game has been terrible, and as an immediate starter, Tannehill is at a disadvantage relative to other quarterbacks on this list — but I’m not going to lose sleep over whether this prediction will look bad in a few years.

Andrew Luck (32 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.06.

Since starting this site, Luck has been one of the quarterbacks I’ve profiled the most.  He wins without much help and is an ESPN QBR star, but he’s below average in ANY/A.  I’m inclined to grade Luck on a curve — after all, the Colts team he inherited didn’t look any better than the ’70 Steelers or ’89 Cowboys or ’87 Bucs.  On the other hand, Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton have given Luck some excellent targets, which has probably been enough to boost his ANY/A to league-average proportions.

Perhaps the best comparison will be to another quarterback drafted first overall by the Colts who had a magical history of producing comebacks: John Elway.  In any event, Luck’s already a franchise quarterback.

Can RG3 get up from a disastrous 2013?

Can RG3 get up from a disastrous 2013?

Robert Griffin III (29 career starts): Career RANY/A of +0.5.

Griffin’s career RANY/A is like measuring the temperature of a person with a foot in the freezer and a foot in a frying pan.  As a rookie, he had a RANY/A of +1.5; last year, it was -0.4, and that number doesn’t begin to explain how ugly things were in D.C.  The simplest explanation is that Griffin is a franchise quarterback who struggled last year as he recovered from ACL surgery and dealt with an ego-maniacal head coach.  But it’s hard to just assume Griffin is a franchise quarterback after 2013.  If Griffin one day turns into a Hall of Famer, we’ll remember that it was obvious from the start, as he had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever.  If he flames out, the first chapter of that book has already been written, too.

Blaine Gabbert (27 career starts): Career RANY/A of -2.15.

Spoiler alert: Gabbert is not a franchise quarterback.  He started at -2.2 RANY/A as a rookie on a team not dissimilar from the ’89 Cowboys; he’s followed that up, however, with a -1.2 RANY/A in 2012 and a -4.7 RANY/A over three starts last year. Suffice it to say if Gabbert turns into a franchise quarterback, it will have taken the greatest reclamation project in NFL history.

Colin Kaepernick (23 career starts): Career RANY/A of +1.06.

Kaepernick was mind-bogglingly efficient in 2012, producing a +1.6 RANY/A over 13 games and seven starts.  That number dropped to +0.8 RANY/A last year, but much of that is due to the loss of Michael Crabtree.  With an all-star crew of receivers set to take the field in 2014, I expect another very strong year out of Kaepernick. He may not be a finished product, but he already has the label (and contract) of a franchise quarterback.

Jake Locker (18 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.25.

Maybe it’s because I’m a college football guy, too, but doesn’t it feel like Locker has already been around forever? I can’t believe he only has 18 career starts. And his RANY/A is nearly league-average, even if it doesn’t feel like Locker has been even that good.  I was not a fan of him as a prospect, but he has been better than I feared.  While we shouldn’t compare Locker’s first 18 starts to those of a quarterback who started immediately, I think Locker has shown enough that you can’t just write him off just yet.  On the other hand, his numbers last year were a bit inflated by one of the NFL’s easiest schedules. Like Tannehill, this is the crucial season for Locker, who also carries with him the injury prone label. But if Locker can stay healthy and produce strong numbers, Ken Whisenhunt may prove that he really is a quarterback whisperer (to the extent he’s not whispering to someone named Skelton, or Kolb, or Anderson, or Leinart, or Lindley, or Hall….)

Nick Foles (16 career starts): Career RANY/A of +1.45

Foles had a rookie RANY/A of -0.8 before posting an absurd +3.3 RANY/A in 2013. Even the bigger Eagles homer would admit that much of Foles’ success was due to good fortune, the presence of Chip Kelly, or both.  Foles may not have arrived just yet as a franchise quarterback, but if he turns into one, nobody will ever question when we first saw a glimpse of that ability.

Geno Smith (16 career starts): Career RANY/A of -1.70.

Smith was bad — really bad — for long stretches as a rookie.  But he finished the season well, and terrible rookie numbers on a talent-deficient offense are not the death knell for a quarterback’s career.  The Jets need to see a lot more from him this year, though, and he’ll need to produce roughly league-average numbers to make the Jets think he’s not just another Mark Sanchez.

Mike Glennon (13 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.9.

Glennon had a very different rookie campaign than Smith, but the acquisition of Josh McCown sends Glennon to the bench, at least for now.  We don’t know how he’ll fare in (or when he’ll see) his next three starts, but Glennon’s performance through 16 starts likely won’t be enough to write him off.

EJ Manuel (10 career starts): Career RANY/A of -1.0.

Manuel had a rough rookie year, especially when you consider how much worse he looked than Thaddeus Lewis. On the other hand, ten starts of bad (but not horrendous) play certainly isn’t enough to write off Manuel, not when Smith was worse for a longer stretch.  Still, as with Smith, this is a big year for Manuel, especially after the team went out and acquired Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.

  1. I suppose one could point to Phil Simms, but I’d object for a couple of reasons. For one, Simms didn’t crack my initial list, checking in at #86 in my GQBOAT series.  Then again, I’ve made the argument that Simms’ numbers underrate him because of his terrible receivers, so I would morally classify Simms as a franchise quarterback. However, the Giants teams of the late ’70s and early ’80s were so terrible that he really has more in common with the Aikmans of the world than someone like Tannehill. Here is how Simms fared compared to the other Giants quarterbacks during Simms’ first three years and 1978, the year before he came to New York. That’s U-G-L-Y. But if Dolphins fans want to point to Simms as a pro-Tannehill example, so be it. []
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Jerome Bettis is a polarizing Hall of Fame candidate. I’m on the fence with the Bus; I don’t think he’s as deserving as Steelers fans think, but he’s a more deserving candidate than those who mostly remember end-of-career-Bus remember. One thing I’ve heard from time to time about Bus is that he was the greatest “big” back of all time. That’s undoubtedly true, assuming you set the weight1 high enough. Bettis had an official playing weight of 252 pounds, and no running near that weight can match his resume. Cookie Gilchrist, Pete Johnson, Marion Butts, Christian Okoye, Natrone Means, and Mike Alstott had short bursts of success, but they can’t match Bettis’ longevity. Players like Jamal Lewis, Michael Turner, Larry Csonka, Eddie George, Jim Brown, Franco Harris, John Riggins, and Earl Campbell carried the “big back” label, but all were 10-25 pounds lighter than the Bus.

I looked at every running back in history, and calculated his number of rushing yards over 500 in each season (to avoid giving undue weight to compilers). After adjusting for season length, I then calculated career grades in this statistic. In the graph below, the Y-Axis shows this career rushing grade, while the X-axis displays weights. Bettis is represented on the far right with the code “BettJe00.”

[click to continue…]

  1. Try the veal. []
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I’m still short on time, so let’s keep the trivia train rolling.  Yesterday, I looked at the players with the most receiving yards in their last 16 regular season games. Today, the players with the most rushing yards in their last 16 games.

Excluding LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, and Doug Martin, only five players have rushed for over 1,500 yards in their final sixteen games.  The record-holder rushed for 1,702 yards in his final sixteen games.  Do you know who it is?

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One other player rushed for at least 1,600 yards in his last 16 games  Can you name him?

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What about the other three players who rushed for 1,500 yards in their careers? All three retired early.

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