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NYT Fifth Down: Post-week 10

This week at the New York Times I looked at several interesting statistical developments in both the 2012 season and in week 10.

Even in today’s pass-happy N.F.L., it pays to have one of the best running backs. In one of the bigger surprises of the season, the best of the best is Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson.

He’s a four-time Pro Bowler and a two-time first-team All-Pro selection, but few expected a big year out of Peterson. That’s because last year, on Christmas Eve, Peterson tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee against the Redskins. Such a brutal injury often permanently robs a player of his elite ability; the rule of thumb tells us that it’s not until the second full season after the injury that the player regains his old form, if he ever does.

An injury so late in the 2011 season had most people figuring his 2012 season would be a lost year. Instead, Peterson leads the league in rushing with 1,128 yards and is on pace for a remarkable 1,804. Peterson is the first player since 2009 to rush for 1,100 yards in his team’s first 10 games, and he’s showing no signs of slowing. He has rushed for 629 yards in his last four games, including an impressive 171 rushing yards in a victory over the Lions on Sunday.

Peterson is also averaging 5.75 yards per rush the season, the most among players with at least 100 carries. He joins Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Chris Johnson as players with 1,100 or more rushing yards and such a high yards-per-carry average after his team’s first ten games.

Minnesota’s passing game ranks 26th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt and last in the league in yards per completion, a sign of an offense that doesn’t stretch the field through the air. But despite a passing attack that doesn’t scare any defense, thanks to Peterson, Minnesota is 6-4 and a potential playoff team.

The Return of Megatron

For most of the season, N.F.L. fans wondered what was wrong with Calvin Johnson. It wasn’t until the final minutes of Detroit’s loss to the Vikings on Sunday that Matthew Stafford and Johnson connected on a touchdown pass this season (Johnson did catch a touchdown pass from Shaun Hill earlier this year). Well, after a 207-yard game against Minnesota, Johnson is again leading the league in receiving yards. With 974 yards in nine games, Johnson is actually ahead of last year’s pace, when he gained a league-high 1,681 yards. The big difference: in 2011, he caught 16 touchdown passes, but he has only two in 2012.

Continued Dominance in New England

When it comes to the Patriots, mind-boggling offensive numbers are the norm. That means we occasionally ignore just how impressively the New England machine is operating. The Patriots lead the league in points scored, yards gained and first downs. Since 1990, only the 1993 49ers, the 1997 Broncos, the 2001 Rams and the 2007 Patriots have finished first in each metric.

The Patriots are averaging 33.2 points per game, 3.1 points more than the second-place Broncos. At 430.3 yards per game, the Patriots far outpace the rest of the league; Detroit (406.1) is the only other team averaging more than 400 yards per game.

But where New England really stands out is the 259 first downs it has gained. Last year, New Orleans set the N.F.L. record for first downs in a season with 416; the 2011 Patriots also broke the old record (held by the 2003 Kansas City Chiefs) with 399. This year’s team is on pace for an incredible 460 first downs. And the Patriots are on pace to crush the record in a surprising way: New England leads the N.F.L. in rushing first downs with 92, and Stevan Ridley leads all running backs with 54 rushing first downs.

You can read the full article here.

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