Let’s run through six of yesterday’s games and look at some of the more interesting stats from week 2:
Carolina 35, New Orleans 27
We need to incentivize this defense: Half of Carolina’s ten drives went for 58 yards or more, with four of them ending in touchdowns. Like every year since Sean Payton and Drew Brees came to town save 2009, this Saints defense simply isn’t very good. New Orleans allowed the Panthers offense to score 4 touchdowns a week after allowing the Redskins offense to score 4 touchdowns. The Saints ranked last in expected points added and win probability added, and I don’t know if there’s much reason for optimism in New Orleans. The offense is operating at something below peak levels but above the standards of mere mortals, and that will be enough against some opponents. New Orleans’ pass defense ranked last in PFR’s Expected Points Added metric in week 1, and then allowed three Panthers to rush for over 50 yards on Sunday. Against the Chiefs this week, the Saints can just bring their offense and win, but a week 4 trip to Lambeau Field could be a season-defining game for New Orleans.
To be the best…: For Carolina, knocking off the Saints is the next step towards becoming a playoff contender. The Panthers struggled in close games last year and in week 1, and Cam Newton still has just one 4th quarter comeback win in his career. But beating a team that swept them last year is a sign that Carolina still could be a breakout team in 2012, despite that ugly performance against Tampa Bay in week 1. Oh, and since this is called Stats Recap…. Cam Newton now has 3 games with 250 yards passing, 50 yards rushing, and at least one touchdown on the ground and through the air. Since 1960, only Jeff Garcia, Kordell Stewart and Steve Young have reached those marks three times, and none of them hit those thresholds a 4th time. And in case you forgot, yesterday was Cam Newton’s 18th game of his career.
Indianapolis 23, Minnesota 20
Rookie quarterback saves rookie coach. Andrew Luck had impressive numbers — he gained 224 yards on 31 passes and threw 2 touchdowns — but he was outstanding against the Vikings. He led all quarterbacks in Expected Points Added and ESPN’s Total QBR, a sign of just how effective he was against the Vikings. And he was at his best late. Following a Minnesota touchdown to tie the game, the Colts got the ball on their own 20 with 31 seconds remaining. Luck threw consecutive deep passes to Donnie Avery and Reggie Wayne for 20 yards, and a Minnesota offsides penalty wiped out his third throw, a seven-yard completion to Avery. The Colts kicked the game winning field goal in the first of what should be many performances where Luck was the main reason the Colts won.On the coaching front, it was disappointing. With 2 minutes to go in the first half, the Colts faced 3rd and 1 on the Minnesota 8-yard line. Indianapolis ran up the middle for no gain, and then kicked the field goal. Going for it on 4th-and-1 is an obvious no brainer, even if it going for it is slightly less valuable as the half is winding down (in the event of a failed conversion, you have pinned your opponent back and are likely to score next; the calculus changes a bit with only 120 seconds remaining). This comes after last week, when Chuck Pagano elected to punt on 4th and 1 on the Bears 47-yard-line.
But Pagano’s biggest blunder came later. Following the Vikings offsides penalty, the Colts faced 1st and 5 from the Minnesota 35-yard-line. Adam Vinatieri may be the clutchest kicker to ever miss two field goals in the Super Bowl, but a 52-yarder is no gimme. You can run a quarterback sneak and stop the clock if you want to be ultra conservative, or try a regular pass play to the sidelines. Instead, Indianapolis asked Luck to spike the ball (perhaps thinking the clock wasn’t stopped from the previous play) and then kicked the field goal with 12 seconds left. If Vinatieri missed, the Vikings would get the ball near midfield with the chance to run a play. That’s terrible clock management. At a minimum, you need to call a play to run five or so seconds off the clock. As it turns out, Vinatieri hit the 53-yarder and the Colts won, but that doesn’t mean Pagano earned any points for how he handled the final minute of the game.
He played with Tim Tebow: Adrian Peterson suffered an ankle injury in week 12 last sesaon against the Raiders, and in his absence, the Vikings began to rely more on Percy Harvin. Over his last 8 games, Harvin now has 62 catches for 696 yards along with 31 rushes for 154 yards. Harvin is as involved in his team’s offense as much as any non-quarterback, non-receiver in the game.
New York Giants 41, Tampa Bay 34
Let’s just admit it and move on. ESPN’s Total QBR system grades quarterbacks on a scale from 1 to 100, where 50 is average and a a 65 or 70 is a Pro Bowl-type season. Here were Eli Manning’s ratings each quarter against Tampa Bay: 85.5 (1st quarter), 2.0 (not a misprint — he had three interceptions in the 2nd quarter), 48.7 (3rd quarter), and 99.6 (4th quarter). Eli Manning is now the clutchiest clutch quarterback ever. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz were the two top players in receiving yards in week 2, as Eli Manning threw for a ridiculous 510 yards on 51 passes. Eli Manning (2) joins Dan Marino (3), Drew Brees (2), Boomer Esiason (2) and Kurt Warner (2) as the only players to have multiple games with both 400 yards and 3 interceptions.
Learning to finish. For only the third time in Tampa Bay history, the Buccaneers allowed 25 points in the 4th quarter. And just like the last time it happened, a Manning was responsible. Take a look at the Tampa Bay Win Probability chart, courtesy of Brian Burke:
Excluding their one play drive on The Kneel, the Giants scored on their last five drives and scored touchdowns on their last 3 drives. In light of that, it’s fair to wonder if the Buccaneers defense was simply gassed. Consider that on the Bucs’ last 11 drives, they ran just 39 plays. New York ran 76 plays in the game, and outgained Tampa Bay 604-307 in total yards and 31-14 in first downs. Tampa Bay scored touchdowns on drives of 2, 3 and 5 plays (not including an unbelievable interception return by Eric Wright), but otherwise, their short drives had no silver lining. Don’t just look at the 34 points and assume this offense has arrived. Josh Freeman was sacked or threw an incomplete pass (or interception) on half of his 30 dropbacks, and rookie Doug Martin averaged just 3.3 yards per carry on 20 rushes.
Houston 27, Jacksonville 7
Deja vu?: December 26, 2004, was one of the darkest days in the history of Jaguars football. Jacksonville set a franchise low by gaining just 117 yards against the Texans, a mark that stood up until… Houston came to town yesterday. The weather was bad and the Texans defense is very good, but there is no lipstick to put on an offense that gained 117 yards. Jacksonville was outgained by 294 yards, breaking the previous franchise record set in a loss to the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts. The offense looked every bit as bad as it did in 2011, and Blaine Gabbert had a success rate of just 23%, the lowest mark by any quarterback yet this season.
Now to the conference schedule: So far, the Texans season more closely resembles that of a powerhouse college football team than of an NFL squad, as Houston has played what amounted to two tune up games against Floridian cellar dwellers. Arian Foster has now played two games where his main role seems to be “clock-chewer.” On the season, he now has 54 carries for 189 yards and 3 touchdowns. He joins LaDainian Tomlinson (2001), Marcus Allen (1988), Joe Morris (1986) and John Riggins (1983) as the only players to have 50 carries, at least 2 rushing touchdowns and fewer than 3.6 yards per carry after his team’s first two games. As a team, Houston has an incredible 83 carries this season; only five teams since 1990 had more. Over the next five weeks, Houston plays the Broncos and Jets on the road and also faces Green Bay and Baltimore. The conference schedule is about to begin.
Arizona 20, New England 18
It’s not the offense, stupid. The Cardinals intercepted Tom Brady on the Patriots first play from scrimmage; on the ensuing possession, Arizona’s offense stalled and kicked a field goal after gaining just seven yards. Later, Arizona’s special teams blocked a punt and set the offense up at the 2, which managed to punch it in for the score after three plays. On Arizona’s other 10 drives, they scored just 10 points. The Cardinals gained an anemic 245 yards of offense, the second lowest amount by any victorious opponent in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. The previous low was 231, which came in that whacky Dolphins upset on Monday Night Football in December 2004 when Miami scored 2 touchdowns in the final 2:30 to win 29-28. In New England’s previous 10 regular season losses, the defense allowed an average of 414 yards per game, signaling the usual method to beating New England. The Cardinals didn’t run well — 33 carries for 105 yards — and they certainly didn’t pass well, gaining just 140 net yards on 28 dropbacks. Of course, giving Kevin Kolb credit for the victory would only even things out in the never-ending quarterback battle in the desert, as John Skelton received credit for 4 4th quarter comebacks and 5 game-winning drives in 8 games in 2011, despite playing like John Skelton. The real takeaway is that the Cardinals defense and special teams could be enough to carry a bad offense to the playoffs.
A stopped clock is right twice a day, and the Patriots are wrong twice a year. Every year it seems the Patriots have a couple of head-scratching performances en route to the #1 seed in the AFC. New England uncharacteristically committed 4 turnovers in losses to Buffalo and the Giants last year. In 2010, the team set a league record with just 10 turnovers on the season, but there were three apiece in losses to the Jets and Browns. This performance was slightly different, as New England had just one turnover (but the blocked punt functions as one). But it’s going to take more than one bad game to spend too much time worrying about the Patriots offense.Still, even if the Patriots had won the game on a last-second field goal, we would all still be wondering what happened to the New England offense. Last week, Stevan Ridley became just the 2nd Patriot to rush for 125 yards since the start of the 2009 season. Against the Cardinals, New England rushed 28 times, tied for the most in any Patriots loss since 2009. In addition to a more run-oriented offense, it looks like New England is simply phasing Wes Welker out of the offense. In week 1, Welker played in just 42 of 67 snaps, saw only five targets, and had three receptions for 14 yards. And according to Greg Bedard, in 15 snaps against Arizona when the Pats placed 1 RB, 2 TEs, and 2 WRs on the field, Wes Welker played 2 snaps while Julian Edelman played 13 (presumably Brandon Lloyd was on the field for close to if not all 15 of those snaps). For the game, Mike Reiss reported that Julian Edelman was on the field for 75 plays compared to 63 for Welker. It appears that at a minimum, Welker has been demoted behind Edelman. The injury to Aaron Hernandez, perhaps a high-ankle sprain that will keep him out for six-to-eight weeks, may make this a moot point, as the Patriots will probably flood the field with three wideouts on most plays. But until the Patriots offense starts to look like the unit that was on a scorched-earth run for much of 2011, questions will remain about what’s actually going on in New England.
Pittsburgh 27, New York Jets 10
It’s good work if you can get it: In the opener in Denver, the Steelers defense faced just seven drives (excluding end-of-half kneeldowns) from the Broncos offense; the other 31 defenses, on average, saw 10.7 drives in week 1. Against the Jets, it was a similar story, as Pittsburgh faced just three Jets drives in the first half. In the second half, New York’s first five drives all ended in a punt, and the clock ran out on one final, meaningless possession. Pittsburgh faced the second fewest offensive drives in 2011, so we’ll have to keep an eye on this. One of my favorite parts of Football Outsiders is their drives stats page, as production per drive is much more important than overall production.
In week 1, Ben Roethlisberger was 9-of-12 when facing 3rd-and-4+ situations, including 7 first downs on 9 third-and-six situations. Roethlisberger was a little less effective against the Jets, but he still converted 5 of the 10 third down situations he faced (including a 25-yard gain on an impossible 3rd-and-32). He threw a 37-yard touchdown to Mike Wallace on 3rd and 16 that changed the game, and used his athleticism to convert several other key third downs. Roethlisberger’s raw numbers were great, but what stood out to me was how consistently good he was. And on Sunday, he had the highest success rate of any quarterback. His raw numbers were very good, but it was his advanced numbers that made him one of Sunday’s best players.
Second verse, same as last season: Mark Sanchez didn’t have a good game, but he might have been one of the Jets better players on offense. The numbers speak for themselves — 10/27, 138 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 2 sacks, 9 yards lost — but the offensive line and the wide receivers were just as much to blame as the quarterback. But regardless of who should bear the blame, it was the 5th time in Sanchez’ career that he completed fewer than 40% of his passes. It was also the 3rd time since 2010 that Sanchez threw at least 25 passes but failed to complete at least 40% of them; over that time frame, all other quarterbacks have failed to meet that threshold while throwing 25 passes just ten times. But Sanchez was just a product of an offense that couldn’t get much going. Right tackle Austin Howard came back to earth, Santonio Holmes let nearly every pass thrown to him hit the earth, and Stephen Hill couldn’t be found anywhere on earth. For the Jets, week 2 was a failure by everyone on offense. And based on the previous paragraph, you can imagine how well the defense fared without Darrelle Revis.