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NYT Fifth Down: Post-week 16

This week at the New York Times I looked at some record-breaking performances from week 16.

Sunday was a record-setting day in the N.F.L. In case you missed it …

  • The rookie Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh connected on a 56-yard field goal in the second quarter against the Texans, making him the first kicker with nine field goals of 50 yards or longer in a season. Even more impressive: Walsh is 9 of 9 from 50-plus yards this year.
  • Kansas City rushed for 352 yards against the Colts, easily breaking the record for rushing yards gained in a losing effort and also for rushing yards differential in a loss. How do you lose when you rush for so many yards? Brady Quinn threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and threw another pick in the Colts’ end zone. Another Chiefs drive ended on a fumble inside the Colts’ 20-yard-line. But the turning point of the game may have been when Quinn was stuffed on a fourth-and-1, one of the few times in the game that the Colts’ run defense won the battle at the line of scrimmage.
  • In the same game, Jamaal Charles recorded the 750th carry of his career, giving him enough rushing attempts to be eligible for the career yards-per-carry title. Jim Brown averaged 5.22 yards per carry during his Browns career. That’s now second highest among running backs in N.F.L. history. Charles has a mind-boggling 5.82 average gain over his five-year career.
  • Brown might take a back seat to another running back this season. Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller has averaged 6.48 yards per carry this year on 183 carries, the highest single-season average of any player with that many carries. The previous record holder was Brown, who averaged 6.40 yards per rush in 1963.
  • It’s been another remarkable season for Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez, but he actually was nudged out of the record books this weekend. In 2004, Gonzalez set the single-season record for receptions by a tight end with 102, but Dallas’s Jason Witten caught his 103rd pass of the season in overtime against the Saints on Sunday.
  • The Seattle Seahawks have outscored their last three opponents, 150-30. That 120-point margin of victory is the largest differential in a three-game span in 70 years. In 1942, the Chicago Bears won three straight games and did it with a combined 127-7 score; the year before, Chicago outscored its opponents, 136-14, over a three-game stretch.

Mega Record for Megatron

Of course, the most noteworthy individual record to fall this past weekend was Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving record of 1,848 yards. Calvin Johnson needed only 15 games to break the record Saturday night, and with 1,892 yards, he has a good chance of becoming the first N.F.L. receiver to hit the 2,000-yard mark.

With 225 yards against the Falcons, he also became the first player to gain 100 receiving yards in eight straight games and to collect 10 receptions in four straight games. For Johnson, it was his fifth career game (including the postseason) with at least 200 receiving yards, tying him with Lance Alworth and Rice for the most 200-yard games since 1960.

Detroit has averaged 47 pass attempts per game, and will set the single-season record for attempts on its 12th pass attempt Sunday. Most of those passes have come from the right arm of Matthew Stafford, who threw 663 passes in 2011, (now) the fourth-highest number ever. On his seventh pass in Week 17 against the Bears, he’ll set the record, and he needs just 15 passes to become the first quarterback with 700 pass attempts in a season.

You can check out the full post here.

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NYT Fifth Down: Post-week 15

A double post at the New York Times this week.

Did you know that Alex Smith is seven attempts away from qualifying for eligibility for certain rate-based statistics? If Jim Harbaugh wants to game the system — and this is Harbaugh — he could ptobably that Smith breaks the completion percentage record, set by Drew Brees in 2011.

I also looked at how the playoff field will be very familiar this year:

With two weeks remaining in the N.F.L. regular season, seven teams have clinched a playoff berth and several more can clinch this weekend. Chances are, two weeks from now, the teams in the playoffs will look pretty familiar to N.F.L. fans.

In the A.F.C. in 2011, the Patriots, the Ravens, the Texans and the Broncos won the East, North, South and West Divisions. New England, Houston and Denver have already clinched their divisions in 2012, and even the free-falling Ravens are still the favorites to win the A.F.C. North. That would give the conference four repeat division winners, a first since the league moved to the four-division format in 2002.

Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals were the two wild-card teams. Well, those two teams are currently battling for a wild-card spot, and it would be a surprise if both teams are left out of the playoffs. That would leave one spot in the A.F.C., which is most likely going to go to the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts did not make the playoffs in 2011 — in fact, the team had the worst record in the league — but they did make the playoffs every year from 2002 to 2010.

From 2009 to 2011, half of the conference — the Ravens (6), Jets (6), Patriots (5), Steelers (4), Colts (4), Broncos (2), Texans (2), and Bengals (2) — played in 31 of the A.F.C.’s 33 playoff games, and barring the miraculous (the 6-8 Dolphins are technically still alive), that won’t change this year. The last time a Tom Brady-led team didn’t make the playoffs was in 2002; the last time Peyton Manning’s team missed out on the postseason was in 2001. In the A.F.C., some things never change.

The N.F.C. features only slightly more turnover. Green Bay is going to the playoffs for the fourth straight season while Atlanta will be there for the fourth time in the five-year Matt Ryan/Mike Smith“>Mike Smith era. San Francisco has a good chance of securing a first-round bye for the second year in a row. That leaves just three remaining spots.

Seattle, winner of a playoff game just two years ago, is likely to be back in the postseason as well. The Giants, winners of two of the last five Super Bowls, will make the playoffs if they win their final two games. Chicago and Dallas are no strangers to the playoffs, and one might make it again this year. The real “surprise” teams in the N.F.C. are Minnesota — which did go to the N.F.C. championship game three years ago — and Washington. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were the first two picks in the draft and may power their teams to the playoffs this year. When it comes to the 2012 season, that qualifies as unpredictable.

Your weekly updates on Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson

At this point, it’s getting impossible to write a statistical column without talking about Adrian Peterson“>Adrian Peterson. The Vikings gained just 322 yards against the Rams on Sunday, but Adrian Peterson“>Adrian Peterson ran for 212, accounting for 66 percent of the Minnesota offense. It was the fourth time this season — and in the last two months — that Peterson has rushed for at least 8 yards per carry on 15-plus carries; since 1960, only Barry Sanders (5) and Peterson have accomplished such a feat in a season.

In one of the most incredible stats of this or any year, Peterson has rushed for 1,313 yards in his last eight games, the most by a player in an eight-game stretch since at least 1960. From 1960 to 2011, only four men rushed for 1,200 yards in that span. In 1977, Walter Payton rushed for 1,221 yards over an eight-game stretch; three years later, Earl Campbell rushed for 1,245 yards in half a season. In 2005, Kansas City’s Larry Johnson gained 1,244 rushing yards in the last eight games of the year. Before Peterson, Eric Dickerson held the record for rushing yards in an eight-game stretch; Dickerson rushed for 1,292 yards in the last five games of the ’84 season and the first three games of 1985.

For more on Peterson and Calvin Johnson, along with some interesting week 15 stats, check the full article here.

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Running back success rate

Grading running backs can be tricky; rushing yards tell much of the story but remain a function of opportunity (itself an indicator of talent). Yards per carry sounds nice but often is more misleading than revealing. Last year at Smartfootball.com I analyzed team rushing games using rush success rate, and I will do the same today. Success rate has been around for awhile – The Hidden Game of Football wrote about it in the late ’80s and Football Outsiders has been tracking it for close to a decade. Everyone has their own unique definition, it seems; here is mine.

C.J. Spiller is a success.

  • I started with every play from scrimmage where a running back was credited with a carry. I then removed all instances of 3rd or 4th down carries where the back needed to gain more than 5 yards for a first down, since the primary goal in these situations usually isn’t to get the first down. However, on the rare occasions where a running back did convert for the first down, those plays were kept in the data set. This has only happened 20 times this season.
  • On 3rd and 4th down, a success is a rush that gains a first down (or touchdown). A failure is every carry that does not result in a first down.
  • On 2nd down, a success is achieved when the player gains at least 50% of the yards needed for the first down. This means that 2nd-and-8 runs are failures unless they pick up 4 yards; on 2nd-and-7, the running back must also gain at least 4 yards. A rush for one yard on 2nd-and-3 is a failure, and so on.
  • On 1st down, a running back is credited with a successful carry if he gains at least 40% of the yards needed; therefore, four yards are required on 1st-and-10 before the running back is given credit. On 1st and goal from the 5, a two-yard gain would be considered a success.

The league average success rate by these rules is 49.8%. The table below lists all running backs with at least 50 carries, along with their number of rushes (which excludes the excluded carries), number of successful runs, and their success rate. The table is sorted by the far right column, which shows how many successes over 50% of their runs the player had. In the event of a tie, the player with more carries was ranked higher.
[click to continue…]

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