Through eight weeks, the Philadelphia Eagles have the best record in the NFL at 7-1. But it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars who have arguably been the most impressive team in the league this year on a per-play basis.
Jacksonville is averaging 6.42 net yards per pass play this year, which is simply passing yards (net of sack yards lost) divided by pass attempts (including sacks). That ranks 15th in the NFL, but more impressively, the Jaguars are allowing just 4.22 net yards per pass to opposing passers, easily the best rate in the NFL. Jacksonville also has a very weird rushing split: the Jaguars rank 1st in yards per carry (4.97) but last in yards per carry allowed (5.16).
The Eagles are much more balanced, though not necessarily more impressive: Philadelphia ranks 10th in NY/A, 15th in YPC, 14th in NY/A allowed, and 12th in YPC allowed. ((One reason the Eagles are 7-1: the team ranks 2nd in red zone percentage and 1st in goal-to-go percentage, which means Philadelphia has been able to convert those yards into points. The Eagles defense ranks 15th in both categories).
The table below shows the per play yardage statistics on both pass and rushing plays for each team’s offense and defense this year. It also shows the raw yardage margin per game. Finally, I calculated a grade for each team that places twice as much weight on the passing game as the rushing game. The grade column is simply (NY/A – Opp NY/A) *2 + (YPC – Opp YPC). As you can see, Jacksonville tops that category, in large part because of the team’s pass defense:
|Rk||Tm||W||L||W-L%||Yds Marg/G||NY/A||YPC||Opp NY/A||Opp YPC||Grade|
One thing that’s perhaps gone unnoticed this year is how bad the Patriots have been on a per-play basis. How bad? Well, New England is allowing 6.59 yards per play this year, which is… the worst performance by any defense through eight games since the merger in 1970. The Patriots rank 31st in pass defense and 31st in rush defense on a per-play basis. That’s remarkably bad. Despite how good the offense has been, New England’s defense has arguably been worse. The Patriots rank 2nd in Net Yards per Pass, but their defense is allowing more yards per pass than the offense has been gaining!
So is that 6-2 record a mirage? In some ways, yes. While NFL teams have made 84% of field goals this year, the Patriots opponents have made just 9 of 16 attempts. The Patriots trailed the Texans by five in the final minute, and needed a 3rd-and-18 conversion to keep that drive along before scoring the game-winning touchdown. The Patriots went 4/4 on field goals against the Bucs, while Tampa Bay went 0/3, in a 5-point Patriots win; that sort of thing is very unlikely to repeat itself. A 7-point win against the Jets included a Jets touchdown called back and turned into a fumble and the Patriots ball in a very controversial decision.
New England is always going to be in a position to win close games because of great coaching and quarterback play, but the 6-2 record certainly overstates how good the team has been. Right now, opposing passers are basically equaling Tom Brady, and opposing runners are outgaining the Patriots committee of backs. I don’t know how sustainable that is — I would probably expect both of those things to flip in New England’s favor over the back half of the season — but it’s also not sustainable to win 75% of those games while being outplayed on a per-play basis.
And speaking of unsustainable, the Buffalo Bills are 5-2 despite being outgained on a per-play basis. The Bills are 27th in yardage margin, and that number *is* misleading because Buffalo has faced the 2nd most pass attempts while throwing the 2nd fewest. The Bills are 18th in this per-play metric, which more accurately reflects the team’s play. But the 5-2 record? That’s due to one reason: Buffalo has forced 17 turnovers, while giving the ball away just 3 times. The Bills are tied with the Chiefs for the fewest turnovers in the NFL, and tied with the Ravens for the most takeaways. That’s not as sustainable as a team’s per-play success, so the Bills will either need to get better in the second half of the season, or that record will likely come crashing back towards .500.
Finally, one note on the Falcons, who have largely underwhelmed this year. The future still looks bright to me: Atlanta ranks in the top five in both passing and rushing efficiency, while the defense has been slightly above-average. The Falcons may be lucky to even be 4-3 — Atlanta has scored one more point than it has allowed, and 3 of the team’s 4 wins were basically coin-flip games — but the fundamental play is still strong.
What stands out to you?