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Yards per Play Statistics Through Eight Weeks

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:


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?

  • As a contrast to your Patriots point, the Packers are a great example of an iffy team that suddenly loses it’s all universe quarterback. After seeing them play the last two games, it’s amazing to think that at one point they were 4-1 and considered the favorite to win the NFC. Now I’m not sure they’ll win 2 more games the rest of the year. It’s really exposing how mediocre the Packers are in all areas except quarterback – particularly on defense. Seeing them 27th on here and looking pretty bad in almost everything on this list (except for rushing yards per carry – way to go Aaron Jones!), makes me think that any talk of Aaron Rodgers coming back in December and saving the day is foolish. The Packers statistically look more like one of the Don Majkowski teams of 25-30 years ago than a legitimate contender.

  • Joseph Holley

    If you want to take this even further, add in turnovers–maybe like ANY/A does–because IMO, that’s where the “discrepancies” in this table lie (and you state this in the Bills’ comment). Let’s be honest, if you pull a boneheaded play like the Lions receiver did by fumbling untouched! after your pass reception, those yards mean nothing.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Eagles just traded for Miami’s Jay Ajayi this morning, so it will be interesting to see what happens next.

    • I just saw that. What is going on? Ajayi has all but 70 of their team rushing yards and is their yards from scrimmage leader by 141 yards. All for a 4th round pick. And he’s 24 years old!! Are they trying to lose? They were a playoff team last year and are in the mix this year. This makes no sense.

      • sacramento gold miners

        Rumor has it Ajayi is a selfish player, that’s coming from Miami.

      • Mark Growcott

        The Dolphins are also willing to trade their best Receiver, Jarvis Landry. This is a team quickly becoming devoid of talent. The Dolphins are on SNF this coming week but the game should have been flexed out after that debacle against the Ravens, surely there was a better option for SNF.

      • Richie

        Adam Gase came out saying that there are players on the team who don’t love playing and don’t know the plays. He said this included some of the stars. Now that he’s been traded, I think it’s safe to assume that Ajayi was one of them.

        Aside from three games of 200+ yards last year, I feel like Ajayi hasn’t really been all that effective. He had two 100+ yard games this year and another 100+ last year. But he hasn’t had any games between 80 and 110 rushing yards in his career. He’s boom or bust.

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  • Tom

    I’m with you on the Falcons…they’re kind of like a dark horse this year. Their offense hasn’t been outstanding, but it’s still very good, and their defense isn’t lights out, but it’s still good. They’ve got the Saints to deal with now, but they’re not out of the hunt in that division…

    • Richie

      People think Matt Ryan isn’t playing well. His numbers right now are pretty much in line with his career averages. But nowhere near his insane season last year. Julio Jones’ stats are way down from his career averages.

      One advantage Atlanta has is that all 3 losses have come against the AFC. That should help them out with tiebreakers, if they can improve their W/L the rest of the way.

      • It’s interesting that you say Julio’s stats are down. They are, but only kind of.

        Last year, he averaged 10.9 yards per target and saw 24% of ATL targets.
        This year, he’s averaging 9.6 yards per target and is seeing 25% of ATL targets.

        His catch rate has gone up slightly, so the cause is a drop in YPC from 17.0 to 14.6. We’ll see if that keeps up.

        Mohammed Sanu has dropped from 8.1 Y/T to 7.4, while his target rate moved from 15% to 18%.

        The real change is someone like Taylor Gabriel, who had 9% of targets but averaged an insane 11.6 Y/T last year. This year, he’s at 13%, but just 6.5 Y/T. Tevin Coleman has also seen a similar decline (10.5, 8% to 8.1, 10%).

  • Richie

    The other category where the Patriots are doing well, and usually seem to do well, is starting field position. They are tied with Kansas City for the league lead in opponents’ starting field position, with an average of 24.8 yard line.

    I think the Patriots normally do pretty well at starting offensive position as well. But this year they are only mid-pack at 28.2 yard line.

    But combined, they are 5th in the league at average field position: with a 3.4 yard field position advantage over their opponents.

    Kansas City (5.5), Dallas (5.3), New Orleans (4.6) and the Rams (4.3) are ahead of them. Denver is the worst at -6.5.

    The Rams are crushing it on offensive field position, with an average start at their own 33.5 yard line. That might be a hidden indicator to watch for if the Rams start to struggle. Although they rank 23rd in defensive field position; so maybe they’ll get closer to the mean on both sides.

    • Tom

      Richie – good insight on the field position. This has been discussed on this site numerous times, and in my mind, the Patriots special teams/coaching, whatever you want to call it, is significant part of their success. They ALWAYS have great field position, on both sides of the ball, they’re always ranking pretty high in special teams DVOA, etc. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see them perhaps not have as much success this year if those special teams fall off a bit. I’m NOT saying they’re going to stink, just saying there is a connection there, as you point out.

      • I know I sound like a broken record, but one of the reasons NE consistently has good starting field position is because their offense is so careful with the ball. It’s much easier to keep opponent field position in check when you’re not throwing a bunch of interceptions.

        When the offense helps the defense have good field position, that in turn helps the defense give the offense better field position, which in turn helps the offense give the defense better field position, etc., etc., etc. This has nothing to do with the quality of the defense. A trustworthy offense doesn’t make the defense better, but it keeps it from having to be better as often. Same in reverse, a la the 2015 Panthers. Cam was terrific, but he sure got a lot of field position help scoring all those touchdowns.

        • Tom

          Agreed; if you’re taking care of the ball, you’re most likely giving your defense more opportunities for stops due to consistently pinning the opposing defense inside their own 20 (or whatever).

          I’m also a broken record talking about the Pats special teams. I probably overstate its impact, but I do think it’s an important part of their success, especially during the years when the defense started to decline (meaning, e.g., not Top 10 DVOA) in the later 2000’s.

  • Duff Soviet Union

    One other way Buffalo looks unsustainable is their 3rd down offense.

    Football Outsiders has shown that teams are generally as good on third down as on first and second and that if a team’s third down performance deviates markedly from their first and second down offense, there will usually be a correction towards that performance.

    They’ve got Buffalo with the overall 18th best offense, but 5th on 3rd down. 24th on 1st down, 15th on 2nd and 5th on 3rd.

    That’s actually nothing compared to the crazy Rams split. 28/28/3 by down. Once some of those third down conversions dry up, they could be in a bit of trouble.

    Looking at defense, Philly, San Diego, Carolina and KC stand out as overperforming on 3rd down, whereas New Orleans, the Rams and especially Arizona have generally been good but allowed a lot of third down conversions.

    Over the second half, I’d expect the Rams offense to get worse but their defense should be better which would make them more like the team people thought they’d be at the start of the year.