NFC South: ESPN's Stats & Information

Important programming note for Sunday

December, 4, 2010
TAMPA, Fla. -- As we previously mentioned, Sunday’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers barely will get any television play across most of the country.

So, if you want to follow the best game in the 4:15 p.m. ET time slot, I’ve got a suggestion. Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson, the folks from ESPN’s Stats & Information and I will be featuring the game on "Countdown Live." For those who haven’t participated in that before, I strongly recommend.

It’s essentially a live chat where readers can interact with other readers and the ESPN folks. Matt and I will offer our analysis and the stats people will provide lots of stats. This will go on throughout the entire game and it’s a feature that I’ve had a lot of fun with this season when games I’ve covered have been selected for "Countdown Live."

I hope you can join us. We’ll post an item on the NFC South Blog an hour or two before kickoff that will give you all the links you need to get in there. At least in NFC South Blogland, we’re going to give this game the attention it deserves. I’ll be live from Raymond James Stadium.

Superlatives on the Atlanta Falcons

November, 28, 2010
ATLANTA -- Let's turn to ESPN Stats & Information and the Falcons' media relations department for notes on Atlanta's 20-17 victory against Green Bay.
  • Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan had success throwing out of personnel packages with at least three wide receivers, completing 14 of 17 passes for 109 yards, a touchdown and a 113.0 passer rating.
  • Ryan was outstanding when the Packers put five or more defensive backs on the field. Green Bay actually came into the game in great shape in that category. The Packers had allowed passers a 58.5 completion percentage and a 69.0 passer rating in the first 11 weeks. Ryan completed 83.3 percent of his passes for a 112.7 passer rating.
  • Ryan did much of his damage in the short passing game. On throws shorter than 15 yards, he completed 91.3 percent of his passes for seven yards per attempt and a 114.7 passer rating. In the first 11 weeks, Ryan had a 66.0 completion percentage, averaged 5.5 yards per attempts and an 89.7 passer rating.
  • Atlanta running back Michael Turner wasn't slowed a bit when he faced eight or more defenders in the box. In those situations, Turner averaged 5.8 yards per carry, ran for four first downs and one touchdown. Against seven or fewer defenders in the box, Turner averaged 3.8 yards per carry and had one first down and zero touchdowns.
  • Atlanta's Matt Bryant had his 12th career winning field goal and his third for the Falcons this season.
  • The Falcons now have played a franchise-record four straight games without a turnover.
  • Receiver Roddy White became the 12th receiver in NFL history to have four consecutive seasons with at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards. White is on pace for 122 catches 1,550 yards and 10 touchdowns.
  • Ryan has now thrown a touchdown in 10 straight games. In his career, the Falcons are 26-7 when Ryan passes for a touchdown.

Saints still bringing blitz from DBs

November, 17, 2010
Even though the Saints have endured a bunch of injuries among their defensive backs, it hasn’t stopped coordinator Gregg Williams from being aggressive with his secondary.

According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, the Saints have blitzed a defensive back on 59 plays in which opponents have attempted a pass. Opponents have completed only 25 of those passes (42.4 percent) and have a combined 46.6 passer rating. The only defense in the league with a better opposing passer rating when blitzing defensive backs is Philadelphia (44.4).

When blitzing defensive backs, the Saints have not allowed a touchdown while producing two interceptions and seven sacks.

For comparison, let’s look at the rest of the NFC South defenses when blitzing defensive backs. The Falcons rank No. 9 in the league with a 67.9 opposing passer rating, but they’ve allowed three touchdowns in those situations. They’ve also produced four interceptions and three sacks.

The Buccaneers rank No. 17 with an 83.5 passer rating on 42 plays where they’ve rushed a defensive back. They’ve given up two touchdowns while producing two interceptions and one sack.

The Panthers are No. 19 with an 87.5 opposing passer rating on 45 such plays. They’ve allowed two touchdown passes and have produced one interception and seven sacks.

Numbers on the Saints

September, 21, 2010
With some help from the fine folks at ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a look back at some numbers out of the Saints’ 25-22 victory against San Francisco on Monday night.
  • Drew Brees' numbers haven’t been quite as gaudy as we’ve seen the past two years in the first two games. But that’s largely because he’s gone against Minnesota and San Francisco defenses that are pretty good, and he had to deal with a strong wind in San Francisco.
  • One trend that has emerged is how good Brees has been out of the shotgun formation. Against Minnesota, he completed 75 percent of his passes out of the formation while averaging 6.1 yards an attempt with one touchdown, no interceptions and a 101.9 passer rating.
  • Against the 49ers, Brees completed 76.5 percent of his passes and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt. He also had two touchdowns and no interceptions while compiling a 139.3 passer rating.
  • Brees finished the San Francisco game with a 108.9 passer rating. That’s his sixth consecutive game with a rating over 100 and the 29th game he’s done that since 2007. That makes him the leader in the league (one game more than Philip Rivers) in games with passer ratings over 100 since 2007.
  • The Saints are 2-0 for the seventh time in franchise history, but it’s the first time they’ve done it in consecutive seasons.
  • We all know the New Orleans defense has been creating a bunch of turnovers since the arrival of coordinator Gregg Williams last year. On Monday night, the Saints had four turnovers. That’s the fifth time they’ve forced at least four turnovers in a game since the start of the 2009 season. No other team has done it more than four times.
ESPN’s Stats & Information’s Keith Hawkins passed along a very interesting post-draft note. Keith went back and did the homework on players Mel Kiper Jr. had ranked in his top five that weren’t taken in the top five.

Since 1999, 44 of the 60 players Kiper ranked in his top five were taken in the top five picks. That’s a 73.3 percent success rate and 55 of Kiper’s top five were taken among the top 10 picks. That’s 91.6 percent.

So Kiper’s usually right. But what about the few that he’s been wrong on? Well, Keith provides us with a chart of the five guys that have fallen the furthest from Kiper’s top five and the winner, who landed in the NFC South, easily set a new record.

Gerald McCoy fills void for Bucs

April, 22, 2010
TAMPA, Fla. -- In case you’re wondering why the Bucs just selected defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, here’s a reminder from our friends at ESPN Stats & Information.

Tampa Bay allowed 4.9 yards per rush on rushes up the middle in 2009, worst in the league by a wide margin. Tampa Bay was also last in the league in total rushing defense (158.2 YPG allowed). On 292 rushes up the middle, the Bucs allowed 1,422 yards.

Tennessee allowed 4.5 yards up the middle to finish No. 31 and Kansas City was No. 30 at 4.4 yards.


I’m continuing to plow through the massive pre-draft package I got from ESPN’s Stats & Information. The latest item to catch my eye was on the Panthers and the lack of success they had using the blitz on third downs last season.

Coach John Fox has always prided himself on generating a pass rush from the front four. But Fox also has been known as a guy who will take a chance and send a blitzer from time to time. That really didn’t work last year -- at least not on third downs.

On third-down plays in which the Panthers sent five or more rushers, they produced just one sack. That tied them with the Jaguars and Rams for the lowest total in the NFL. Part of the reason for that might have been the season-ending injury to outside linebacker Thomas Davis. He’s perhaps the best athlete in Carolina’s back seven and losing him was a blow.

But there’s no doubt the Panthers have to get better in this area. With the departure of defensive end Julius Peppers, the Panthers are without a proven pass rusher. They may need some help from beyond the front four this season.
On Monday, I ran an item, with the help of ESPN’s Stats & Information, on how Atlanta had the league’s worst play-action passing game in 2009. I was a bit perplexed by that because the common perception is that a team with a running back like Michael Turner should be able to use the play-action game very well.

I asked for your theories on why the Falcons struggled in this area and you more than filled up the mailbag with what I think are some pretty solid explanations. Wish I could run them all, but we have space limitations. So I’ll go ahead and pick out five that I think could be close to the mark.

Hunter in Atlanta writes: Watching the Falcons passing game last year, it literally looked like 75 percent of the play action was a Matt Ryan fake to the RB, and then booting to his right in a one- or two-receiver route. The Falcons made a bunch of first down throws on that type of play last year and I think teams began to catch on as the season progressed. It was infuriating as a Falcons fan when they ran this play because eventually it became a Matt Ryan boot and run/throw it away. I don't know if this is the whole story, but it may have at least something to do with why the Falcons were so poor on play action last year.

Kendall in Gainesville, Fla., writes: I have a theory: A lot of the play-action that the Falcons run was bootlegging Matt Ryan out of the pocket. I, and a lot of other Falcons fans, noticed that Ryan's internal clock tends to speed up when he is flushed out of the pocket leading him to throw away a lot of balls. There is a lot of talk in the Falcons fan community whether this is a good trait or not. Either way, it does seem that Ryan is a little quick in getting those balls out, even when there is no apparent pressure on him.

Cory in Kansas writes: It has to be a tell by either a player or a coach on play calling in situational parts of the game. I saw this many times watching their games and the announcers, who were typically different most weeks, would also notice this.

Kevin in Chapel Hill, N.C., writes: First, the running game was not what it was the year before. Turner started slow, and then was hurt a lot toward the end of the season. Jerious Norwood was also banged up most of the year. Teams were not scared of Jason Snelling, so opposing defenses didn't have to focus on the run as they did the year before. Also, starting with the game against Dallas, the o-line struggled in pass protection compared to the year before. Injuries to Matt Ryan & some of the WRs didn't help either.

Andy in Atlanta writes: I personally think it just highlights even more Turner's importance to Atlanta's passing game as well as our running game.
The fine folks at ESPN Stats & Information sent over a massive packet this morning to help us prepare for the NFL draft. I’ll be sharing much of that with you in the coming days.

I was just taking a look through the packet and one stat I saw about the Falcons really left me perplexed. Just going on perception, I would have thought the Falcons were pretty good on play-action passes. After all, they’ve got Michael Turner and opposing defenses seem to focus on him.

Turns out the Falcons weren’t good on play-action passes last year. In fact, they were terrible. They had the lowest completion percentage in the league on play-action passes. Atlanta completed 54 of 102 passes on play-action. That’s 52.9 percent. The Jets were No. 31 at 53.7 percent and the Raiders No. 30 at 56.8 percent.

The Falcons had a 77.2 passer rating on play-action passes and that number jumped to 81.1 on all other passes. Again, this is puzzling because the Falcons are set up to be a team that has success on play-action.

I don’t have any real strong theories on why Atlanta struggled in this area. If you think you’ve got the answer, send it to the mailbag or share it in the comments section below.

Bucs need more YAC

April, 13, 2010
It’s blatantly obvious the Buccaneers have a glaring need at wide receiver. Let’s go ahead and make it even more obvious.

According to our friends at ESPN Stats & Information, the Bucs ranked last in the league in yards after the catch (YAC). Just 34.3 percent of their passing yards came after the catch. The Falcons ranked No. 31 at 37 percent. The Bucs had 3,134 gross passing yards last season, but only 1,076 of them came after the catch.

After letting No. 1 receiver Antonio Bryant go through free agency, the Bucs haven’t done very much at wide receiver. They added Reggie Brown, but it’s almost certain they’ll take a receiver somewhere early in the draft.

It’s unlikely that will come with the No. 3 overall pick because the Bucs have an even greater need at defensive tackle. But the Bucs hold two second-round picks and it’s a good bet that one of them will be used on a wide receiver. They clearly need someone who can make things happen after the catch and guys like Notre Dame’s Golden Tate or Texas’ Jordan Shipley could be available in the second round.
Common wisdom is that Marques Colston is Drew Brees’ favorite target. There’s good logic in that because Colston clearly is New Orleans’ No. 1 receiver.

But the folks at ESPN Stats & Information sent along some very interesting numbers about Brees and some of his other receivers. It turns out Brees was most effective when throwing to Robert Meachem in the regular season and Devery Henderson in the first two postseason games. In fact, Brees had a perfect 158.3 passer rating when throwing to Meachem during the regular season.

Here’s a breakdown:

One of the matchups that already is drawing a lot of talk -- and will continue to right up to the Super Bowl -- is Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark against the New Orleans defense.

Clark had 100 catches for 10 touchdowns during the regular season. Clark also caught nearly 76 percent of the passes thrown his way and that presents a huge challenge for any defense. But the Saints just might be up for the test.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Saints excelled at defending tight ends this season. On passes to tight ends, the Saints held opponents to a 57.4 completion percentage and 6.3 yards per attempt.

The Saints only allowed one touchdown pass to a tight end. They intercepted four passes intended for tight ends. They held opposing quarterbacks to a 65.4 passer rating on balls thrown for tight ends.

Dallas loss a good omen for Saints

January, 27, 2010
Maybe that Week 15 loss to the Cowboys wasn’t such a bad thing for the Saints, after all.

According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, losing to Dallas after going undefeated might be a great thing. The last three teams that were 8-0 or better when playing Dallas all lost to the Cowboys.

Here’s the good news for New Orleans fans: The 1991 Redskins and the 2006 Colts each had their undefeated streaks snapped by the Cowboys. Those two teams each went on to win the Super Bowl.
Our friends at ESPN Stats & Information passed along a fascinating bit of trivia about the history of big-time sports in New Orleans.

Prior to the upcoming appearance by the Saints in the upcoming Super Bowl, the last time any New Orleans franchise in any of the four major pro sports (football, baseball, basketball and hockey) reached a championship was 1968. That’s when the New Orleans Buccaneers reached the finals in the old American Basketball Association.

That’s easily the longest such streak for any city or metropolitan area with at least two pro sports teams.

The list after New Orleans is a lot more current and you have to be a bit subjective with the next longest streak. That’s Milwaukee, and ESPN Stats & Information doesn’t consider the Green Bay Packers as part of that market. The two cities are about 100 miles apart. But we’ll let you make your own decision on this one because we know the Packers basically extend across the state of Wisconsin. But, if you play it straight by the book, the Brewers were the last Milwaukee franchise in a championship when they played in the 1982 World Series.

After that, Kansas City is next on the list. The 1985 Royals were the last local team to play for a championship. Cincinnati’s last representative was the Reds in 1991. Minneapolis had both the Twins and the North Stars playing for championships in 1991 and Toronto’s last team to play for a title was the 1993 Blue Jays.

Best vs. best in Super Bowl

January, 26, 2010
We’ve already been hearing plenty about how Super Bowl XLIV represents the best against the best. But here’s a little more along those lines.

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, we’ve learned that the 27 combined regular-season wins by the Colts and Saints is tied for the third-highest win total in Super Bowl history. Here’s a look at where this matchup ranks.