NFC West: stats

A quick quarterly report on Rams' offense

December, 21, 2012
Just thought I'd share results from an ongoing conversation with St. Louis RamsSt. Louis Rams watchers @lannyosu and @squick4n regarding the team's offensive performance by quarter.

The initial question asked whether the Rams lacked offensive consistency early in games.

The Rams are best in first quarters relative to other quarters in terms of how many points they scored relative to expectations. The chart shows this as expected points added (EPA).

The Rams' offensive drives rank ninth in average distance (35.6 yards) for first quarters. The rankings are 29th for second quarters (24.1), 25th for third quarters (26.7) and 11th for fourth quarters (33.1).

However, the Rams rank only 29th in first-quarter time of possession (7:37 on average). Their averages increase as games progress, peaking at 8:26 in fourth quarters.

One theory we've kicked around recently holds that the Rams might be best when following a script early in games and when forced to play aggressively late, and that their play drops off in between as they go into a "play-not-to-lose" mode. It's just a theory.

Striking similarities for these West rivals

December, 21, 2012

A check of offensive statistics for the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks revealed striking similarities between the Week 16 opponents and NFC West rivals.

The duplicating information in the chart is accurate.
  • Each team has scored 25 red zone touchdowns on 47 chances.
  • Each team has converted about 36 percent of its third-down opportunities.
  • Each team averages 6.8 yards per pass play.
  • The teams are within 30 yards of one another in total rushing yards: 2,280 for the 49ers and 2,250 for the Seahawks.
  • Thirteen first downs and 11 plays from scrimmage separate their season totals through 14 games.
  • The 49ers have kicked off two additional times, and each has had 65 kickoffs reach the end zone
  • The teams are within one total touchdown of one another: 40 for the 49ers, 41 for the Seahawks.
  • The teams have committed about the same number of penalties, 99 for San Francisco and 95 for Seattle.

The 49ers and Seahawks appear similar in style and approach. The numbers show quite a few similarities in production as well -- more than I would have ever anticipated.

Cards' dramatic win an NFC West exception

December, 26, 2010
ST. LOUIS -- Let there be no doubt about the 2010 Seattle Seahawks.

Their final scores this season average an NFL-high 17.7-point differential. That includes 13.7 points per game when they win and a league-high 20.8 points per game when they lose.

That comes as no surprise to anyone following the NFC West closely this season. All four teams in the division rank among the NFL's top 15 in average differential regardless of outcome, even though Arizona pulled out a one-point victory against Dallas on Saturday.

The Cardinals rank eighth in average outcome differential at 13.7 points per game. The San Francisco 49ers are ninth at 13.0 points per game. The St. Louis Rams are 15th with an 11.2-point differential on average.

The chart ranks every team in the league by average point differential regardless of outcome. It also shows the average margins for victories and defeats. A few notes:
  • San Diego (21.4), Tennessee (18.3), Oakland (17.0), Green Bay (16.6) and the New York Giants (16.1) own the largest average margins of victory. All but the Titans have posted lopsided victories against an NFC West team this season.
  • Washington (4.0), Carolina (5.0), Cincinnati (6.7), Miami (7.4), Buffalo (7.5) and Tampa Bay (7.5) own the smallest average margins of victory even though the Bucs won by 21 against the 49ers.
  • Seattle (20.8), Jacksonville (18.8), New England (17.0), Arizona (16.0) and Carolina (15.5) own the largest average margins of defeat.
  • Green Bay (3.3), Baltimore (4.0), Cleveland (6.6), San Diego (7.2) and Indianapolis (7.2) own the smallest average margins of defeat.
  • Average margin of victory by division: AFC West 16.4, NFC North 12.5, NFC West 11.2, AFC South 11.2, NFC East 11.1, AFC East 10.6, AFC North 10.0, NFC South 9.8.
  • Average margin of defeat by division: NFC West 15.6, NFC South 12.9, AFC West 12.9, AFC East 11.9, AFC South 11.1, NFC East 10.5, NFC North 9.1, AFC North 7.4.

I calculated the numbers by doing what most people only wish they were doing Christmas night: exporting to Excel game scores available on Pro Football Reference. I then checked several teams' scores by hand to make sure the numbers checked out. They did.

Note: Chicago's average overall margins were slightly higher than overall margins for the three teams listed immediately beneath them on the chart. All four numbers rounded to 10.6.

In-depth look at NFC West defenses

December, 23, 2010
I've asked Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information to sift through defensive charting information for performance clues regarding NFC West teams.

Among his findings, with my thoughts as well ...

San Francisco 49ers

What they do well: The 49ers appear very stout against the run while in their base 3-4 with seven defenders in the box. The Steelers (2.8 yards per carry) and Jets (2.8) are the clear 1-2 in this area, but the 49ers come in at 3.5, third-best in the league. The NFL average is 4.4 yards.

What they do not do as well: The 49ers stay in their base 3-4 defense a league-high 21.3 percent of the time against three or more wide receivers. San Francisco has not fared well when doing so. The 49ers realize only slight gains against the run in these situations, but they allow an additional yard per pass attempt -- up to 8.1 from 7.1 -- when staying in their base 3-4 against three-plus wideouts. The 49ers also struggle in general against passes traveling at least 15 yards. Opponents have a league-high 108.7 passer rating on these throws.

My thoughts: The 49ers' pass defense hasn't been as good as expected even though the team has gotten younger and more athletic at safety. San Francisco has also faced some top quarterbacks, including Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers. Matt Cassel is also enjoying a strong season. Kyle Orton was playing well when the 49ers faced Denver. Sam Bradford was also more efficient back when the 49ers faced him.

Arizona Cardinals

What they do well: Arizona has been much better against run and pass when loading the box with more defenders than offenses have available to block them. Against the run, the Cardinals allow 3.3 yards per carry with a loaded box, down from 4.5 when not loaded. The Cardinals allow a lower completion percentage (52.4 vs. 63.1), passer rating (70.8 vs. 85.3), yards per attempt (6.7 vs. 7.3) and yards after the catch average (2.8 vs. 3.3) with a loaded box.

What they do not do as well: The Cardinals' inability to slow down opposing running games out of their base defense with seven defenders in the box hurts them. Arizona is, in some ways, average overall against the run, allowing 4.4 yards per carry. That number balloons to 5.2 per carry against the Cardnials' base 3-4 with seven defenders in the box, third-highest in the league (4.4 is average).

My thoughts: The Cardinals should be much better against the run after using a first-round draft choice for nose tackle Dan Williams. Williams has improved, but 36-year-old Bryan Robinson has continued to start. Any team with Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell and two big safeties, notably Adrian Wilson, should hold up better against the run. The Cardinals have been weak at linebacker, compromising the defense up front and in the secondary. Campbell hasn't played as well as expected, either, and a shoulder injury has made life tougher for Dockett.

St. Louis Rams

What they do well: The Rams have been above average with their third-down passing defense when they bring in an extra defensive back, especially when the opponent's pass attempt does not go beyond the first-down marker. Using that as our criterion, the Rams are allowing a 42.5 percent completion percentage, good for third in the NFC. The league average is 47.2 percent. The Rams are allowing a 54.0 passer rating in these situations (league average is 69.9). St. Louis' extra-DB packages have also been the best in the NFC West at making sure teams do not gain first downs after catching the ball short of the first-down marker. The Rams allow 34.2 percent of completed passes short of the marker go for first downs. The NFL average is 37.3 percent.

What they do not do as well: Like the Cardinals, the Rams struggle out of their base defense with seven defenders in the box. They allow 5.18 yards per carry in these situations, right ahead of the Cardinals' 5.2 average.

My thoughts: The Rams haven't faced as many elite quarterbacks this season after going against Rodgers, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Brees and Matt Schaub when all five were enjoying monster years in 2009. That has helped. The Rams were also stronger than anticipated at linebacker until losing Na'il Diggs to a season-ending injury. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins has been stout, but the Rams need another big interior defender to pair with him. They need help at linebacker, particularly on the weak side. This defense appears well-coached.

Seattle Seahawks

What they do well: Their strongest unit appears to be their five-plus DB pass defense, with a caveat. The overall numbers aren't great, including an 84.7 passer rating, which is above the league average (81.1). But Seattle has gotten 22 of its 32 sacks when going with these "small" packages. Opponents are completing only 54.9 percent of their passes against these packages, which ranks fourth in the NFL (60.1 is average). When the Seahawks do allow completions against these packages, however, they tend to be big ones. Seattle has allowed 30 pass plays of at least 20 yards against its small sets.

What they do not do as well: Seattle has struggled against short-to-intermediate passes (those thrown 14 or fewer yards past the line of scrimmage). The Seahawks are allowing a 102.4 passer rating on throws in that range, well above the NFL average of 89.2. Seattle allows 4.7 yards after the catch on these throws, a yard more than the league average and the second-highest figure in the league. If the Seahawks were just average at allowing yards after the catch, they would have allowed about 125 fewer yards on these throws.

My thoughts: The coaching staff has sometimes effectively unleashed creative blitzes with extra defensive backs. Strong safety Lawyer Milloy has led the way. But Seattle has essentially fielded three defenses this season. The first one featured Red Bryant, Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane along the line, providing cover for a healthier Lofa Tatupu at middle linebacker. The second one struggled without two and sometimes three of those linemen. Tatupu's health also deteriorated. The third defense has Cole and Mebane, but no Bryant, who is on injured reserve. The Seahawks have tried to adjust. They tackled much better against the Falcons.

Where they rank on offense: 2009

January, 4, 2010
NFC West teams produced the top-ranked offense in the red zone (Cardinals) and the last-ranked offense in points per game (Rams).

The first chart shows where NFC West teams ranked in eight offensive categories: yards per game, yards rushing per game, yards passing per game, sacks allowed per attempt, first downs per game, third-down conversion rate, red zone touchdown percentage and points per game.

The second chart shows changes from last season, calculated by subtracting raw 2008 totals from 2009 totals.

The Seahawks' scoring went down, even though they gained 42.7 yards per game. The Cardinals gained 19.8 yards rushing per game while losing 41.1 yards passing per game. The 49ers averaged 20.3 fewer yards per game, but their touchdown percentage in the red zone improved. The Rams lost 3.6 points per game, most in the division.

Gap in big plays from last season

December, 24, 2009

Putting those big plays in perspective

December, 23, 2009
The chart showing Arizona's last-place ranking in big plays led to a natural question.

"Hey Sando," pendulum80 wrote, "where did AZ rank last season?"

ESPN Stats & Information provided the numbers for that chart. I'm in touch with them regularly and can follow up, but I do know the Cardinals were much more prolific with big plays last season. Stats available at show the Cardinals ranking tied with the Rams for last in the NFL with only two pass plays covering at least 40 yards. They had 13 last season, ranking behind only the Packers and Saints.

Teams are making it harder for the Cardinals to strike deep downfield. Arizona has won anyway.