Stats & Info: Next Level

Wilson’s legs, decisions make him elite

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
11:53
AM ET
AP Photo/Michael PerezRussell Wilson has the Seattle Seahawks looking like Super Bowl contenders.
Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks are back to their dominant selves with three straight impressive wins against the Cardinals, 49ers and Eagles.

Although the defense has played a large part in the Seahawks’ recent run, Wilson’s return to form should not be overlooked. During the last three games, Wilson has played a bigger role in Seattle’s rushing game and has taken more time to find open receivers. Wilson’s ability to make plays with his legs and make the right decisions places him in a class of his own.

Wilson at his best when scrambling
Wilson leads the league again in scrambling this season, which is nothing new. Wilson led the league in scramble yards last season and was second to Robert Griffin III during his rookie season.

Although Wilson’s scrambling success might not be breaking news these days, his increased efficiency should be. Wilson has increased his yards-per-carry average on scrambles each season in the league.

Seahawks’ zone-read success starts with Wilson
Last season, Wilson and the Seahawks found their zone-read somewhat contained. Although Wilson still averaged a notable 4.6 yards per carry on his zone-read attempts, that average was down from 7.8 the year before.

Seattle ran 75 zone reads in the first seven games this season, with Wilson keeping 13 times. The Seahawks' success in Week 10 against the Giants, however, appears to have reignited the scheme. During the last five weeks, Wilson has kept the ball on 17 zone-read plays, averaging 8.7 yards per carry.

Wilson has rushed for five touchdowns on zone-read carries this season, more than in his previous two seasons combined and matching the total of every other quarterback in the league this season.

The king of extending the play
Wilson’s running ability makes him an unusual quarterback for opposing defenses to prepare against each week.

The Seahawks’ quarterback averages 2.9 seconds before his passes, the most in the league this season. Wilson has thrown 71 passes this season with at least four seconds before the throw. After Wilson, the next two quarterbacks on that list are Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck.

Simpler approach = improved passing?
Wilson is on pace for his most passing yards in a season, along with his best touchdown-to-interception ratio.

A change in philosophy could be the reason for Wilson’s improved passing numbers this season. Since his rookie year, Wilson’s average throw distance has declined each season, while the Seahawks’ yards after the catch have increased. The shift in focus has also dropped his interception rate each season.

No offense, no problem for Cardinals

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
2:32
AM ET
The Arizona Cardinals have won 11 games for the first time since 1975, tying a franchise record for most wins in a season. It’s their most wins since moving to Arizona.

With the win over the St. Louis Rams, the Cardinals all but clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2009. It becomes official as long as the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles don’t end their game in a tie this weekend.

The Cardinals have double-digit wins in consecutive seasons for the second time in franchise history (1974-76). Their 21 wins over the last two seasons ties their most in a two-year span in franchise history (1975-76).

No offense
The Cardinals and Rams both failed to score a touchdown. It’s the first NFL game without a touchdown by either team since Week 15 of the 2012 seasons when the Oakland Raiders won 15-0 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Cardinals are the first team this season to win a game without scoring a touchdown.

It's the first win for the Cardinals without scoring a touchdown since 2004 Week 17 against the Buccaneers.

The Rams are the first team since the 2011 Dolphins to not allow any touchdowns in three straight games. The Rams won their previous two games by a combined score of 76-0.

Lackluster QB play
Shaun Hill struggled to solve Arizona’s standard pass rush Thursday, completing 8-of-18 passes for 123 yards, two sacks taken and an interception.

The Cardinals’ 12 interceptions when sending standard pressure are the fifth-most in the NFL. The Cardinals sent a DB rusher on 14 of Hill’s 43 dropbacks Thursday, resulting in 4-of-14 passing for 14 yards. It is the highest percentage of dropbacks in which the Cardinals sent a DB rusher in a game this season.

Drew Stanton had just 109 passing yards before leaving in the third quarter with a knee injury. If Stanton can’t play next weekend, Ryan Lindley is likely to fill in for the Cardinals. That’s potentially bad news for the Cardinals. Lindley has the worst Total QBR (9.1) in the NFL over the last three seasons (minimum 200 action plays).

How far have the Knicks fallen?

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
12:16
AM ET
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsCarmelo Anthony and the Knicks have lost 9 straight games.
The New York Knicks lost to the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday, their ninth consecutive loss. Despite entering this season with the league's second-highest payroll at $89.5 Million, the Knicks are 4-19, including 2-18 over their last 20 games.

How bad have things gotten in New York? The Knicks have lost 10 straight road games, their first double-digit road losing streak since losing 12 straight on the road in 2005-06. They finished 23-59 that season.

After a disappointing 2013-14 season, the Knicks appear to have gotten worse. The entire team – including its best player – appears to have regressed in some way thus far.

Carmelo Anthony has struggled this season. Tuesday he scored 17 points, his seventh game with fewer than 20 points this season, matching the total number of sub-20 point games he posted in the entire 2012-13 season, when he won his only career scoring title.

Anthony has not been as effective in isolation this season. After leading the league with 6.6 isolation points per game last season, he’s down to 5.1 per game in isolation.

However, it’s not as if Anthony has had much help offensively. Anthony averages over 22 points per game, but no other Knicks player is averaging more than 13.5 per game this season. Two seasons ago, when the Knicks last made the playoffs, four players averaged more than 13.5 points per game.

Defense has been a problem for this Knicks team as well. New York ranks in the bottom five in defensive efficiency, a far cry from ranking 17th two seasons ago and fifth just three seasons ago.

Although it was not exactly the cause of Tuesday’s loss, the Knicks have been plagued by their inability to execute late in games. The Knicks have an NBA-worst minus-49 point differential in clutch time this season, defined as the last five minutes of the game when the score is within five points.

The Elias Sports Bureau confirms that the Knicks are 2-9 in games decided by five points or less. Of teams to play at least five such games, only the Thunder have a worse record (1-6).

Is LeBron too passive? Numbers say no

December, 6, 2014
Dec 6
2:46
AM ET
LeBron James has often been criticized for being too passive. He’s proving lately that the more he passes, the more the Cavaliers win.

James was averaging 7.2 assists per game in his first 15 games this season. He's averaging 11.7 assists per game in his last three games. He has three straight games with double-digit assists for the first time since 2010, one shy of matching the longest streak of his career.

Lately, James has had the ball in his hands more often, resulting in many more passes. Using SportVU player tracking data on NBA.com, we can see that in his first 15 games he was averaging 78 touches and 52 passes per game. In his last three games, he's averaging 102 touches and 72 passes per game.

When James is more involved in the Cavs offense, it results in wins. He had 103 touches on Friday, and the Cavs are now 4-0 this season when he has 100 or more touches and 7-7 when he has fewer than 100.

They're also 7-1 when he has 90 or more touches and 4-6 when he does not.

But it's not just about touches. The more James passes the ball, the more they win as well. He had 77 passes on Friday, his second-most this season (82 vs. Bucks). The Cavs are 5-0 this season when he has 70 or more passes and 6-7 when he has fewer than 70.

James passed the ball on 75 percent of his touches (77 of 103) on Friday, his highest percentage in a game this season.

LeBron’s value
With more touches and more playmaking lately, LeBron’s value for the Cavs has shown.

The Cavs are 12.4 points better per 100 possessions with James on the court this season (plus-6.0 with him on the court, minus-6.4 off the court).

During the six-game win streak, his value is even more evident -- the Cavs are plus-22.6 with James on the court and minus-9.0 when he's on the bench (differential of 31.6).

And in the last three games, the difference in incredible -- plus-17.3 with James and minus-59.0 when he's off the court (76.3-point differential per 100 possessions).

Cavs much improved
In their first 12 games, the Cavs ranked 14th in offensive efficiency and 25th in defensive efficiency. They have improved drastically, ranking third in both categories during their six-game win streak.

With the Big Three on the court together -- James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love -- in their first 12 games, the Cavs allowed more points than they scored per 100 possessions. But in their last six games, they're outscoring opponents by 32 points per 100 possessions with those three on the court together.

Data courtesy of player tracking data on NBA.com

Romo bad in December? Not on the road

December, 4, 2014
Dec 4
12:48
PM ET
AP Photo/Tim IrelandTony Romo has struggled in December but not on the road.
Tony Romo leads the Dallas Cowboys against the Bears Thursday night, in his first December game this season. Much has been made about Romo's 12-17 career record in December, but he's 9-7 on the road in the month, with a considerably higher Total QBR in those games than in Dallas.

Why is this even more important this season? Three of the Cowboys final four games are on the road and Romo has been the best quarterback away from home in 2014.

Career in December
Romo's .414 December win percentage is worst in the NFL among the 11 players with at least 25 starts in the month since 2006. But, he is 9-7 on the road in the year's final month with a Total QBR of 63.6 in those games.

Compare that to his numbers at home in December -- a record of 3-10 with a QBR of 48.0.

On the road this season
Romo will lead the Cowboys on the road for three of their four December games, starting in Chicago against the Bears on Thursday. Romo has led the team to a 5-0 road record and his Total QBR of 88.2 away from home this season is not only the highest in the NFL, but on pace to be the second-highest by any quarterback in the last five seasons.

The Cowboys' last two road games are both against NFC East teams (Week 15 at Eagles, Week 17 at Redskins), and Romo's Total QBR of 73.5 in divisional road games in December is fifth in the NFL since 2009.

Chemistry with Dez
Finding Dez Bryant could be key for Romo down the stretch, and his numbers have been better when targeting him on the road. Six of Bryant's nine touchdowns from Romo have come on the road this season and he is completing nearly 69 percent of passes to his top receiver in road games.

Why FSU may struggle vs. Ga. Tech offense

December, 4, 2014
Dec 4
11:50
AM ET
Florida State's school-record 28-game winning streak began with a 21-15 victory against Georgia Tech in the 2012 ACC championship game. Two years later, the Yellow Jackets get their first chance to end the streak that they helped start.

Based on Georgia Tech's run-heavy offense, ability to keep Florida State off the field and advantage in the turnover game, the Yellow Jackets may pose the greatest threat to Florida State this season.

Can FSU stop Georgia Tech's triple option?
Georgia Tech runs on 78 percent of its plays, the fourth-highest percentage in the FBS. Despite the fact their opponents know the run is coming, the Yellow Jackets rank in the top seven in the FBS in yards per rush, first downs per rush and percentage of rushes that gain at least five yards.

Florida State ranks 42nd in the FBS in rush yards per game allowed (145.8) but has not faced many top rushing offenses. The Seminoles have faced one rushing offense -- Boston College -- that ranks in the top 35 in rush yards per game, and they allowed 240 rush yards and 4.7 yards per rush to the Eagles. Against FCS team Citadel, which runs a triple option like Georgia Tech, Florida State allowed a season-high 250 rushing yards and 4.5 yards per rush.

Georgia Tech's triple option is at its best when its rushers can get to the outside. On designed runs outside the tackles, Georgia Tech leads the FBS with 23 rushing touchdowns and is averaging 7.0 yards per rush. This was a weakness for Florida State against Boston College and Citadel (102.5 rush YPG, 5.1 yards per rush) but a strength against all other opponents (46.5 YPG, 4.0 yards per rush).

Georgia Tech's offense is its greatest defense
Because of Georgia Tech's efficient running game, the Yellow Jackets have been able to keep their opponents off the field. Georgia Tech has gained an initial first down or a touchdown on 87 percent of its drives, on pace to be the highest on percentage in at least the past 10 seasons.

Initial first downs lead to clock-milking drives. Georgia Tech leads the nation in time of possession per drive (3:12), and its average drives gains an FBS-high 43.1 yards. All of these factors, in addition to the most efficient third-down offense in the nation, could keep Florida State's offense and Jameis Winston on the sideline.

Turnover advantage to Georgia Tech
Florida State has an ACC-high 27 turnovers, which is as many as Georgia Tech has forced this season. The Yellow Jackets lead the ACC with a plus-11 turnover margin, compared with a minus-4 margin for Florida State.

Not only has Georgia Tech been able to force turnovers, but it has also capitalized on its opponents' mistakes. This is something that Florida failed to do last week against Florida State. The Seminoles had four turnovers that resulted in the Gators beginning a drive on FSU's side of the field, yet Florida could muster only six points off Florida State's mistakes.

Georgia Tech has been much more opportunistic, ranking fourth in the FBS in points off turnovers and tied for second with six defensive touchdowns, including five pick-sixes. The Yellow Jackets should get an opportunity to run one back against Winston, who this season has thrown at least one interception in nine of his 11 games and is averaging the fifth-most interceptions per game in the FBS.

The Yellow Jackets appear to have all the factors necessary to keep it close -- they can control the clock, keep their opponent off the field and are opportunistic on defense. Close may be all the Yellow Jackets need, as they have the best fourth-quarter point differential among Power 5 teams. Then again, they are playing Florida State, which has an uncanny ability to pull out games late.

Top stats to know: Dolphins at Jets

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
4:12
PM ET

AP Photo/Lynne SladkyRyan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins are in control of their own playoff destiny entering Monday.
The Miami Dolphins look to keep pace in the AFC wild-card race as they visit the New York Jets tonight on "Monday Night Football." Here are the top stats you need to know about the game:

Tannehill’s improvement
After putting up average QBRs in his first two seasons (50 in 2012, 46 in 2013), Ryan Tannehill has a QBR of 58 this season. Two of the reasons for the improvement have been taking care of the football and making an impact rushing the ball. Tannehill’s plus-12 touchdown-to-interception differential is a vast improvement from the plus-6 he totaled from 2012-13. He also leads AFC quarterbacks with 276 rush yards.

In each of his past four games, Tannehill has completed at least 70 percent of his passes. That is something that neither Dan Marino nor Bob Griese ever did for the Dolphins (minimum 15 attempts).

If Tannehill can throw for 211 or more yards Monday night, he’ll become the fourth Dolphins quarterback with 10,000 career passing yards, joining Jay Fiedler and the aforementioned Marino and Griese.

Can Dolphins break MNF losing streak?
This is the 13th time the Dolphins and Jets will meet on a Monday night (Jets lead 7-5). Only the Raiders-Broncos (17 meetings) and Redskins-Cowboys (16) have been more frequent "Monday Night Football" opponents.

Tannehill is 0-2 on "Monday Night Football," losing twice last season at New Orleans and at Tampa Bay. In those games he had three touchdown passes, four interceptions and a Total QBR of 40.

The Dolphins have lost five straight Monday night games since their last victory in 2009. That win came against the Jets. Miami’s streak is tied for the second-longest active losing streak on "Monday Night Football" with the Minnesota Vikings. The only team with a longer streak is the St. Louis Rams, who have lost six straight games since their last Monday night win in 2004.

Geno faces tough test in return to starting lineup
Geno Smith will replace Michael Vick as the Jets' starting QB for Monday's game. The Jets' Total QBR of 25.9 this season ranks 31st in the NFL and is better than only the Jaguars' (21.8).

Unfortunately for Smith, the Dolphins have allowed the second-lowest Total QBR (40.3) in the league this season, behind only the Bills (39.6). One of the strengths of Miami's defense is protecting against the big pass play. Miami opponents are just 8-41 on throws of at least 20 yards downfield.

Cruz fills big power need for Mariners

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
2:20
PM ET
No American League team needed Nelson Cruz more than the Seattle Mariners. Last season, the Mariners designated hitters combined to hit .189 with an OPS of .568. Both of those numbers ranked last in the American League.

The M’s also struggled to find power from the right-hand side. The Mariners .604 OPS from righties was the lowest single-season mark for a team since the 1988 Pirates righties had an OPS of .603.

Nelson Cruz
Cruz
Cruz parlayed a terrific 2014 season into a reported four-year deal to help fill those voids in Seattle. The $57 million dollar deal would be the third-largest in total value ever given out by the Mariners trailing only a five-year deal worth $64 million to Adrian Beltre and a 10-year, $240 million dollar deal for Robinson Cano.

Value added
This past season, Cruz was the only player in baseball to hit 40 home runs while driving in 100 runs.

From a wins above replacement standpoint, Cruz was worth nearly five wins last season (4.7), after putting up a WAR total of 4.3 from 2011 to 2013.

Although the 4.7 WAR marked a career high, Cruz did have a similar season in 2010 with the Texas Rangers when he had a WAR of 4.1, despite playing in just 108 games.

From Camden to Safeco
While the assumption was Cruz would benefit from playing at Camden Yards last year, he was actually much better on the road than at home. Cruz hit .289 with 25 home runs on the road, while batting .252 with 15 home runs at his hitter-friendly home park.

Despite a .234 career batting average at Safeco Field, all of Cruz’s 15 home runs at Camden Yards this past year would also have been home runs at Safeco.

Good omen for Seattle?
Cruz is not the first slugger to spend just one season in Baltimore before moving on. It was 38 years ago that Reggie Jackson made a splash in New York after spending one season with the Orioles. The Yankees went on to win consecutive World Series titles in his first two seasons.

Gil Bransford, Justin Havens, Paul Kinney and Kenton Wong contributed to this post

Westbrook returns by outperforming Knicks

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
11:33
PM ET
Layne Murdoch/Getty ImagesRussell Westbrook scored 32 points in 24 minutes against the Knicks.
We're one game into the return of Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are already a significantly improved team.

Fresh off his return from a broken hand, Westbrook became the first player in the shot-clock era with 32 points and eight assists in 24 or fewer minutes, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Westbrook started off strong right out of the gate.

Despite playing only 8 minutes, 27 seconds in the first quarter, Westbrook single-handedly outscored the New York Knicks in the first quarter 14-13. He scored or assisted on 10 of the Thunder's 11 field goals while he was on the court in the opening frame.

In the first half, Westbrook was responsible for 35 Thunder points (20 points scored and 15 points created from seven assists). The Knicks as a team had just 33 points.

It was the first time in Westbrook's career he had 20 points and more than five assists in a first half.

Westbrook created 49 points against the Knicks -- 32 from his own scoring and 17 from assists. When he was on the court, the Knicks scored only 36 points as a team. While he was on the court, Westbrook single-handedly had more assists than the Knicks, who were outscored by 24 during that time.

Westbrook has played in only three games this season, so take it for what it's worth, but the Thunder are plus-17 with Westbrook on the court this season and minus-55 while he's not on the floor.

With Westbrook on the court, the Thunder are scoring 14 more points per 100 possessions and allowing four fewer points per 100 possessions than they are when he's on the bench.

Pace and rebounding are also huge differences. With Westbrook, they're averaging seven more possessions per 48 minutes. They're grabbing an incredible 65 percent of available rebounds when he's on the court, compared to a tad less than 50 percent without him.

The 27-point win over the Knicks is by far the largest win of the season for the Thunder. They hadn't won by more than 15 in any of their other four wins.

The Thunder desperately needed Westbrook back. Entering the game, they had a 7.7 percent chance to reach the playoffs, according to numberFire.com. It was projected that the No. 8 seed in the West will need to have about 46 wins.

Including the win over the Knicks, the 5-12 Thunder would have to win 41 of their final 65 games to reach 46 wins. That should become a much easier feat once Kevin Durant returns from his broken foot.

Seahawks' defense too much for 49ers

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
12:56
AM ET
The Seattle Seahawks are back to their old ways -- winning with defense.

For the second straight game, the Seahawks did not surrender a touchdown. They’re the first team to do that this season and it’s the first time the Seahawks haven’t allowed a touchdown in consecutive games since 2005.

It’s no surprise that the Seahawks' defense was led by Richard Sherman, who had multiple interceptions for the fourth time in his career. Sherman now has 23 career interceptions, eight more than any other player since entering the league in 2011.

The Seahawks are now 3-0 against the 49ers when Sherman has an interception and 0-4 against them when he doesn’t have an interception.

The Seahawks' defense held Colin Kaepernick to a season-low 121 passing yards. For just the second time in his career -- both against the Seahawks -- Kaepernick had multiple interceptions with no passing touchdowns.

Kaepernick snapped a streak of 18 straight games with a passing touchdown, which was tied with Steve Young for the longest streak in 49ers history.

The 49ers' loss snaps a five-game home win streak against the Seahawks, but Kaepernick and the 49ers have struggled against the Seahawks.

The three points for the 49ers are their fewest in a game since Week 2 of last season, when they lost 29-3 in Seattle.

The 49ers have scored fewer than 20 points in all five of their games against the Seahawks (including playoffs) with Kaepernick as their starting quarterback. They have just four total touchdowns in those five games. Kaepernick has three passing touchdowns and nine interceptions in those games.

Kaepernick was 4-of-15 passing deeper than five yards downfield in Thursday’s game for 37 yards and two interceptions. His eight off-target throws at that distance are tied for the most in a game in his career.

Eagles zone reads keep Dallas off balance

November, 27, 2014
Nov 27
9:57
PM ET
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy (25) ran away from the Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
There’s something about Thanksgiving that brings the best out of the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles are now 6-0 on Thanksgiving, the best record in NFL history for any team to play at least five Thanksgiving games.

The Eagles got it done on the ground with a season-high 256 rushing yards, easily the most the Dallas Cowboys have allowed in a game this season.

LeSean McCoy led the way with 159 rushing yards, including a rushing touchdown in consecutive games for the first time since 2011.

On the other side, the Cowboys -- who entered the week ranked second in rushing yards -- struggled running the ball against an Eagles rush defense that ranked in the middle of the pack.

The Cowboys were held under 100 rushing yards for just the second time this season (as was DeMarco Murray, who had a season-low 73 rushing yards). The Cowboys are 0-2 this season when they have fewer than 100 rushing yards and 8-2 when they reach 100.

Murray had just 20 carries against the Eagles, just one more than his season low. When Murray has at least 24 rushes this season, the Cowboys are 7-0. When he has fewer than 24, they’re now 1-4 this season.

The Cowboys as a team had 25 rushes. Since Jason Garrett became the Cowboys head coach in 2011, they’re 14-1 when they have 30 or more rushes, 16-13 with 20-29 rushes, and just 2-14 when they run it fewer than 20 times.

Eagles' rush attack
In Mark Sanchez’s first three starts this season, the Eagles ran six zone-read rushes for 34 yards, including none in Week 12.

But on Thursday, the Eagles had 21 zone-read rushes for 135 yards and two touchdowns.

The strong running attack helped Mark Sanchez on play-action plays. Sanchez was 6-of-9 for 61 yards and threw his only touchdown off play-action fakes, and he didn’t even attempt a non-play-action pass in the second half.

Play action has been vital for Sanchez. The only quarterback this season with a worse touchdown-interception differential on non-play-action passes than Sanchez (-3) is Blake Bortles (-6).

What happened to the Cowboys' offense?
The Cowboys finished with 10 points, their fewest in a game since Week 2 of 2012 at Seattle (27-7 loss) and fewest in a home game since Week 16 of 2011 against the Eagles (20-7 loss).

Tony Romo completed 5 of 10 passes under duress for 60 yards and two interceptions. Romo’s 10 attempts under duress were his most in a game this season. Romo had not thrown an interception under duress since the season-opening loss to the 49ers.

Romo completed 3 of 12 passes with two interceptions on attempts more than 10 yards downfield, his worst completion percentage on such passes this season. Six of his incompletions were off target, including both of his interceptions. Romo’s six off-target throws downfield were his most since Week 12 of 2012 against the Redskins.

Murray had zero rushes of at least 10 yards after having at least two such rushes in each game this season and a league-leading 38 entering the game, six more than any other player this season.

Cardinals reminiscent of 2012 Ravens

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
11:07
AM ET

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAndre Ellington has helped the Arizona Cardinals overcome the loss of Carson Palmer and maintain the best record in the NFL this season.
One of the teams in Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks-Arizona Cardinals showdown is following a tried-and-true Super Bowl formula.

A productive running back and a quarterback who isn’t afraid to throw deep have complemented an excellent pass defense, just like in a recent Super Bowl season. No, not the Seahawks again. It's the Cardinals who look almost identical to a recent Super Bowl champion -- the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.

On the ground
Start with the running back. Andre Ellington has accounted for 28.5 percent of his team’s yards from scrimmage this season, third most in the league.

Ellington’s versatility is reminiscent of Ray Rice during Baltimore’s Super Bowl season. Rice also was responsible for over one quarter of the Ravens' yards from scrimmage, and (like Ellington) was equally capable of making an impact as a receiver.

In the air
With Ellington as the focal point of the offense, the Cardinals haven’t been afraid to throw down the field, regardless of the quarterback.

Sixteen percent of Arizona’s pass attempts have been thrown at least 20 yards downfield, fourth highest in the league and the same percentage as the 2012 Ravens (second highest in the league).

Carson Palmer’s injury has left Drew Stanton as Arizona’s signal-caller for the rest of the season.

But Stanton has been impressive throwing downfield so far this season. He’s completed 10 of 25 downfield attempts (40 percent) for 325 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions despite facing the Lions (second in QBR allowed), 49ers (sixth) and Broncos (14th).

Those numbers look similar to what Joe Flacco did in Baltimore’s postseason run. Flacco was 14-of-29 (48.3 percent) for 504 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions during the Ravens’ four-game playoff stretch.

On defense
If Stanton stays hot and the Cardinals put up points, Arizona’s elite pass defense can hold up against teams throwing to catch up. The Cardinals have allowed a 45.4 QBR this season, fourth best in the league and right on par with the 2012 Ravens.

No team in the league has a better QBR allowed when targeting wide receivers than the Cardinals (55.8), the only team below 60.

The Cardinals’ pass rush diverges from how Baltimore pressured opposing quarterbacks.

Arizona has sent extra rushers on 42.2 percent of dropbacks this season, second most in the league. The Ravens blitzed on only 28.7 percent of opponents’ dropbacks.

Though they went about it in different ways, the result was largely the same. Quarterbacks haven’t been comfortable against the Cardinals, who pressure (sack, under duress or hit while throwing) on the 12th-highest percentage in the league (26.8 percent).

Baltimore’s 2012 rank in pressure percentage? Eleventh.

Neither defense had problems stopping the run. The Cardinals have allowed 3.5 yards per rush this season, fifth best in the league. The 2012 Ravens also allowed fewer than 4.0 yards per rush (3.99).

And special teams, too!
The similarities don’t stop at offense and defense. Even the Cardinals' special-teams unit resembles the 2012 Ravens, a group that played a critical role in the 34-31 Super Bowl victory, when Jacoby Jones took the second-half kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown to go up 28-6.

The Ravens’ special teams contributed 1.75 expected points per game, fourth best in the league. The Cardinals’ special teams have contributed 1.71 points per game, seventh in the league.

Stafford’s poise, deep ball lacking

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
11:07
AM ET

Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesMatthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have not been able to connect at their normal rate this season.
Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions look to avoid consecutive road losses on Sunday, as they travel east to face a red-hot New England Patriots squad riding an impressive six-game winning streak.

Although the Lions lead the NFC North, Stafford is in the middle of a down year by his standards, on pace for his fewest passing yards in a full NFL season.

Much of Stafford’s drop-off in production undoubtedly came as a result of the injury to Calvin Johnson, who returned in Week 10 after not being fully healthy for five games.

But Stafford has thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns in the two games since Megatron’s return, so what is causing Stafford's struggles?

Deep ball disconnect
After last week, the deep-ball connection between Stafford and Johnson should officially raise eyebrows.

Not only has Stafford completed just 14 percent of his passes at least 20 yards downfield to Johnson the past two weeks, he has also thrown an interception on those deep targets in each of their past four full games together.

Stafford and Johnson have combined for their worst completion percentage on deep passes since 2010, with plenty of blame to go around.

Half of the incompletions on these throws, including half of the interceptions, have come as a result of an off-target pass from Stafford.

But Johnson has also dropped two of his 17 deep targets this season. From 2009 to 2013, Johnson had a total of two drops on 138 such targets from Stafford.

Stafford missing poise under pressure
After posting his best season under pressure last season, Stafford looks to have fallen back into bad habits.

His completion percentage under pressure has dropped from 42 percent last season to 34 percent this year, his lowest in a season since 2010.

Stafford had huge success under pressure in Week 1 against the New York Giants, completing 75 percent of such attempts with two touchdowns.

Since Week 2, Stafford has completed 28 percent of pressured pass attempts. The only quarterback with a worse completion percentage since then is Geno Smith (21 percent).

Additionally, the only other quarterback who has started each game since Week 2 and not thrown for a touchdown under pressure is Cam Newton.

Late-game performance a tale of two extremes
The Lions have led by more than 10 points entering the fourth quarter once this season (Week 1), leading to an increased importance in Stafford’s late-game production.

And as tends to be the case, whether or not Detroit wins or loses largely depends on how well Stafford plays in the fourth quarter.

The difference in wins and losses has been stark for Stafford this season, but his production can be linked with his protection.

In the Lions’ seven wins, Stafford was sacked four times (on 64 dropbacks) in the fourth quarter. In their three losses, Stafford was sacked eight times (on 44 dropbacks) in the fourth quarter.

Top stats to know: Spurs edge Cavs

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
10:27
PM ET

David Richard/USA TODAY SportsKawhi Leonard's tough defense helped the San Antonio Spurs come away with a win against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The San Antonio Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 10th straight time Wednesday. Here are the top stats you need to know about the game.

Rare un-clutch turnover for James
LeBron James turned the ball over with just under two seconds left and the Cavaliers down by two points. It was the first time James had a turnover in the final five seconds of a one-possession game since January 4, 2009 against the Wizards.

James finished with five turnovers on the night, his second-highest total of the season. The only game when he had more was in the season-opening loss to the New York Knicks when he coughed it up eight times.

Leonard shuts down James
Kawhi Leonard was tasked with guarding James for most of the game. Leonard held James to 3-of-11 shooting and an average field-goal attempt distance of 13 feet. Against all other defenders, James shot 3-of-6 with an average attempt distance of under seven feet.

Defense was the difference
The Cavaliers entered the game as one of the worst teams in defensive efficiency and they struggled to close out on Spurs shooters Wednesday. Cleveland contested just 16 percent of Spurs jumpers, while San Antonio contested 61 percent of the Cavaliers jump shots.

Contested jump shots are pull-up or catch-and-shoot jumpers in which the defender was within four feet of the shooter.

The Spurs adjusted at halftime to stop the Cavaliers transition offense. In the first half Cleveland scored 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in transition. In the second half, the Cavs were held to five points in transition.

The Cavaliers had the best offensive efficiency in the league over the previous 10 days but they ran into a defensive juggernaut. The Cavs were held 26 points per 100 possessions below their average over their previous four games. The game was played closer to the Spurs tempo, as the Cavalierss had five fewer possessions than they averaged in their previous four games.

Conference races gaining clarity

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
9:09
AM ET

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMelvin Gordon and the Wisconsin Badgers have won five straight games to take the Big Ten West lead.
After another week of games with conference championship implications, the conference races are gaining clarity.

The Wisconsin Badgers took hold of the Big Ten West, and the Alabama Crimson Tide control the SEC West after significant divisional wins Saturday.

Using projections by ESPN’s Football Power Index, let’s break down how each of the Power 5 conferences are projected to finish, starting with the most likely conference winners.

ACC
FPI’s projected winner:
Florida State Seminoles (75 percent), Duke Blue Devils (15 percent), Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10 percent)

After Miami’s loss to Florida State, there are three remaining potential conference champions in the ACC. Florida State has already clinched the ACC Atlantic, and FPI projects the Seminoles have a 75 percent chance to beat the ACC Coastal winner in the championship game.

Despite its loss Saturday, Duke remains the most likely ACC Coastal champion (69 percent) because of its schedule and the head-to-head win over Georgia Tech on Oct. 11, but FPI projects Georgia Tech, which is ranked 11 spots ahead of Duke in the FPI rankings, would give the Seminoles a tougher test.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: Georgia Tech clinches with a Duke loss.

Big 12
FPI’s projected winner:
Baylor Bears (74 percent), TCU Horned Frogs (22 percent), Kansas State Wildcats (4 percent)

FPI projects Baylor has a 68 percent chance to win out, best among the one-loss Power 5 teams. If the Bears win out (including a win over Kansas State on Dec. 6), they own the head-to-head tiebreaker over TCU and would be the Big 12 champion. Based on these facts, FPI projects Baylor has a 74 percent chance to win the Big 12.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: None.

Pac-12
FPI’s projected winner:
Oregon Ducks (69 percent), UCLA Bruins (15 percent), USC Trojans (9 percent), Arizona State Sun Devils (5 percent)

Oregon clinched the Pac-12 North division before last week’s games, but the South might be the most interesting division in the FBS. There are currently four teams in the Pac-12 South with two conference losses. FPI projects UCLA has the best chance to win the division because of its strength (highest ranking in FPI) and schedule. The Bruins have already beat Arizona State and Arizona, so if they beat USC on Saturday, they would be in great position to win the South. If USC defeats UCLA, however, the Trojans would become the favorite and would clinch the division with a loss by Arizona State earlier in the day. FPI projects UCLA has a 59 percent chance to beat USC at home.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: USC clinches with win AND Arizona State loss.

Big Ten
FPI’s projected winner:
Ohio State Buckeyes (61 percent), Wisconsin (36 percent), Minnesota Golden Gophers (1 percent)

Ohio State and Wisconsin are in control of their respective divisions. Ohio State has to win one of its remaining two games -- versus Indiana and versus Michigan -- to win the Big Ten East without the help of a Michigan State loss. FPI projects Ohio State has a 99 percent chance to win one of those games. The Big Ten West is a little more interesting, with Wisconsin still to face Minnesota. FPI projects Wisconsin has an 87 percent chance to win the division, but Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska are all still alive.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: Wisconsin clinches a berth in the conference championship game with win AND a Minnesota loss. Ohio State clinches a berth in the conference championship game with win OR a Michigan State loss.

SEC
FPI’s projected winner:
Alabama (46 percent), Georgia Bulldogs (39 percent), Ole Miss Rebels (8 percent), Mississippi State Bulldogs (4 percent), Missouri (2 percent)

The SEC remains the most wide-open Power 5 conference. Alabama’s win against Mississippi State added some clarity; if the Tide defeat Auburn on Nov. 29, they will win the SEC West (they can also clinch via losses by Ole Miss AND Mississippi State). FPI projects the Tide have a 76 percent chance to win the West, followed by Ole Miss (14 percent) and Mississippi State (10 percent). In the SEC East, Georgia would win the head-to-head tiebreaker over Missouri, but the Tigers currently have a one-game lead in the loss column. Georgia has completed its conference schedule, and Missouri has two remaining SEC games, so if Missouri loses at Tennessee or versus Arkansas, Georgia wins the division. FPI projects Missouri has an 85 percent chance to lose either of those games.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: Georgia clinches division with Missouri loss. Alabama clinches division with losses by Mississippi State AND Ole Miss.

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