Stats & Info: NFC East
Here’s a team-by-team look at areas of need for each NFC team heading into free agency.
Dallas Cowboys: defensive line/Safety
The Cowboys were one of three teams to allow 5.0 yards per rush between the tackles last season and one of four teams to allow 1,000 yards before initial contact on those rushes.
The Cowboys have allowed the second-highest completion percentage on passes at least 15 yards downfield over the past four seasons (47 percent). The Cowboys haven’t ranked higher than 24th in a season since 2009.
Philadelphia Eagles: safety/cornerback
The Eagles allowed the third-most yards after the catch last season (2,256), trailing only the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders.
The Eagles had trouble handling passes in the middle of the field. They allowed 15 touchdowns to five interceptions on passes outside the field numbers and ranked 25th in completion percentage allowed on those throws last season.
New York Giants: offensive line, defensive line
Giants rushers were first contacted in the backfield on 21 percent of their rushes last season, highest in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, the Giants had the lowest percentage of rushes with contact in the backfield in 2012 (11 percent).
The Giants recorded a sack on only 4 percent of dropbacks when sending four or fewer pass rushers last season, which ranked 29th in the league. New York’s four-man pass rush has been far less effective since the Giants’ last Super Bowl win when it had the third-highest sack percentage in the NFL.
Washington Redskins: defense, wide receiver
The Redskins allowed the second-most points last season. Most of the key players on that defense are unrestricted free agents. Of the seven players who played the most defensive snaps, four are free agents or likely to retire.
On offense, Washington could reinforce its receiving corps. Wide receivers Santana Moss and Josh Morgan are free agents next season. Pierre Garcon had a productive season, but the five other receivers currently under contract combined for only 51 catches and caught less than half of their targets.
The Bears allowed the worst completion percentage and defended the second fewest passes on throws at least 15 yards downfield last season. Safety Major Wright and cornerback Charles Tillman enter the offseason as free agents.
The Bears’ defensive line was unable to stop opposing rushers from getting to the second level last season, allowing more yards per rush before first contact than any team in the past five seasons. The Bears also allowed the most rush yards after contact last season.
Detroit Lions: wide receiver, defensive back
Lions receivers dropped a league-high 46 passes last season. The drops accounted for 7.5 percent of their total targets, also highest in the NFL.
On defense, the Lions allowed 19 touchdowns with only eight interceptions on passes intended for wide receivers last season. The plus-11 differential was tied for third worst in the NFL.
Green Bay Packers: safety, defensive line
Packers safeties failed to record an interception last season. The Packers were the only team without an interception from a safety.
The Packers have also yet to find a pass rusher to complement Clay Matthews. Matthews has 38.5 more sacks than the next highest Packers defender since he entered the league in 2009, despite missing 11 games over the stretch.
The Packers’ rush defense wore down toward the end of last season, allowing 5.5 yards per rush over the last seven games of the season after allowing only 3.8 in their first 10 games.
Minnesota Vikings: Defensive End
Free agent Jared Allen has accounted for a third of the Vikings’ sacks since joining the team in 2008. Allen has led the team in sacks each season since his arrival.
Three of the Vikings’ top six defenders in snaps played are free agents. Jared Allen (1,024 snaps, second on team) and Chris Cook (707, sixth) are unrestricted free agents, and linebacker Erin Henderson (824, fourth) was cut in February.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: defensive end, offensive tackle, wide receiver
The Buccaneers recorded only 6.5 sacks last season by players lining up as a traditional defensive end (end of line, hand in dirt). That was worst among any 4-3 defense and second worst in the NFL among all defenses (the Washington Redskins had 5.5).
On offense, the Buccaneers averaged 3.1 yards per rush outside the tackles last season. Only the Giants had a worse average (2.9 yards per rush).
Buccaneers quarterbacks struggled getting the ball to their receivers. They ranked in the bottom three in the league in both completion percentage and drop percentage when targeting wide receivers last season
Atlanta Falcons: pass rush, offensive line, tight end
In their first season without John Abraham, the Falcons struggled to get pressure on the quarterback. The Falcons sacked or put quarterbacks under duress on 22.4 percent of dropbacks, the second worst rate in the NFL.
On the other side, Matt Ryan was pressured on an NFL-high 203 dropbacks last season. The Falcons' line lacked continuity. No Falcons offensive line combination played more than 36 percent of the team’s snaps together.
Also of note: Tony Gonzalez accounted for 91 percent of the Falcons’ tight end receiving yards since joining the team in 2009. It took six other tight ends to account for the final 9 percent.
Carolina Panthers: wide receiver, defensive back
Only Joe Flacco had a worse completion percentage on throws 15-plus yards downfield than Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s 28 percent.
Steve Smith has been Newton’s favorite target on those passes, but he will be 35 years old by the start of next season.
On defense, the Panthers recorded an NFL-high 60 sacks last season, but when they were unable to get pressure, the secondary was unable to prevent completions, as noted in the chart on the right.
New Orleans Saints: defensive back, linebacker, tackle
Four players who played at least 360 snaps in the Saints’ secondary last season are either free agents or have been cut. Those players accounted for 47 percent of the Saints’ secondary snaps last season.
Saints linebackers defended or intercepted six passes last season, tied for fewest in the NFL (Falcons).
On offense, the Saints averaged 3.4 yards per rush outside the tackles in 2013, half of what they averaged in 2012. Both of the Saints’ starting tackles from last season are free agents.
San Francisco 49ers: wide receiver, tight end, defensive line
Only three 49ers (Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree) caught touchdown passes last season. Every other NFL team had at least six players catch a touchdown.
On defense, Justin Smith has anchored the 49ers’ rush defense for years, but the 34-year-old could use some help. The 49ers allowed 4.0 yards per rush with Smith on the field last season, a number that has increased in each of the past three seasons.
Cardinals: outside linebacker, coverage linebacker/safety, tackle
John Abraham recorded 11.5 of the Cardinals’ 22 sacks from players lined up at the outside linebacker position last season, with no one else recording more than four. But Abraham will be 36 by the start of the 2014 season.
The Cardinals sent five or more pass rushers on half their dropbacks last season, the highest rate in the NFL. When Arizona blitzed, it was vulnerable to tight ends, allowing 12 touchdowns to them with no interceptions.
On offense, the Cardinals traded left tackle Levi Brown to the Steelers last season and replaced him with Bradley Sowell. With Brown at tackle, the Cardinals allowed pressure on 24 percent of dropbacks, below the league average (26 percent). With Sowell at tackle, the Cardinals allowed pressure 28 percent of snaps.
St. Louis Rams: quarterback, outside wide receiver, offensive line
The Rams’ top offensive line unit played only 295 of the team’s 968 snaps together last season (31 percent). Only three units played a lower percentage of their team’s snaps in the NFL last season.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is 18-30 (.378) in his career as a starter and has never posted a Total QBR over 50.3 in a season.
The Rams finished with eight 30-plus yard pass plays from wide receivers last season, second fewest in the NFL. Their 2013 first-round pick, Tavon Austin made 31 of 40 receptions from the slot last season.
Seattle Seahawks: offensive line, defensive line
Russell Wilson was pressured on 37 percent of his dropbacks this season (including playoffs), third highest among qualified quarterbacks. The Seahawks didn’t have a single five-man offensive line unit play more than 20 percent of the team’s snaps together this season.
On defense, the Seahawks pressured opposing quarterbacks on 31 percent of dropbacks last season, best in the NFL (including playoffs). Among the seven Seahawks linemen with at least 500 snaps, only Brandon Mebane is under contract past next season.
Flipped the script
During the regular season the Philadelphia Eagles were the most productive running team in the NFL at 160.4 yards per game. The Saints held them to half their average at an even 80 yards. The Saints defense held LeSean McCoy to 2.9 yards per rush between the tackles, his second-lowest average this season and the lowest allowed by the Saints. The Eagles lost all three games this season when McCoy averaged 3.0 yards per rush or fewer between the tackles.
New Orleans, meanwhile, averaged 92.1 yards per game on the ground, but exploded for 185 on Saturday. That’s good for second-most in Saints playoff history.
Mark Ingram filled in for the injured Pierre Thomas and rushed for 97 yards and a score. The 97 yards are the second-most Ingram has racked up in any game in his pro career. Ingram ran for 73 yards on designed rushes to the right, including his 4-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Brees bounces back from rough first half
Drew Brees was 10-18 for 98 yards and two interceptions in the first half. Brees’ teams had been 0-3 all-time in games in which he had thrown a pick. But Brees bucked that trend by bouncing back in the second half – completing 10 of 12 passes for 152 yards and a score.
At the end of the first half, Brees' QBR was 12.9. In the second half, it was 93.5.
ESPN Stats & Information
Limited Foles’ downfield opportunities
Nick Foles led the NFL with 9.1 yards per pass attempt during the regular season. Saturday he averaged 5.9 yards per attempt.
The Saints held the Eagles to one play of 25 yards or more, tied for the fewest by the Eagles in a game this season. The Eagles led the NFL with 62 such plays during the regular season.
That one play was a 40-yard catch by Desean Jackson, who was otherwise neutralized. Other than that big play he had two catches for 13 yards.
The Saints were winless in three road games against playoff teams during the regular season.
For the Saints to keep up with the fast-paced Eagles offense, New Orleans will need another elite performance from their top playmaker.
Jimmy Graham vs. Eagles coverage
Jimmy Graham’s dominance this season raises several questions for the Philadelphia defense. Graham led the NFL with 16 touchdown receptions this season, the second-most by a tight end in a season and only the third time a tight end has led the league in touchdown receptions.
The Eagles had been about league-average defending tight ends this season prior to Sunday night, when Jason Witten hauled in 12 catches for 135 yards. Both numbers were easily the most the Eagles allowed to an opposing tight end this season.
Expect the Eagles to rotate linebackers and defensive backs into coverage responsibilities against Graham. Graham’s 26 receptions and 358 yards when split out wide were the most by a tight end in a season since 2008.
Eagles offensive line vs. Saints front seven
Lost among the great performances by LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles and DeSean Jackson has been the dominance of the Eagles offensive line this season. The Eagles averaged a league-best 3.6 yards before contact per rush. No other team finished with an average above 3.2 this season.
The Saints allowed 4.6 yards per rush, the fifth-most in the league this season. New Orleans particularly struggled against the zone read, allowing 5.6 yards per rush on such plays. The Eagles had nearly twice as many zone-read runs (304) as any other team during the regular season.
Saints running backs vs. Eagles linebackers
While the big guys up front help lead the way for the Eagles on offense, the Saints rely on two of their smallest offensive players to run past opposing defenses.
The Saints incorporate their running backs into the passing game as much as any team in the league. Led by Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, New Orleans totaled the most receptions and yards after the catch by a team’s running backs since 2006.
A lot of the credit belongs to Thomas, who filled in for an injured Sproles to post career highs in receptions (77) and receiving yards (513). In fact, Thomas led all running backs in receptions this season.
Either Thomas or Sproles has led the league in running back receptions each of the last three seasons.
The Eagles held opposing running backs to one receiving touchdown this season, tied for the fewest in the league. Over the final five weeks of the regular season, only the Lions allowed fewer receptions to opposing running backs.
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/USA TODAY SportsNo matter the circumstance, Nick Foles could not be stopped in 2013.
How good is the Eagles offense though? And what changed?
The difference from the first half of the season to the second half for the Eagles’ offense is pretty stark, as the team averaged 11.5 points more per game over the last eight games of the season.
The Eagles led the league in scoring from the start of Week 9 to the end of the season, committing the fewest turnovers during that stretch.
The Eagles’ offensive potency was due to a two-pronged attack, leading the NFL in average yards per rush and pass attempt this season. The last team to lead the league in both was the 2001 St. Louis Rams, who lost in the Super Bowl that season.
LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing this season, and actually gained more yards on the ground than 10 NFL teams, including the Eagles’ Wild Card opponent the New Orleans Saints.
The rushing offense saw a moderate jump over the second half of the season, going from 5.0 yards per rush to 5.3. The passing game saw the biggest increase. The Eagles averaged 9.9 yards per pass the last eight games of the season, a 2.2 yard increase.
Also helping matters was the pace of the offense. The Eagles averaged a play every 24.0 seconds of possession this season, the fastest pace in the last 13 seasons.
Foles didn’t make his season debut in Week 9 though, so what changed in Philadelphia that led to such a dramatic increase in offense?
For starters, the Eagles continued to add wrinkles to the offense, specifically play action off the zone read.
The Eagles used the zone read 304 times this season, 135 times more than the next highest team. The zone read offers a natural setup for play action, but the Eagles used a play fake on 24 percent of their passes the first eight games. Over the last eight games, that usage increased to 39 percent.
The Eagles’ play action passes were effective throughout the season, but adding more attempts and the more efficient Foles made the plays a staple of the offense.
Foles’ efficiency helped matters. Foles completed 64 percent of his passes this season with 27 touchdowns and two interceptions, the best touchdown-interception ratio in NFL history.
Michael Vick and Matt Barkley combined to complete 56 percent of their passes this season with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Vick and Barkley played a combined 11 snaps from Week 9 and on, after recording 208 more snaps than Foles the first half of the season.
But despite the quarterbacks garnering many of the headlines, the key to success for the Cowboys will be establishing DeMarco Murray on the ground.
DeMarco Murray vs. Eagles rush defense
LeSean McCoy may be the better-known running back, but Murray has actually averaged more yards per carry this season (5.4 for Murray to 5.1 for McCoy). In fact, only rookie Andre Ellington (5.7) has averaged more yards per carry than Murray among qualified running backs.
However, Murray faces an Eagles front seven that has flown under the radar this season. Over the last five weeks, the Eagles have held opponents to 2.9 yards per carry, the fewest in the league during that span.
In their previous meeting, which Murray missed due to injury, the Cowboys were held to 2.9 yards per carry, their fewest against the Eagles in their last 10 games.
While the Eagles rush defense has improved during the course of the season, the Cowboys front seven has moved in the opposite direction.
LeSean McCoy vs. Cowboys Linebackers
While Romo’s absence is certainly noteworthy, the Cowboys defense will again be missing their star linebacker, Sean Lee. The Cowboys have allowed 5.2 yards per carry this season without Lee on the field. Only the Bears, who McCoy gashed for 7.4 yards per carry last week, have allowed more yards per carry this season.
But one of the biggest defensive struggles for the Cowboys has been defending receivers out of the backfield. Dallas has allowed eight receiving touchdowns to running backs, the most in the league.
McCoy has averaged 11.8 yards after the catch on his receptions this season, the highest mark in the NFL.
The Cowboys may struggle to defend running backs, but the Eagles find trouble against wide outs.
Dez Bryant vs. Eagles secondary
Even without Romo under center, Dez Bryant could not have asked for a better matchup to close out the season. The Eagles pass defense ranks last in all three major categories against opposing wide receivers.
In their previous game this season, Bryant tied his career-high with 17 targets, hauling in eight passes for 110 yards.
While Bryant had one of his best games against the Eagles, the Philadelphia tight ends disappeared against the Cowboys.
Eagles Tight Ends vs. Cowboys secondary
Nick Foles has some recognizable options in McCoy and DeSean Jackson, but his favorite targets may be his tight ends. Foles has averaged 9.1 yards per attempt when targeting his tight ends.
Only Colin Kaepernick has a higher average when targeting tight ends this season. Foles has also yet to throw an interception when throwing to a tight end this season.
The Cowboys have struggled against tight ends as well, allowing the third-most receptions (85) and fifth-most yards (933) this season. In their last meeting, Foles only completed 50 percent (4-of-8) of his passes when throwing to his tight ends, his lowest mark in a game this season.
AP Photo/James D. SmithA source tells ESPN that Tony Romo will miss the remainder of the season.
The day after throwing a game-winning touchdown to put the Dallas Cowboys in a winner-take-all game against the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday night, Tony Romo’s luck took a drastic turn.
A source tells ESPN that Romo will miss the remainder of the season with a back injury. Here is a look at how much he will be missed in Big D:
Romo vs. all others
It has been all Romo in Dallas since 2006. He made his first career start in Week 8 of that season. He has missed 13 games since becoming the starter.
Jon Kitna (nine games), Brad Johnson (three) and Stephen McGee (one), have started in relief of Romo since 2006. They have won a combined six of those 13 starts while enjoying far less success throwing the ball.
Romo has thrown 31 touchdown passes this season, tied for the second-highest total in Cowboys’ history and five shy of the team record, which he set in 2007. Romo is the only quarterback in team history to throw for 30 or more touchdown passes in a season. He's done so three times.
The Cowboys have two quarterbacks on their roster – Romo and Kyle Orton. Orton is 35-34 in 69 career starts, but he has not started since Jan. 1, 2012.
Orton signed with the Cowboys prior to the 2012 season and has not been seen much since. Romo has thrown 98.7 percent of the Cowboys’ passes since then – the 11th highest rate for any quarterback in the NFL.
Orton has attempted just 15 passes over the last two seasons and those came in a pair of blowouts when the Cowboys were trailing by 24 points.
In 2011, he started eight games for the Denver Broncos (five) and Kansas City Chiefs (three). Orton had a 59.5 percent completion percentage that season (ranked 20th in the NFL), 7.0 yards per attempt (17th), and a total QBR of 52.4 (18th).
Can they still rely on the pass?
Few teams lean on the pass as much as the Cowboys have this season.
Dallas owns the fifth highest dropback percentage this season at 66 percent. The Cleveland Browns have the highest percentage at 70 percent.
The Cowboys may have to change it up and feed running back DeMarco Murray on Sunday night. This season, 17 running backs have averaged more rushes per game than Murray’s 15.4, despite the fact that Murray is averaging 5.4 yards per rush.
Sunday's exploits only seemed to heighten the perception that Romo is an all-or-nothing quarterback late in close games. Last week, he had a pass intercepted late in the game by Tramon Williams, decreasing the Cowboys’ win probability by 51.1 percentage points, the quarterback’s worst play in terms of win probability differential this season.
Romo’s Total QBR was 99.3 in the 4th quarter Sunday. He finished at 79.4 for the game after starting the 4th quarter at 23.9.
Up Next: Romo faces his 4th career “Week 17 win-or-go-home game” next Sunday against the Eagles. He is 0-3 in his previous 3 games with a 20.7 Total QBR.
After home success, Foles will take to road
Nick Foles’ 96.4 Total QBR in the Philadelphia Eagles' 54-11 victory over the Chicago Bears was the highest in any of his eight career home starts (34.2 home Total QBR in previous seven home starts). But Foles has been much stronger on the road, and he will play in Dallas next week. Foles’ Total QBR is 37.7 points higher on the road over the last two seasons, the best home-to-road differential among qualified quarterbacks since 2012.
Stafford's fourth-quarter struggles
Matthew Stafford threw his fifth fourth-quarter interception in his last six games, and it was returned for a touchdown in the Lions’ overtime loss. He has a 10.6 fourth-quarter Total QBR in his last six games (the Lions are 1-5), the worst rating in the NFL since Week 11. Stafford had a 90.1 fourth-quarter Total QBR in his first nine games, the second-best rating in the NFL through Week 10.
ESPN Stats & Information
Newton erases rough start on final drive
The Carolina Panthers’ win probability was at 4.8% when the Saints had 3rd down with 1:47 left in the game (see chart above), and Cam Newton had a Total QBR of 3.0 at that point. That was in line to be the second-worst Total QBR in a start in his career until he engineered a five-play, 65-yard drive to take the lead. Newton finished with a Total QBR of 16.6, but it was 99.9 on the final drive.
Russell Wilson posted an 11.5 Total QBR against the Cardinals, the worst rating in any of his 31 career starts. Wilson was 0-8 passing with a 0.1 Total QBR when under duress or hit while throwing. Wilson entered the game with a 78.7 Total QBR under such pressure, the second-best rating in the league.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ defense has contributed -7.2 expected points per game to their net scoring margin since Week 11, 27th in the NFL. The Chiefs are allowing an NFL-high 423 yards per game during that span, while recording a sack on 3.2 percent of opponent dropbacks (second-worst in the NFL). Their defensive EPA was 11.0 per game in their first nine games this season (9-0 start), the best in the NFL.
The Dolphins were shut out, and their offensive EPA was -25.1, meaning that unit contributed -25.1 points to their net scoring margin. It was the fourth-worst offensive performance in terms of EPA by any team this season. Ryan Tannehill finished with a 3.2 Total QBR, his first Total QBR game in single digits this season.
Geno Smith had an 83.1 Total QBR in the Jets’ 24-13 victory over the Browns. Smith has had four games with a Total QBR greater than 70.0, and they have come against teams with a combined record of 18-41 (Bills, Falcons, Raiders in addition to the Browns).
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportssTony Romo (right) got it done when needed on Sunday against the Redskins.
Romo led the Cowboys to a comeback win over the Washington Redskins with his late touchdown throw to DeMarco Murray.
This marked the 12th time that Romo has led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in the last three seasons. That’s the most in the NFL in that span. Romo's 23 career game-winning drives are tied with Roger Staubach for the most in Cowboys history (Staubach's 23 include two in the playoffs).
What did Romo do best on Sunday?
Romo threw both of his touchdowns (including the game-winner to Murray) outside the pocket on Sunday.
Romo has four touchdown passes from outside the pocket in his last three games, with at least one in each game. He only had one in his first 11 games of the season.
The game-winning play
Murray’s touchdown catch was unusual in a number of respects. Entering the day, he’d only run three fourth-down pass routes in his entire career.
Romo had only thrown one fourth-down pass all season (an incomplete one against the Chicago Bears) prior to Sunday.
But there was some indication that the struggles the Cowboys had on those first three plays could be erased.
Romo entered the day having completed 71 percent of his fourth-down passes (and had a completion earlier in the fourth quarter), the highest completion percentage of any active quarterback. He was 20 for 25 (80 percent) on fourth-down throws in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Next Sunday, the Cowboys will play in their eighth win-or-go-home game in Week 17 or the playoffs with Tony Romo as the starting quarterback.
They are 1-6 in the previous seven games, 0-3 in those games that were played in Week 17.
In the seven games, Romo has completed 61 percent of his passes, but has only eight touchdown throws and seven interceptions.
Each of the three Week 17 games was played on the road, with the Cowboys losing by a combined 65 points.
AP Photo/James D. SmithTony Romo threw two interceptions in the final three minutes against the Packers
Tony Romo’s interception with 1:24 left in the 4th quarter against the Packers dropped the Cowboys’ win probability by 51.1 percentage points, the 2nd-most costly 4th-quarter interception in his career in terms of win probability (the most costly was Darrelle Revis’ interception of Romo in 2011; see chart below). His interception earlier in the quarter dropped the Cowboys’ win probability by 17.5 percentage points (from 88.6% to 71.1%) and set up the Packers' go-ahead touchdown.
Romo has thrown 7 career 4th-quarter interceptions that have dropped his team’s win probability by at least 20 percentage points (the Cowboys have lost all 7 games). Using that definition of a costly interception, only Matt Schaub (8) has thrown more than Romo since 2006.
Cowboys’ defense non-existent
The Cowboys’ defense contributed -22.8 expected points to the team’s net scoring margin in the 2nd half against the Packers. That is the worst defensive EPA by any team in the 2nd half of a game this season.
The Packers scored a touchdown on each of their 2nd-half drives, excluding their final drive, which was 3 kneel downs. The Packers got first downs on 47 percent of their 2nd-half plays and converted 6-of-7 third downs during that span.
The Cowboys’ defensive EPA is -6.8 points per game this season. Only the Vikings (-8.0) have been worse.
EPA looks at the impact of every play on each team's potential points, attributing those to the actual unit on the field – offense, defense or special teams. When aggregated over the course of a game or season, EPA numbers show how much each unit contributed to the team's final point margin. EPA takes into account each unit’s impact on moving the ball, creating turnovers and scoring points.
Cutler good when it counts
Jay Cutler had a 99.9 Total QBR in the 4th quarter, completing 5-of-7 passes for 71 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Bears’ 38-31 win over the Browns. Cutler's Total QBR in the 4th quarter this season is 95.2, 1st in the NFL among qualified QBs.
Cutler overcame 2 costly interceptions in the game. His 1st interception, thrown into the end zone on 1st and 10 at the Browns’ 14, cost the Bears an expected 4.9 points. Combined with his pick-six in the second quarter, Cutler cost the Bears 11.0 expected points with his 2 interceptions.
Saints leave offense at home
The Saints' offense contributed 6.0 expected points to their net scoring margin against the Rams, almost doubling their offensive EPA on the road this season (now at 13.3, 15th in NFL). Their offense has added 104.9 expected points at home this season, and no team averages more per game.
Drew Brees’ Total QBR was 35.5 against the Rams and is 55.8 on the road (12th in NFL) this season. It is 80.3 at home (2nd in NFL).
Eli Manning’s Total QBR was 2.1 against the Seahawks, his worst Total QBR in a game since the start of the 2006 season. Manning threw a career-high 5 interceptions, and converted one of nine third downs. Manning’s Total QBR this season is 36.0, more than 10 points worse than his previous low (46.2, 2006).
Matt Cassel posted a career-high 96.3 Total QBR (min. 15 action plays) against the Eagles. Brett Favre (97.5) is the only Vikings quarterback to post a higher Total QBR in a game since 2006 (44-7 win in Week 17, 2009, vs Giants).
The Rams’ special teams added 6.4 expected points against the Saints. They blocked a field goal attempt by Garrett Hartley, and Hartley missed another field goal wide left late in the game. The Rams’ special teams unit has added 2.4 expected points per game this season, 2nd in the NFL behind the Chiefs (3.0).
Carson Palmer posted an 86.6 Total QBR against the Titans. His Total QBR is 77.6 since Week 8, 2nd-best in the NFL behind Josh McCown (Cardinals: 6-1 during that span).
The Chiefs’ offensive EPA was 21.2 against the Raiders, their 2nd-highest total in a game since the start of the 2006 season. The Chiefs’ offense added 20.3 expected points from Jamaal Charles’ 5 touchdowns (over 95% of their offensive EPA). Charles’ last touchdown added 6.2 expected points. EPA is measured on a play-by-play basis, taking the difference between what the expected points an average team would be expected to score in that same situation (based on historical NFL data), from their expected points after the play, and adding them up through the course of a game.
The Cowboys chose not to run with the lead
The Cowboys entered the second half with a 26-3 lead and DeMarco Murray had 93 yards rushing on 11 carries.
Despite the big lead and success on the ground, the Cowboys ran by design on only seven of their 30 second-half plays (23 percent).
The league-average play call when leading this season is 53 percent pass, 47 percent run. The Cowboys entered Sunday with the second-lowest run percentage when ahead—37 percent.
The Cowboys averaged just as many yards on rushes as dropbacks in the first half. In the second half, the Cowboys averaged 1.9 yards more on rushes.
The Packers scored a touchdown on all five of their second-half drives.
They are the fourth team with five touchdowns in a half this season, joining the Eagles, Chiefs and Broncos, who did it twice.
The Cowboys allowed five touchdowns in a half for the first time since a 49-21 loss to the Eagles in the 2004 season.
The key to this was that the Packers went 6 of 7 on third down in the second half, with the only “failed” conversion being Matt Flynn's kneeldown to end the game.
The Packers went 1 of 6 on third down in the first half, with the only conversion being a screen pass on the final play of the half
Flynn was 5 for 5 for 75 yards and a touchdown on his third-down passes in the final 30 minutes.
Eddie Lacy rushed for 110 yards on 13 carries in the second half, including a 60-yard run on the first play of the third quarter. He had seven straight runs in the fourth quarter that gained at least three yards, prior to his one-yard touchdown run.
Tony Romo threw a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter, one with the lead and one that clinched the game for the Packers.
This is the seventh time Romo has thrown a pick in the fourth quarter or overtime with his team tied or leading by one possession. That is nearly twice as many as any other QB since 2006 (when Romo became the starter in Dallas).
Romo is now tied with Tom Brady for the most 4th-quarter interceptions this season (four) when the score is within five points.
How unusual was the first pass resulting in an interception that Romo threw, one that came on a second-down situation?
Since 2001, teams have rushed the ball 95 percent of the time (3,061 rushes on 3,234 snaps) on first or second down when leading by one to seven points in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter.
The significance of the comeback
This marked the first time in franchise history that the Cowboys lost a game in which they led by 20 or more points at the half. Entering Sunday, they were 42-0 in such games.
The 23-point comeback tied the Packers' largest comeback in franchise history (Sept. 12, 1982 against the Rams. They trailed 23-0 and won 35-23).
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh Josh McCown has excelled in the starting role thanks in large part to his success on deep throws.
Because the Eagles beat the Lions Sunday, the winner of Monday’s game will be tied atop their division. Let's take a look at some of the key matchups for the Week 14 edition of Monday Night Football between the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears.
Josh McCown’s deep ball vs Cowboys defense
While filling in for the injured Jay Cutler, Josh McCown has posted a Total QBR of 78.4, second best in the NFL. McCown’s success has a lot to do with his deep throws. McCown has completed 51.7 percent of his passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield this season, second only to Russell Wilson. McCown has had most of his success when targeting Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who have combined to catch 12 of his 15 completions on deep throws.
The Cowboys’ ability to stop opposing quarterbacks on deep throws has had a direct impact on whether or not they win the game. In their seven wins, opposing quarterbacks have completed 34.7 percent of their passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield and posted a Total QBR of 34.0. In the Cowboys five losses, opposing quarterbacks have a nearly perfect 99.8 Total QBR, mostly due to a 66.7 completion percentage on deep throws.
Tony Romo’s deep ball vs Bears defense
Through the first five weeks of the season, Tony Romo was tied with Drew Brees for the best Total QBR on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield (99.5). Romo was averaging a league-high 18.7 yards per attempt on such throws. But lately, Romo has been unable to find the same success on deep throws. In his last seven games, Romo has a Total QBR of 51.6 on deep balls, 28th among qualified passers.
Romo will look to return to early season form as he goes against a Bears defense that has struggled defending deep passes.
The Bears have allowed a league-high 99.1 Total QBR and 57.1 completion percentage on passes thrown 15 or more yards this season.
DeMarco Murray’s inside running vs Bears defense
The strength of DeMarco Murray this season has been running inside. Murray has averaged 5.2 yards per rush on runs inside the tackles this season, fifth best in the NFL. He has averaged nearly a yard more per rush on those runs than he has on runs outside the tackles.
Murray could exploit a Bears defense that has struggled to stop the inside run.
The Bears have allowed 4.9 yards per rush on runs inside the tackles, third worst in the NFL. Since 2006, the Bears have never had a season in which they allowed more than 4.3 yards per rush on such runs. Since Lance Briggs was injured in Week 7, the Bears have allowed over 100 yards on runs inside the tackles in all five games. The Bears had allowed over 100 such rushing yards twice in their first seven games when Briggs was active.
Kaepernick’s nifty touch
Colin Kaepernick and company saw something in the Redskins defense that the 49ers felt he could exploit. Kaepernick went 6-for-9 for 158 yards and a touchdown on passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield. That included three completions in three attempts (with one touchdown) to Anquan Boldin.
This marked the second time in Kaepernick’s career that he had three touchdown passes and no interceptions. The other was in Week 1 of this season against the Green Bay Packers.
Redskins offense unimpressive
Entering Monday, Robert Griffin III had played 67 games at the college and professional levels and his team had scored an offensive touchdown in every one.
That came to an end against a 49ers defense that wasn’t fooled by anything.
Griffin was 1-for-6 for 1 yard on play-action. Redskins receivers had only 43 yards after the catch, by far their lowest total of the season. Washington gained only 100 yards rushing, its second-lowest total this season.
The Redskins' hopes of a comeback went unfulfilled. They gained 30 yards on offense in the second half, the fewest yards gained by any team in the second half of a game this season.
Unsung hero: LaMichael James
49ers punt returner LaMichael James had two returns of note in this game, the first an 11-yarder off a 51-yard punt from Sav Rocca that gave the 49ers field position on their own 38 to begin the drive that led to their first score.
James then had a 40-yard punt return in the third quarter with the 49ers up 17-6, leading to another score that put the game away.
It was the longest regular-season punt return for the 49ers since Week 14 of the 2011 season (a 52-yarder against the Cardinals).
The 49ers entered the day ranked 27th in the league in average yardage per punt return (7.0). But James is doing his part to better that, averaging 13.0 yards on 10 returns.
Did you know?
The 49ers improved their record to 7-1 in games played in the Eastern Time Zone in the past three seasons.
USA TODAY Sports/Greg M. CooperTom Brady and the Patriots rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit
Since 2001, teams are 2-148 in games in which they trailed by at least 24 points at the end of the 1st half.
Patriots special teams added 11.8 expected points Sunday, their most in a game since 2010. Tony Carter’s fumble on Ryan Allen’s punt with 3:11 left in overtime added 4.6 expected points for the Patriots. Stephen Gostkowski kicked the 31-yard game-winner 2 plays later.
Should the Packers have gone for it?
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy opted to kick the field goal on 4th-and-2 in overtime, thereby giving the Vikings a chance to match Green Bay’s field goal and extend the game.
But according to ESPN’s win probability model, this decision did not give the Packers their best chance of winning. Going for the touchdown would have made a Packers victory more likely.
Since 2001, NFL teams are 30-for-66 scoring a TD on 4th-and-goal from the 2 (45%). Taking into account the risk of not making it, the Packers would have had an 82 percent win probability had they gone for the touchdown on 4th-and-goal.
After the field goal, the Packers had a win probability of 71%. If they had not scored the touchdown, they would have had a win probability of 67% with the Vikings taking over inside their own 5-yard line.
There was very little to gain from making the field goal - approximately 71% chance to win versus 67% if the Packers missed but left the Vikings backed up.
The upside of the touchdown – guaranteed victory – makes going for it, given the fact that teams had scored a touchdown on 45% percent of previous such attempts, the better decision.
Romo leads Cowboys over Giants
On the 1st 10 Cowboys drives against the Giants, Tony Romo posted a total QBR of 32.3. The Cowboys converted 12.5 percent of their third downs and punted 7 times.
On the final drive, Romo posted a 92.8 QBR and went 3-for-3 on third down, converting all of those attempts for 1st downs. The Cowboys chewed 4:45 of clock as they drove 64 yards downfield, allowing Dan Bailey to kick the 35-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise – since 2011, Romo has 11 game-winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime, most in the NFL.
Over last 3 seasons, Romo has posted a 75.0 Total QBR with his team trailing by one score or tied in the 4th quarter or overtime, 4th best among quarterbacks with at least 10 such games in that span.
Chiefs’ offense thrives, defense struggles against Chargers
It was a wild one in Kansas City, as the Chiefs and Chargers traded blows, but the usually dominant Chiefs defense could not keep up with San Diego.
Entering the week, the Chiefs defense had added an average of 9.4 expected points per game, best in the league and on pace to be the best by any defense since 2009.
Sunday, the Chiefs D posted a minus-25.0 EPA, the 9th-worst EPA posted by a defense in any game this year. Chargers receivers ran for 228 yards after the catch, the most the Chiefs have allowed since at least 2006. Philip Rivers posted an 86.7 QBR, more than 59.4 rating points higher than the Chiefs NFL-best average entering the week.
While the Chiefs defense struggled, the offense was the best it’s been in a while. The Chiefs offense posted a 16.4 EPA, the best output Kansas City has had in a game since 2010. Alex Smith posted a season-high 79.4 Total QBR.
The Chiefs had 0 sacks for the second straight game, and they have not recorded a sack in their opponents’ last 90 dropbacks.
Manning's standard of excellence
Manning had a 66.5 Total QBR against the Chiefs, his 16th straight game with a Total QBR above 50.0. The next longest active streak in the NFL is Matthew Stafford with 5.
The Broncos are 15-1 during that span, and Manning has led the NFL in, among other categories, three significant quarterback measures.
Wilson has another outstanding game
Russell Wilson had a 98.5 Total QBR against the Vikings, his highest Total QBR in a game this season, and his second-straight game over 90.0. He has eight games in his career with a Total QBR above 90.0. Only Peyton Manning has more in the last 2 seasons.
Eagles put it away early, again
The Eagles jumped to a big halftime lead against Washington for the second time this season, averaging 9.3 yards per play, more efficient than their 53-play first half in the season opener. In both games, the Eagles’ halftime win probability was over 95 percent, and they held off a late comeback attempt. Both wins were decided by 8 points or fewer, but the Eagles’ second-half win probability never dropped below 87.8 percent in either game.
Foles, RG-3 go their separate ways
Nick Foles posted a 71.1 Total QBR, compared with Robert Griffin III’s 35.6 Total QBR Sunday. Foles’ Total QBR has climbed 35.2 points this season to 78.2, the largest improvement in the league. Griffin’s has gone down 28 points, the third-largest decline of any quarterback this season.
Bengals' defense and special teams headline comeback
The Bengals scored a franchise-record 31 points in the second quarter of their 41-20 win over the Browns. The specials teams and defense combined to add 41.4 expected points to the Bengals’ net margin, the second-greatest combination of any team’s defense and special teams units in the last eight seasons. The offense contributed -21.2 expected points, the Bengals’ worst in a win in the last eight seasons.
The Bengals have two of the four highest defensive EPA games of any NFL team this season. In addition to the 24.1 points Sunday, they had 22.6 expected points added in Week 8 against the Jets.
Hard times for Kaepernick
The 49ers lost their second consecutive game against a team with a winning record, dropping them to 2-4 this year against teams currently at or above .500. Colin Kaepernick has a 38.8 Total QBR in such games, compared with a 96.9 Total QBR against below .500 teams, the best in the NFL.
Dalton continues roller coaster
Andy Dalton posted a 3.7 Total QBR Sunday, the lowest Total QBR of his career, and the lowest by any quarterback in a win since Jake Delhomme (2.2) in 2008 in Carolina's win over the Raiders (min. 30 action plays). Dalton’s play has taken a nose dive in his last three games, after a three-game stretch capped by the highest Total QBR game in his career against the Jets in Week 8 (98.9).
Jason Campbell finished with a 7.3 Total QBR. Dalton and Campbell combined for the lowest Total QBR (11.0) by any quarterbacks facing each other in a game this season.
The pass, not the run
The Vikings rallied from a 27-14 deficit with 9:22 left in the third quarter on the arms of Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel rather than the legs of Adrian Peterson.
Ponder and Cassel were a combined 11-for-14 for 136 yards and a touchdown after the Vikings got down by 13 points.
But Peterson did play a role in the comeback. Faking to him via the play-action pass was the key: The pair of maligned quarterbacks went 6-for-6 for 69 yards and a touchdown on play-action in that span.
Peterson finished with 75 rushing yards, the fewest in a Vikings' win since Week 16 of the 2011 season, also against the Redskins.
Peterson does have 9,635 career rushing yards. He passed Walter Payton for fifth-most by a running back within the first seven seasons of his career. The record of 10,560 is held by LaDainian Tomlinson.
Vikings defense comes up big
The Redskins' offense looked dominant in the first half, but wilted late.
Robert Griffin III completed 8 of 10 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns against five or more pass rushers in the first half, but was 1-for-4 for only two yards and was sacked twice against that pressure in the second half.
Kevin Williams had his first 2.5 sacks of the season, all in the second half. It was his most sacks in a game since Week 6 of the 2008 season against the Lions, when he had four against the Lions.
The Redskins went 9-for-11 on third down in the first half, but went 0-for-5 on third downs in the final 30 minutes.
Stat of the day: Ponder was Favre-like
Ponder finished 17-for-21, leaving with a shoulder injury. Ponder's 81 percent completion percentage was the fifth-best ever by a Vikings quarterback with at least 20 pass attempts. The last one better was Brett Favre went 22-for-25 (88 percent) in a win over the Seattle Seahawks in 2009.