Stats & Info: NFL

Top stats to know: Bills', Eagles' big swap

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
8:34
PM ET
Last offseason, the Buffalo Bills traded a conditional draft pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for running back Bryce Brown.

This offseason, it looks like the Bills are going back to the Eagles to help their ground game, and they’re netting a much more prominent running back.

They reportedly acquired LeSean McCoy from the Eagles for linebacker Kiko Alonso, who starred as a rookie in 2013 but missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL.

The deal can be announced after the new NFL year starts on March 10.

Bills boost their ground game
The Bills decided to give their running game a jolt. It posted the second fewest expected points added (EPA) on rushing plays in 2014. The only team to rank worse was the Cardinals.

The Bills averaged 3.7 yards per rush in 2014, 26th in the league. Bills rushers didn't get much room, averaging 2.0 yards before contact per rush (28th in the league).

The Bills have had only one 1,000-yard rusher in the past five seasons (C.J. Spiller - 1,244 in 2012). McCoy has rushed for 1,000 yards in four of the last five seasons.

McCoy will have the second-highest cap hit of any running back this season ($11.95 million, nearly $3.5 million less than Adrian Peterson).

Why McCoy might have struggled in 2014
McCoy went from ranking fifth in the NFL in yards per rush in 2013 (5.1) to ranking 22nd in 2014 (4.2).

Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson was suspended for the first four weeks of last season, and McCoy’s play improved with Johnson’s presence.

McCoy averaged only 48 rushing yards per game and 2.8 yards per rush the first four weeks of the season, then averaged 94 rushing yards and 4.6 yards per rush the rest of the season.

One possible reason for McCoy's down 2014 season was offensive line instability. Only the Titans and Falcons (10) had more linemen with at least 100 snaps than the Eagles (9). In 2013, the Eagles were one of five teams that had the minimum five different linemen record at least 100 snaps.

McCoy does have a lot of wear on his legs. His 626 carries over the last two seasons are the most in the NFL. His 1,566 rushes and receptions are tied with Matt Forte for the most in the NFL over the last five seasons. McCoy leaves the Eagles as their all-time rushing yardage leader (6,792).

What Alonso brings
Alonso’s 159 tackles ranked third in the NFL in 2013, the third-most in a rookie season over the last 10 seasons. No Eagles player had more than 82 tackles in 2014.

Alonso had 117 tackles on rushing plays during his 2013 rookie season. Those 117 are the most for anyone in a season over the last three seasons.

Alonso and Luke Kuechly (2013) are the only two players to have a season with at least 150 tackles and four interceptions in the last 10 seasons.

Kelly gets his Ducks in a row
Alonso will become the ninth Oregon Duck on the Eagles roster. All nine played at Oregon under current Eagles coach Chip Kelly.
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NFL

Would new team help revive Johnson?

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
11:34
AM ET

Matthew Emmons/USA TodayAndre Johnson’s 6.0 receptions per game is the highest average in NFL history among qualified players.
Andre Johnson has been granted permission to seek a trade from the Houston Texans, according to ESPN Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and other media reports.

Stats & Info takes a look at what the 12-year veteran has done -- both long-term, when he was among the best receivers in the NFL, and more recently, when he has become less dangerous to opposing defenses.


Since Johnson entered the NFL in 2003, no player has had more targets, catches and receiving yards than Johnson.

His 1,012 career receptions are the most in NFL history through a player's age-33 season, and his average of 6.0 receptions per game is the highest in NFL history (minimum 100 games played).

Performance comes at a price
Among wide receivers, only Calvin Johnson has a higher salary-cap charge for 2015 than Johnson.

The relatively high salary is accompanied by declining production. Johnson averaged 62.4 receiving yards per game last season, his least since 2005 and 25 yards less than his 2013 average.

Despite an NFL-high 306 receptions the last three seasons, Johnson is tied for 53rd for most receiving touchdowns in that time (12).

If the Texans trade (or release) Johnson before June 1, they will take a $7.3 million cap hit of dead money for 2015. With Johnson’s scheduled cap hit to be $16.1 million, such a move would net the Texans a savings of $8.8 million.

The Texans have $13.4 million in cap space for 2015, which is eighth lowest in the league.

Lasting impact with Texans
Johnson has 13,597 career receiving yards, 8,980 more yards than the next closest player in Texans franchise history (Owen Daniels). The 13,497 yards rank 12th on the NFL’s all-time list and rank sixth for the most receiving yards with one team. Jerry Rice is the leader with 19,247 yards with the San Francisco 49ers.

Johnson is also the Texans’ franchise leader in receiving touchdowns with 64. Daniels is the next closest with 29.

He has amassed these statistics catching passes from a group of quarterbacks -- headed by Matt Schaub -- that is not particularly noteworthy. Johnson has caught 487 passes from Schaub, 278 from David Carr and lesser amounts from Sage Rosenfels, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tony Banks, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, Dave Ragone and Jake Delhomme.

An upgrade in the player passing him the ball should benefit Johnson.

If Johnson were to leave the Texans this offseason, there will have been only one receiver with more 1,000-yard receiving seasons with his original franchise than Johnson’s seven: Rice (12).

The good news for Johnson? Every receiver to post at least five 1,000-yard seasons before changing teams (Rice, Steve Smith, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Anquan Boldin and James Lofton) went on to have another 1,000-yard season with a subsequent team.

Should Bears cut ties with Jay Cutler?

February, 19, 2015
Feb 19
11:04
AM ET

AP Photo, USA TODAY SportsThe Bears' front office and coaching staff has a decision to make on QB Jay Cutler.

The Chicago Bears finished 23rd in the NFL in scoring in 2014 despite a large financial commitment to their starting quarterback. This kind of performance has turned the Bears’ investment in Jay Cutler into a questionable one, though they do have a few options.

Three of those options are to continue to pay Cutler an average of $18.3 million per season over the next five years, release him now and move on with another quarterback, or stick with Cutler for two years and move on after. Based on the financial savings involved and Cutler’s performance on the field, the Bears might be better off getting rid of him now.

The Bears’ options with Cutler result in vastly different total financial commitments (TFC).

Option A: Keep Cutler and pay him ($91.7M TFC)
Cutler will cost the Bears $91.7 million in salary-cap value through the 2020 season, an average of $18.3 million per year.

Over the past three years, Cutler has a Total QBR of 56. If Cutler were to continue this performance, he would produce 43 expected points added during each season. The Bears would be paying $2.1 million per expected point added by Cutler if his performance never drops off.

Option B: Release Cutler, pay premium for free agent ($37.5M TFC, $1.4M per point added)

Based on Total QBR, Brian Hoyer and Mark Sanchez are the two top quarterbacks on the free-agent market. The Bears would likely pay in the neighborhood of $6 million per season for one of these quarterbacks.

If a quarterback signed in free agency has a slightly below-average 45 Total QBR through a full season, he would produce 26 expected points added per season. This performance would be 17 expected points added fewer than Cutler, or about one point per game.

Option C: Keep Cutler for two years, cut him later ($25.5M TFC, plus future financial commitment to another quarterback)

If Cutler is on the Bears’ roster on March 12, $10 million of his 2016 salary becomes guaranteed. This would mean that Cutler is essentially playing on a two-year, $25.5 million guaranteed deal and could be cut afterward with no penalty.

Which option should the Bears choose? By letting Cutler go and signing Hoyer or Sanchez, the Bears would be expected to score one fewer point per game. They would free up $54.2 million to be used over the next five seasons, beginning this season, an average of $10.8 million per year.

If they chose option B, the Bears would be hurt in 2015 by cap commitments totaling $25.5 million to two quarterbacks (Cutler and the free agent they would sign). While this seems like a lot, the team would have an extra $10.8 million per year to spend on other players over the next five years.

Fitzgerald's deal: Stable QB should help

February, 18, 2015
Feb 18
1:19
PM ET

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TodayLarry Fitzgerald’s statistics in 2014 were better before Carson Palmer’s injury.
Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona Cardinals agreed to a two-year contract Wednesday, keeping the most productive receiver in franchise history in place. And if Carson Palmer can make a successful return from ACL surgery, there's reason to think Fitzgerald will benefit.

What does Fitzgerald mean to the Cardinals? He has 323 more receptions, 3,654 more receiving yards and 20 more touchdowns (rushing or receiving) than any other player in Cardinals history.

Receptions: 1. Fitzgerald 909, 2. Anquan Boldin 586
Receiving yards: 1. Fitzgerald 12,151, 2. Roy Green 8,497
Rushing and receiving touchdowns: 1. Fitzgerald 89, 2. Green 69

Is there an explanation for declining stats?
Fitzgerald had the fourth-most receiving yards in the NFL in 2011. His average rank in the three seasons since has been 38th.

With nine 30-yard receptions combined in the past three seasons, he appears to have lost the threat of a deep play. He had 14 30-yard receptions in 2011.

In 2014, Fitzgerald had a career-low two receiving touchdowns. He also had his fewest receptions (63) and receiving yards (784) since his rookie season of 2004.

But with Palmer at quarterback, Fitzgerald averaged 81 yards per game, which would have been his highest total since 2011.

The future for Fitzgerald
The 2015 season will be Fitzgerald's 12th in the NFL. There have been 39 instances of a player having at least 1,000 receiving yards in his 12th season or later in NFL history.

Fitzgerald has caught at least one pass from 16 quarterbacks and a touchdown pass from 12 quarterbacks in his career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, catching at least one pass from 16 QBs is one shy of the most by an active player.

Brandon Lloyd and Derek Hagan have caught at least one pass from 17 quarterbacks, and Santana Moss also has at least one reception from 16 quarterbacks.

Top stats to know: If Manning does play ...

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
7:53
PM ET

Tim Rasmussen/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning sounds like he doesn't want to go out with his head hanging as he did after a loss to the Colts in the divisional playoffs.
Denver Broncos general manager John Elway has said he wants Peyton Manning to come back.

And now, Manning has told the Broncos he is physically and mentally prepared to play in 2015.

So what statistical and anecdotal storylines are in play now that it sounds like Manning will be back on the field?

Pursuit of a title
Manning turns 39 on March 24. If he led the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory, he would be the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, surpassing Elway, who was 38 when he won a title with the 1998 Broncos.

Records in reach
Though Manning has already broken the record for most career touchdown passes, there are a couple other notable milestones on the horizon.

Manning has thrown for 69,691 yards in his career. He needs 2,147 yards to match Brett Favre’s record for most career passing yards.

Manning's 179 wins are second most in NFL history. He's seven regular-season wins shy of Favre's record in that department.

Manning has led the NFL in touchdown passes four times in his career, tied for the most instances with Len Dawson, Steve Young, Drew Brees and Favre.

But only one quarterback has thrown more than 25 touchdown passes in a season in which he was at least 39 years old when the season started, Favre with 33 in 2009.

Endings aren't usually storybook
Elway saved the best for last in his playing career, winning the Super Bowl in each of his last two seasons.

But career endings are rarely that kind to aging quarterbacks. A few examples:

Terry Bradshaw went undefeated with the Steelers in four Super Bowl appearances, but his career ended with an elbow injury and only one playoff appearance in his final four seasons.

Chargers legend Dan Fouts didn’t make the playoffs in any of his final five seasons before retiring after the 1987 season. Fouts threw more interceptions than touchdowns in each of his last two seasons.

After four Super Bowl defeats with the Bills, Jim Kelly finished his career with a career-low 14 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions in his last season. He was carted off the field in his last game after suffering a concussion against the Jaguars in the 1996 playoffs.

Joe Montana missed most of his last two seasons with the 49ers due to an elbow injury before being traded to the Chiefs to clear the way for Steve Young. Montana had his moments with the Chiefs but went out with a loss to Dan Marino and the Dolphins in the 1994 wild-card playoffs.

Young’s career ended in more painful fashion -- he retired after a concussion from a violent sack in 1999, almost five years removed from his last Super Bowl win.

Dan Marino threw 12 touchdowns in 11 games in 1999 and missed several games due to a neck injury before calling it quits after the season.

Warren Moon didn’t post a winning record as a starter in any of his final six seasons, during which he played for three different teams. Moon played until he was 44, retiring after two seasons as the Chiefs' backup.

Troy Aikman averaged less than 150 passing yards per start in his final season as he suffered several concussions and battled persistent back issues before retiring in the 2001 offseason.

Favre ended his retirement drama by calling it quits after the 2010 season. Favre had a 33-touchdown season in 2009 but followed it up with a rough 2010, lowlighted by the end of his consecutive games started streak and leaving his final game against the Bears with a concussion.
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NFL

Can free-agent spending buy a title?

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
3:01
PM ET

Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsDeMarco Murray (left) and Dez Bryant are expected to sign big free-agent contracts this offseason. But offseason spending does not always lead to regular-season success.
With NFL free agency beginning March 10, ESPN Stats & Information will examine some of the biggest stories surrounding the 2015 free-agent class.

What impact does “winning the offseason” have on win-loss records in the NFL?

Six of the 12 teams that have ranked in the top three in free-agent spending since 2011 did not improve their win total, including all three of last year’s top spending teams. The below information comes from spotrac.com.

2014 Offseason
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($147 million), Denver Broncos ($128M) and New York Giants ($111M) spent the most in terms of cash value during the offseason, but the trio averaged a two-win drop-off compared to 2013 (including playoffs). The Patriots, who won Super Bowl XLIX, ranked 16th in free-agent spending last offseason.

2013 Offseason
The Miami Dolphins ($160M), Indianapolis Colts ($129M) and Tennessee Titans ($133M) each added one win compared to their 2012 totals. The Colts were the only team to make it to the postseason. The Seattle Seahawks, winners of Super Bowl XLVIII, ranked 24th in total cash value spent that offseason.

2012 Offseason
The Buccaneers ($162M) were big spenders in 2012 and added three wins to their 2011 total of four. Peyton Manning’s move to Denver helped the Broncos ($151M) improve from eight to 13 wins. The Bills ($129M) made headlines by signing defensive end Mario Williams but finished with another 6-10 season. The Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens ranked sixth in free-agent spending that year.

2011 Offseason
The Carolina Panthers ($198M) spent big the year they drafted Cam Newton, which was after a two-win 2010 season. They won six games in 2011. The win totals of both the Seahawks ($134M) and Falcons ($125M) decreased from 2010 to 2011. The Giants ranked 17th in total cash value that offseason before winning Super Bowl XLVI.

How are champions built?
The spending habits of the past four Super Bowl champions varied, but there was one common thread -- none of the major free-agent acquisitions underperformed on teams that won the Super Bowl. All signings at least met or exceeded the cap value of their contracts.

The below information comes from the Roster Management System.

The Patriots spent heavily in the 2014 free-agent market, signing three of the team’s top four defensive backs in snaps played from outside the organization (Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Patrick Chung). Brandon LaFell and LeGarrette Blount played important roles in New England’s Super Bowl run as well.

The 2013 Seahawks used a pair of offseason acquisitions (Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril) to fuel a pass rush that pressured opposing quarterbacks on a league-high 33 percent of dropbacks.

Both the 2012 Ravens and 2011 Giants spent heavily on internal free agents. Baltimore found some bargains with external free agents that cost less than $2 million each, but spent a combined $7.4 million of their 2012 cap to bring back defensive contributors Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe and Brendon Ayanbadejo. The Giants took a similar approach, committing $9.1 million on Ahmad Bradshaw, Kevin Boothe, Mathias Kiwanuka and Deon Grant.

NFL free-agent class: Star-power potential

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
9:48
AM ET

Tim Fuller/USA Today Ndamukong Suh is among the top players who can become free agents this offseason.

With NFL free agency beginning March 10, ESPN Stats & Information will examine some of the biggest issues surrounding the 2015 free-agent class.

This year’s free-agent class is highlighted by its star power. Among the top players who might be available are three-time first-team All-Pro Ndamukong Suh and the NFL’s 2014 leaders in rushing yards (DeMarco Murray), sacks (Justin Houston) and receiving touchdowns (Dez Bryant).

The class features 67 players who have been named to a Pro Bowl, 21 who have been named first-team All-Pro by The Associated Press at some point in their careers (including five in 2014) and four coming off franchise record-breaking seasons (see below).

History could be an indicator of whether the biggest names find new addresses:

DeMarco Murray: The NFL’s leading rusher one season has never started the next season on a different team after moving via free agency. The most recent player who led the NFL in rushing and started the next season on a different team was Bill Dudley, who was traded from the Steelers to the Lions before the 1947 season.

Dez Bryant: Since unrestricted free agency began in 1992, Muhsin Muhammad is the only player to lead the NFL in receiving touchdowns and start the next season on a different team. Muhammad was released by the Carolina Panthers and signed by the Chicago Bears in 2005.

Demaryius Thomas: Among the 30 previous occurrences of an NFL player recording 1,500 receiving yards in a season, there have been no instances of the player starting his next season on a different team. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Muhammad has the most receiving yards (1,405) of any player to start the next season on a different team.

Justin Houston: Among the 32 players to lead the NFL in sacks since sacks became an official stat in 1982, two players started the next season on a different team. Most recently, Jared Allen was traded from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Minnesota Vikings between the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Kevin Greene was the other; he was released by the Panthers after the 1996 season and signed with the San Francisco 49ers.

The period with the most significant free-agent moves might have been the offseason between the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

Free agency can be multiple-choice test

February, 11, 2015
Feb 11
10:26
AM ET

Chris Humphreys/USA TodayTwo of Denver's top receiving threats, Julius Thomas (80) and Demaryius Thomas, are free agents.
With NFL free agency beginning March 10, ESPN Stats & Information will examine some of the biggest issues surrounding the 2015 free-agent class.

Tough decisions this offseason: Some teams have several key contributors hitting the free-agent market this offseason and insufficient cap space to sign them all. Given a choice between multiple players, which one do you take?

COWBOYS: RB DeMarco Murray or WR Dez Bryant?
DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant accounted for more than 56 percent of the Dallas Cowboys’ yards from scrimmage last season, second-highest among teammates in the NFL.

The case for Murray:
• He will be 27 at the start of the 2015 season.
• He led the NFL in rushing (1,845 yards, a franchise record) and yards from scrimmage (2,261 yards) in 2014. His yards from scrimmage were 36 percent of the team’s total, highest in the NFL last season.
• The Cowboys ran on an NFL-high 48 percent of their plays in 2014.

The case for Bryant:
• He will turn 27 during the 2015 season.
• He led the NFL and set the Cowboys’ franchise record with 16 receiving touchdowns in 2014.
• He has gained 1,000 or more yards and scored 10 or more touchdowns in three successive seasons.
• He caught 68 percent of his targets from quarterback Tony Romo in 2014.

Buyer beware
One risk of investing in Murray is his workload in 2014. Murray’s season was the 42nd instance in NFL history of a player having at least 400 touches (rushes and receptions) in a season.

In the previous 41 instances, the players in the season after their 400-touch campaigns averaged 106 fewer touches and 590 fewer yards, and more than half of the players (25) averaged fewer yards per touch.

BRONCOS: WR Demaryius Thomas or TE Julius Thomas?
The case for Demaryius Thomas:
• He will turn 28 during the 2015 season.
• Over the past three seasons, he ranks third in the NFL in receptions (297), second in receiving yards (4,483) and second in receiving touchdowns (35).
• He has had 90 or more receptions, 1,400 or more yards and 10 or more touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.
• He leads the NFL with 1,874 yards after the catch over the past three seasons.

The case for Julius Thomas:
• He will be 27 at the start of the 2015 season.
• He scored 12 touchdowns in the 13 games he played last season (tied for the most touchdowns among tight ends).
• His 24 receiving touchdowns the past two seasons are the fourth-most in the NFL in that time -- second among tight ends.
• He caught 87 percent of red zone targets last season.

Buyer beware
With quarterback Peyton Manning’s status for the 2015 season still in question, can either of the Thomases produce at the same level without him?
Although a small sample, Julius Thomas has caught two of nine passes (22.2 percent) thrown by quarterbacks other than Manning in his career (73.8 percent from Manning). Demaryius Thomas has more than doubled his production from 2010-11, when he was without Manning.

PACKERS: WR Randall Cobb, OT Bryan Bulaga or CB Tramon Williams?
The case for Randall Cobb:
• He has caught 75 percent of his targets from Aaron Rodgers in his career.
• He led the NFL in receptions (75), receiving yards (1,067) and receiving touchdowns (12) from the slot last season.

The case for Bryan Bulaga:
• The Green Bay Packers allowed pressure on 20 percent of their dropbacks with Bulaga on the field the past five seasons (24 percent with him off the field).
• Rodgers has suffered a broken collarbone and calf injuries the past two seasons.

The case for Tramon Williams:
• He has 28 career interceptions, the sixth-most since 2007.
• He has missed one game in his career.

Buyer beware
Cobb might be the biggest name, but the Packers might want to support Rodgers in other ways.

The Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010. That season, they ranked second in points per game allowed, their highest rank of the Rodgers era. Rodgers was pressured on 19 percent of his dropbacks that season, the lowest percentage of his career.

Why Cowboys should be careful on Murray

February, 9, 2015
Feb 9
6:07
PM ET

Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsComing off his career year, DeMarco Murray will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Now that the Super Bowl has passed, it's time to turn our attention to the offseason, and free agency.

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray had an incredible 2014 season, rushing for nearly 500 more yards than any other NFL player. But as an unrestricted free agent coming off a career year, Murray could be looking to cash in while the Cowboys have other priorities, including locking up Dez Bryant, who is also an unrestricted free agent.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said it will be "a challenge" to sign both Murray and Bryant, and a quick look at the Cowboys' 2015 salary cap shows why. Dallas currently is projected about $5 million under the cap for 2015, but as ESPN's Todd Archer outlined here, the Cowboys can create about $45 million in cap space to sign both Murray and Bryant. So what should they do?

Below are some thoughts on why it might be wise to let Murray walk.

Running backs have become devalued
In recent years, running backs have been devalued more and more by NFL teams. Consider:

•  Fewer top draft picks: No running back has been drafted in the first round in either of the past two NFL drafts. Those are the only two years in the Common Draft Era (since 1967) when that has happened.

•  Lower spending: In 2014, NFL teams spent five percent of the salary cap on running backs, the lowest percentage in the past 15 seasons. Teams spent almost nine percent of the cap on quarterbacks, the second-highest percentage over that span. From 2000 to 2004, teams spent nearly the same on running backs as quarterbacks (seven percent of the cap).

•  More running back by committee approaches: In each of the past two seasons, only two running backs have had at least 300 carries (including Murray in 2014). In the previous 15 seasons, an average of 7.9 running backs per season had at least 300 rushes.

Murray due for decline?
Murray had 449 touches in 2014, the sixth most in a season in NFL history. It was also the first season of his career he played in 16 games. History indicates regression will win out next season and his production will decline.

Murray's season was the 42nd instance in NFL history of a player having at least 400 touches (rushes plus receptions) in a season.

Here's how the previous 41 fared the following season:

•  35 (85 percent) had fewer touches (averaged 106.4 fewer touches)

•  33 (81 percent) had fewer yards from scrimmage (averaged 590 fewer yards from scrimmage)

•  25 (61 percent) averaged fewer yards per touch (0.22 fewer yards per touch)

•  25 (61 percent) had fewer total touchdowns (3.3 fewer touchdowns)

•  20 (49 percent) of them played in fewer games (averaged 2.3 fewer games)

Cowboys have internal options
Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams (who spent the season on the practice squad) are the only running backs on the Cowboys' active roster signed for 2015.

The team could also elect to bring back Lance Dunbar, who is a restricted free agent.

Murray led the league in rushing, but how much was due to him and how much was due to the Cowboys' offensive line?

Randle and Dunbar combined actually had a higher per-rush average than Murray did this past season, albeit with a much smaller workload.

In fact, among the 73 running backs with at least 50 rushes in 2014, nobody averaged more yards per rush than Randle (6.7).

Yards, turnovers don't tell story of Pats' win

February, 3, 2015
Feb 3
9:49
AM ET

Kathy Willens/APRob Gronkowski’s TD catch, ending an 80-yard drive: The Patriots turned their yards into points.
The New England Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX despite committing more turnovers (two to one) and gaining fewer yards (377 to 396) than the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots became just the second team to win the Super Bowl in that fashion, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In Super Bowl XL, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Seahawks 21-10 despite losing the turnover battle (2–1) and yardage battle (339–396).

But don't take that to mean the Patriots were outplayed.

Yards and turnovers are important, of course, but even together they do not capture the complete performance of a team. Points (and, correspondingly, the win column) capture the entire performance of a team within a game, but they can’t be divided up nicely like yards to show which units, plays, etc., really contributed to the final score and the win/loss.

Examining each play's impact
A better way to measure such contributions is by using expected points added, or EPA. The details are explained here, but the crux is that EPA looks at the impact of each play on each team’s point potential.

The number can be aggregated by play type, unit, etc., to look at how many points were contributed to the scoring margin across plays. This accounts not only for the summary statistics of yards, turnovers and red zone percentage, but also for the context around those in terms of their contributions to the scoring margin.

Looking at the Super Bowl, specifically:
•  The Patriots' biggest edge was turning yards into points. After their second drive ended with an interception, the other four long Patriots drives (60 or more yards each) all ended in touchdowns – 28 points including the PATs.

The Seahawks’ five long drives (50 or more yards each), on the other hand, resulted in three touchdowns, one field goal and the final interception by Malcolm Butler – 24 points.

•  Speaking of that final interception, that is the type of play that goes to show that all turnovers are not created equal. Based on the down, distance and yard line before and after each play, Tom Brady’s two interceptions cost the Patriots 5.3 expected points.

Both came on third-and-long where conversions were unlikely, so the pre-play expectation was already relatively low (especially the second interception, which came on third-and-9 from the Patriots' 32). Russell Wilson’s interception came on second-and-goal from the Patriots' 1, a very high potential situation, and cost the Seahawks 5.0 expected points by itself.

Given the game situation, that final interception could be seen as considerably more costly in terms of its impact on chances of winning, which is better measured using win probability added (WPA).

According to WPA, Wilson’s interception cost Seattle 62 percentage points in terms of winning. Brady’s two turnovers cost New England “only” 18 percentage points of win probability.

•  This is a smaller factor, but penalty yards don’t count toward official yardage totals. The Seahawks were penalized for 70 yards compared with 36 for the Patriots (all on offense or defense), so this would even out some of Seattle’s perceived advantage, as well.

Putting everything together, the Patriots' offense contributed nearly 16 points to the scoring margin, compared with about nine for Seattle.

So by looking at the proper context around the yards and turnovers, as EPA does, you can see that the Patriots' offense and defense did, in fact, outplay the Seahawks’ units – at least in terms of their contributions to the point margin.

The advantage wasn’t much, but just enough for New England to take home the title in Super Bowl XLIX.

Inside Seattle's decision to pass from the 1

February, 2, 2015
Feb 2
11:43
AM ET

Rob Carr/Getty ImagesRussell Wilson became the first player this season to throw an interception from the 1-yard line.
The biggest play of Super Bowl XLIX was the Seahawks’ pass play on 2nd-and-goal from the New England 1-yard line with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Russell Wilson’s pass to Ricardo Lockette was intercepted by Malcolm Butler.

Was it the worst play call in Super Bowl history, as some contend, or was it a smart decision with poor execution? We go inside the numbers on both sides of the debate.

Why the Seahawks should have run
In the past five seasons, including the playoffs entering last night, teams on the opponent’s 1-yard line ran the ball on 71 percent of all plays. On those plays, teams scored a touchdown 54 percent of the time while turning the ball over 1.5 percent of the time.

When passing from the 1, teams scored a touchdown just under 50 percent of the time while turning the ball over at a slightly higher rate.

The Patriots allowed five touchdowns on six rushes from their 1-yard line this season, including the playoffs (83 percent). Only the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins (both 100 percent) allowed touchdowns on a higher percentage of rushing plays from the 1-yard line.

If Seattle ran on second down, called a timeout and ran on third down, based on the league average touchdown percentage, two rushes would have resulted in a touchdown 79 percent of the time.

Why they shouldn't have run
For starters, interceptions on pass plays at the 1-yard line are very rare. Wilson’s was the 109th pass attempt from the 1-yard line in the NFL this season and the first to be picked off.

In the past 10 seasons, including the playoffs, quarterbacks have thrown 270 passes on second down from the opponent’s 1. They combined for 129 touchdowns and just five interceptions (Wilson’s on Sunday being the fifth).

Additionally, Marshawn Lynch has not been particularly good at punching it in from the 1-yard line in the past five seasons.

Among 39 running backs with at least 10 carries from the 1-yard line in the past five seasons (including playoffs), Lynch’s touchdown percentage (45 percent) ranks 30th. Also consider that this season, Lynch scored a touchdown on 1-of-5 rushes from the 1-yard line.

It is important to note the change in philosophy on plays from the 1-yard line for NFL offenses as well. Teams have been throwing more often and had their most success throwing in 2014, as the chart shows.

A bigger question could be the play call. As Darrelle Revis said after the game: “I think the run’s coming with Marshawn. I just figured that they were just going to try to pound it with Marshawn Lynch for the touchdown, and they did not and it was in our favor.”

If most players on the Patriots expected the run, why not throw in a play-action fake, like on the Doug Baldwin touchdown from the 3-yard line? In the past five seasons, teams have scored a touchdown on 57 percent of their pass attempts from the 1-yard line after play action and 45 percent without a run fake.

Wilson was 6-for-7 for 132 yards and a touchdown on play-action passes Sunday, but did not use a play fake on the final offensive snap for the Seahawks.

Top stats to know: Patriots win Super Bowl

February, 1, 2015
Feb 1
10:33
PM ET

The New England Patriots appeared headed to another tough defeat in the Super Bowl, and it seemed that way on more than one occasion.

The first was when they trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter. But they had already overcome bigger deficits this postseason, and a well-experienced quarterback led them to the lead.

The game didn’t end there. After an amazing catch, the Seattle Seahawks had the ball on the Patriots' 1-yard line and looked as if they were going to take the game in the final seconds.

Malcolm Butler had other ideas, as he made a game-saving interception on Russell Wilson's quick throw to the goal line.

The Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl by edging the Seahawks 28-24 in one of the most dramatic finishes in the history of the event.

The history

The Patriots became the sixth team with at least four Super Bowl wins. They are tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys for most Super Bowl appearances, with eight.

The Patriots and Cowboys are the only teams to win multiple Super Bowls as the No. 1 seed under the current playoff format (since 1990).

The MVP: Tom Brady

Tom Brady became the third starting quarterback to win four Super Bowls, joining Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana. At 37 years old, Brady is the fourth-oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.

Brady went 13 seasons between his first and latest Super Bowl wins. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, that’s tied with Ted Hendricks for the most ever.

Brady became the sixth quarterback to throw at least four touchdown passes in a Super Bowl. He went 8-for-8 for 69 yards on the Patriots’ go-ahead drive and capped it with a 3-yard touchdown throw to Julian Edelman.

Brady has 13 career Super Bowl touchdown passes, after surpassing Joe Montana for most all-time. Brady also became the first Super Bowl-winning quarterback to beat Russell Wilson. Wilson was 10-0 against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks before this game.

The most talked-about play: Butler’s interception

Butler’s interception came just after he was on the wrong end of Jermaine Kearse’s seat-of-his-pants catch inside the Patriots' 5-yard line. The interception was the first of Butler's NFL career.

Butler had played 14 snaps in the Patriots’ first two playoff games this season, but he played the most integral role in this one.

It was the first interception thrown from the 1 this season.

Much will be made as to whether the Seahawks should have run the ball with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. Lynch had five previous runs from the 1 this season and had scored one touchdown in such instances.

The head coach: Belichick nets another

Head coach Bill Belichick tied Chuck Noll’s record of four Super Bowl victories.

Belichick is the sixth coach to win at least four NFL titles, including coaches prior to the 1966 season. He’s the third-oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl (age 62) and trails only Tom Coughlin (65) and Dick Vermeil (63).

Belichick’s six Super Bowl appearances as a head coach are tied with Don Shula for the most ever. His nine appearances as a player, assistant coach or head coach tied Dan Reeves for the most ever.

According to Elias Sports Bureau research, Belichick is 11-0 in the postseason against teams his team faced for the first time that season.

The Seahawks are the first defending champion to lose the Super Bowl since the 1997 Packers, who lost to the Broncos.

Did you know? This is the fifth time under the current seeding system, which began in 1990, that the No. 1 seed in each conference played in the Super Bowl. Of those five, this is the first game won by the AFC team.
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Stats to know: NFL MVP candidates

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31
4:43
PM ET
Wire photosAaron Rodgers, Tony Romo and Tom Brady each has statistics that are MVP-worthy.
Quarterbacks have dominated The Associated Press NFL MVP award in recent years, but this season there is a strong candidate to become the first non-offensive player to win since Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants did so in 1986.

Below are some of the key statistics about the favorites for MVP:

Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers could add to the MVP award he won in 2011. A key component of his performance was his ability to be highly productive and avoid mistakes.

Rodgers threw 25 touchdown passes without an interception in home games. That is the most in one season in NFL history -- 2 times as many as No. 2 on this list, Steve Young (10 in 1987).

Rodgers threw at least two touchdowns and had no interceptions in all eight of the Packers' home games. That streak of eight is two games longer than anyone else’s. Peyton Manning had a six-game streak of two touchdown passes without an interception comprising the final two home games of 2010 and his first four home games in 2012 (he missed 2011 after undergoing surgery).

Rodgers has a record streak of ball security at home that is still alive. He has thrown 418 passes at Lambeau Field, dating to 2012, without having one intercepted, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. No. 2 on this list is Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, 288 passes from 2002 to 2004.

Rodgers had 38 touchdown passes and five interceptions this season, the best ratio in the NFL and the best of his career.

Tony Romo
Tony Romo led the NFL in Total QBR this season (82.7), and the QBR leader has won the MVP in three of the previous four seasons.

Romo led the NFL in completion percentage this season (69.9 percent). He passed less often than in 2013 and was more effective, aided by the Cowboys’ improved rushing.

Romo had career highs in completion percentage, Total QBR and touchdown-to-interception differential (plus-25).

In contrast to Rodgers’ effectiveness in home games, Romo led the Cowboys to an 8-0 record on the road this season and had a Total QBR of 88.9 away from home. His Total QBR, completion percentage (70.6) and passing touchdowns (20) on the road led or tied for the lead in the NFL this season.

Romo was the best quarterback after halftime this season, with a Total QBR of 89.6 in the second half and overtime, by far the highest in the NFL.

Tom Brady
After throwing four touchdown passes in his first four games, Tom Brady threw 28 in the next 10 games and posted the highest Total QBR (85.2) in the NFL in Week 5 through Week 15. In the 12 games after the Patriots' 2-2 start, Brady threw 29 touchdowns (to seven interceptions) and had an 80.8 Total QBR.

Brady has won the AP MVP twice (2007 and 2010), and his statistics this season weren’t far off those from 2010.

Brady attempted more passes to Rob Gronkowski than to any other receiver this season, and the two connected for 11 touchdowns.

Brady led the NFL with a Total QBR of 87.8 against the blitz this season.

Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck had the most touchdown passes in the NFL (40) and the third-most pass yards this season (4,761; Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger had 4,952 each).

Luck became the eighth player in NFL history to throw 40 touchdown passes in one season.

He accounted for 77.4 percent of the Colts’ offense this season, the fifth-highest percentage in the NFL.

Luck was 6-0 against the AFC South this season and was more effective in divisional games than games against other opponents.

DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing this season with a franchise-record 1,845 yards. Before this year, the most in Cowboys history was 1,773 by Emmitt Smith in 1995.

Murray rushed 392 times, 80 more than any other player this season and tied for the seventh-most in one season in NFL history.

He accounted for 36 percent of the Cowboys’ yards from scrimmage, the highest percentage in the league. Second was Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears, 34 percent.

Murray rushed for 100 yards in each of his team’s first eight games, the longest streak to begin a season in NFL history. That broke the record of seven, set by Jim Brown in 1958.

With Murray doing most of the work, the Cowboys ran the ball on a league-high 48 percent of plays this season, compared with 34 percent in 2013.

The last running back to win the AP MVP award was Adrian Peterson in 2010.

J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt makes his biggest impact on defense, but the Houston Texans’ star scored three touchdowns on offense this season. Watt became the first player in NFL history with at least three offensive touchdowns, two defensive touchdowns and a safety in one season.

His 47 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage led the NFL. Watt had 20.5 sacks this season, the same total he had in 2012. He is the first player with 20 or more sacks (a stat that became official in 1982) in two seasons.

Watt recorded 53.9 percent of the Texans’ 38 sacks this season. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that only Tim Harris of the 1989 Packers accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s sacks.

Watt had 30.5 disrupted dropbacks, the most in the NFL. Disrupted dropbacks include sacks, interceptions, defended passes and batted passes. Second to Watt is Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs with 27.

Does Russell Wilson outplay "Super" QBs?

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
3:32
PM ET

ESPN Stats & InformationWinning games while having a lower QBR than your opposing starter doesn’t happen often, unless you are Russell Wilson.
A lot has been made of the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson having a 10-0 record against quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl. Is this due to Wilson elevating his play against some of the best in the league or is another factor the driving force behind this pristine record?

Does Russell Wilson play better in these games?
No, he does not. He doesn’t really play any worse either. Including the postseason, Wilson has now started 55 games in his career with 10 of them against quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl. In those 10 games his QBR is slightly worse than in the 45 games against non-Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.

He must be outplaying his opposing starter
In only five of the 10 games has Wilson had a higher QBR than his counterpart.

Winning games while having a lower QBR than your opposing starter doesn’t happen often, that is, unless you are Russell Wilson.

So what is the driving force?
Largely it has been the contributions of the Seahawks defense. In the 10 games in which they have faced a Super Bowl-winning quarterback they have held the group to a collective QBR of 47.4, well below their collective QBR of 72.4 against every other defense in the league (since 2012). To put it another way, they made that group of quarterbacks who have won a combined eight Super Bowls look like the 2009 version of Jay Cutler (he finished that season with a 47.4 QBR).

They also own the running game on both sides of the ball (even if you exclude the quarterback's contributions to the running game, which is accounted for in QBR). If you combine the contribution of the defense stopping opposing rushers and the contribution of the Seahawks runners other than Wilson, it comes out to just about a field goal per game in the Seahawks favor.

Special teams have also gone in the Seahawks favor in these matchups to the tune of over two points per game.

These small differences add up as there have been a few close calls in the 10 games, including:

•  The “Fail Mary” game against Green Bay where the Seahawks won by two points

•  A 24-23 win over New England in Week 6 of 2012 (the last matchup between the two Super Bowl participants)

•  Seattle’s 26-20 overtime win over Denver in Week 3 this season

•  Seattle’s comeback against Green Bay in the NFC Championship game

Put all of this together and you can see that it is truly a team effort from Seattle to be 10-0 against former Super Bowl winning quarterbacks during Wilson’s tenure - much more than it is Wilson simply “raising his game” or “outplaying” his opposing quarterback.

Seahawks' D in midst of an impressive run

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
2:20
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The turning point in the Seattle Seahawks' season was undoubtedly their 24-20 loss to Kansas City in Week 11. The Seahawks allowed a season-high 190 rushing yards, including 159 to Jamaal Charles, and fell to 6-4 with a 56 percent chance of missing the playoffs, according to numberFire.com.

Since that loss, Seattle has won eight straight games and is riding a defense that -- when healthy -- is looking a lot like its defense at the end of last season.

What might not have been widely understood is how average Seattle’s defense was in its first 10 games. The Seahawks’ defense ranked 13th in efficiency during that time and was costing the team about 1.2 points per game.

Fast-forward eight games, and Seattle is in the midst of one of the best defensive stretches in the last few seasons. The Seahawks are holding opponents to 9.8 points per game and have an NFL-best 10.3 defensive efficiency since the start of Week 12.

For context, Seattle held its opponents to 11.5 points per game and averaged a 10.6 defensive efficiency rating per game in its final eight contests of the 2013 season/postseason, which was capped off by an impressive defensive outing (21.6 efficiency rating) against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl.

Opposing quarterbacks have struggled to solve Seattle’s defensive puzzle. Each quarterback the Seahawks faced during their eight-game winning streak posted a QBR at least 27 points below what he had entering the game. That includes Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton in the playoffs.

Although Seattle has not faced a daunting set of quarterbacks during that time, the Seahawks made bad quarterbacks look worse and above-average quarterbacks look bad.

In fact, until meeting Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game, Seattle had held seven straight teams to a Total QBR below 31. Since the start of 2006, no team had held seven straight opponents to a QBR that low.

One difference in limiting these QBs has been the play of the secondary. In the past eight games, including the playoffs, Seattle has the most interceptions (seven) and is tied for the fewest completions allowed (12) on throws of 15 yards or longer.

So what has changed in the past eight games?

First, Seattle’s starting lineup finally got healthy. In six of its past eight games, Seattle started the same 11 players on defense. In the two games with a different lineup, cornerback Tharold Simon was the only differing starter.

This consistency coincided with the return of linebacker Bobby Wagner, who missed five games with a turf-toe injury. Wagner’s first game back was against Arizona, the start of Seattle’s eight-game winning streak. During that streak, the Seahawks have led the league in almost every defensive category.

Upon Wagner’s return, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told ESPN.com’s Terry Blount: “It was great to have him out there. I went up to Bobby and said, ‘Geez, I didn’t realize what a factor you are.’ He is one of the heartbeat guys for this club.”

Even Carroll’s praise might be understating Wagner’s impact. With him on the field, Seattle is holding opponents to a 36.8 Total QBR, compared with a 60.3 Total QBR without him.

Seattle’s defensive resurgence also coincided with the return of Kam Chancellor from injury and the improved health of others in the secondary.

Will the Seahawks’ defense continue its suffocating play in the Super Bowl?

The health of the unit, so important in the team’s late-season surge, might be in question as Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are battling injuries. Seattle’s ability to overcome the injuries -- and Tom Brady’s efficiency against Seattle’s defense -- might determine how the game unfolds.


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