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Tuesday, March 11, 2014
NFL free agency: Numerical needs (NFC)

By ESPN Stats & Information

ESPN Stats & Information’s video analysis data has revealed needs that may not be apparent through traditional statistics.

Here’s a team-by-team look at areas of need for each NFC team heading into free agency.

NFC East
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.

NFC North
Chicago Bears:defense
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.

NFC South
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.

NFC West
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.