Stats & Info: Arizona Cardinals

Top stats to know: Panthers def. Cardinals

January, 3, 2015
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The Carolina Panthers joined the 2010 Seattle Seahawks as the only teams to win a playoff game after compiling a losing record in the regular season.

The Panthers are now 3-0 all time in the Wild Card playoffs, including 2-0 at home in those games. The Panthers won their first playoff game since 2005, when they defeated the Bears in the divisional playoffs.

Since 2000, teams with non-winning records are now 6-1 in wild-card games and teams with losing records are 2-0 in wild-card games.

Lack of Cardinals offense
The Panthers took advantage of a weak Arizona Cardinals offense by forcing turnovers and dominating the second half.

The Cardinals finished with 78 total yards, the fewest in a postseason game in NFL history. The previous record was held by the 1958 Browns (86 vs. Giants).

The Cardinals had 51 passing yards, the fewest by a team to throw multiple interceptions in a playoff game since the 1977 Broncos (26 passing yards, 4 interceptions vs. Cowboys). Their starting quarterback in that game (Super Bowl XII) was Craig Morton.

Ryan Lindley had 82 passing yards, the fifth-fewest in a playoff game by a player with at least 25 pass attempts and the fewest since Daunte Culpepper (78 vs. Giants) in 2000, according to the Elisa Sports Bureau.

Lindley was 1-of-7 for 21 yards and an interception on throws of at least 15 yards downfield.

The Cardinals didn't score on any offensive drives in the second half. They had four punts and two interceptions, plus a fumble lost on a kickoff. Their only points came late in the fourth quarter on a safety.

The Cardinals entered the playoffs with only 73 points in their final six games of the regular season, the fewest by a playoff team since the 1935 Giants (according to Elias).

Panthers rushing attack
Jonathan Stewart had 123 rushing yards, the second-most in a playoff game by a Panthers players. DeShaun Foster had 151 in 2005 against the Giants.

Stewart started off the scoring with his second postseason rushing touchdown, joining Foster as the only Panthers players with two career postseason rushing touchdowns.

The Panthers ran 13 zone-read rushes, their most in a single game since 2012 Week 4. Cam Newton gave the ball to his running back nine times, and they gained 59 yards on those plays (6.6 yards per rush).

Cardinals-Panthers NFC wild-card preview

January, 1, 2015
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AP Images/Ross D. FranklinCam Newton and the Panthers host the Cardinals in the NFC wild-card round Saturday on ESPN.
The Carolina Panthers host the Arizona Cardinals in the opening game of wild-card weekend, which airs Saturday at 4:20 ET on ESPN.

This is the second postseason meeting between the teams, with the Cardinals winning 33-13 in Carolina in the 2008 NFC divisional playoffs.

Top stats to know
Both the Panthers and Cardinals enter the playoffs under unlikely circumstances.

The Panthers are the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs after having a seven-game winless streak during the regular season (0-6-1). However, they were one of four teams to go undefeated in December this season.

The Cardinals may have to start Ryan Lindley, who has one career win, at quarterback if Drew Stanton is unable to play. According to Elias, Lindley would be the seventh quarterback to start a playoff game with one or fewer regular-season wins. The last quarterback to win a playoff game under such circumstances was Gifford Nielsen of the 1979 Oilers.

This will be the sixth wild-card playoff game between teams with a four-game difference in the win column. The team with fewer wins has gone 4-1.

One way the Panthers could continue that trend is by exploiting the Cardinals' defensive strategy.

Matchups to watch
Cam Newton and Greg Olsen vs Cardinals blitz
Under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, the Cardinals have blitzed on the highest percentage of dropbacks (46 percent). The strategy works as the Cardinals have allowed the fifth-fewest points the past two seasons, but it does leave them vulnerable against tight ends.

The Cardinals have allowed 25 touchdowns to tight ends the past two seasons, most in the NFL, and 17 have come when blitzing.

Greg Olsen set career highs with 84 receptions and 1,008 yards this season, ranking third among all tight ends in receptions and second in yards.

Olsen caught all five of his targets from Cam Newton last season against the Cardinals, but Newton finished the game 10-of-20 with zero touchdowns, three interceptions and seven sacks against the blitz.

Cardinals' deep passing vs. Panthers' improved defense
The Cardinals attempted an NFL-high 158 passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield this season, and connecting on them has been key.

The Cardinals have completed 39 percent with eight touchdowns and one interception on such passes in wins, but have completed 32 percent with three touchdowns and four interceptions in losses.

The Panthers made changes to their secondary prior to Week 14, promoting rookies Tre Boston and Bene' Benwikere into key roles. Since then, the Panthers have intercepted a league-high five passes on throws 15 or more yards downfield.

Did you know?
Under the current playoff format (since 1990), every NFL team has played in at least one wild-card game. The Cardinals (3-0) and Panthers (2-0) are two of the three teams (Houston Texans, 2-0) that have not lost a wild-card game in that time.

Power rankings: Cardinals at 5, somehow

December, 16, 2014
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Tom Gannam/AP PhotoRyan Lindley is the latest starting QB for the Cardinals, whose record defies their play.
The Arizona Cardinals are 11-3, share the best record in the NFL (with the Broncos and Patriots), are the only NFC team to have clinched a playoff berth and sit at No. 5 in the weekly ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings.

An argument could be made that their résumé is deserving of an even higher spot in the rankings. An argument could also be made that with two injured quarterbacks and less-than-dominant play, the Cardinals should be ranked lower.

How good are the Cardinals?

Quarterback situation
The Cardinals were 6-0 this season with Carson Palmer starting at quarterback. They were 5-3 with backup Drew Stanton under center. With both hurt, the team is turning to Ryan Lindley, who last started a game nearly two years ago (Dec. 23, 2012).

Stanton posted a 58.0 Total QBR this season (15th in the NFL) to keep the Cardinals in contention. Lindley might not be able to replicate that success, though.

Since entering the NFL in 2012, Lindley ranks last in Total QBR (9.1) among the 60 quarterbacks with 150 passes. Lindley has thrown 181 passes in his career, and none have gone for a touchdown. According to Elias, that’s the most passes without a touchdown in NFL history (next highest: Mike Kruczek, 154 passes).

Behind Lindley is rookie Logan Thomas, who saw action in a blowout loss to the Broncos. He was sacked on his first two dropbacks and then was 1-of-8 passing. The one completion, however, was an 81-yard touchdown pass.

Winning close and winning late
Win probability is a measure of a team’s chances of winning based on the game scenario, factoring in score, time left, field position and down and distance among others.

The Cardinals have an average in-game win probability of 51.8 percent this season, which is 15th in the NFL and puts them on par with 7-7 teams such as the Dolphins (52.0 percent) and Texans (51.4 percent).

Despite not controlling games at the same level as the other top teams in the NFL, the Cardinals have come through in close games. The Cardinals are 5-0 in games decided by eight or fewer points, best in the NFL.

The Cardinals’ defense has keyed the team’s performance late in games. The Cardinals have forced an NFL-high 14 takeaways in the fourth quarter this season and are holding opponents to a field goal (3.1 PPG) in the fourth, also best in the NFL.

The good, the bad and the lucky
The Cardinals’ defense as a whole has been strong all season. The Cardinals rank third in points allowed, making impacts on the passing and rushing game. They have the fourth-most interceptions this season and rank sixth in yards per rush allowed. That’s the good.

The bad is the offense, which has produced two touchdowns in the last four games. Only the Raiders (56.6 percent) have punted on a higher percentage of drives than the Cardinals (54.5 percent) over the last four weeks.

And although luck can’t be quantified, the Cardinals have had some bounces go their way. The Cardinals have recovered 10 of their 15 fumbles on offense and seven of 12 fumbles on defense. Overall the Cardinals have recovered 63 percent of fumbles in their games this season, highest in the NFL.

Sharon Katz of the Stats & Information Group contributed to this article.

Cowboys face tough test against Cards' D

October, 30, 2014
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AP Photo/Brandon WadeDeMarco Murray has rushed for 100 yards in a Cowboys-record eight consecutive games.
The Dallas Cowboys welcome the Arizona Cardinals in a game featuring division leaders entering Week 9.

The Cowboys are coming off their first loss since Week 1, while the Cardinals’ only loss was in Denver, where third-string quarterback Logan Thomas was forced into action.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on as the Cowboys and Cardinals duel for the NFC’s top seed.

More Murray, Less Problems
DeMarco Murray extended his 100-yard streak to eight games with his most efficient rushing game of the season Monday, despite a season-low 19 rushes. But Dallas looked elsewhere in short-yardage situations.

Dallas ran 14 plays with 3 yards or fewer to gain. Only two were rushing plays, and both resulted in first downs. On the 12 pass plays, the Cowboys went 3-of-10 passing with two sacks taken.

This season, the Cowboys have gained a first down on 81 percent of rushing attempts with 3-yards-or-fewer to gain, the highest rate in the league.

Arizona’s defense has held opponents to a 52 percent conversion rate with 3-yards-or-fewer to gain, the second-lowest rate in the league this season.

The Cardinals pressure the opposing quarterback on 35 percent of their attempts with 3 yards or fewer to gain, the third-highest percentage in the league.

Cardiac Cards Bring Pressure
Since defensive coordinator Todd Bowles joined the Cardinals prior to the 2013 season, Arizona has had the most blitz-happy defense in the league.

This season, the Cardinals have a league-high five interceptions when blitzing and are one of three teams with a negative touchdown-interception differential (minus-1) when blitzing.

The Cardinals not only bring pressure, but they bring it from deep. Arizona has blitzed a defensive back on a league-high 48 pass attempts this season.

Opposing quarterbacks have completed only 38 percent of their attempts when the Cardinals send a defensive back on a blitz, tied for the second-lowest percentage in the league.

Ellington Evolves into Every-Down Back
After averaging 10.5 touches per game last season, Andre Ellington has 20-plus touches in each of the Cardinals’ last five games.
The Arizona running back has 31 percent of the Cardinals’ yards from scrimmage this season. Ellington is one of five running backs to record more than one-quarter of his team’s yards from scrimmage.

Ellington, Le’Veon Bell and Matt Forte are the only three backs this season with at least 400 rush yards and 250 receiving yards.

Arizona Cardinals: No. 2 in Power Rankings

October, 28, 2014
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Norm Hall/Getty ImagesThe Arizona Cardinals climb to No. 2 in the ESPN.com NFL power rankings for Week 9
At 6-1, the Arizona Cardinals have ascended to the No. 2 spot in the weekly ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings. This is the highest spot the Cardinals have ever earned in these rankings, which dates back to 2002.

The Cardinals are off to their best start in 40 years, when the St. Louis Cardinals started the 1974 season at 7-0. Dating back to Week 8 of last season, the Cardinals are 13-3, which is tied with the Denver Broncos for the best record in the NFL during that span. In fact, the Cardinals only loss this season came to the Broncos, who are currently No. 1 in the power rankings.

What is fueling the hot start for the Cardinals? A little bit of everything.

Turnovers
Only the New England Patriots (+11) have a better turnover differential than the Cardinals (+9) this season. The Cardinals have forced 14 turnovers this season, which is four shy of the NFL lead, but they’ve also limited their own mistakes. Only the Broncos (4) have committed fewer turnovers than the Cardinals (5) this season.

The lack of turnovers stems from quarterback play. Carson Palmer has thrown one interception on 154 attempts this season after throwing 22 last season. Even when he missed time, his backups Drew Stanton and Logan Thomas did not throw a single interception.

This has led to the Cardinals yielding only 10 points off turnovers this season, tied for best in the NFL.

Andre Ellington
Andre Ellington gives the Cardinals a versatile option out of the backfield, something they have not had in a long time.

Ellington has accounted for 31 percent of the Cardinals’ yards from scrimmage this season, fifth-highest in the NFL. The last two Cardinals running backs to even account for at least 25 percent of the offense were Edgerrin James in 2006 (26 percent) and Marcel Shipp in 2002 (26 percent).

Rush defense
The Cardinals rank third in the NFL this season in both rush yards per game allowed and yards per rush allowed. The Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8 were the first team to record 100 rush yards in a game against the Cardinals since Week 16 of last season.

Since Todd Bowles took over as the Cardinals defensive coordinator in 2013, the team ranks first in rush yards per game allowed and second in yards per rush allowed.

The blitz
Another key to Bowles’ defense has been blitzing. The Cardinals have blitzed on an NFL-high 47 percent of dropbacks the last two seasons.

It has been a boom or bust strategy for the Cardinals, especially this season, but the blitz has come up big late in games this year.

In two of the biggest wins for the Cardinals this season, their opponents had one final possession needing a score. In Week 1, Philip Rivers was trying to drive the San Diego Chargers downfield trailing by one. The Cardinals blitzed on all five plays of that drive, forcing three straight incompletions and a turnover on downs.

In Week 8, the Eagles need a touchdown and reached the Cardinals 16-yard line with 13 seconds remaining. The Cardinals blitzed on Nick Foles ’ last two attempts, putting him under duress and forcing incompletions.

Special teams
Not to be forgotten, Cardinals rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro has made all 16 of his field goal attempts to start this season. That’s tied with veteran Adam Vinatieri for most makes without a miss this season.

Cardinals soaring due to defense, better QB

November, 26, 2013
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The Arizona Cardinals are 7-4 this season and riding a four-game winning streak. After starting 26th in the preseason ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings, the Cardinals have now jumped to ninth and are in the hunt for a Wild Card spot.

When did this happen? How did this happen?

The Cardinals lost 11 of their last 12 games last season after starting 4-0, with the likes of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer at quarterback. The Cards finished the season with the league's worst Total QBR (20.6).

The poor quarterback play led to the offseason acquisition of Carson Palmer. Palmer has played well during the Cardinals’ winning streak, but his 47.6 QBR over the full season ranks 26th out of 38 qualifying quarterbacks.

According to QBR standards, the jump in quarterback play for the Cardinals is from replacement level to league average. On it's own, that doesn’t vault a team to a 7-4 record. Palmer had a 51.7 Total QBR in Oakland but went just 8-16 as the starter.

Unlike the Oakland Raiders, the Cardinals have had one of the best defenses in the NFL the past two seasons, and quarterback play is no longer masking that.

How good is the Cardinals’ defense?
The Cardinals’ defense has been one of the most disruptive units over the last two seasons. Just ask Matt Ryan, who has thrown nine interceptions in his last two starts against Arizona (compared to 17 picks in 25 games against the rest of the NFL).

The Cardinals’ 37 interceptions are second in the NFL since the start of last season, one shy of the Chicago Bears’ 38. Cornerback Patrick Peterson has led the charge with 10, but 13 other players have intercepted passes.

The interceptions have led to a 37.8 opponent Total QBR in each of the last two seasons. Only the Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have been better this season (Arizona also ranked fourth last season).

The stout secondary allows the Cardinals to bring heavy pass rushes. No team has sent five or more pass rushers more frequently than the Cardinals this season (48 percent). Arizona has put opposing quarterbacks under pressure (sack or duress) on 36 percent of dropbacks with such pressure (19 percent with four or fewer rushers).

In addition to a strong pass defense, the Cardinals have been one of the best run-stopping teams in the NFL this season. Only the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets have allowed fewer yards per rush than the Cardinals (3.5) this season.

The Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens are the only two teams in the top five of yards per rush allowed and Total QBR allowed this season.

Keys to victory: Seahawks 34, Cardinals 22

October, 18, 2013
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What were the biggest statistical keys for the Seattle Seahawks in their win over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night?

Russell Wilson was sharp
Russell Wilson threw for three touchdown passes, the most he has thrown in a road game in his two-year career.
Russell Wilson
Wilson

Wilson was able to connect with receivers along or near the sidelines. He was 13-for-20 for 181 yards and two touchdowns on throws that were to the outside of the painted numbers.

He was also 5-for-7 on throws at least 15 yards downfield, with a pair of touchdowns. In his previous three games, Wilson had completed 31 percent of such throws with a touchdown and interception.

Lynch a bulldozer runner
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 91 yards and a score. Of those 91 yards, 78 came after contact. That's the second-most rushing yards after contact in a game this season, trailing only Adrian Peterson's 93 yards in Week 4 against the Steelers.

Coming into the game, 38 percent of Lynch's rushing yards this season had come after contact.

Lynch has seven touchdowns this season, the most in the NFC. The other four players with at least that many touchdowns all play in the AFC West.

The Seahawks have six consecutive games with 125 or more yards rushing, the longest active streak in the NFL.

Key unit: Seahawks defensive line
The Seahawks recorded seven sacks, six of which were with four or fewer pass-rushers, their second most in a game in the past seven seasons.

Carson Palmer was put under duress or sacked in 27 of his 54 dropbacks.

Palmer had his fifth straight game with multiple interceptions, the first quarterback with such a streak since Vinny Testaverde for the 2000 Jets.

Top stats to know: Seahawks at Cardinals

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will try to avenge last season's road loss to the Cardinals.
Week 7 of the NFL season kicks off tonight as the Arizona Cardinals play host to the Seattle Seahawks.

Last season, the Seahawks lost 20-16, in their Week 1 road game against the Cardinals, but avenged that loss at home in Week 14 with a 58-0 drubbing.

Here are some of the storylines for the game.

1. The Seahawks have won 11 straight home games, but the bad news for them is this game will be played in Arizona. The Seahawks are just 5-6 on the road over the last two regular seasons. In road games this season, the Seattle defense is allowing more than 20 points per game, while allowing opposing quarterbacks a 69 Total QBR. That means the average quarterback playing at home against Seattle is basically producing at a Pro Bowl level this year (Cam Newton, Matt Schaub and Andrew Luck).

To compare, in their three home games this season, the Seahawks have allowed just 11 points per game, and an NFL-best opponents’ Total QBR of 15.

2. Russell Wilson's key for success will be to use play action to set up his pocket passing.

Wilson has attempted 65 throws off play action this season, the second-highest total in the league, and his 93.5 Total QBR on such throws ranks behind only Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.

But Wilson will have to avoid leaving the pocket. Over the last two seasons, no quarterback has thrown more from outside the pocket than Wilson. While he excelled on such throws last season (62% comp pct, 71 Total QBR), his numbers have dropped off this season (53% comp pct, 51 Total QBR).

3. The Seahawks defense will have their hands full with Larry Fitzgerald, who showed signs of his old form last week. He had a season-high 117 receiving yards last week, just the second time in his last 19 games that he’s gone over 100 yards.

Still, Carson Palmer has more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four) when throwing to Fitzgerald this season. That continues a trend for Arizona that started when Kurt Warner retired following the 2009 season.

4. Over the last two seasons, the Cardinals are 1-7 against their fellow NFC West teams, the worst divisional record of any team in the NFL. However, the only win was the aforementioned win over the Seahawks in last season’s Week 1.

5. A matchup to watch is Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch against the Cardinals rush defense.

Lynch has 487 rushing yards this season, the third-most in the NFL. He’s done a large part of his work in the first quarter with 231 of those rushing yards (more than 47 percent) coming in the first quarter, 47 more than any other player.

But the Cardinals rush defense has been stout this season. They’re only allowing 3.5 yards per rush this season, the fourth-best mark in the league. Consider though that after allowing 79 rush yards per game over the first five weeks this season, the Cardinals were gashed for a season-high 149 yards in last week’s loss to San Francisco.

NFL roster stability usually equals success

September, 26, 2013
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Your fantasy football team changes every year, but so do the players on real NFL teams. Their rosters turn over both in the offseason and in the regular season, usually due to injuries, though trades (like the recent one involving Trent Richardson) can happen.

“Roster stability” is a metric to track how much personnel changes from season to season based on work done in basketball by Dr. David Berri at Southern Utah University, and counts how many plays the players on the roster played last year and this year. Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor, who was on the roster last year but barely played and is now playing full time, represents a good amount of instability because he didn’t play much last year.

What “roster stability” captures is something about the philosophy of the team. Teams that are pretty stable year-to-year usually consider themselves to be in good shape, either because they were good last year or because they think the building blocks were already in place. You can see this with many of the top teams on the list. The Bengals, Vikings, Redskins, Texans, Seahawks, 49ers and Falcons were all successful last season and they kept a good number of their players around for this year. Note that keeping the same players doesn’t mean the same results, as both the Vikings and Redskins haven’t won a game yet this season.

On the other hand, teams at the bottom of the list are teams that wanted to change things up. The Raiders weren’t very successful last season and they particularly changed up their defense, which ranked 28th by expected points added.

A couple notes:
• The Bears, Chiefs and Cardinals all changed head coaches, changed a lot of offensive personnel, and have seen improvements offensively. The Bears, in particular, changed a significant part of their offensive line (their offensive line unit stability is 20 percent, the lowest in the NFL), which was considered important for protecting Jay Cutler. Now they have the second-lowest sack rate in the NFL after being 27th last year.

• The Patriots receiving corps, widely publicized for being so dilapidated, ranks 31st in stability at 30 percent, ahead of only the Jaguars. Their overall offensive stability is 21st. Note that their defensive stability ranks third, and their defense ranks second in the NFL in expected points added.

Top stats to know: 2013 NFL Draft

April, 24, 2013
4/24/13
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USA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesLuke Joeckel (left) or Eric Fisher (right) could be drafted first overall.
The first selections of the NFL Draft are just a day away. Here are our Top 10 overall stats to know on this year’s selections.

A lineman is likely No. 1
Luke Joeckel is primed to become just the fourth offensive lineman drafted first overall since the AFL and NFL held their first common draft in 1967. Each of the first three, Ron Yary in 1968, Orlando Pace in 1997 and Jake Long in 2008, made at least four Pro Bowl trips and were named 1st-team All-Pro a combined 10 times.

49ers will be a prominent factor, but will their draftees be prominent factors?
The San Francisco 49ers enter the draft with a league-high 13 picks and could become just the second team to make 13 or more picks in a draft in the last eight years, joining the 2010 Eagles. But the odds of any 49ers rookie making a major impact in 2013 are slim. The 49ers won the NFC last year despite getting only 12 games (and no starts) from their 2012 draft picks, both NFL lows.

Minimal skill position talent in top 10
The top of the 2013 draft class is expected to be heavy on linemen, with some draft experts projecting West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith as the only quarterback, running back or wide receiver to go in the top 10. The fewest offensive skill position players picked in the top 10 in the common draft era is one, done four times with the last in 1997. That year, it was all offensive linemen and defensive players before the Giants drafted WR Ike Hilliard seventh.

An Irish defender in the top 20
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o could become the first Notre Dame defensive player to go in the top 20 since defensive tackle Bryant Young was drafted seventh in 1994. From 1995-2012, 59 different schools have had more defensive players drafted in the top 20 than Notre Dame, including New Mexico, Tennessee State and Division II Kutztown (Pa.).

Top-10 trades are frequent
Is your favorite team picking at the back of the draft? Don’t wait to tune in, as the rookie salary scale has made top picks tradable again. In the two drafts with the rookie scale (2011-12), teams have made six trades involving top-10 selections, including five on the day of the draft. There were four trades of top-10 selections in the previous six drafts combined (2005-10).

Raiders have missed out on some good ones
The Oakland Raiders are slated to pick third overall after not having a first-round pick in 2011 and 2012. But Oakland hasn’t had much success in the first round in recent years, drafting the likes of Rolando McClain, JaMarcus Russell, Fabian Washington and Robert Gallery, none of whom are currently with the team.

However, the players drafted with the pick AFTER McClain, Russell, Washington and Gallery have combined for 14 Pro Bowl selections. That would be C.J. Spiller, Calvin Johnson, Aaron Rodgers and Larry Fitzgerald.

The Raiders tend to like them fast
The Raiders have taken the player with the best 40-yard dash time in three of the last four drafts. From 2009-11, the Raiders selected Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford and Demarcus Van Dyke, all of whom were fastest in their combine class. Of those three, only Ford is still a Raider. Last year’s fastest player (cornerback Josh Robinson) was taken by the Vikings 29 picks before Oakland’s first selection. This year’s fastest player was Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at the combine.

NFC East teams could use help halting deep threats
All four NFC East teams were ranked in the bottom six in Total QBR on defending throws deeper than 15 yards downfield. Of the eight free agent secondary signings by NFC East teams so far, only Philadelphia’s Cary Williams (four) had more than two interceptions last year.

The NFC East has the NFL’s touchdown leader (Tony Romo, 14) and completion percentage leader (Robert Griffin III, 55.7 percent) on throws at least 15 yards downfield. Eli Manning also had 22 plays of at least 30 yards on those throws, tied for second most in the league.

The Cardinals have many needs
How bad was it in Arizona last season? Four different quarterbacks had at least 50 dropbacks for the Cardinals, the most of any team. The Cardinals were the only team in 2012 without a receiving touchdown by a tight end. The Cardinals’ offensive line allowed ball carriers to be hit in the backfield on a league-high 22.4 percent of rushes, and none of the four Arizona backs with at least 50 rushes gained more yards per rush after contact thanthe league average (1.6). The Cardinals added Carson Palmer and Rashard Mendenhall this offseason.

Broncos could use Manning protection
The Broncos ranked 25th in the league with a 3.8 yards per rush average last season. Peyton Manning was sacked every 29.7 dropbacks last season, best among qualified quarterbacks, but four of the seven Broncos linemen with at least 250 snaps have had surgery since October and another (center Dan Koppen) is an unrestricted free agent. Only guard Louis Vasquez has been added so far in free agency to a Broncos’ line that could seek reinforcements at the draft.

Seven NFL head coaches, five GMs fired

December, 31, 2012
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Seven NFL head coaches were fired on Monday, more than the amount of head coaches fired on the Monday after the regular season in the last three seasons combined.

The barrage of coaching changes comes after no coaches were fired during the season. It was the first season without an in-season coaching change since 2006.

Done in by bad defense

Andy Reid had his share of struggles at the end of his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles, and it was mostly on the defensive side of the ball. He was never able to replace the late Jim Johnson -- his only defensive coordinator from 1999-2008 -- going through three defensive coordinators in his last four seasons.

Chan Gailey is no longer the Buffalo Bills coach in part because his defense allowed 45 points in a game four times this season. The 1986 Jets are the only other team to do that since the merger.

Done in by lack of offense

Lovie Smith is the fourth coach since 1990 to be fired despite winning 10 or more games in his final season. He's the only one whose team did not reach the playoffs that year.

Ken Whisenhunt’s Cardinals quarterbacks compiled a 21.4 Total QBR this season, worst in the NFL. For context, the Baltimore Ravens, the worst playoff team in terms of QBR this season, had a QBR more than double that of the Cardinals (46.3).

Pat Shurmur was unable to fix the Cleveland Browns’ offensive woes enough despite a successful rookie season from Trent Richardson. After four seasons ranking no better than 29th in points per game, the Browns ranked 24th this season.

The Kansas City Chiefs were last in the NFL in points per game, turnovers and passing touchdowns, and that spelled doom for Romeo Crennel.

Norv Turner lacked a consistent all-around offense in San Diego. Over the last four seasons, the Chargers ranked second in yards per pass attempt but last in the NFL in yards per rush.

Generally speaking

Five NFL general managers were fired Monday. Only four GMs were fired on the Monday after the regular season from 2007-11 combined
There's a common theme when looking at the general managers who were fired.

Of the five who lost their jobs, four of them had very few draft picks to work with during their tenure as GM (whether that was ultimately their own fault or not). Cleveland's Tom Heckert was the only one of the five who ranked better than 28th in total players chosen in the draft while they were on the job.

Mike Tannenbaum was hired by the New York Jets in 2006 and immediately made an impact, drafting two players in the first round who have started 222 of a possible 224 games for the team since entering the league. The next year he picked All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis.

But he made six first-round picks after that, none of which have made a Pro Bowl, including Vernon Gholston, who was taken sixth overall in 2008. He made five starts in three seasons for the Jets before being released. He never recorded a sack and hasn't played in an NFL game since.

Week 17: One for the record books

December, 27, 2012
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While Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson have commanded most of the attention to this point, they are not the only NFL players attempting to put a stamp on the record books in Week 17. In fact, there are several records that are much more likely to fall, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

Sacks: After sacks became official in 1982, Mark Gastineau established the standard with 22 in 1984. That mark stood until 2001 when New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan broke through for 22.5. Two different players enter Week 17 with a chance to take down Strahan’s record – J.J. Watt of the Houston Texas and the San Francisco 49ers’ Aldon Smith.
Watt leads the NFL with 20.5 sacks this season and needs two sacks to tie Strahan, a number he has hit in six of 15 games played this season. Statistically, his Week 17 opponent should provide him the opportunity, as he’s facing an Indianapolis Colts team against whom he registered three sacks – tied for his most in any individual game this season – in Week 15.

Watt has also disrupted a league-high 35.5 dropbacks this season, the most in the NFL over the last three seasons. Working in his favor is the fact Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has had 135 dropbacks disrupted this season, 26 more than the next-closest quarterback.

Smith, meanwhile, remains at 19.5 sacks after failing to record a sack in either of his last two weeks. Smith needs three sacks to tie Strahan’s mark, something he’s done only once in a game this season (five and a half sacks against the Chicago Bears in Week 11). He registered two sacks against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8, and working in his favor is the fact that the Cardinals have given up more sacks this season than any team in the NFL (56).

And while he may not end up with the record, no player in the last three seasons has had more success with the standard pass rush – four or fewer rushers – than Smith, who has recorded all 19.5 sacks this way, four more than Jared Allen compiled last season.

Touchdown passes by rookie: While Luck and Robert Griffin III have received the publicity, Russell Wilson is the one who needs a single touchdown pass to tie Peyton Manning’s rookie record of 26 touchdowns set in 1998. Wilson currently stands four touchdown passes ahead of both Luck this season and Cam Newton last season, and his 25 touchdown passes ranks ninth in the NFL this season overall.

Perhaps no quarterback has been as effective as Wilson over the last nine weeks, considering his Total QBR of 88.7 ranks first over that span, while he has also compiled a plus-14 touchdown-to-interception differential since the start of Week 8, second in the NFL to Tom Brady (+15). It’s not all roses, though – Wilson produced a season-low 16.8 Total QBR against the St. Louis Rams in Week 4, including three interceptions and no touchdowns.

Pass attempts: Barring an injury or an extreme shift in play calling, Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions will break Drew Bledsoe’s record for most pass attempts in a single season. Entering Week 17, Stafford needs to throw the ball just seven times to pass Bledsoe, who recorded 691 attempts for the New England Patriots in 1994.

No one's more accurate than Alex Smith

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
12:04
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Ross Franklin/AP PhotoAlex Smith (right) had one of the best days by a quarterback in NFL history.

Some of the success that the San Francisco Giants pitchers had in helping their team to a World Series title rubbed off on their football counterpart.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith had the best day of his career, one that was Joe Montana and Steve Young-like in terms of statistical accomplishments.

For much of the night, it looked like Smith was playing a game of catch with his receiving teammates. Giants pitchers had what baseball folks call “swing-and-miss” stuff. Smith had can’t-miss stuff.

Let’s look some of the highlights of the 49ers easy win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Just shy of perfection
Smith was 18-for-19 on his pass attempts, setting a mark for passes thrown in a game with no more than one incompletion. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the previous mark of 18 was set by Fran Tarkenton in 1977 and matched by Craig Morton in 1981.

Montana’s most accurate day, with at least that many pass attempts, was an 84.4 percent success rate, when he went 27-for-32 against the Falcons in 1983.

Montana’s fewest incompletions in a game with as many attempts as Smith was three. He went 16-for-19 against the Falcons in 1989.

Young’s best was two incompletions, in an 18-for-20 game against the Detroit Lions in 1991. He also had a 15-for-16 game in 1994, as noted in the chart above.

What was the key to Smith’s performance?

Smith was 7-for-8 for 113 yards when the Cardinals sent at least five pass rushers, the only incompletion being a drop by Delanie Walker.

His level of success against that kind of pressure isn’t that surprising. Smith entered the day with the fourth-best Total QBR in the NFL against pass rushes of five or more defenders.

Milestone for Moss
49ers receiver Randy Moss looked like his old self on a 47-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. It was Moss’ 156th career touchdown, tying Terrell Owens for fourth-most all-time.

Moss has 18 touchdowns in 19 appearances on Monday Night Football, with five of them going for at least 40 yards.

His 18 receiving touchdowns are third-most all-time, trailing Jerry Rice’s 34 and Terrell Owens’ 20.

Moss has 45 touchdown receptions that gained at least 40 yards, easily the most by anyone currently playing in the NFL. Santana Moss ranks second with 20.

The defense had a good game too
The 49ers defense held the Cardinals to three points. It marked the fourth time in the last five games that the 49ers allowed six points or fewer. San Francisco’s four such games are the most for all NFL team since the 49ers themselves had five in 2009.

Cards must protect Skelton vs stout 49ers D

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
11:56
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Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe key for the Cardinals tonight may be protecting this guy.
First place in the NFC West will be on the line when the Arizona Cardinals host the San Francisco 49ers tonight on Monday Night Football at 8:30 ET on ESPN.

It's a meeting of two of the league's best defenses. The 49ers currently lead the league in fewest yards allowed per game (272.3) and are tied for first in points allowed per game (14.3). The Cardinals are sixth in yards (312.1) and fourth in points (16.9).

This will be the sixth Monday Night Football meeting between these teams, with the 49ers winning four of the previous five.

49ers KEYS TO VICTORY
The key for the 49ers on the offensive side will be their running game. Under Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers are 17-0 when they run the ball at least 25 times and 1-5 when they don’t.

If they maintained their current average of 5.9 yards per carry, it would be the NFL's highest single-season mark since the merger.

The other key is reducing turnovers, particularly with their quarterback. Alex Smith led the NFL with a Total QBR of 81.1 through Week 5, but his last two games haven't been so good. Smith has thrown five interceptions this season (including four in last two games), matching his total for all of 2011.

Perhaps one of the reasons for Smith’s recent struggles is due to a sprained finger in Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills. Since that game, his downfield throwing has taken a hit. Smith has gone 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) on throws more than 10 yards downfield his last two games (third-worst), after leading the NFL in completion percentage on such throws (59.5) through the first five weeks of the season.

CARDINALS KEYS TO VICTORY
The key for the Cardinals will be protecting their quarterback John Skelton.

The Cardinals have allowed a league-high 35 sacks (seven more any other team). Arizona's passers have now been sacked 29 times in their last four games, the most suffered by any NFL team over a four-game span since the Cardinals themselves were sacked 29 times over four games in November 1997 (according to Elias).

Skelton hasn’t been particularly great.

Skelton has thrown an interception in 10 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL.

Skelton has completed just 44.4 percent of his attempts to Larry Fitzgerald more than 10 yards downfield this season, while Kevin Kolb has completed 62.5 percent of such passes this season.

But the Cardinals defense has kept them in games this season. They’re the only team to hold each opponent this season to 21 points or fewer.

Refs' win-probability impact benefits Seattle

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
2:53
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Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesThe controversial ending of Monday night's game between the Packers and Seahawks wasn't the first time that the officials had a big impact on a team's win probability.
The NFL games on Sunday and Monday night both ended on plays for which the referees made controversial decisions that determined the winner and loser.

But the good/no-good call on the Baltimore Ravens field goal and the touchdown/interception call on the Seattle Seahawks score aren’t the only calls from the first three weeks that had a major impact on the result of a game.

Please note that all probabilities in this article are based on Stats & Information's NFL win probability model, which is based on 10 years of NFL play-by-play data.

Before those results, the two referees’ decisions that had the highest impact both occurred in the Week 2 meeting between the Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles. Both of those calls went against Baltimore, which ended up losing the game.

Jacoby Jones was called for offensive pass interference after catching a touchdown pass that would have given the Ravens a two-possession lead with 5:29 left in the game. After the call, the Ravens faced third-and-long from the 35.

That call resulted in an 18.3 percent reduction in the win probability for the Ravens. Based on the last 10 years, a team kicking off with 5:29 left and a 10-point lead wins 89.6 percent of the time; a team with a three-point lead facing third-and-22 from the opponent’s 35 has a 71.3 percent chance of winning.

The other high-impact decision was a Michael Vick fumble near the goal line that was overturned and ruled an incomplete pass. The play occurred on the first snap after the two minute warning and the Eagles trailing by six points.

With the ball on the 1, Philadelphia’s win probability was 39.7 percent. If the Ravens had taken possession of the ball, it would have fallen 33.5 percent to 6.2 percent.

Most of the high visibility mistakes this season have been in situations that didn’t have a major impact on the outcome of the game:

• Seahawks granted extra timeout in Week 1: increased Seahawks win probability from 49.3 percent to 52.4 percent
• Raiders aren’t given untimed down in Week 1: decreased Raiders win probability from 0.1 percent to 0.0 percent
• 49ers granted extra challenge in Week 3: increased 49ers win probability from 1.9 percent to 6.8 percent
• Mis-spot of personal foul penalties in LionsTitans and BengalsRedskins games in Week 3: less than 5 percent swing in each instance

This isn’t just an issue that has arisen with the replacement refs. Let’s a take a look at the impact on one of the higher profile blown calls made by a regular official.

In Week 2 of the 2008 season, the Denver Broncos trailed the San Diego Chargers by seven points in the last two minutes. With the Broncos at the Chargers’ 1, the ball slipped out of Jay Cutler's hand as he dropped back to pass and the Chargers recovered the ball.

Ed Hochuli blew the play dead after ruling that the play was an incomplete pass. Replay overturned the call, ruling it a fumble, but since the play was blown dead possession stayed with the Broncos for a third-down attempt from the 10. Two plays later, Denver found the end zone and added a two-point conversion to win the game.

The Broncos were out of timeouts, so if they lost the ball inside the two-minute warning their chances of winning the game would have fallen to 0.7 percent. Even with the blown call, they were down to two chances to convert from the 10-yard-line and had only a 17 probability of winning in regulation or overtime.

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