Stats & Info: Matthew Stafford

Game recap: Cowboys 24, Lions 20

January, 4, 2015
Jan 4

Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesTony Romo mounted his 28th game-winning drive in the win over the Lions.
Trailing 17-7 at halftime Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys didn’t have history on their side. They were 0-8 in playoff games in franchise history when trailing by double digits at halftime.
The Cowboys ended that streak, though, by beating the Detroit Lions, who remained winless in wild-card playoff games when Dallas rallied for a 24-20 victory.

Sunday’s win was tied for the second-largest comeback by the Cowboys in the postseason and their largest in more than 30 years.

Romo excels in second half
A strong second half from the Cowboys’ offense shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Tony Romo had a second-half Total QBR of 89.6 this season, best in the NFL. The next closest was Ben Roethlisberger (78.7) of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Romo has 28 career game-winning drives (according to the Elias Sports Bureau), tied with Eli Manning for the most game-winning drives in the regular season and playoffs combined since Romo's first season as a starter in 2006.

Romo was 8-of-12 for 195 yards and two touchdown passes on third and fourth down. He produced first downs on 8-of-14 passes (57 percent) in those situations. Entering the game, the Lions’ defense allowed a 35.6 Total QBR on third and fourth down this season, seventh-best in the league.

Early trends not sustained
The Lions called runs on 50 percent of their first-quarter plays, helping them to a 14-0 lead. In the final three quarters, they called runs on 24 percent of their offensive plays and scored a total of six points.

Matthew Stafford completed his first pass thrown more than 10 yards downfield for a 51-yard touchdown. The rest of the game, on passes thrown more than 10 yards downfield, Stafford was 3-of-10 with an interception.

After taking care of the ball in the first half, Stafford committed three turnovers after halftime. Quarterbacks are 0-12 this season when committing three or more turnovers in the second half.

Fourth-down calls
On both of the Cowboys’ second-half touchdown drives, they went for -- and made -- a fourth-down conversion.

The first was DeMarco Murray’s 1-yard touchdown run that pulled the Cowboys within 20-14. The second, on fourth-and-6, was a 21-yard pass from Romo to Jason Witten that set up the go-ahead touchdown.

The Cowboys hadn’t gone for it on fourth down needing four or more yards this season, and they beat the odds when they made it on fourth-and-6: NFL teams had converted on 26 percent of fourth downs needing six or more yards in the regular season.

The only other playoff game in which the Lions led by 14 or more after the first quarter was the 1957 NFL Championship, when they led the Browns 17-0 and won 59-14 for their most recent NFL title. Sunday’s loss made the Lions’ record in wild-card games 0-8.

This game was the second time the Cowboys trailed by 14 or more at the end of the first quarter in a playoff game. In the 1994 NFC Championship, they trailed the San Francisco 49ers 21-7 before losing 38-28.

The Cowboys advanced to a divisional playoff game against the Packers in Green Bay. Dallas has played in Green Bay in the playoffs once before: Dec. 31, 1967, in the "Ice Bowl." Current forecasts are for a high in Green Bay next Sunday of 18 degrees.

Lions-Cowboys NFC wild-card preview

December, 31, 2014

Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports
Dez Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys face the Detroit Lions in the NFC wild-card round Sunday.
The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys meet in the postseason for the first time in 23 years Sunday. Here are the matchups to watch, top stats to know and a little-known fact that might be bad news for the Lions.

Matchup to watch No. 1
It all starts with the Cowboys’ dominant run game against a stout Lions rush defense, with first down being the key to victory.

The Cowboys did not make their first-down plans a secret this season. They ran the ball on 68 percent of their first-down plays (71 percent with DeMarco Murray on the field). That is 8 percentage points higher than that of the next closest team and 18 percentage points higher than the NFL average.

Dallas ranked first in yards per rush (4.9) and sixth in yards before contact per rush (3.0) on first down this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Cowboys’ 1,573 yards rushing on first down is the highest total by a team in a single season since the 1981 Cowboys (1,633). Nine teams, including the Lions, rushed for fewer yards on all downs combined than the Cowboys did on first down alone in 2014.

On the other side of the ball will be a stingy Lions defense that allowed an NFL-low 3.3 yards per rush on first down. Only three teams have allowed fewer yards per rush on first down in a season in the last five years.

The decision by appeals officer Ted Cottrell to overturn Ndamukong Suh's one-game suspension could have a huge impact on first-down rushing in this game. The Lions allowed 2.95 yards per rush on first down with Suh on the field this season. They allowed 4.59 yards per rush on first down without him.

Overall the Lions allow 0.8 fewer yards per rush and pressure opposing quarterbacks significantly more often with Suh on the field (30 percent of dropbacks vs. 20 percent in 2014).

Matchup to watch No. 2
Sunday’s game features two of the best QB-WR duos in the NFL.

Since the beginning of Dez Bryant’s rookie season in 2010, no QB-WR duo has more touchdowns than Tony Romo and Bryant’s 53. The next closest pair is Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson with 47.

Johnson has a history of torching the Cowboys' secondary. In three career games against the Cowboys, Johnson has 26 more targets and 354 more receiving yards than Bryant had in the same games.

Much of that is buoyed by Johnson’s performance in the Lions’ thrilling win over the Cowboys in Week 8 of the 2013 season. Johnson caught 14 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown in that matchup, including six receptions for 134 yards during a fourth-quarter comeback. The performance was 7 yards shy of the NFL record for receiving yards in a single game (336 by Flipper Anderson in 1989).

Despite the huge difference in targets, Bryant has the edge over Johnson in touchdowns when these teams play. Bryant also led the NFL and set a Cowboys single-season franchise record with 16 receiving touchdowns this season.

Romo, the top quarterback in terms of total QBR in 2014, will need to be at his best targeting Bryant against the NFL’s No. 4 QBR defense.

Top stats to know
1. This is the third meeting between the Lions and Cowboys in the postseason. The home team won each of the previous two meetings. Detroit won in the 1991 divisional playoffs while Dallas won in the 1970 divisional playoffs.

2. The Lions have not won a playoff game since that 1991 divisional game against the Cowboys. They have lost seven straight playoff games, one shy of the longest postseason losing streak in NFL history.

3. Romo is 1-3 as a starter in the postseason. Should the Cowboys lose, Romo’s 1-4 record would be tied for the worst among the 73 quarterbacks to start at least five playoff games since the 1970 merger.

Did you know?
Including the playoffs, Stafford is 0-17 in his career in road games against teams that finished the season over .500. The most recent examples are a 10-point loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 17 and a 25-point loss to the New England Patriots in Week 12.

Stafford’s poise, deep ball lacking

November, 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matchups to watch: Ravens at Lions

December, 16, 2013
The winner of tonight’s game can solidify their grasp on a playoff spot, and the loser could potentially be on the outside looking in. Here are the key matchups to watch entering the Week 15 edition of Monday Night Football between the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions.

Matthew Stafford vs Joe Flacco in red zone
Joe Flacco completed 4-of-5 red zone passes last week for three touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown pass with the perfect touch to Marlon Brown. Getting Dennis Pitta back gives Flacco another red zone weapon.

Pitta caught a touchdown on fourth-and-goal last week, and has caught 75.0 percent of his red zone targets dating back to last season, including the playoffs. Overall, Flacco ranks in the top 10 in touchdown passes (16) and Total QBR (78.8) inside the 20 yard line this year.

On the other side, Matthew Stafford is tied for second in the NFL with 19 red zone touchdowns and tied for the fifth-best Total QBR (88.9). Stafford has thrown 16 of those 19 touchdowns to the collection of Kris Durham (6’6”), Joseph Fauria (6’7”), Brandon Pettigrew (6’5”) and Calvin Johnson (6’5”).

Both quarterbacks will be challenged by stingy red zone defenses. The Ravens defense has allowed 13 red zone touchdowns in 33 drives this season (39.4 percent), tied for the best efficiency in the NFL with the Panthers. The Lions are tied for third in red zone efficiency.

Calvin Johnson vs Ravens secondary
Calvin Johnson has seven red zone touchdowns this season (tied for fifth in the NFL), but he will be the Ravens biggest concern all over the field.

Megatron ranks second in the NFL with 1,348 receiving yards this season, and 1,100 of those yards (roughly 82 percent) have come inside the painted field numbers.

The league average for percentage of receiving yardage inside the field numbers is roughly 60. Besides Johnson, no receiver has more than 737 yards inside the numbers.

A defense that has moved on this season without future hall-of-famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed roaming the middle will have a tall order stopping Johnson. He leads the NFL in yards after contact on receptions (208 yards) and we have seen him make highlight reel catches on jump balls in the middle of several defenders against the Bengals and Cowboys this season.

Which team makes fewer mistakes?
Joe Flacco is tied for fourth in the NFL with 19 turnovers this season, including 17 interceptions, 11 of which have come on the road. The Ravens haven’t been able make up for those, they rank 25th in the NFL with a -5 turnover margin, including -6 on the road (Ravens 1-5 on road this season).

The Lions have beat themselves during the last 4 games by committing 15 turnovers, most in the NFL (13 turnovers in first 9 games). Eight of the 15 turnovers have come within their opponent’s 30 yard-line, costing the team 26.4 expected points. Matthew Stafford leads the team and NFL with nine turnovers during that span (Lions 1-3 in last four games)

Lions slide thanks to their giving spirit

December, 10, 2013
Elsa/Getty ImagesTurnovers have been especially costly recently for Matthew Stafford and the Lions.
After a 21-19 victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 10, the Detroit Lions improved to 6-3, ascended to No. 9 in the weekly NFL Power Rankings and had sole possession of the NFC North lead.

The Lions have gone 1-3 since then, currently sit at 12th in the rankings and are even in the loss column with the Bears and Packers, who have both been playing with backup quarterbacks.

Despite averaging 27.0 points per game over the last four games (26.4 the first nine games), the Lions have found themselves losing due to an excess of turnovers and miscues.

Turnover machines
Since the start of Week 11, the Lions have turned the ball over an NFL-high 15 times and have forced only four, giving them the worst turnover differential in the NFL (minus-11). The Lions committed 13 turnovers the first nine games of the season and had a plus-1 differential.

The three biggest culprits for the Lions have been Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.

Stafford has thrown seven interceptions and lost two fumbles the last four games. The seven interceptions doubled Stafford’s season total.

The increase in interceptions has come as a result of increased defensive attention on Calvin Johnson. Stafford has thrown four interceptions when targeting Johnson the last four games after throwing only four targeting Johnson the first nine games.

In the running game, Bush and Bell have had trouble holding onto the ball in recent weeks. Each has lost two fumbles the last four games, joining Stevan Ridley as the only backs with multiple lost fumbles in that stretch. Bush and Bell combined for two lost fumbles the first nine games of the season.

Cost of the turnovers
Turnovers can always be costly, but the Lions’ turnovers have been extra painful.

Detroit's opponents have scored 40 points off 15 turnovers the last four games, which is worst in the NFL. The turnovers have led to opponent scores, but have also thwarted great scoring opportunities.

Of the 15 turnovers, eight have been within the opponent’s 30-yard line, including seven in the three losses. The Lions have lost their last three games by a combined 27 points.

The Lions have 11 such turnovers on the season, while no other team has more than six.

More miscues and poor play
The Lions have held a fourth-quarter lead in each of their last three losses. To say Stafford has struggled in the fourth quarter of those games might be an understatement. Stafford is 8-of-33 passing in the final quarter of the last four games, including an 0-for-10 effort in a Week 11 loss to the Steelers, and a 1-for-8 effort in Week 14’s loss to the Eagles.

Outside of Calvin Johnson, Stafford hasn’t had much help. The Lions have dropped an NFL-high 41 passes this season, 10 more than the next highest team (Rams). Even accounting for the volume of passes, the Lions have the highest drop percentage (8.1 percent).

Penalties have also been a problem in Detroit. Only the Rams have committed more defensive penalties than the Lions this season.

Kaepernick's efficiency keeps 49ers rolling

October, 28, 2013

Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesColin Kaepernick is all smiles after leading the 49ers to a 42-10 win over the Jaguars in London and posting the highest QBR in three years.
As a reminder, Total QBR is a quarterback rating that takes into account all of a QB’s significant contributions (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, penalties) to his team’s scoring and winning and summarizes them into one number on a 0-100 scale, where 50 is average. Since 2008, the team with the higher QBR has won about 85 percent of the time. Complete QBR statistics for all quarterbacks can be found here.

Kaepernick on a tear
Colin Kaepernick had a 99.8 Total QBR Sunday, the highest QBR by any player since Michael Vick (99.8) in 2010 against the Washington Redskins (min. 20 action plays).

With efficient performances against the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars, Kaepernick is the first quarterback to have back-to-back games with a Total QBR over 99.0.

How Kaepernick did it with only 1 Pass TD:
When it counted: 49ers' halftime win probability was 94.2 percent vs Titans and 98.4 percent vs Jaguars.

Kaepernick’s first-half stats –
Passing: 16-24, 248 yards, TD
Rushing: 11 rushes, 105 yards, 3 TD, 7 first downs (excludes 1 kneel)

Third-down rushing: 9 rushes for 96 yards and 2 TD, excluding kneels (Andrew Luck is only other QB with 2 Rush TD on third down this season)

Few mistakes: 3 total negative plays excluding kneel downs (2 sacks, -1 yard rush) and 0 turnovers.

Win probability on the Lions' comeback
- After Stafford’s fourth-down incompletion with 1:33 left in the fourth quarter – 1.9 percent
- Start of Lions final drive (1st and 10 at own 20, 1:02 left) – 7.5 percent
- Win probability swing on Stafford’s 1-yard Rush TD - +22.0 percent

2013 Manning vs 2007 Brady
Peyton Manning is on a torrid pace at the halfway point in the season, throwing 29 touchdown passes in eight games.

If you compare Manning to Tom Brady through eight games in 2007, however, he is coming up short in completion percentage, touchdowns and QBR.

Not the same Brady this season
Tom Brady posted a 49.9 Total QBR in Sunday’s win, actually raising his Total QBR to 48.6 this season (50 is an average Total QBR for a season).

His Total QBR ranked in the top 3 in the league each of the past three seasons, but is in the middle of the pack this season.

Patriots-Dolphins: Tale of two halves
The New England Patriots’ win probability dipped to 4.4 percent with the Miami Dolphins having 1st and 10 at the New England 27 and leading 17-3 with 11:27 remaining in the third quarter.

The Patriots stormed back from that point after a Dolphins missed field goal and ensuing mistakes. Ryan Tannehill had an 86.7 Total QBR at halftime but finished at 29.8 after three second-half turnovers.

Stafford clutch in second half
Matthew Stafford had a Total QBR of 97.6 in the second half Sunday, the second-highest of any second half in his career.

Stafford's Total QBR was 3.3 in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys, compared with 95.9 in the other three quarters.

Big numbers and big contract for Stafford

July, 11, 2013
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioMatthew Stafford has put up big numbers the past two seasons, but they haven't always translated to wins for the Lions.
The three-year contract extension the Detroit Lions gave starting quarterback Matthew Stafford is worth $41.5 million in guaranteed money – that ranks seventh among current quarterback contracts.

From a statistical standpoint, Stafford has put up impressive statistics. In his first four seasons (2009-12), Stafford has averaged almost 285 yards passing per game. In NFL history, only Kurt Warner (287.5) averaged more passing yards per game in his first four seasons.

Stafford has also benefitted from an offense that has dropped back more often (67.5 percent) than any other team the past two seasons. As a result, Stafford has recorded nearly 100 more total dropbacks than the next highest quarterback.

In 2012, Stafford set and NFL single-season record with 727 pass attempts; however, he threw just 20 touchdown passes in 2012 -- 21 fewer than he did in 2011.

A big reason for that decline was Detroit’s lack of red zone production.

Last season, the Lions dropped back to pass in the red zone 61 percent of the time, which was down 8 percent from 2011. The result was 22 fewer total red-zone dropbacks for Stafford. In 2011, 29 of his 41 touchdown passes came in the red zone. In 2012, Stafford had a total of 20 touchdowns (14 of which were in the red zone).

Bad luck also played a part in Stafford’s diminished red-zone numbers.

Detroit receivers were tackled inside the 5-yard line a league-high 23 times. Calvin Johnson was tackled eight times within the 5-yard line, including five times at the 1-yard line -- both numbers were league highs. In 2011, Johnson was tackled just twice inside the 5-yard line and once at the 1-yard line.

Even though Stafford has put up big numbers, and led the Lions in 2011 to their first playoff appearance since 1999, you can assume a lot of his numbers have come in games the Lions have lost.

Overall, Stafford is 17-28 as the Lions starting QB. However, against team that finished the season with a winning record, Stafford is 1-22. That is the worst win percentage since 2009 against teams to finish the season with a winning record.

Analyzing the relationship of NFL couples

February, 14, 2013
Today is Valentine’s Day, when the thoughts of young football fans turn to ... well ... more football.

Stats & Information looks at some NFL couples and lets you know who should stay together, who needs to rebuild their relationship and who might want to spend some time apart.

• Tom Brady and Wes Welker: Free-agent-to-be Welker has 672 receptions since joining the Patriots in 2007, the most for a player over any six-year span in NFL history.

• Eli Manning and Victor Cruz: Cruz, who is slated to become a restricted free agent, has 168 receptions and 19 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Along with Hakeem Nicks, he gives Manning one of the game’s best deep threats in the league.

• Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson: Johnson set an NFL single-season record with 1,964 receiving yards in 2012, while Stafford set an NFL record with 727 pass attempts. These two need to stay together if only to torture statisticians everywhere.

• Tony Romo and Dez Bryant: Early in the season, they didn't appear to be on the same page, but Bryant caught a league-high 10 TD passes from Week 10 until the end of the season.

• Aaron Rodgers and Jermichael Finley: Finley caught a career-high 61 balls in 2012, but just two went for touchdowns. At times it appeared that Rodgers had lost confidence in his tight end and reports have appeared that the Packers might release Finley.

• Cam Newton and Steve Smith: Smith was critical of Newton's sideline demeanor last season, and he could have a point. When trailing in the fourth quarter over the last two seasons, Newton’s QBR of 35.9 is 35th among 45 qualifying quarterbacks.

• Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan: After going to a pair of AFC Championship games in their first two seasons together, the relationship hasn't worked recently. Sanchez regressed even further in 2012, and has an NFL-high 52 turnovers over the last two seasons.

• Alex Smith and Jim Harbaugh: Harbaugh has turned to the younger Colin Kaepernick. Since Kaepernick took over as the starter in Week 11, his 81.2 Total QBR is second to only Russell Wilson. Smith’s QBR of 54.1 since the start of 2011 is 19th among quarterbacks with at least 500 action plays.

• Matt Cassel and Andy Reid: The Chiefs and Reid’s Eagles were tied with the Jets for the most turnovers in the NFL last season with 37. Cassel struggled with 19 turnovers in just nine games.

Peterson didn't reach record, but others did

December, 30, 2012

Andy Clayton King/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson came close, but ends up with the second-biggest single-season rushing total of all-time.

Here’s a quick runthrough of the various NFL marks reached or nearly reached on Sunday:

• Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson finished with 2,097 rushing yards, which stands as the second-best single-season total in NFL history, eight yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s record.

Peterson did become the first player in our four seasons of video-tracking to clear 1,000 yards in yards after contact. His 1,019 were 336 better than the player who had the second-most in 2012 (Doug Martin).

Peterson finished with 199 rushing yards Sunday, his seventh game with 150 or more. The Elias Sports Bureau noted that matched the most in a season, previously done by Earl Campbell in 1980.

• Peterson’s teammate Blair Walsh, in addition to kicking the field goal that put the Vikings into the NFL playoffs, extended his own record with his 10th made field goal of 50 yards or longer.

• Calvin Johnson finished his record-setting season with 1,964 receiving yards, the most in NFL history. His quarterback, Matthew Stafford, shattered Drew Bledose’s mark for pass attempts in a single season. His 727 attempts are 36 more than Bledsoe had for the New England Patriots in 1994

• Peyton Manning set the NFL record for most games with three or more touchdown passes, with his 73rd such game, passing the mark he shared with Brett Favre.

Manning finished with 37 touchdowns, the most in a season by a quarterback who was age 36 or older.

Manning also had a record of his broken and another one tied by some of the younger NFL quarterbacks. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson tied Manning’s rookie record of 26 touchdown passes. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton surpassed his mark for most passing yards in his first two seasons.

• Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns in defeat, and finished his second straight season with 30 more touchdowns than interceptions. The only other quarterback with multiple plus-30s is Tom Brady.

• Brady extended his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 48, passing Johnny Unitas for the second-longest streak behind Drew Brees.

Brady also became the first NFL quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in all 16 regular-season games in three straight seasons

• Brees became the first quarterback to throw 5,000 yards in a season three times in his career in the loss to the Panthers.

But on the down side, the Saints broke the record for most total yards allowed in a single season, surpassing a record held for quite some time by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.

Week 17: One for the record books

December, 27, 2012
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.

Johnson goes deep, nears Rice's record

December, 21, 2012

Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCalvin Johnson needs 182 yards to set the NFL record for receiving yards in a season.
The Atlanta Falcons can clinch home-field advantage in the NFC with a win on Saturday night against the Detroit Lions but that probably is not the biggest storyline of the game.

With 1,667 receiving yards, Calvin Johnson needs 182 yards over his final two games to break Jerry Rice’s record for the most receiving yards in a single season.

Johnson is on a near-record pace so far. He already has the second-most receiving yards in NFL history through 14 games, behind only Charley Hennigan’s 1,746 yards in 1961.

In fact, he is well ahead of where Jerry Rice was through 14 games back in his record-setting 1995 season. Rice, however, exploded for 442 yards in his final two games, including 289 in Week 16.

What will Johnson do in Weeks 16 and 17?
Johnson simply needs to match his career averages against his final two opponents – the Falcons and Chicago Bears - to break Rice's record. Johnson has averaged a combined 184 yards per game against those opponents in 12 career games.

The Falcons haven’t let many receivers reach the century mark. Just five players have recorded at least 100 yards receiving against the Falcons. Only four teams this year have allowed fewer 100-yard receiving games than Atlanta (Steelers, Bengals, 49ers, Jets).

The Stafford effect
Helping Johnson is the fact that Matthew Stafford is throwing nearly 45 times per game and is on pace to break Drew Bledsoe’s record for most pass attempts in a single season (691 in 1994). Not surprisingly, the Lions have called for a designed pass more frequently than any other team in the league, more than two-thirds of the time.

He has gotten plenty of help from Stafford in piling up his yards. Johnson averages just 3.7 yards after catch per reception, which ranks 99th out of 136 qualified receivers. His average target depth of 13.9 yards ranks seventh in the league.

Also key to his record pace this season has been his reliability on deep passes.

Johnson has more targets and receptions on throws of more than 20 yards downfield than the rest of his teammates combined. He also has no drops on such throws compared to four by the rest of the Lions.

Despite all the yards, Johnson has only five touchdowns. He has been targeted 14 times in the end zone (only six players have more end zone targets) but has just two receptions on those targets. However, it’s not all his fault – he has only one dropped pass on a ball thrown to him in the end zone.

More records
Johnson is also chasing a few other records. He has at least 100 receiving yards in seven straight games, matching the NFL record set by Hennigan in 1961 and Michael Irvin in 1995. Johnson is also one of five players with 10 or more catches in three straight games. No player in NFL history has done it four games in a row.

Newton's legs are key in grounding Falcons

December, 10, 2012

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton posted one of the highest QBRs this season in the Panthers win over the Falcons.
As a reminder, Total QBR is a quarterback rating that takes into account all of a QB’s significant contributions (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, penalties) to his team’s scoring and winning and summarizes them into one number on a 0-100 scale, where 50 is average. Since 2008, the team with the higher QBR has won 86 percent of the time.

Cam Newton posted a 97.0 Total QBR in the Panthers win over the Falcons, the second-highest by any player with at least 40 action plays in a single game this season and the highest by any Panther over the last five seasons.

The difference between Newton and the other players on the list on the right is that he did much of his damage with his legs.

Newton rushed for a career-high 116 yards and a touchdown and was the only player on that list to post a perfect 100.0 QBR on his rushing plays in their given game.

According to NFL passer rating, Newton’s game Sunday (119.3) was the 15th-best performance by a QB this season because that metric does not account for rushing contributions (min. 40 action plays).

• Jay Cutler had a 20.8 Total QBR in Sunday's loss to the Vikings, his lowest against Minnesota since joining the Bears in 2009. Cutler had posted a QBR of at least 65.0 in each of the previous five games against the Vikings including four of at least 75.0.

• Colin Kaepernick had a 64.1 Total QBR in Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins, including a perfect 100.0 in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick has a 99.2 fourth-quarter QBR since his first start in Week 11, best in the NFL over that span.

• Andrew Luck had a season-low 18.4 Total QBR on 44 action plays against the Tennessee Titans, the lowest for any player with at least 40 action plays in a win this season.

• Aaron Rodgers posted an 82.7 Total QBR in Sunday night’s win over the Detroit Lions. It was his 17th game with a QBR over 80 in the last two seasons, tied with Drew Brees for the most in the NFL over that span.

• Matthew Stafford’s fourth-quarter Total QBR was 84.5 from Weeks 1-8, the fourth-highest in the NFL over that span. Since Week 9 his fourth-quarter Total QBR is 18.4, the fourth-lowest in the NFL, including a 14.1 on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers.

Total QBR can be used to quantify just how important the quarterback position has become to winning in the NFL. Looking back to previous years, the team with the higher Total QBR has won 86% of regular season games since 2008 (as far back as Total QBR goes). That is higher than the comparable mark for teams with the advantage in total yardage, turnover differential, and NFL passer rating.

Megatron not targeted near end zone

November, 9, 2012

Khampha Bouaphanh/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT Calvin Johnson has just one touchdown this season after having 11 through eight games last year.
During a Tuesday guest spot on "The Rich Eisen Podcast," Matthew Stafford explained why Calvin Johnson this season hasn't been able to match his scoring pace from last year when he led the league with 11 touchdown catches through Week 9.

"Whenever we get inside the 10-yard line, the teams' number one goal that we're playing, no matter who it is, 'Don't let Matthew throw it to Calvin and get a touchdown because that sparks them.'" Stafford said. "The guy's getting just viced and doubled like nobody else in the league.

"It's an interesting predicament, but he's still getting a bunch of yards and a bunch of catches for us, which is what we need."

How bad has it been for Johnson inside the opponent’s 10-yard line this season?

At this time last season, Johnson had 11 touchdown receptions, with four coming on plays inside the opponent’s 10-yard line.

However, after the Lions’ bye in Week 9, Johnson didn’t garner the same attention on those plays. He had only four targets and just two catches inside the 10-yard line.

Yet, this isn’t actually a new trend for Megatron this year. The first eight games of this season for Johnson have followed a similar pattern to the final eight games of last season.

Johnson has been the targeted receiver on 22.7 percent of the Lions’ passes inside the opponent’s 10 this season, nearly equal to the rate of 22.2 percent in the last eight games of 2011.

Even though Johnson was less of a factor in the second half of last season, the rest of his teammates did not suffer the same dropoff. The other Lions receivers caught nine touchdowns on 14 targets inside the 10-yard line after Week 9, similar to their production of eight touchdowns on 28 targets in the first half of the season.

To Stafford’s last point, Johnson’s reception and yardage totals this season are very similar to the first eight games of last season. In fact, Johnson has been targeted more through eight games this season.

But the lack of targets near the end zone has really hurt Johnson in the touchdown column. He has just one touchdown catch in eight games, and it didn’t even come from the arm of Stafford.

Will Johnson be able to find pay dirt when the Lions are close to the end zone against the Minnesota Vikings this weekend? He was not targeted inside the Vikings 10-yard line when they played earlier this season, but did catch a touchdown against them in that situation last year in Week 3.

Peyton makes mark with 4th-quarter rallies

November, 5, 2012

AP Photo/Tom UhlmanPeyton Manning set an NFL record for the most game-winning drives (48) in the 4th quarter or overtime since the merger in Denver’s 31-23 win over Cincinnati on Sunday.
Peyton Manning had a Total QBR of 94.7 in Sunday’s 31-23 win over the Bengals. It was the fourth time in the last five games that Manning posted a Total QBR better than 90 and the fifth time this season. No other player in the NFL has more than three such games.

When trailing in the fourth quarter Sunday, Manning completed all four of his passes, including a touchdown. Manning led the Denver Broncos on their third game-winning drive of the season en route to setting the NFL record for the most game-winning drives (48) in the fourth quarter or overtime since the merger.

Andrew Luck posted an 89.1 Total QBR on Sunday as he passed for a rookie-record 433 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins. In the past five seasons, no rookie had a higher Total QBR (76.1) through nine games than Luck, who already has led the Indianapolis Colts to three more wins than they had all of last season.

Matt Ryan had the most successful rookie campaign over the last five seasons, finishing the 2008 season with the second-best Total QBR (72.4) in the league and leading the Atlanta Falcons to an 11-5 record and playoff appearance. Through nine games, Luck has put up similar, if not better, numbers than Ryan while leading his team to a 5-3 record.

• Eli Manning posted a season-low 14.2 Total QBR in the New York Giants' loss to the Steelers. It was his second-consecutive week with a QBR less than 50 after having topped 50 for eight consecutive weeks dating to last year’s Super Bowl.

• Aaron Rodgers had an 81.7 Total QBR despite completing less than 50 percent of his passes. Rodgers’ QBR was so high because when the Green Bay Packers were within seven points of the Cardinals he completed 60 percent of his passes, including all four touchdowns (2-of-10 when up by more than seven points). Rodgers has a 73.1 Total QBR this season, fifth in the NFL, and has increased his Total QBR in five of his last seven weeks.

• Matthew Stafford had a season-high 92.4 Total QBR in the Detroit Lions' 31-14 victory against the Jaguars. Stafford was 9-for-12 on third down, including 7-for-9 in the first half, with all seven completions going for first downs.

• Luck completed 13-of-16 passes for 12 first downs and a touchdown on third down against the Dolphins. His 12 passing first downs on third down are the most by any player in a game this season. Luck raised his Total QBR on third down to 88.8, second in the NFL behind Ben Roethlisberger.

Total QBR can be used to quantify just how important the quarterback position has become to winning in the NFL. Looking back to previous years, the team with the higher Total QBR has won 86 percent of regular season games since the start of the 2008 season (as far back as Total QBR goes). That is higher than the comparable mark for teams with the advantage in total yardage, turnover differential, and NFL passer rating.

Keep in mind that just because a team wins a game with a lower QBR than its opponent does NOT mean that Total QBR was “wrong” or not as good for that game. That just means that the winning team was able to overcome its QB being outperformed by the opposing QB (on a rate basis), usually by playing better in other aspects of the game (rushing game, special teams, etc.).

Complete QBR statistics for all quarterbacks can be found here.

Lions can't handle Bears' four-man rush

October, 23, 2012
After turning the ball over four times in their previous four games combined, the Detroit Lions lost three fumbles and had one pass intercepted Monday en route to a 13-7 defeat against the Chicago Bears.

It was the third game this season in which the Bears had four-or-more takeaways and brought their total for the season to 21. Their +13 turnover differential is the best in the league.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s Chicago's most takeaways through its first six games of a season since Dick Butkus and company had 23 through six games in 1971, four of which were on interceptions by Butkus.

Over the last 15 seasons (1998–2012), the only other team with 21 takeaways through six games was the 2005 Bengals, who also had 21.

Matthew Stafford was responsible for one of the Lions turnovers as he threw an interception late in the fourth quarter. It came when the Bears sent four pass rushers.

Entering Monday’s game, Stafford had faced four-or-fewer pass rushers on 87.9 percent of dropbacks, more than any other quarterback in the league.

The Bears also recorded two of their three sacks when sending four pass rushers. They now have a league-high 17 sacks and 11 interceptions on the season when sending such pressure.

The Lions turned the ball over on three of their 12 plays in the red zone Monday, bringing their season total to a league-high five.

Calvin Johnson was not a factor in the game as he caught only three of his 11 targets for 34 yards, breaking his streak of five consecutive road games with at least 90 yards. Johnson’s one drop against the Bears matched the number he had in his last 10 road games combined.

Lovie Smith improves to 9-2 on Monday Night Football. Among active coaches, only Mike Tomlin has a better win percentage on Monday nights, with a minimum five games.