Stats & Info: NFL

First round rookie QBs not backups long

June, 6, 2014
Jun 6
The three quarterbacks picked in the first round of the draft have already encountered obstacles that could threaten their playing time as rookies.

The Jaguars have repeatedly claimed that the plan is for Blake Bortles to sit in 2014. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has said that Johnny Manziel is currently the team’s backup QB. And Teddy Bridgewater is locked in perhaps the NFL’s only three-way quarterback competition in Minnesota.

But history tells us that not only will we see Bortles, Manziel and Bridgewater on the field in 2014, we might not need to wait long.

A look at rookie first-round QBs since the merger by the numbers.

5 – Each of the last 5 quarterbacks drafted in the first round started in Week 1 of their rookie seasons, the longest streak since the merger.

78 – 78 percent of quarterbacks drafted in the first round started at least one game as rookies (71 of 91). That means there is only about a one percent chance that Bortles, Manziel nor Bridgewater starts this season.

49 – 49 percent of first-round quarterbacks started within their team’s first five games in their rookie seasons (45 of 91). That equates to an 87 percent chance that at least one of these three quarterbacks will start in their team’s first five games.

3 – Teams that draft a quarterback in the top five (like the Jaguars did with Bortles this year) are even more unlikely to sit him as a rookie. Only three of the 41 quarterbacks drafted in the top five did not start a game as a rookie (Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Art Schlichter).

Starting with Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan in 2008, both of whom went 11-5 in 16 starts as rookies, first-round rookie QBs have averaged over 12 starts per season and won 46 percent of their starts. From the merger through 2007, 1st-round rookie QBs averaged just over 5 starts per season and won only 37 percent of their starts.

Top stats to know: 2014 NFL schedule

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23

Jennifer Stewart/Getty ImagesThe 2014 NFL season will culminate at Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Sure it is April, but the 2014 NFL schedule has been released and that means it is time to get ready for a season full of intriguing matchups.

From high-profile veterans facing their former teams, to the 16th meeting between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, here is a look at some of the early highlights of the 2014 season:

Reunion games
DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith, Chris Johnson, Darrelle Revis, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers.

Those are just a handful of veterans released during the off-season who will have a chance to play against their former teams in 2014.

After a career year in 2013, Jackson was released by the Eagles this off-season. He will face the Eagles twice this season (Week 3 in Philadelphia and Week 16 in Washington).

Smith, the Panthers career leader in touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards, promised there would be "blood and guts everywhere" if he faced the Panthers in 2014 after being released by the team in March. As a member of the Baltimore Ravens, Smith will get a crack at the Panthers on Sept. 28 in Baltimore.

Johnson only joined the Jets a little more than a week ago, but he's already slated for a Tennessee reunion. Johnson and the Jets will travel to Tennessee Week 15 to take on the Titans. Johnson has posted six straight 1,000-yard seasons, the longest active streak in the NFL.

Allen signed a 4-year deal with the Bears at the end of March after spending six seasons in Minnesota. Allen led the NFL with 85.5 sacks during his Vikings tenure. Allen will face the Vikings twice this season (Week 11 and Week 17).

Peppers is now on the other side of the NFL's most-played rivalry after signing a three-year deal with the Packers in March just days after being released by the Bears. Peppers totaled 38 sacks in his four seasons in Chicago and made three Pro Bowls.

And a college reunion
Former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and the Eagles will play the NFC West this season as part of the standard division rotation.

Kelly will have the opportunity to coach against former Pac-10 coaching rivals Pete Carroll (USC) and Jim Harbaugh (Stanford). As a head coach, Kelly was a combined 2-1 against Carroll and Harbaugh with a win over each.

Kelly and the Eagles will also travel to Indianapolis in Week 2 for a Monday Night Football showdown against former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Kelly's Oregon teams were 2-1 against Stanford during Andrew Luck's collegiate career.

Top games
On Nov. 2, Manning and Brady will meet for the 16th time, including the playoffs, tied for the most between any pair of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.

Manning will also face his former team for the second time as the Broncos will host the Colts to open their season. Manning and the Broncos lost to the Colts 39-33 in 2013.

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the top two picks in the 2012 draft, will meet for the first time in Week 13. In their young careers, Griffin III is 12-16, while Luck is 22-10.

A rematch of last year's Super Bowl, Broncos-Seahawks, will also take place this season. The Seahawks' 35-point margin of victory in the Super Bowl is tied for the third largest in NFL history.

Top stats to know: Jets QB moves

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21

Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe Jets released Mark Sanchez (right) and signed Michael Vick (left) today.

The New York Jets released Mark Sanchez and signed Michael Vick today. Here are the top stats to know on the Jets quarterback position shake-up.

1. Since he entered the NFL in 2009, no qualified quarterback has posted a worse Total QBR than Mark Sanchez’s 36.1. His 43 fumbles in that span are the second-most in the NFL behind Joe Flacco’s 45, but Flacco logged 1,251 more snaps during that time.

2. For all of Sanchez's struggles, he was effective in the postseason. Sanchez went 4-2 as a postseason starter, beating teams led by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer. All six of his postseason games were played on the road.

3. Michael Vick completed a career-high 62.6 percent of his passes in his first season back as a full-time starter in 2010. Since then, his completion percentage has declined every year (54.6 percent last season).

In his first two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Vick went 15-9 as a starter and had a plus-19 touchdown-interception differential. In his last two seasons in Philadelphia, Vick went 5-11 with a plus-4 touchdown-interception differential.

Health has also been an issue with Vick throughout his career, as he has played the full 16 games just once in his 11 seasons.

4. Here’s the good news about Michael Vick: despite missing time in each of the past four seasons, he has gained the second-most rushing yards among quarterbacks, trailing only Cam Newton. Vick is also the all-time rushing leader among quarterbacks with 5,857 rushing yards.

Should the Jets opt to run more zone-read plays, Vick would fit that scheme well. The Eagles averaged 6.1 yards per rush on zone reads last season with Vick at quarterback. Vick averaged 14.0 yards per rush the nine times he kept the ball on those plays.

5. Pressure affects Vick more than most quarterbacks. Since Vick first became the Eagles starter in 2010, only Carson Palmer and Eli Manning have thrown more than Vick’s 15 interceptions when under pressure.

However, if he’s not pressured, Vick might be a better option than current Jets starting quarterback Geno Smith. Smith turned the ball over more than three times as often against standard pressure as Michael Vick did in his seven games played last year.

Other fun facts on Jets
The Jets have a history of making moves for a quarterback on March 21. Two years ago today, the Jets acquired Tim Tebow from the Denver Broncos.

The Jets are expected to save $8.3 million in cap dollars by cutting Mark Sanchez. Even after signing Michael Vick to a one-year, $5 million deal, the Jets have the third-most salary cap space in the league at approximately $27.5 million.

Seahawks' Super Bowl win a slam dunk

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3

Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports
Malcolm Smith recovered a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown in Seattle's victory.
Their first defensive snap resulted in a safety. Their first offensive drive produced points. Their kickoff return to start the second half was a touchdown.

In all phases of the game, the Seattle Seahawks dominated the Denver Broncos in winning Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8.

Seahawks’ defense locks down Broncos
The Seahawks forced the Broncos into their worst offensive-efficiency performance of the season. The Broncos’ offense contributed minus-21.6 points to their net scoring margin, their first game this season with a negative offensive efficiency. They entered the Super Bowl as the only team without such a game this season.

The first-snap safety was only part of the Broncos’ offensive difficulties. Peyton Manning averaged 8.2 yards per completion (league average in 2013: 11.6 yards). Malcolm Smith returned one of Manning's two interceptions for a touchdown. It added up to the Seahawks’ second-best game in terms of defensive efficiency this season, behind their shutout win against Eli Manning and the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in Week 15 (plus-24.3 points).

The performance in the Super Bowl crowned the Seahawks’ season-long stretch of defensive supremacy. They finished the season with the league’s best defensive efficiency, contributing 7.2 points per game to their net scoring margin (the next closest team: Cincinnati Bengals, 4.7). Of those 7.2 points, an NFL-high 6.3 per game were on pass plays. The Seahawks’ defensive efficiency on pass plays Sunday equaled 14.3 points toward their scoring margin.

The Seahawks' defensive efficiency in the Super Bowl was the best in a postseason game since the 2009 wild-card round (the Baltimore Ravens contributed 23.1 points against the New England Patriots).

But the Seahawks dominated in every phase, not just defense. Their offense had zero turnovers, allowed zero sacks and limited negative plays to three. The Seahawks converted 7 of 12 third-down plays.

And their special teams added a touchdown on Percy Harvin’s return of the second-half kickoff for a touchdown.

Manning struggles, Wilson reverses field
Manning's 24.4 Total QBR in the Super Bowl was his lowest in a game this season and the worst in a Super Bowl since the Chicago Bears' Rex Grossman in 2006 (7.1).

Russell Wilson posted a 88.1 Total QBR, the second-highest in a Super Bowl since 2006 (Joe Flacco had a 93.4 last year), and it snapped Wilson's streak of six games with a Total QBR of less than 50.0. Wilson's Total QBR in his first two postseason games this season was 34.3.

Wilson completed 7 of 8 passes for 82 yards and six first-downs on third-down plays.

Game was out of hand early
The Broncos' first play from scrimmage, a safety, resulted in a 4.7-point hit to the team's offensive efficiency.

After Manning's interception that Smith returned for a touchdown with 3:36 left in the first half, the Broncos' win probability dropped to 3.5 percent. It never rose to more than 5 percent.

The Broncos ran 41 offensive plays with a win probability below 5.0 percent. They ran 19 such plays the rest of the season.

Matchup to watch: Lynch vs. Broncos' D

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28

Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has played in six career postseason games, and he’s rushed for at least 100 yards in four of them. The Denver Broncos have allowed only one 100-yard rushing game by a player all season (Ryan Mathews, Week 15).

Both Lynch and the Broncos’ rush defense are peaking in the postseason, making the matchup one of the most important to watch in Super Bowl XLVIII.

What Lynch does well
Lynch has averaged 93.3 rush yards per game in the postseason throughout his career, same as Emmitt Smith. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, of all the players who have played five postseason games, only three have averaged more rush yards than Lynch.

As evidenced by his beastly 67-yard touchdown run in 2010 against the Saints, Lynch’s greatest strength is his strength.

Lynch gained 66 of his 307 career postseason rush yards after contact on that play alone. His average of 2.8 yards per rush after contact is the best of any player with at least 25 postseason rushes since 2010.

The Seahawks like to run Lynch inside, as 80 percent of his rushes as a Seahawk have been between the tackles. Lynch is averaging 5.7 yards on those runs this postseason after averaging 4.1 yards in the regular season.

What the Broncos do well
The Broncos have made it a habit this postseason to shut down the run game. The San Diego Chargers were held to 65 rush yards a week after gaining 196 against the Cincinnati Bengals. The New England Patriots were held to 64 yards a week after gaining 234 against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Broncos' biggest strengths in stopping the run happen to be Lynch’s strengths as well.

Including the playoffs, the Broncos have allowed 1.4 yards per rush after first contact, fifth best in the NFL this season. The Broncos have allowed 30 yards after contact to only three running backs this season (Ryan Mathews twice, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew), a mark Lynch has hit 11 times this season.

The Broncos are also at their toughest between the tackles, in large part due to defensive tackle Terrance Knighton .

The Broncos have allowed 3.7 yards per rush between the tackles this season (including the playoffs), tied for second best in the NFL. With Knighton on the field, that number dips to 2.9 yards. With Knighton off the field, it jumps to 4.7.

Who has the upper hand?
The Broncos finished the regular season in the top 10 of yards per rush allowed (10th), as did all three of the Seahawks’ divisional foes.

Lynch failed to gain 100 rush yards in any of his six regular-season games against division opponents, averaging 3.8 yards per rush, with 1.8 coming after first contact. Against the rest of the NFL, Lynch averaged 4.4 yards overall and 2.0 after contact.

But as the San Francisco 49ers can attest, stopping Lynch in the playoffs is easier said than done. Lynch rushed for 109 yards in the NFC Championship Game, with 41 coming after first contact (1.9 per rush). Lynch gained 43 yards after contact at 0.9 per rush in the regular season versus the 49ers.

Postseason struggles for Brady, Belichick

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20

Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady and Bill Belichick are one of the most successful quarterback-head coach duos in NFL history. But they have not had the same success in recent years.
Next year will be the 10th season since the Patriots’ run of three Super Bowl wins in four seasons. Their last Super Bowl-winning campaign came in 2004.

What loss means for Tom Brady
Tom Brady is .500 (8-8) in postseason games since New England's loss in the 2005 divisional playoffs at Denver. Before that game, Brady was a perfect 10-0, which included winning three Super Bowls.

In his postseason career, Tom Brady has a 2-4 record when facing a Manning as the opposing QB and a 16-4 record against all other starting quarterbacks.

But is it all on Brady? Consider that in Brady's first 10 playoff games (when the Patriots were 10-0), the defense allowed an average of 15.8 points per game and got a sack every 13.2 dropbacks.

In his past 16 playoff games, the defense has allowed an average of 22.9 points per game and got a sack every 18.2 dropbacks.

The Patriots have allowed 20 or more points in six straight playoff games.

But even with all of the negative trends, it's important to remember that Brady still owns the record for most postseason wins by a QB in NFL history. The next-closest active quarterback is Peyton Manning with 11.

Bill Belichick's successes and failures
Since New England’s Super Bowl loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots' playoff performance has fallen short of their lofty regular-season standard.

In the past six seasons, the Patriots have a .750 winning percentage in the regular season compared to a .444 winning percentage in the postseason.

Bill Belichick’s 19 postseason wins as a head coach are one shy of tying Tom Landry for most all time. He could have arrived there sooner, however; the Patriots have lost six of their past 10 postseason games.

Defense is what Belichick is known for, and the defense is what failed them against the Broncos on Sunday.

New England gave up 507 yards to the Broncos, the most they've allowed in a game -- regular season or postseason -- under Belichick.

The Patriots became one of six teams since the AFL-NFL merger to lose consecutive AFC Championship Games, and just the second in the past 25 years. The division rival Jets in 2009 and 2010 were the last to do so.

Of those six teams, only one -- the Raiders -- made the AFC Championship Game the next season. And that Raiders team went on to win not just the AFC Championship but the Super Bowl too.

Challenges await Kaepernick, Newton

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8

ESPN Stats & InformationColin Kaepernick’s game-by-game QBR has varied based on the strength of his opponents.
Sunday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game features a matchup between two exciting, young, dual-threat quarterbacks looking to lead their teams one step closer to the Super Bowl.

Both Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton led their teams to 12-4 records in the regular season this year, but they have been relatively inconsistent compared with other good quarterbacks. Each of them has at least five excellent games with a Total QBR of at least 80 this season, but each also has three abysmal games with a QBR below 20. Besides Andy Dalton, no other quarterbacks have that number of both great and terrible performances this year.

One explanation for this apparent inconsistency that applies to both Kaepernick and Newton is the difference in how they perform based on the quality of opposing defenses. If we divide up the 32 NFL defenses in half by opponent QBR rank – that is, defenses 1 to 16 in terms of lowest opponent QBR allowed in the top half, and defenses 17 to 32 in that category in the bottom half – and then break down each player’s performance across those categories, some startling differences emerge.

First off, Kaepernick dominated below-average QBR defenses in the regular season, going 9-0 with 18 total touchdowns and no turnovers, good for a league-best 91.2 QBR against those 16 defenses. That doesn’t include another stellar performance (88.8 QBR) against the defensively challenged Packers last Sunday at Lambeau Field.

On the other hand, his performance against upper-half QB defenses has been poor. In those games, he has more interceptions than touchdowns and has a QBR of 31.2, good for 24th out of 34 QBs with at least 150 action plays against those opponents.

The chart above shows all nine of his games (10 if you count the playoffs) with a QBR greater than 70 have come against poor QBR defenses, and he’s had a QBR significantly better than average in only one out of seven games against upper-half QBR defenses.

While the split is not as extreme for Newton, he, too, has cleaned up against bad defenses while struggling against good ones. Newton, Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are the only quarterbacks to be undefeated with at least five starts against below-average QBR defenses, but Newton’s production and his team’s record are mediocre against defenses more adept at controlling opposing signal-callers.

Below are Newton’s QBR game scores plotted by opponent strength. While the line is not as steep as with Kaepernick, most of Newton’s top performances this year have been against average-or-worse defenses, and almost all his bad performances have come against solid opposition. One exception is his 74.7 Total QBR against Seattle, good for second-best by any QB against the league’s top-ranked QBR defense this year.

ESPN Stats & Information

The difference in performance for Kaepernick and Newton is well beyond the average drop-off for this split. The NFL average QBR this season is about 45 against defenses in the top half, compared with about 63 against the lower tier.

Compare that 18-point swing to Kaepernick’s 60-point drop and a near 40-point difference for Newton. Among the 27 quarterbacks who have had at least 150 action plays against each group of defenses, those are the two largest such QBR differences.

The domination of poor defenses by these two quarterbacks is what got them to this point, but the bad news is there are no more such opponents left in the NFC playoffs. The competition gets tougher right away, as Kaepernick and Newton will face each other’s defenses, units that ranked sixth (49ers) and seventh (Panthers) in terms of Total QBR allowed in the regular season.

Neither quarterback wants a repeat of the regular-season meeting between these teams in San Francisco back in Week 10. The defenses limited them to a combined total of 218 net yards (including passing, rushing and sacks), no touchdowns and two interceptions in a 10-9 Carolina victory. Newton’s 19.6 Total QBR was the third-lowest score he put up this season, while Kaepernick’s 7.7 QBR was his career low as a starter.

One of these quarterbacks will have to play well against a top defense to help his team to the next round. But if each quarterback continues the trend of poor performance against quality competition, we could be in for another defensive struggle Sunday in Charlotte.

49ers ride Kaepernick's legs past Packers

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6

AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato Colin Kaepernick already is among the all-time leaders in postseason rushing yards by a quarterback.
The San Francisco 49ers’ 23-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers was the second game of the weekend’s Wild Card round to be decided on the final play of the game.

In the win over the Packers on Sunday, Colin Kaepernick rushed seven times for 98 yards. He had three rushes for 31 yards on third down (converting two), including an 11-yard third-down conversion late in the fourth quarter that set up the game-winning field goal by Phil Dawson.

The scramble increased the 49ers’ win probability by 19.8 percentage points, to 84.8 percent. It was the the largest win probability swing in the game.

Kaepernick’s rushing against the Packers increased the 49ers’ win probability by a total of 36 percentage points, the second-greatest increase attributable to a quarterback’s rushing in a playoff game since 2006. First is Kaepernick in last season’s playoff win against the Packers.

Strength vs strength
During the regular season, the San Diego Chargers boasted the NFL’s second-best road offense, adding 12.5 expected points per game; the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense added an NFL-high 11.3 expected points per game at home. EPA uses the result of every play to evaluate what each unit contributes to a team’s net scoring margin.

On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Chargers’ strength came out on top, as the offense added 8.2 expected points. This was only the second instance of the Bengals’ defense having a negative EPA at home this season.

Saints' running game delivers
The New Orleans Saints rushed for 185 yards in their win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday after averaging 92.1 rush yards per game in the regular season.

When running the ball in the regular season, the Saints added -1.6 expected points per game; on Saturday, the Saints added approximately 7.0 expected points on the ground. Had the Saints had a rushing performance similar to their regular season averages, and everything else had remained the same, they would have lost in Philadelphia.

Colts had (almost) no chance
Only one team since 2006 has successfully overcome a lower probability of winning a playoff game than the Indianapolis Colts did in their game Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

After the Chiefs received the second-half kickoff and scored a touchdown for a 38-10 lead, the Colts’ probability of winning was 0.86.

Andrew Luck completed 17 of 24 passes with three touchdowns in the second half to spark the Colts’ rally. He finished the game with a 93.5 Total QBR.

The only other team to win a playoff game after having a lower win probability was the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 Divisional Playoffs. Trailing by seven with less than 90 seconds left, the Ravens forced the Denver Broncos to punt and took possession with a win probability of 0.74 percent. Jacoby Jones scored on a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown, and the Ravens won 38-35 in overtime.

Ravens, Vikings put on historic finish

December, 9, 2013
The Ravens and Vikings combined to score 5 touchdowns in the final 2 minutes, 1 second of their game. All 5 touchdowns caused the lead to change hands. The score went from a defensive-looking 12-7 to 29-26 in a blink.

Here is a win probability breakdown after each touchdown in the final 2:05:

𔅖:01: 1-yd Pass TD Flacco-Pitta - 26.9% win probability change, to Ravens 74.3%
𔅕:27: 41-yd Rush TD Gerhart - 40.8% win probability change, to Vikings 88.8%
𔅕:16: 77-yd KO ret TD Jones - 69.1% win probability change, to Ravens 84.0%
𔅔:45: 79-yd Pass TD Cassel-Patterson - 75.4% win probability change, to Vikings 96.4%
𔅔:04: 9-yd Pass TD Flacco-Brown - 59.4% win probability change, to Ravens 98.4%

According to Elias, the five touchdowns in 2:01 were the fastest that five touchdowns have been scored in the last 50 seasons -- by more than 3 minutes.

Patriots Defying Probability
In the past 3 weeks, the Patriots have rallied after facing deficits of 24 points (against the Broncos), 10 points (Texans) and 16 points (Browns). In all 3 games, the Patriots’ win probability reached below 15%.

The small likelihood of victory seems to have inspired Tom Brady. In the second halves and overtime of those games, Brady has completed 75% of his passes (67-of-89) for 6 touchdowns and no interceptions.

After Jason Campbell's touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron gave the Browns a 26-14 lead with 2:39 left, the Patriots’ win probability dropped to 2.0%. After Brady's touchdown pass to Julian Edelman, it was only 2.5%, but it really swung after the onside kick recovery, increasing the Patriots’ likelihood of winning by 21%.

According to Elias, the Patriots are the first team to win 3 consecutive games (all in one season) in which it trailed by double digits in the second half since the 1993 Eagles (weeks 2-5), who had Randall Cunningham at QB.

Pats Offense Below Average Before Gronk
Based on expected points added -- which takes into account everything an offense does to move the ball and score points -- the Patriots’ offense contributed -1.9 expected points per game to the team’s net scoring margin in 6 games without Rob Gronkowski (19th in the NFL). In 7 games since Gronkowski’s return, the Patriots’ offensive EPA is +8.7 per game, 4th in the NFL.

In the past seven games, the Patriots’ red zone touchdown percentage improved to 68.8% from 40.9% in the first six games. And Brady's Total QBR is 68.1 in the past seven games, compared with 52.7 without Gronkowski (50 is average).

RG III, Redskins in Tailspin
Robert Griffin's 6.7 Total QBR against the Chiefs was the worst of his career. His Total QBR this season is 40.1, down from 73.2 last season (fifth in NFL). That is a decrease of 33.1 points, the worst differential of any qualified QB in the NFL this season.

The Redskins allowed two special teams touchdowns to the Chiefs and have allowed an NFL-high five special teams touchdowns this season (one kickoff return, three punt returns and one blocked punt return). They are allowing the most yards per punt return this season (18.0), all reasons they have the worst special teams EPA in the NFL.

Their special teams expected points is -47.0, nearly a point a game worse than the Falcons’ -35.1.

On the flip side, the Chiefs have an NFL-high five special teams touchdowns this season, and they lead the NFL with 41.3 expected points added on special teams (next closest team: Patriots – 31.7).

Manning, Broncos undress Chiefs' defense

November, 18, 2013
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyDespite an ankle injury, Peyton Manning completed 24 of 40 passes and wasn’t sacked.
Compared with its average entering the game, the Chiefs’ defense was 16 points worse against the Broncos than it had been in the first 10 weeks of the season. The defense’s average contribution to the Chiefs’ net scoring margin had been 11.0 points, but against Peyton Manning and the Broncos it was -5.0 points. Defensive EPA measures the contributions of a defense to its team’s net scoring margin by controlling field position, forcing turnovers and keeping the opponent from scoring.

The Chiefs had 0 sacks for the second straight game, and they have not recorded a sack in their opponents’ last 90 dropbacks.

Manning's standard of excellence
Manning had a 66.5 Total QBR against the Chiefs, his 16th straight game with a Total QBR above 50.0. The next longest active streak in the NFL is Matthew Stafford with 5.

The Broncos are 15-1 during that span, and Manning has led the NFL in, among other categories, three significant quarterback measures.

Wilson has another outstanding game
Russell Wilson had a 98.5 Total QBR against the Vikings, his highest Total QBR in a game this season, and his second-straight game over 90.0. He has eight games in his career with a Total QBR above 90.0. Only Peyton Manning has more in the last 2 seasons.

Eagles put it away early, again
The Eagles jumped to a big halftime lead against Washington for the second time this season, averaging 9.3 yards per play, more efficient than their 53-play first half in the season opener. In both games, the Eagles’ halftime win probability was over 95 percent, and they held off a late comeback attempt. Both wins were decided by 8 points or fewer, but the Eagles’ second-half win probability never dropped below 87.8 percent in either game.

Foles, RG-3 go their separate ways
Nick Foles posted a 71.1 Total QBR, compared with Robert Griffin III’s 35.6 Total QBR Sunday. Foles’ Total QBR has climbed 35.2 points this season to 78.2, the largest improvement in the league. Griffin’s has gone down 28 points, the third-largest decline of any quarterback this season.

Bengals' defense and special teams headline comeback
The Bengals scored a franchise-record 31 points in the second quarter of their 41-20 win over the Browns. The specials teams and defense combined to add 41.4 expected points to the Bengals’ net margin, the second-greatest combination of any team’s defense and special teams units in the last eight seasons. The offense contributed -21.2 expected points, the Bengals’ worst in a win in the last eight seasons.

The Bengals have two of the four highest defensive EPA games of any NFL team this season. In addition to the 24.1 points Sunday, they had 22.6 expected points added in Week 8 against the Jets.

Hard times for Kaepernick
The 49ers lost their second consecutive game against a team with a winning record, dropping them to 2-4 this year against teams currently at or above .500. Colin Kaepernick has a 38.8 Total QBR in such games, compared with a 96.9 Total QBR against below .500 teams, the best in the NFL.

Dalton continues roller coaster
Andy Dalton posted a 3.7 Total QBR Sunday, the lowest Total QBR of his career, and the lowest by any quarterback in a win since Jake Delhomme (2.2) in 2008 in Carolina's win over the Raiders (min. 30 action plays). Dalton’s play has taken a nose dive in his last three games, after a three-game stretch capped by the highest Total QBR game in his career against the Jets in Week 8 (98.9).

Jason Campbell finished with a 7.3 Total QBR. Dalton and Campbell combined for the lowest Total QBR (11.0) by any quarterbacks facing each other in a game this season.

Key stats for opening Sunday

September, 6, 2013

Getty ImagesCan Calvin Johnson (left) and Adrian Peterson (right) duplicate huge seasons in 2013?
Now that the NFL season is officially underway, we preview the top stats to know in preparation for Sunday’s action.

1. When the Atlanta Falcons visit the New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys host the New York Giants in Week 1, they'll each be looking to improve upon an NFL record. The Falcons are 6-0 all-time vs the Saints in season openers and the Cowboys are 6-0 vs the Giants in season openers.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, those are the best records against a single opponent in season openers in NFL history.

2. Adrian Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards last season, the second-most in NFL history and just eight yards short of Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105 from 1984.

Even if Peterson doesn’t get to 2,105 this year, he could set records by becoming the first player with multiple 2,000-yard rushing seasons or passing Dickerson’s mark for rushing yards in consecutive seasons. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Peterson needs 1,817 rushing yards in 2013 to break the latter record.

3. Calvin Johnson set an NFL record with 1,964 receiving yards last season. He also led the NFL in receiving yards in 2011. This year, he could join Jerry Rice from 1993-95 as the only players to lead the NFL in receiving yards in three straight seasons.

4. The Green Bay Packers visiting the San Francisco 49ers is a matchup of the only two NFC teams to win division titles in each of the last two years. Since 2011, the Packers (.813) and 49ers (.766) rank first and third in win percentage respectively.

The Packers drafted a pair of running backs in the first four rounds of April’s draft (Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin). Green Bay has gone 43 straight regular-season games without a 100-yard rusher, the longest active streak in the NFL.

5. Tom Brady leads the New England Patriots on the road to face the division-rival Buffalo Bills. Brady has performed very well against the Bills throughout his career.

Brady’s 20-2 career record against the Bills is the second-best of any quarterback against any single opponent since the 1970 merger (min. 15 starts vs team). Only Ben Roethlisberger, who is 14-1 against the Cleveland Browns, has posted a better mark. Brady has thrown 51 touchdown passes in his career vs the Bills, the most he’s had against any opponent (the Dolphins rank second with 39).

Key injuries as training camps open

July, 29, 2013

Getty ImagesJeremy Maclin (left) and Dennis Pitta (right) each suffered season-ending injuries on Saturday.

Three notable players went down over the weekend with season-ending injuries.

On Saturday, the Baltimore Ravens lost starting tight end Dennis Pitta after he suffered a dislocated hip in practice. The Philadelphia Eagles lost their top wide receiver from last season, Jeremy Maclin, with a torn ACL in his right knee.

And on Sunday, the Denver Broncos lost starting center Dan Koppen to a torn ACL in his left knee.

How will each injury impact each team?


Pitta was a vital part of the Ravens' third-down success last season. On third down with Pitta on the field, the Ravens averaged more than twice as many yards per play as they did with him off the field. Baltimore was also sacked less often, and all seven of their third-down passing touchdowns came with Pitta on the field.

When Pitta was on the field, he was Joe Flacco’s go-to guy in the red zone. Over the last two seasons (including the playoffs), Pitta had a team-high 10 red zone touchdowns. Second on that list were Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, who’s no longer on the team, with seven.

Pitta, if nothing else, has been extremely dependable when the ball comes his way. He's dropped just three passes over the last two seasons. Among tight ends who have been targeted at least 100 times since 2011, the only tight end with fewer drops is Anthony Fasano with one.


Regardless of who the Eagles end up starting at quarterback, the loss of Maclin is huge as he led the team in targets, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns last season. In fact, Maclin leads the Eagles in all of those categories over his four seasons with the team.

In 2009, Michael Vick signed with Philadelphia as a free agent shortly after they drafted Maclin. In that time, Vick has thrown more touchdowns (17) and completed more passes (138) to Maclin than any other Eagles receiver.


The Broncos offensive line took a major hit in losing Koppen. Peyton Manning was sacked eight times in the Broncos first three games last season, all played without Koppen taking a snap. Koppen played 95 percent of the team's snaps the final 13 games of the season, with Manning getting sacked 13 total times in those games.

The Broncos allowed one sack for every 35.8 dropbacks with Koppen on the field last season, compared to one sack for every 18.1 dropbacks with him off the field. Although the Broncos were much better with Koppen on the line, they managed to remain above the league average of 16.7 dropbacks per sack in his absence.

Chiefs drawn to Smith's efficiency

February, 27, 2013

Ralph Freso/Getty ImagesAlex Smith is reportedly heading to Kansas City after spending eight seasons with the 49ers.
The San Francisco 49ers have reportedly traded 2005 first-overall pick Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs. In return, the 49ers would receive the Chiefs’ second-round pick in 2013 (No. 34 overall) and a conditional midround pick in the 2014 draft.

Smith would be the latest in a line of former 49ers quarterbacks who have moved to Kansas City:

• Joe Montana was traded from San Francisco to Kansas City in April of 1993. He led the Chiefs to a pair of playoff appearances in two seasons and advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game in 1993.

• Steve Bono was a highly regarded backup in San Francisco when he was traded to the Chiefs in 1994. Bono became the Chiefs' starter in 1995 and led the team to a 13-3 record.

• Elvis Grbac spent his first four seasons with the 49ers before signing with the Chiefs as a free agent in 1997. Grbac spent four seasons as the Chiefs' starter before moving on to Baltimore.

• And now it's Alex Smith's turn. Drafted first overall by the 49ers in 2005, Smith led San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game in 2011 before Colin Kaepernick took over as starter in Week 11 of this season.

In terms of Total QBR, the trade makes a lot of sense from the Chiefs’ perspective. Smith was the seventh-most efficient quarterback in 2012 with a rating of 70.1.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, ranked 29th in QBR at 31.9. Only the Browns, Jets and Cardinals were worse last season.

One reason that Smith posted such a high QBR in 2012 is that he was an accurate passer who took care of the ball.

Smith led the NFL with a 70.2 completion percentage last season and, since 2011, has thrown an interception on just 1.5 percent of his pass attempts. Among qualified passers over that span, only Aaron Rodgers (1.3) has thrown interceptions at a lower rate.

In Kansas City, quarterbacks have not been nearly as secure with the ball. Chiefs quarterbacks committed 29 turnovers in 2012, including 20 interceptions. The 29 turnovers trailed only the Jets (33) for most in the NFL and the 20 interceptions were one shy of the league-leading Cardinals (21).

Kansas City also threw a league-low eight touchdown passes in 2012, the fewest in a single season by any team since the 2007 Oakland Raiders (seven).

Alex Smith threw 13 touchdown passes in just nine games last season and his 30 touchdowns since 2011 are nine more than Chiefs passers have thrown over the same span.

Will the move pay immediate dividends? AccuScore seems to think so. According to 10,000 computer simulations, Alex Smith is worth approximately 2.2 wins for the Chiefs in 2013 and improves their chances of reaching the playoffs from 0.2 percent to 8.8 percent.

All that said, Smith will be forced to start from scratch in 2013. Doug Pederson will be the eighth offensive coordinator that Smith has played under in just his ninth season in the league. The past two seasons marked just the second time in his career that he had the same coordinator to begin consecutive NFL seasons.

4 reasons why Matt Ryan is ready to win

January, 11, 2013

Dale Zanine/USA TODAYMatt Ryan is still looking for his first career playoff win.
Matt Ryan is 0-3 in his playoff career and is looking to avoid becoming the first quarterback since the merger to lose his first four postseason starts.

Ryan has never thrown for 200 yards in a playoff game, and his 28.3 Total QBR in the postseason is second-worst among quarterbacks with at least two playoff starts since 2008 (Andy Dalton, 16.6 Total QBR).

Despite his struggles, Ryan has made big strides this past season that could indicate he’s ready for his first playoff win. Below are four factors that show how Ryan has improved:


The Atlanta Falcons were 7-2 in games decided by eight points or fewer this season and Ryan’s clutch play late in games was a big reason why.
In Week 4 against the Panthers, Ryan led the Falcons on a 77-yard game-winning drive with under a minute to play.

Ryan had struggled in two-minute drill situations in years past. Entering 2012, Ryan had 11 interceptions and had never completed more than 51 percent of his passes in a season in the final two minutes of either half.

In the same situations this season, Ryan had the second-best completion percentage (69 percent) and the most attempts (65) without an interception.


Entering this season, Ryan was a league-average passer when throwing more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. From 2008 to 2011, Ryan completed 47 percent of those attempts (37 percent in the postseason) and cracked 50 percent in just one season, his rookie year of 2008.

This season Ryan has found his touch, completing 56 percent of his attempts more than 10 yards downfield, fourth-best in the NFL.


One big addition to the Falcons offense this season has been the screen pass.
Ryan has attempted 67 screen passes this season, second-most in the NFL. In 2010 and 2011, Ryan attempted 36 total screens, none in the postseason.

Not only have the Falcons been attempting more screens, they have also gotten a lot out of them.

The Falcons have averaged 7.2 yards per screen pass this season (seventh) and have the most touchdowns on such plays.


Although Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez all played for the Falcons last season, the trio has become even more important for Ryan this season.

The Falcons were one of three teams this season to have a trio of receivers finish with 100-plus targets (White 138, Jones 126, Gonzalez 123).

When all three were on field together this season, Ryan threw an interception once every 62 pass attempts. When at least one of the three was off the field, Ryan threw an interception once every 20 attempts.

Pressure constant in Packers-49ers rematch

January, 10, 2013

Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAYAaron Rodgers and the Packers fell to the 49ers in Week 1, but both offenses will look much different this time around.
The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers 30-22 in Week 1, with the 49ers leading by as many 16 points in the game. However, each team has gone through personnel changes that could lead to a different outcome this time around.

For the 49ers, the most notable change is at the quarterback position, where Colin Kaepernick has supplanted Alex Smith as the starter. Smith was highly effective against the Packers in Week 1, specifically against added pressure.

The Packers sent five or more pass rushers at the league’s fourth-highest rate this season (40 percent), and did so 46 percent of the time against the 49ers.

Although Smith was sacked three times against such pressure in Week 1, he also completed 11 of his 12 passes for 141 yards and eight first downs.

On the season, Smith completed 72.6 percent of his attempts against added pressure, best in the NFL.

Kaepernick should expect a similar defensive strategy from the Packers in the Divisional Playoffs. No quarterback faced extra rushers on a higher percentage of dropbacks than Kaepernick did this season (39 percent) and his 56.6 completion percentage against those rushes ranked 20th in the NFL.

For the Packers, the biggest change will be at running back.

In Week 1, the Packers ran 61 offensive plays and 31 of those came without a running back on field. Only seven teams had more than 31 plays without a running back all season long.

With their backs frequently on the bench, the Packers dropped back to pass 85 percent of the time (dropbacks include sacks and scrambles), their highest rate in a game since Aaron Rodgers took over as starter in 2008.

The Packers best success running in Week 1 came from Rodgers scrambling (five scrambles, 27 yards). Then starting running back Cedric Benson ran nine times for 18 yards, all on first down.

The emergence of DuJuan Harris in recent weeks should lead to a different offensive approach for the Packers against the 49ers.

Six Packers running backs had at least 25 runs between the tackles this season and none was more successful than Harris.

Including the playoffs, Harris has averaged a team-high 4.3 yards per rush between the tackles this season. Benson gained only 17 yards on eight rushes between the tackles in Week 1.

Packers running backs were also targeted nine times in the Wild Card round (six to Harris), the second time this season Packers backs had at least that many targets. No Packers running back had a target in Week 1.

Despite the recent success, however, Rodgers thrived without a running back on field in Week 1, going 21-of-28 for 229 yards (9-of-16, 74 yards with a back on field).

Time will tell how things play out on Saturday, but the offenses will certainly look different than they did in September.