Stats & Info: Tennessee Titans

Keys to victory: Colts 30, Titans 27

November, 15, 2013
What were the keys to the Indianapolis Colts' 30-27 win over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday?

Luck went their way
Andrew Luck didn’t throw for any touchdowns, but he was effective, completing 23 of 36 passes for 232 yards and not throwing an interception. He was 6-for-7 for 91 yards on his play-action passes, considerably better than the 1-for-5 he recorded in last week’s loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Luck has adjusted without the presence of injured receiver Reggie Wayne. Luck’s average throw when Wayne was on the team traveled 9.4 yards downfield. In the last three games, Luck’s average pass has traveled 7.0 yards downfield.

Coby Fleener was Luck’s main target, again, setting career highs for catches and yards. Luck was 8-for-10 for 107 yards when throwing to Fleener.

Fleener had 32 targets in his first seven games, but has been targeted 25 times in three games since Wayne’s injury.

Luck also ran for a touchdown, his ninth in the NFL over the last two seasons. That’s second-most by any quarterback in the NFL in that span, trailing only Cam Newton, who has 12.

Luck has five touchdowns on runs that were scrambles, tied with Christian Ponder for the most in the NFL.

The Colts have managed to find ways to win that don’t require Luck throwing a touchdown pass. They’re 4-2 the last two seasons in starts in which he has none.

Brown runs them over
Donald Brown had season highs in rushes (14), rushing yards (80) and nearly as many rushing yards as he had in his previous four games combined (86). Of those 80 yards, 79 came on runs between the tackles.

Brown actually has more touchdowns with the Colts since Trent Richardson joined the team with three, than Richardson has with the team (two).

The Colts had only eight rushes for 38 yards in the first half, but managed 99 yards on 24 runs in the final 30 minutes of the game. They managed only 18 rushing yards against the Rams last week.

Vinatieri from deep
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri connected on three field goals, hitting from 48, 30, and 50 yards.

Vinatieri is now 6-for-8 on field goal tries of 48 yards or longer this season. The six makes tie him (for the moment) with Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski for the most in the NFL.

Top stats to know: Colts at Titans

November, 14, 2013
The Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans kick off Week 11 Thursday night. Both teams look to get back on track after suffering losses last week.

1. Andrew Luck has struggled since losing his top wideout Reggie Wayne, for the season with an ACL tear. Luck has a Total QBR of 73.6 with Wayne on the field, with Wayne off the field that number plummets to 28.7.

In Week 10 the Colts turned the ball over five times against the St. Louis Rams leading to a 30-point loss, their worst home defeat since 1993.

The silver lining is that Luck has yet to suffer back-to-back losses in the first 25 starts of his career. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us only three other quarterbacks since the merger in 1970 can say that (Dan Marino, Kordell Stewart and Pat Haden).

2. T.Y. Hilton has done a good job of stepping up to help out Luck, but no one else has contributed much. Luck has a completion of percentage of 73.7 percent when targeting Hilton the last two weeks; that percentage is just 48.5 percent for all others on the Colts.

Hilton is fourth in the league with 251 receiving yards in his last two games. He’s the first Colts player with seven receptions and 120 receiving yards in back-to-back games since Wayne in 2007.

3. The Titans started off the season strong, going 3-1 in their first four games. Since then they have lost four of their last five contests. Their starting quarterback Jake Locker is out for the season with a foot injury.

They will turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has 72 turnovers since 2010, third most in the NFL behind Eli Manning and Carson Palmer. The Titans are 1-7 in their last eight divisional games.

4. The Titans have allowed multiple rushing touchdowns in each of their last four games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last NFL team to allow multiple rushing touchdowns in each of five consecutive games in one season was Cleveland in 1999 (six straight).

On the flip side, the Titans pass defense has played well this season. They are the only team in the NFL that has not allowed a touchdown pass thrown at least 15 yards down the field. They are also eighth in Defensive Expected Points Added, a metric that accounts for context when evaluating defensive performance.

5. The Colts have won eight of their last nine games against the Titans, including three straight. In order for that to continue the Colts need their run game back in order.

Since being acquired by the Colts in Week 3 Trent Richardson has 250 rushing yards, 37th most in the NFL over that span. In week 10 they rushed for just 18 yards, third fewest in franchise history.

Defense leads rise of Chiefs, Titans

October, 1, 2013

avid Eulitt/Kansas City Star/Getty ImagesKansas City's improved defense has helped lead their rise in's Power Rankings.
The Kansas City Chiefs finished last out of 32 teams in the final edition of last season’s NFL Power Rankings and the Tennessee Titans finished 26th.

The two teams meet in Tennessee this weekend, so one of their respective rises up to fifth and 13th in the Power Rankings this season will be put on hold

Each team's vast improvements on defense, however, could ensure that any fall may be short-lived.

Chiefs Defense – Best Pass Rush in the NFL
Not only have the Chiefs recorded the most sacks this season (18), they’ve sacked quarterbacks at the highest rate in the NFL (10 percent of dropbacks).

Although Justin Houston is tied for the league-lead with 7.5 sacks this season, nose tackle Dontari Poe may be having just as big of an impact.

Poe has recorded 3.5 sacks this season, best among interior defensive linemen. He had zero sacks last season despite playing 75 percent of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps.

Poe’s production this season is even more impressive when you compare him to nose tackles in 3-4 defenses in recent years.

Since the start of 2008, there have been only five instances of a nose tackle recording as many as four sacks in an entire season, and none have posted more than 7.5

Poe’s pressure from the interior makes it harder for offensive lines to account for the rest of the Chiefs’ pass rush.

Eight Kansas City defenders have at least a half sack this season. Last season, they had six defenders record at least half a sack.

Titans Defense – More Pass Rushers, Bigger Impact
The Titans allowed a league-worst 29.4 points per game last season, but have shaved 12 points off that average this year.

One of the keys to the turnaround has been a strategical shift on defense.

The Titans had good production when pass rushing five or more defenders last season. The problem was they used such pressure on only a quarter of opponent dropbacks.

Tennessee allowed a league-worst 70 percent of passes to be completed when rushing four or fewer last season, but were a Top-10 defense when sending extra rushers (54 percent).

The Titans defense has allowed similar numbers this season, but the big difference is that the Titans are sending at least five pass rushers on 44 percent of opponent dropbacks, the third highest rate in the NFL.

The increased number of pass rushers may be the influence of Gregg Williams, now a senior assistant with the Titans’ defense.

Williams was the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011. During that stretch, the Saints sent five or more pass rushers exactly half the time. No other team did that more than 43 percent of the time.

Wilson leads the way for two straight weeks

December, 24, 2012
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsRussell Wilson threw four touchdowns as the Seahawks blew out the 49ers to clinch a playoff berth.
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.

For the second straight week, Russell Wilson topped the QBR charts, posting a 97.6 QBR Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

Last week, his 99.3 QBR was the highest by any quarterback in a single game this season.

However unlike last week when he ran for three scores and threw for another, this week he accounted for all four of his touchdowns through the air.

Wilson leads the league with a 85.9 Total QBR since Week 6.

His QBR Sunday was the highest the 49ers have allowed in a game since the start of 2008 season.

Peyton Manning has posted a QBR of at least 90 in more than half of his games this season, including a 93.6 Total QBR on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

In the last five seasons, Manning is tied with Philip Rivers for the most games with a 90+ Total QBR (19) despite missing the entire 2011 season.

•  Matt Ryan posted a 96.7 Total QBR in Saturday night’s win over the Detroit Lions. Ryan now has four games this season with a 95+ QBR, most in the NFL. In the QBR era, there has only been one other instance of a player having four or more games with a 95+ QBR in a season: Matt Ryan in 2008.

•  Joe Flacco had a 94.4 Total QBR in Sunday’s win over the New York Giants, his highest Total QBR since Week 1 (95.1). Flacco now has a 66.3 Total QBR at home and a 31.0 Total QBR on the road, which is the second-largest home/road Total QBR differential in the NFL (Michael Vick, 52.4). Flacco will have at least one more home game this season, as the Baltimore Ravens clinched the AFC North and a home playoff game Sunday.

•  Aaron Rodgers had an 88.8 Total QBR in Sunday's win over the Tennessee Titans, his fourth straight game with a QBR of at least 80. Rodgers is tied with Drew Brees for most games with an 80+ QBR (18) over the last two seasons.

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.

Inside the run: Johnson's 94-yard dash

December, 17, 2012
AP Photo/Wade PayneChris Johnson was too fast for anyone to catch on Monday Night.

Our Monday Night Football crew timed Chris Johnson’s 94-yard touchdown run in Monday’s win over the New York Jets at 10.78 seconds.

It was by far the highlight of a tough-to-watch contest, one in which the Tennessee Titans eliminated the Jets from postseason contention.

What else was of note about the run?

• It was the longest touchdown run in Titans history, breaking the mark previously set by Sid Blanks against the Jets in 1964 and tied by Johnson in 2009.

• It was the second-longest run from scrimmage in Monday Night Football history, surpassed only by Tony Dorsett’s 99-yard touchdown run for the Dallas Cowboys against the Minnesota Vikings in 1983.

• It was the longest touchdown run by anyone in the NFL since Chester Taylor's 95-yard TD run for the Minnesota Vikings in 2006.

• The Elias Sports Bureau notes that it made Johnson the third player in NFL history with multiple 90-yard touchdown runs, joining Bo Jackson and Ahman Green.

• It was the sixth touchdown run of at least 80 yards in Johnson’s career. No other player in NFL history has more than three. Johnson has three this season. He also had three in 2009.

•  Johnson had his second touchdown of 80 or more yards this season against a defensive unit's front line that has more defenders than available blockers (ie: a "loaded box.")

No other player in the NFL has any such touchdowns this season. Entering the game, Johnson had the second-most yards per rush (6.3) among qualified running backs against such defenses.

• Johnson had nearly as many rushing yards on that one play as the Jets had total yards in the first half (99).

• Johnson has 33 games with at least 100 rushing yards since 2008, most in the NFL in that span. The player with the next most: Adrian Peterson, with 30.

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.

Refs' win-probability impact benefits Seattle

September, 25, 2012
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.

Amazing afternoon: Best of OT info

September, 23, 2012

The wildest afternoon of NFL games so far this season featured three overtime games among the day’s early contests.

It’s the first day with three overtime contests since November 7, 2010.

Let’s take a look at the key stats in each one.

Tennessee Titans 44, Detroit Lions 41
The Titans survived an epic comeback attempt by the Lions in one of the most unusual NFL games in recent memory.

How odd was it? Consider these notes from the Elias Sports Bureau:

The Titans became the first team in NFL history to have five touchdowns of at least 60 yards in length in a single game.

The Titans are the second team in NFL history to score a punt-return touchdown, a kickoff-return touchdown, a fumble-return touchdown, and a passing touchdown in the same game, joining the 2002 Chiefs.

The Lions became the first team in NFL history to score two touchdowns in the final 18 seconds of regulation to either take a lead or force overtime.

The 46 combined points in the fourth the quarter of the Lions (25) and Titans (21) matchup are the second-most in a fourth quarter in league history trailing only the 48 from Lions (34) and Bears (14) in 2007.

One of the keys for the Titans was the play of quarterback Jake Locker, who completed 22-of-31 passes against four-or-fewer pass rushers for 317 yards and two touchdowns. Sunday marked the first time Locker has thrown for multiple touchdowns against four-or-fewer pass rushers in a game.

Kansas City Chiefs 27, New Orleans Saints 24
The Saints fell to 0-3 with the loss. Under the current playoff format, only three of 113 teams to start 0-3 have recovered to make the postseason.

They are the eighth team in the Super Bowl era to start 0-3 the season after winning 13 or more games.

The Chiefs had lost 31 straight games when trailing by at least 10 points entering the fourth quarter. The Saints had their NFL-best 19-game winning streak when leading at halftime snapped.

It was a franchise-record-setting day for Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop (six field goals) and Jamaal Charles (91-yard touchdown run is the longest run from scrimmage in Chiefs history).

Charles rushed for 233 yards. He's one of four players in NFL history with multiple games of 230-or-more rushing yards. Jim Brown has the most (three). Charles, Corey Dillon and O.J. Simpson each have two.

New York Jets 23, Miami Dolphins 20
The theme of this game may have been the Jets good fortune in snapping a three-game road losing streak.

They won despite quarterback Mark Sanchez completing 21 of 45 passes.

They are the first team to win a game in which their quarterback threw at least 45 passes, and completed less than 50 percent of them since the 2002 Giants (Kerry Collins).

The Jets were also fortunate in that Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter missed field goals of 47 yards in the fourth quarter and 48 in overtime.

Carpenter is 13-for-27 on field goal attempts of at least 47 yards since the start of the 2009 season. His 14 misses are the most in the NFL in that span.

The biggest positive for the Jets: Santonio Holmes was key when the Dolphins decided to send five-or-more pass rushers. Holmes had four receptions for 81 yards when the Dolphins blitzed with at least five rushers.

Is Tim Tebow the new Vince Young?

November, 29, 2011

Christopher Hanewinckel/US Presswire
Tim Tebow's performance in his first nine starts is reminiscent of Vince Young's early career with the Titans in 2006.
On Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, Tim Tebow recorded his fourth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, the second-most by a quarterback in his first nine starts, according to Elias. The Denver Broncos have won four games in a row and are just one game out of playoff position.

It’s reminiscent of a performance five years ago, when Vince Young took over as starter for the Tennessee Titans and also engineered several comeback victories early on. Young, however, could not propel the Titans into the postseason that year, as the team finished 8-8 and tied for second place in the AFC South.

Despite the similar trends, Tebow’s first nine starts have arguably been considerably more impressive than Young’s. His four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or later are one more than Young had in his first nine starts, and he also has the advantage in passing yards, touchdowns and rushing yards.

Young’s calling card early in his career was that he led his team to wins despite statistics that were not among the league’s best, and Tebow certainly fits that bill. However, Tebow has him beat in the win column too. Young went 5-4 in his first nine starts; Tebow has gone 6-3, including 5-1 this season.

Though Tebow has received much hype and praise during the Broncos recent playoff push, Denver’s defense deserves significant credit for the five wins under Tebow. In those games, the Broncos have allowed an average of 15 points and have held opponents to a third-down conversion rate of just 26 percent.

Young received far less help from his defense in 2006. Through his first nine starts, the Titans allowed an average of 371 yards per game, the second-worst mark in the league during that span, and recorded just seven sacks, the fewest in the NFL in those nine weeks.

Line of scrimmage key to QB play, winning

November, 1, 2011
Total QBR is often used to evaluate the best quarterbacks, but it does more than that, shedding insight on how teams are winning. QBR accounts for sacks and scrambles along with when the quarterback throws the ball, making it correlate strongly to winning.

By charting the pressure quarterbacks face, how much time they have to throw, and how many rushers were sent, we also have the ability to understand the line of scrimmage. In combination with QBR, we can then tell a story about how the line of scrimmage relates to winning.

Tom Brady is statistically one of the best quarterbacks in the league, with the second-best Total QBR of 76.6. But how much of Brady’s success is due to having a scheme and offensive line combination that is superior to other teams?

If he had to face the pass pressure that Jay Cutler faces in Chicago, we estimate that Brady’s QBR would decline to 62.5 and the Patriots would lose about 19 points as a result.

Matt Hasselbeck
Hasselbeck has the fourth-best Total QBR this season (73.1), after posting a 45.4 in 2010. One reason for his improvement is that he has been pressured the least of any quarterback and has done well in these situations.

Matt Hasselbeck
He has a total QBR of 84.5 when not under pressure, compared to the league average of 73. A big part of his success is a scheme that gets the ball out of Hasselbeck’s hand quickly. The Titans take 2.36 seconds to attempt a pass, one of the best marks in the league.

Ryan Fitzpatrick
The team that takes the shortest amount of time to throw is the Buffalo Bills. Fitzpatrick, also a top-10 quarterback according to Total QBR, has to get the ball out so quickly because Buffalo’s offensive line is the second-worst in the league at allowing pass pressure within three seconds in the pocket.

Tim Tebow
Tebow will be the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback for at least one more week, despite his league-worst QBR of 12.8. Tebow has been pressured on 39 percent of his action plays, the highest rate among regular starters, and hasn’t done well in those situations, with a QBR of just 7.6.

Tim Tebow
The problem does not seem to be with his offensive line, as the Broncos are fifth-best in the NFL at allowing time in the pocket without pressure. The Broncos do take the second-longest in the league to throw the ball, which is partly a result of the receiver not getting open. But it took Kyle Orton 2.60 seconds to get a throw away, while it takes Tebow a league-high 3.64 seconds.

Tebow’s QBR when not under pressure is just 18.9. The other quarterbacks with QBR values under 50 when not pressured are Kyle Boller, Luke McCown, Kerry Collins, Blaine Gabbert, A.J. Feeley, Donovan McNabb, and Charlie Whitehurst. Every one of these guys has either lost their starting job or filled in for the starter due to injury or them losing their job.

For exclusive video, stories and blogs about quarterbacks from every level of competition, check out ESPN's "Year of the Quarterback" page.

Why Chris Johnson's big plays plummeted

November, 1, 2011

Chris Johnson's 2011 performance has been a huge drop-off from recent successes

Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009, averaging 5.6 yards per rush. This season, Johnson is averaging half that, picking up just 2.8 yards per rush on 107 attempts.

What is particularly alarming for Johnson, who staged a preseason holdout before signing on September 1, is how much he’s declined.

From his rookie season in 2008 to 2010, Johnson was one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL. Johnson averaged nearly 2.5 rushes per game of at least 10 yards during that stretch, including an NFL-best 49 in 2009.

If he’d maintained that rate through the first seven games of the 2011 season, he should have 18 such rushes. He has only four. His backup, Javon Ringer, has five rushes of at least 10 yards in 72 fewer attempts.

The lack of big plays could be a result of limited work after contact. Johnson is averaging 1.3 yards per rush after contact this season. Only Thomas Jones (0.9) is doing worse among the 28 running backs with at least 50 attempts.

Johnson may also be hitting holes slower than usual. Johnson is averaging 1.5 yards per rush before contact, fifth-worst among rushers with 50 attempts. Johnson only leads Montario Hardesty, Deji Karim, Bernard Scott and Peyton Hillis in this category.

Opposing defenses have taken notice of Johnson’s struggles and are game-planning him differently this season. As Johnson's career has progressed, opponents have used pre-snap sets of seven or fewer defenders more often. Johnson has only 12 rushes this season with eight or more defenders in the box.

Roughly 11 percent of Johnson’s rushes this season have been against a loaded box -- when there are more defenders in the box than there are available blockers on offense. From 2008-10, almost twenty percent of his rushes were against loaded boxes.

In the history of the NFL, only six players have rushed for 2,000 yards in a single season, including Johnson. Of those running backs, none have averaged fewer than 3.0 yards per rush in any season in their career.

The worst season by a 2,000-yard rusher (minimum 100 rushes), was by Eric Dickerson in 1991. Dickerson averaged 3.2 yards per rush on 167 attempts for the Colts that season, seven years removed from his 2,105-yard season in 1984. Johnson is in danger of chasing that mark just two years after rushing for 2,006 yards.

US Presswire/Jeff Curry
Steven Jackson had one of his best games in a long time in helping the Rams to their first win.

For the second time in five seasons, the St. Louis Rams found the New Orleans Saints to be the perfect opponent against which to end a season-long winless drought.

In 2007, the Rams were 0-8 to start the season and picked up their first win against the Saints. There were a few similarities between that contest (a 37-29 win) and this one (31-21).

The Saints were the fourth team in the past 40 seasons to score at least 62 points in a game. Of those four, three lost their following game. The 1973 Atlanta Falcons also lost to the Rams (then the Los Angeles Rams). In fact, those Rams shut out the Falcons 31-0 in the second week of that season.

The Rams held the Saints, who scored 62 points in a win over the winless Colts last week, to no points in the first half of this game.

Steven Jackson finished with 159 yards rushing and two touchdowns, the first time a Rams player posted 150 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in a game since Jackson in Week 17 of 2008.

Jackson also was responsible for two touchdowns in that 2007 win over the Saints, although he managed them in a slightly different fashion, throwing for one and running for the other.

Chris Long posted three sacks for the Rams' defense on Sunday, the first time a Rams player had at least three sacks in a game since Leonard Little in Week 13 of 2003. The Rams finished with six sacks and two interceptions against Saints quarterback Drew Brees. They had four sacks and two interceptions against Brees in that losing-streak-snapping win in 2007.

The Saints now are 2-3 on the road this season. That is as many road losses as in the previous two combined seasons, 2009-10, in which they were an NFL-best 13-3 in road games.

The only statistical positive for the Saints was that Brees threw a touchdown pass with 6 seconds left, marking the 35th straight game in which he’s thrown at least one. That’s one shy of Brett Favre for the second-longest streak in NFL history.

Elsewhere on the winless front
• The New York Giants became the latest team to come back to beat the Miami Dolphins, rallying from 11 points down to win 20-17. The Dolphins are 0-7 for the second time in franchise history (they started 0-13 in 2007). They’ve lost 10 straight games, the second-longest losing streak in team history and the longest since losing a franchise-record 16 in a row from 2006 to '07.

It’s the fourth straight season in which the Giants won their first game following a bye week. They’ve also won four straight overall against AFC opponents.

• The Tennessee Titans downed the winless Indianapolis Colts 27-10, making the Colts 0-8 for the fourth time in franchise history, the first time since starting 0-10 in 1997.

One highlight from this contest was that Titans kicker Rob Bironas made field goals of 50 and 51 yards. He continued a fine run for NFL kickers on long-distance kicks. Kickers entered the day 41-for-58 on field goal tries of 50 yards or longer.

Rodgers shines in Week 4 Total QBR report

October, 3, 2011
ESPN’s new metric, Total QBR, takes you through the good, the great and the ugly quarterback play in Week 4 of the NFL season:

Aaron Rodgers -- 96.2 Total QBR in 49-23 win vs. Broncos
Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers had a spectacular game, accounting for 408 yards and four touchdowns through the air with another 36 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. While he threw one interception, Rodgers accounted for 21 first downs and led Green Bay to six touchdowns on the nine drives he was on the field.

Among the over 900 games in which a QB has had at least 40 action plays since 2008, Rodgers’ (52 action plays Sunday) rating was the second-highest, behind only Drew Brees back in 2009.

Matt Hasselbeck -- 97.8 Total QBR in 31-13 win at Browns
While Hasselbeck’s box-score numbers may not impress, he made large contributions when the game was close on the relatively few action plays he was involved (just 21 for the game). In the first half, Hasselbeck was 8-12 for 194 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers and no sacks, helping the Titans jump out to a 21-6 lead.

He didn’t do much in the second half (even throwing an interception), but all those plays came with the game mostly decided -- the Titans had a win probability over 90 percent for the entire second half.

Total QBR rewards Hasselbeck for making winning plays early that put the game away, and doesn’t penalize him much for his so-so play when the game was basically out of reach.

It may seem weird Hasselbeck’s Total QBR is higher than Rodgers’, but Total QBR is a rate statistic evaluating quarterbacks on a per-play basis. Rodgers had by far more TOTAL value by virtue of his efficiency over 52 action plays, but Hasselbeck was slightly more efficient on a per-play basis.

Mark Sanchez -- 0.6 Total QBR in 34-17 loss at Ravens
Sanchez had a terrible outing, fumbling four times (losing three) and throwing an interception, in addition to going just 11-35 for 119 yards. Three of those turnovers resulted directly in return touchdowns for the Ravens. “Sanchize” led the Jets to a grand total of three points on 15 offensive drives.

He had 46 action plays Sunday -- a high number for such a poor rating. Usually, when a QB is playing that badly (Sanchez’s Total QBR never rose above 2.7 at any point Sunday), he does not get that many opportunities (i.e. he gets pulled if he doesn’t start playing better).

In fact, among the 909 games since 2008 in which a QB has had at least 40 action plays, Sanchez’ 0.6 Total QBR was the absolute lowest!
One of the notable storylines in first three weeks of the NFL season – especially for fantasy football owners – is the poor start by Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson.

Chris Johnson
After averaging more than four yards per attempt last year and ranking fourth in the NFL in total rushing yards, Johnson is averaging just 2.1 yards per carry this season, second-lowest in the league among all qualifiers. He has yet to reach the end zone and has surpassed the 50-yard mark in just one game.

How dramatic has this drop-off been for Johnson, who had rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his three previous seasons?

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other player in NFL history to have that low a yards-per-carry through his first three games of a season -- coming off even two-or-more consecutive 1,000-yard seasons -- was the Bengals’ Corey Dillon in 2000.

Johnson also has been known as one of the most explosive backs in the league. From 2009-10, he had 35 rushes of at least 20 yards, which was 14 more than the next-closest player, Adrian Peterson.

He has zero runs of 20-plus yards this season, and doesn’t even have a 10-yard rush. Elias also tell us that in his three NFL seasons prior to 2011, Johnson had never played even two consecutive games without a rush of at least 10 yards.

Part of what made Johnson such a threat in the open field was his ability to get out on the edges. Last year, he averaged five yards per carry on rushes outside the numbers and his 19 first downs on those runs was tied for third-most in the league. This year he’s averaging a yard per carry and has no first downs.

One issue that might be affecting Johnson is that his fullback, Ahmard Hall, was suspended for the first four games, and the Titans have had to use Quinn Johnson. The two backs have not clicked so far, as Johnson is averaging less than a yard per rush in two-running back formations this season.

Johnson should have a good opportunity to get back on track this week, as the Titans will be facing a Browns defense that is allowing 128.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 29th out of 32 NFL teams this year.
Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning entered Thursday night’s game against the Tennessee Titans on one of the worst stretches in his surefire NFL career.

He had thrown four interceptions in each of his last two games, and 11 over his last three. Those 11 picks are more than he had in any season from 2003-06. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he became the only active player to throw more than 10 picks over a three-game span. The last player to do it at all was Aaron Brooks in 2001.

Not strangely, his Indianapolis Colts lost all three of those games, dropping them to 6-6 on the season.

Thursday was a change of pace for Manning and the Colts. Their win moves them back over .500, with Manning going 25-35 for 319 yards and two touchdowns. And he didn’t throw any picks.

It was Manning’s 63rd career 300-yard passing game, tying Dan Marino for the NFL record. Manning also surpasses 4,000 passing yards for the 11th time in his illustrious career, five more times than any other player in NFL history.

Manning has now thrown for 26 touchdowns this season, his NFL-record 13th season with at least 25 touchdown passes. The only other player in NFL history with double digit seasons throwing 25 touchdowns is Brett Favre, who has done it 11 times.

The key to Manning’s success against the Titans was being able to throw the deep ball successfully. During Manning’s three-game slump, Manning completed 37.5 percent of his passes 15 or more yards downfield, with a 50.7 passer rating.

Thursday night, Manning completed all five passes he threw 15 or more yards downfield, with a perfect 158.3 passer rating, including a 19-yard strike to Pierre Garcon which gave the Colts a 21-0 lead late in the second quarter.

Chris Johnson
For the Titans, the news was mixed on their superstars. Chris Johnson was back in form against the Colts, who are now 29th in the NFL in rushing defense.

Johnson had 111 rushing yards and 68 more receiving with a touchdown. Over his previous two games, Johnson had just 74 total yards and failed to find the end zone.

Kenny Britt caught four balls in his first game back from injury, but Randy Moss was not targeted with a pass for just the second time in his career. The other time was in Week 7 of the 2004 season, his final season with the Minnesota Vikings. Daunte Culpepper didn’t look Moss’ way, but the Vikings still won 20-3 over Moss’ current team, the Titans.