Print and Go Back NFL [Print without images]

Thursday, December 13, 2007
Updated: December 15, 8:19 PM ET
Week 15: Numbers Crunching

By Aaron Schatz

Each week, Football Outsiders takes a look at every game on the NFL schedule with a mix of interesting numbers and in-depth statistical analysis. Much of the analysis is based on DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), which takes every play during the season and compares it to the league average based on situation and opponent. DVOA and Football Outsiders' other advanced stats are explained here.

All times Eastern.

Titans at Chiefs, (Sunday), 1 p.m.

If the Titans want to gain chunks of yardage, their best opportunity comes running the ball on first down. The Titans rank fifth in DVOA for rushing offense on first down. The Titans' average gain of 4.51 yards is just 10th in the NFL, but they break a lot of long runs on first down. Only Minnesota and Denver have more runs of more than 5 yards on first down. Kansas City's defense ranks 30th on first down and 29th against the run.

On third down, however, the Chiefs have the top defense, according to DVOA, while the Titans rank 28th on offense.

• More Titans-Chiefs: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Ravens at Dolphins, 1 p.m.

Miami linebacker Derrick Pope has been credited with only two defensive plays on passes all season. He defensed a pass to Oakland fullback Justin Griffith in Week 4 and tackled Jeremy Shockey after a 21-yard reception in Week 8.

This game pits the worst defense in the red zone (Miami) against the second-worst offense in the red zone (Baltimore).

• More Ravens-Dolphins: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Jets at Patriots, 1 p.m.

If the Patriots have been waiting for the right week to shock the NFL by building their offensive game plan around the running game, they've found it. Three reasons:

• Every team wants to stay out of third-and-long, but it is even more important against the Jets, because that's the only situation in which their defense isn't terrible. The Jets' defense ranks 25th or lower in DVOA for every other down-and-distance combination, but it ranks second on third-and-long.

• In part because defenses are stuck playing the pass on every down, the Patriots are the league's best offense at consistently gaining yardage with every run. They rank first in adjusted line yards. Meanwhile, the Jets' defense ranks last in adjusted line yards and stuffs opposing runners at the line less often than any other team.

• Weather forecasts are calling for snow and wind; Baltimore and Philadelphia fans know what wind can do to the Patriots' passing game.

• More Jets-Patriots: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Bills at Browns, 1 p.m.

Cleveland and Buffalo are two of the best special teams in the NFL. Cleveland's strength, of course, is Josh Cribbs, the best kick returner in the league. Buffalo ranks 22nd in value on kickoffs; don't be surprised if the Bills spend the day giving Cribbs Devin Hester-level respect.

The strength of Buffalo's special teams comes on field goals (Rian Lindell is fourth in value) and punts. Brian Moorman is a good punter, but more importantly, the Bills have the best punt coverage team in the league. The Bills also have Terrence McGee; he hasn't been as good as Cribbs in 2007, but he's been one of the top return men in years past.

If the Browns want to make Kellen Winslow a weapon, they probably want to use him in more of a wide receiver role; Buffalo has the best DVOA against tight ends.

• More Bills-Browns: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Seahawks at Panthers, 1 p.m.

Seattle just signed its third long-snapper of the season, Jeff Robinson, who replaces Boone Stutz, who replaced Derek Rackley after Week 5.

With Rackley as the snapper, Seattle punts were worth 3.2 points of field position above league average, and Seattle gained 2.4 points on field goals compared to a league-average kicker. With Stutz, punts were worth minus-10.8 points of field position below league average, while missed field goals and an aborted extra point cost the Seahawks minus-3.0 points compared to a league-average kicker.

Seattle's defense is second in sacks (41) and fifth in adjusted sack rate. Carolina's defense is in last place in sacks (16) and is 31st in adjusted sack rate.

• More Seahawks-Panthers: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Cardinals at Saints, 1 p.m.

Larry Fitzgerald, come on down! You're the next contestant on the NFC's favorite game show, "Jason David is a Burning Slice of Toast."

New Orleans defensive end Will Smith and Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett are tied for third with 12 quarterback hits (not including sacks, but including cancelled plays). On the other side of the ball, Kurt Warner leads all quarterbacks in getting hit without being sacked, but he doesn't get sacked much; the Cardinals are ninth in adjusted sack rate. New Orleans is even better; the Saints are second in adjusted sack rate, behind only Green Bay.

New Orleans is the only team that has not rushed three defenders on a single pass play, according to the Football Outsiders game charting project (complete through Week 11).

• More Cardinals-Saints: Intel Report| EA Simulation

Falcons at Buccaneers, 1 p.m.

Jerious Norwood is one of the most dangerous backs when catching passes out of the backfield, and stopping running backs in the passing game is one of Tampa Bay's few defensive weaknesses this year (25th in DVOA). The passing game usually is one of running back Warrick Dunn's strengths, too, but not in 2007. Dunn has gained just 4.2 yards per pass, compared to Norwood's 7.5 yards per pass, and Dunn's catch rate of 65 percent is below the running back average of 73 percent.

Barrett Ruud leads all middle linebackers with a stop rate of 79 percent on running plays.

• Falcons-Buccaneers: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Packers at Rams, 1 p.m.

Want to know where Brett Favre's improved accuracy has come from?

According to the Football Outsiders game charting project, Favre led the NFL in overthrown passes last year. This year, only 8 percent of Favre's incomplete passes have been overthrown, the lowest percentage in the league (based on data through Week 11).

Is there anything that hasn't gone completely wrong for the Rams' offense this season? Actually, they are doing one thing better than in years past: staying still. They led the NFL in false starts the past two years, but the Rams are tied for sixth so far in 2007.

The Packers lead the league with an average of 5.8 yards after the catch. St. Louis is 30th with an average of 3.8 yards after the catch.

• More Packers-Rams: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Jaguars at Steelers, 1 p.m.

Only three running backs have more receiving value than Maurice Jones-Drew (according to Football Outsiders' DPAR stats), but Pittsburgh is the best defense when it comes to preventing success by running backs in the passing game.

Furthermore, although Jacksonville gets more of its ground attack from double-digit runs than any offense except Minnesota, the Steelers allow double-digit runs less often than any other defense in the AFC.

Jacksonville leads the NFL in value on kickoffs. The Jaguars have only improved since Josh Scobee returned from injury and replaced veteran John Carney. (Scobee averages 1.5 yards more per kickoff.) Pittsburgh fans will be surprised to learn their team is average on kickoff returns. (It's punt returns where the Steelers are abysmal.)

• More Jaguars-Steelers: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Colts at Raiders, 4:05 p.m.

Oakland is the worst team on first down, on both offense and defense. The Colts have the best defense on first down and rank seventh on offense.

Although the Colts are blitzing far more this year than in years past, they still have rushed the conventional four defenders on 87 percent of pass plays, the only defense to do so more than 80 percent of the time. The Raiders, meanwhile, provide just five blockers more often than any other offense in the league, on 57 percent of pass plays. (Charting data through Week 11.)

• More Colts-Raiders: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Lions at Chargers, 4:15 p.m.

Only 6 percent of run tackles by the San Diego defense have involved a cornerback, the lowest percentage in the NFL. Antonio Cromartie leads the league in interceptions but has only three tackles on running plays all season. The only cornerback with at least 30 defensive plays but fewer tackles on runs will be on the other sideline: Stanley Wilson of Detroit.

If the Lions manage to keep this game close, they have the advantage of being much better than the Charges in late and close situations. In the second half or overtime with the score within a touchdown, the Lions rank eighth on offense and second on defense. In the same situations, the Chargers rank 22nd on offense and 26th on defense.

• More Lions-Chargers: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Eagles at Cowboys, 4:15 p.m.

Dallas continues to struggle in the first quarter on both offense and defense. Both units rank 23rd in DVOA during the first quarter. For the rest of the game, the Cowboys have the best offense outside of New England and rank fourth on defense (first in the NFC).

The Eagles have been the beneficiaries of only five opponent penalties on kickoffs or punts, the fewest in the league.

• More Eagles-Cowboys: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Redskins at Giants, 8:15 p.m.

Not only do the Giants lead the league in sacks, but according to the Football Outsiders game charting project, they also lead the league in passes forced incomplete due to hitting the quarterback while he was in motion.

Todd Collins is the first quarterback in NFL history to go 10 years between seasons with at least 20 pass attempts. Only three NFL players before Collins had ever gone eight years between seasons with at least 20 pass attempts:

• Tony Adams, who played for Kansas City from 1975 to 1978, then was the replacement starting quarterback for Minnesota during the 1987 strike.
• Doug Flutie, who played five games for New England in 1989, starred in the CFL for years and returned to the NFL with Buffalo in 1998.
• Gale Gilbert, Jim Kelly's longtime backup in Buffalo. He had 76 attempts for the 1986 Seahawks, played only two games over the next seven seasons, then had 61 attempts for the 1994 Chargers. Gilbert was the first player in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl five straight years, and the first player in NFL history to lose the Super Bowl five straight years.

• More Redskins-Giants: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Bears at Vikings (Monday), 8:30 p.m.

Chicago is the second-worst defense against running backs in the passing game, while Minnesota is one of the best offenses at utilizing running backs in the passing game.

Yet, the first time these teams played, a 9-yard catch by Adrian Peterson was the only reception by a Vikings running back. It was the season low for Vikings running backs (they average 44 yards per game) and the season low for yards given up by the Chicago defense (Bears opponents average 47 yards per game).

According to Football Outsiders game charting data, the Vikings lead the NFL in quarterback hurries but are second (behind Pittsburgh) in getting hurried themselves. (Data through Week 11.)
• More Bears-Vikings: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Aaron Schatz is president of Football Outsiders Inc. and the lead author of Pro Football Prospectus 2007 and 2008.