Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL [Print without images]

Monday, October 13, 2008
Peterson's 111-yard performance misleading

By Bill Barnwell

People who say you can't measure football players with stats often mention that football games aren't played on paper. It's true, but what good statistics do is take context-irrelevant metrics like yards and actually apply them to winning games.

That leads to our rhetorical question of the week: How can you run for 111 yards and have the second-worst performance of any running back in Week 6? The answer is to have a day like Adrian Peterson's on Sunday, where the yardage you rack up has little to do with your team actually pulling out the win. When your margin of victory over the hapless Lions is an inscrutable Dan Orlovsky safety, it's a sign you've done something wrong. If we break down Peterson's performance, we can see how little his rushing yards had to do with success.

Let's start with the positive: Peterson gained those 111 yards on 25 carries. That's an average of 4.44 yards per carry, which is good in a vacuum. Now, let's take some air out of those figures by looking at the context in which they were gained. First, Peterson fumbled twice. His first fumble came on a third-and-1 at the Lions' 11-yard line, turning a likely minimum of three points into zero. His second fumble took place on the Lions' 43, much further away from the goal line, but it was in the fourth quarter with Minnesota down a point.

Now, let's address the other factors. Peterson had two third-down chances; he converted neither, ending both drives. He moved the chains only four times in 25 carries. Peterson had six carries on first down of 3 yards or less, putting the Vikings in second-and-long far too frequently. In the passing game, Peterson contributed nothing, with one incompletion and a screen pass that lost 5 yards.

Finally, you have to consider the opposition when judging performance. Peterson was playing the Detroit Lions, a team that redefines embarrassment on a weekly basis. (When is the last time you saw a quarterback forget the size of the end zone?) Going into Week 6, the Lions had the worst rush defense in the league, according to our advanced DVOA stats, giving up huge chunks of yardage when it mattered and eventually bunkering down when no one cared about the outcome late in games.

Factoring all these variables in, Peterson's 111-yard rushing day amounts to an ugly -45 DYAR, the second-worst performance of the day. There's no doubting Purple Jesus' talent, but on Sunday, his raw yardage only told a fraction of the story.

Here are the rest of the best and worst players of Week 6, according to the Football Outsiders DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) statistics. Note that with six weeks played, opponent adjustments are currently at 60 percent strength.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
1.
Drew Brees NO
27/30
320
3
0
206
209
-3
438
Brees took over the seasonal DYAR lead from Jay Cutler with another scintillating performance, completing his first 16 passes. What makes Brees so deadly is his offense's ability to attack at all levels. Although they had five completions of 20 or more yards, the Saints picked up enough first downs in short yardage to elevate Brees to the top spot.
2.
Philip Rivers SD
18/27
306
3
0
201
201
0
432
There was a play late in the Sunday-night tilt in which Rivers scrambled out of the pocket seemingly out of boredom, scanned the field, meandered from the left hashmark to the right sideline, continuing to scan the field almost lazily, and then decided to throw the ball away and try again on the next play. For all the impact Tom Brady's injury has had, it's not his fault New England's pass rush has disappeared.
3.
Peyton Manning IND
19/28
271
3
0
189
189
0
405
For a quarter, the former MVP was back. Manning abused the best defense in the league for daring to play straight-up man coverage against his wide receivers, and by the time Baltimore learned its lesson, it was down 17 points and playing catch-up for 45 minutes.
4.
Matt Ryan ATL
22/30
301
1
0
184
187
-3
373
Before you ask, we calculate Ryan's heave to Michael Jenkins to be worth 19 DYAR. Of course, a computer underestimates how valuable the play was because it doesn't factor in that the field goal following it was good. There are plenty of plays like this where the field goal is missed and everyone forgets how great the last-second play to make the field goal possible was. That doesn't make those plays any less valuable than this one.
5.
Donovan McNabb PHI
23/36
278
2
1
117
122
-5
375
McNabb's one interception in the red zone was a killer, costing him -66 DYAR. The Eagles advanced the ball almost at will against the 49ers, picking up swaths of yardage with nine passes of 15 yards or more.
6.
Kyle Orton CHI
26/43
286
1
0
101
101
0
371
One thing Orton and his offensive line deserve credit for is keeping the Bears quarterback upright. Against a Falcons pass rush that's been excellent so far this year, Orton was sacked once in 45 dropbacks. That's very impressive.
7.
David Garrard JAC
25/34
276
1
0
100
99
1
361
Another fumble casualty; Garrard's fumble in the red zone at the end of the first half kept this game's score closer than the Broncos deserved.
8.
Jeff Garcia TB
15/20
173
1
0
100
99
0
250
Garcia really only played 30 minutes of football. He dropped back to pass only five times in the second half.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
9.
Aaron Rodgers GB
21/30
208
2
0
74
57
16
297
Rodgers plunged in from the 1-yard line in the second quarter despite his shoulder, providing Andy Reid with proof that quarterbacks can move forward 1 yard without scarring or sustaining permanent injury.
10.
Kurt Warner ARI
22/30
236
2
1
69
69
0
259
Warner was under pressure all day, usually getting the ball off as or immediately before he was knocked down. It was an admirable performance, but he only converted three third downs out of 10, including a fumble on an aborted snap and the sack on the Cardinals' final drive that gave the Cowboys a chance to tie the game.
11.
Matt Schaub HOU
22/41
379
1
2
56
36
20
341
Let's be serious for a second. Schaub's game-winning quarterback sneak was a gutsy play call and a wonderfully executed play. That fourth-down pass that Andre Johnson went in between two Dolphins to catch? That was a duck that Schaub should have gone somewhere else with. He doesn't get punished for that, but if you think that Schaub took some huge step forward this week, you're mistaken.
12.
Jay Cutler DEN
21/37
192
2
1
56
65
-9
280
Cutler was great in the red zone, throwing two touchdowns and accruing 57 DYAR. It was just getting there that was a problem; outside of the Jaguars' 20, he was 2-of-8 on third down with an interception.
13.
Tony Romo DAL
24/38
321
3
0
56
56
0
275
Romo lived dangerously Sunday, recovering fumbles on an aborted snap and an overtime sack. Because recovering a fumble has been proved to be a totally random act with no propensity for reoccurrence, our metrics punish Romo regardless of whether he recovers the ball or not. T.O. Watch: Nine throws, four catches, two first downs.
14.
Chad Pennington MIA
19/25
287
2
1
10
10
0
153
Yes, Pennington gets full credit for the throw on the first Patrick Cobbs touchdown.
15.
Dan Orlovsky DET
12/21
150
1
0
2
2
0
145
When the Vikings acquired Jared Allen for his pass-rushing skills, they didn't think his quarterback stalking would lead opposing passers to get the heebie-jeebies and forget where the end-zone boundaries are. We'll see if this catches on leaguewide like the Wildcat.
16.
Marc Bulger STL
15/26
136
0
0
1
1
0
128
17.
Jake Delhomme CAR
20/39
242
0
3
1
1
0
213
Delhomme had a pretty miserable game, but misery doesn't really matter too much when you're already down three scores.
18.
Jason Campbell WAS
18/26
213
0
0
-19
-27
8
135
Again, opponent adjustments come into play here. Campbell should've ripped apart a porous St. Louis secondary, not gone 1-for-8 on third down with three sacks.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
EYds
19.
Brett Favre NYJ
25/33
189
1
2
-24
-24
0
160
20.
Gus Frerotte MIN
18/33
296
1
1
-34
-34
0
145
Frerotte advanced the ball 66 yards on two plays where Detroit committed a penalty preventing his wide receivers from catching a pass they otherwise would've caught. He doesn't get a single yard from those two plays despite making successful throws. Yet another reason why total receiving yards are not the best measure of performance.
21.
Charlie Frye SEA
12/23
83
2
2
-46
-56
10
86
The Seahawks asked Frye to throw the ball 11 times on first down. The results? Two sacks, two interceptions and four completions for a whopping 21 yards.
22.
Ryan Fitzpatrick CIN
20/33
152
0
0
-57
-70
13
153
23.
Matt Cassel NE
22/38
203
0
1
-57
-72
15
200
If the Patriots ever ran that Jim Zorn drill where coaches throw pads at a quarterback as he drops back, we're pretty sure Cassel would put his head down and try to scramble.
24.
J.T. O'Sullivan SF
17/29
199
0
2
-72
-89
17
75
O'Sullivan's last 12 dropbacks were appalling. He was sacked three times, fumbling once. He threw two interceptions and completed only two passes, one of which went for minus-7 yards.
25.
JaMarcus Russell OAK
13/35
159
0
1
-102
-108
6
50
And, at least for one week, Lane Kiffin was right. Russell converted four of 15 chances on third or fourth down.
26.
Joe Flacco BAL
28/37
249
0
3
-117
-124
8
71
Hey, maybe Flacco thought the Colts' defense was getting a bad rap and wanted to make it look good. On top of those three picks, he fumbled twice on sacks.
Five most valuable running backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
EYds
1.
Clinton Portis WAS
129
2
14
0
74
67
7
205
Portis played a miserable rush defense, just like Peterson. Unlike AP, Portis scored twice, picked up seven first downs and didn't turn the ball over. He also served up some of his usual fantastic pass blocking, which isn't accounted for in his numbers, but goes a long way in making Campbell look good.
2.
Correll Buckhalter PHI
93
1
85
0
61
22
39
237
Not a great rushing day for Buckhalter, but man, did he shine catching the ball. Despite picking up two incompletes in the red zone, Buckhalter had four first downs in the receiving game, with three plays going for 14 or more yards.
3.
Maurice Jones-Drew JAC
125
2
23
0
50
34
16
169
Another multi-purpose threat, both of Jones-Drew's catches out of the backfield went for first downs, while a 46-yard run in the third quarter gave Jacksonville a comfortable lead and most of his DYAR. He had only one carry, strangely, on third down all game.
4.
Frank Gore SF
101
1
16
0
42
48
-7
150
Gore was pretty good on a day where no one was particularly great. In his case, Gore was too inconsistent. He had gains of 17 and 25 yards, but he had six plays where he gained 2 yards or less on first or second down. He also didn't convert on either of his third downs as a receiver.
5.
Thomas Jones NYJ
65
2
13
1
39
29
11
146
Sure, three touchdowns are nice. He was also playing against the Bengals and two of them were from inside the 2-yard line. There wasn't much to his day outside those three plays, all of which should have been successes, and were.
Least valuable running back
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
EYds
1.
Chris Perry CIN
14
0
2
0
-57
-25
-32
-38
No, we didn't just copy the table over from last week. Or Week 2. Yes, in six weeks, Perry has been the worst running back in the league three times. The good news is that he didn't fumble against the Jets; the bad news is that he didn't have a single carry for more than 4 yards, and had five of his 11 carries go for zero yards or less. Compared to that, going 2-of-7 in the passing game for a total of 2 yards seems almost effective. This level of incompetence is almost artistic.
Five most valuable wide receivers and tight ends
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
EYds
1.
Reggie Wayne IND
8
10
118
14.8
1
58
145
Wayne was too much for Corey Ivy, picking up five first downs and a touchdown in only 10 attempts. Even his two incompletions were on deep throws.
2.
Vincent Jackson SD
5
10
134
26.8
1
46
139
Jackson simply abused Ellis Hobbs and Terrence Wheatley, making it look like a high school game where the school's elite athlete is bigger and faster than everyone else on the field. Fantasy owners, you have every right to be angry about Hobbs' pass interference penalty in the end zone costing Jackson 33 more yards and a second touchdown.
3.
Steve Breaston ARI
8
9
102
12.8
1
42
118
The Cowboys doubled Larry Fitzgerald up and challenged Breaston to beat a corner in man coverage. Breaston caught eight passes, and Dallas safety Ken Hamlin caught the other one. With each game like this, Anquan Boldin's contract leverage goes further downward.
4.
Greg Jennings GB
5
7
84
16.8
1
42
104
Jennings had only five catches, but they all went for either a first down or a touchdown.
5.
Bernard Berrian MIN
5
7
131
26.2
1
37
106
In our fantasy matchup column, we predicted Berrian would have five catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. Fantasy owners who played him won't mind the extra 21 yards, right?
Least valuable wide receiver or tight end
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
EYds
1.
Brandon Marshall DEN
9
18
98
10.9
0
-56
32
This is what happens when you actually listen to T.O. and force the ball to your best receiver over and over again. Cutler looked for Marshall repeatedly on third down, and Jacksonville noticed, as he was shut out on five third-down attempts, including an interception. A red-zone fumble only added to Marshall's bad day.

Bill Barnwell is an analyst for FootballOutsiders.com.