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

Thursday, November 20, 2008
Football Outsiders: Browns draw nice matchups

By Bill Barnwell
FootballOutsiders.com

While we talk a lot in this space about matchups and how likely they are to affect a player's performance, it's also worth noting how impressive it is when a player or group of players on offense manages to totally overcome a stout defense and make them look like the Lions put on the wrong jerseys one week.

As you might suspect, I'm referring to the efforts of the Giants' rushing attack last week, primarily Brandon Jacobs. Although the Ravens recorded their 30th consecutive game without allowing a 100-yard rusher, it doesn't change the fact that they were overrun by Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and a dominant Giants offensive line that cleared huge creases for both of them as well as a relatively ineffectual Derrick Ward. For all the bluster from Ray Lewis about how Jacobs was just another back, the Ravens resorted to upper-body arm tackles that could be charitably described as "flailing." The only reason Jacobs didn't make it to 100 yards was a leg injury that ended his day early in the third quarter. Buoyed by a 77-yard romp, Bradshaw came up only four yards short of 100. All in all, the team rushed for an astounding 207 yards on 33 carries against the league's best rush defense in the first half of the season.

That Baltimore rush defense had a defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) of -31.9 percent through their first 10 games. For the uninitiated, DVOA is our proprietary statistic that adjusts for down, distance, opponent and game situation to measure performance above or below the league average in those situations. In this case, the Baltimore run defense in 2008 was 31.9 percent better than the average defense against all running plays.

From 1995 through 2007, there were 62 instances of a player getting 10 or more carries in a game against a rush defense with a DVOA of -30 percent or lower. Three of those 62 guys gained 100 yards. None averaged anywhere close to the 6.6 yards per carry that Jacobs did Sunday.

Now, I know what you're going to say -- yes, the Giants have a great offensive line and a great rushing attack as a whole, one that could nullify even the toughest rush defense. But even if we look at some of the best rushing attacks against these elite run defenses, they struggle. Terrell Davis gained 2,008 yards in 1998, but he could rush for only 143 yards on 44 carries in two games against the Chargers' defense that year. Jerome Bettis was part of an excellent Steelers rush attack two years later, but he could get only 65 yards on 18 carries against the elite Ravens defense that season. Guys like Corey Dillon (three games, 40 carries, 69 total yards) and Eddie George (two games, 27 carries, 39 total yards), despite being in the primes of their career, could do nothing against dominant run defenses. As a rule, a great run defense depresses a great rushing attack more often than not.

Sunday, it turns out, was the "not." And that's worth giving Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Snee & Co. their due.

Best and worst matchups for Week 12

Best and worst matchups

A nice matchup against the Texans makes Jamal Lewis a great play. Football Outsiders calculates the difficulty of a player's matchup and compares it to his expected average performance in the 2008 season; the matchups with the biggest effect on player value are shown below.

Jamal Lewis, RB, CLE (16%)
Antonio Bryant, WR, TB (15%)
Matt Forte, RB, CHI (14%)
Warrick Dunn, RB, TB (13%)
Santana Moss, WR, WAS (13%)
Brady Quinn, QB, CLE (12%)
Jeff Garcia, QB, TB (12%)
Kyle Orton, QB, CHI (11%)
Peyton Hillis, RB, DEN (11%)
Chad Pennington, QB, MIA (10%)
Marshawn Lynch, RB, BUF (10%)
Reggie Bush, RB, NO (10%)
Deuce McAllister, RB, NO (10%)
Andre Johnson, WR, HOU (10%)
Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB (9%)
Jason Campbell, QB, WAS (9%)
Larry Johnson, RB, KC (9%)
Todd Heap, TE, BAL (9%)
Devin Hester, WR, CHI (9%)
Hines Ward, WR, PIT (9%)
Trent Edwards, QB, BUF (8%)
Tyler Thigpen, QB, KC (8%)
JaMarcus Russell, QB, OAK (8%)
Michael Turner, RB, ATL (8%)
Joseph Addai, RB, IND (8%)
Dallas Clark, TE, IND (8%)
Brandon Lloyd, WR, CHI (8%)
Donte' Stallworth, WR, CLE (8%)
Eddie Royal, WR, DEN (8%)
Sage Rosenfels, QB, HOU (7%)
DeAngelo Williams, RB, CAR (7%)
Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR (7%)
Roscoe Parrish, WR, BUF (7%)
Roy E. Williams, WR, DAL (7%)
Greg Camarillo, WR, MIA (7%)
Tony Romo, QB, DAL (6%)
Peyton Manning, QB, IND (6%)
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT (6%)
Jerious Norwood, RB, ATL (6%)
Marcedes Lewis, TE, JAC (6%)
Lee Evans, WR, BUF (6%)
Donald Driver, WR, GB (6%)
Greg Jennings, WR, GB (6%)
Kevin Walter, WR, HOU (6%)
Ted Ginn Jr., WR, MIA (6%)
Isaac Bruce, WR, SF (6%)
Gus Frerotte, QB, MIN (5%)
Matt Cassel, QB, NE (5%)
Marc Bulger, QB, STL (5%)
Steve Slaton, RB, HOU (5%)
Mewelde Moore, RB, PIT (5%)
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, SD (5%)
Steve Smith, WR, CAR (5%)
Bernard Berrian, WR, MIN (5%)
Wes Welker, WR, NE (5%)
Donnie Avery, WR, STL (5%)
Joe Flacco, QB, BAL (-5%)
David Garrard, QB, JAC (-5%)
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAC (-5%)
Chris Johnson, RB, TEN (-5%)
Clinton Portis, RB, WAS (-5%)
Jerricho Cotchery, WR, NYJ (-5%)
Kevin Smith, RB, DET (-6%)
Leon Washington, RB, NYJ (-6%)
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, CIN (-6%)
Braylon Edwards, WR, CLE (-6%)
Ronald Curry, WR, OAK (-6%)
Deion Branch, WR, SEA (-6%)
Justin Gage, WR, TEN (-6%)
Ray Rice, RB, BAL (-7%)
Fred Taylor, RB, JAC (-7%)
Thomas Jones, RB, NYJ (-7%)
Terrell Owens, WR, DAL (-7%)
Brandon Marshall, WR, DEN (-7%)
Vincent Jackson, WR, SD (-7%)
Kurt Warner, QB, ARI (-8%)
Drew Brees, QB, NO (-8%)
Kevin Faulk, RB, NE (-8%)
Sammy Morris, RB, NE (-8%)
Mike Furrey, WR, DET (-8%)
Laveranues Coles, WR, NYJ (-8%)
Donovan McNabb, QB, PHI (-9%)
Willis McGahee, RB, BAL (-9%)
Chad Johnson, WR, CIN (-9%)
Matt Ryan, QB, ATL (-10%)
Brian Westbrook, RB, PHI (-10%)
Antonio Pittman, RB, STL (-10%)
Jason Witten, TE, DAL (-10%)
Roddy White, WR, ATL (-10%)
Marques Colston, WR, NO (-10%)
Daunte Culpepper, QB, DET (-11%)
Derrick Mason, WR, BAL (-11%)
Brett Favre, QB, NYJ (-12%)
Cedric Benson, RB, CIN (-12%)
Chris Perry, RB, CIN (-12%)
John Carlson, TE, SEA (-12%)
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, CIN (-13%)
Quarterbacks

Brady Quinn (Browns, plus-12 percent): The Houston defense is the gift that keeps on giving. It's got three excellent players in defensive end Mario Williams, middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and cornerback Fred Bennett. It's also got a few players who are simply awful, and they happen to make up the rest of the secondary. (Dunta Robinson is exempted, since he's not at 100 percent.) Quinn's shown the ability to be competent at the very least, which means that he can pick holes in the Texans' defense and be a good start in deeper leagues or as a No. 2 quarterback.

Jeff Garcia (Buccaneers, plus-12 percent): Garcia has shown the ability this year to take advantage of awful secondaries -- look at his games against Seattle and Kansas City -- and Detroit certainly qualifies. He's also getting the ball farther downfield, getting further away from the "Captain Checkdown" moniker we were sticking on him.

Kyle Orton (Bears, plus-11 percent): Orton came back last week and had the atrocious game we were projecting Rex Grossman would have. It wasn't a pretty sight, although it shows that Orton's agent doesn't have enough pull to keep him out for a game against a tough divisional opponent just to keep his client's QB rating high. Fortunately, he gets a nice, comfortable matchup against the Rams this week. They've only allowed 75 points in the first half over the past two games.

Ryan Fitzpatrick (Bengals, minus-13 percent): If you're starting Ryan Fitzpatrick and it's Week 12, what happened to your team? Did you draft Tom Brady and Carson Palmer? Seriously, how did you get to this point? If you're actually considering starting him, Fitzpatrick is up against the league's third-best pass defense in the Steelers. Oh, and the game's in Pittsburgh. And it's going to be snowing. And the wind will be blowing at 20 miles an hour. If you have an argument for starting him, you need to sober up.

Brett Favre (Jets, minus-12 percent): Favre on the road at Tennessee is a very rough matchup, especially with Kyle Vanden Bosch likely to return to the lineup. Favre has played five games in the DVOA era (1995-2007) against pass defenses the caliber of Tennessee -- in those five games, he's thrown seven touchdowns against seven picks. You get the feeling that he'll throw more interceptions than touchdowns Sunday.

Daunte Culpepper (Lions, minus-11 percent): It's been genuinely surprising to see how close to competent Culpepper has been as the Lions' quarterback so far. Playing the Buccaneers' defense should be a challenge slightly beyond him. Barrett Ruud, on the other hand? He can probably relax a little bit in practice this week. He won't, but he could.

Running Backs

Jamal Lewis (Browns, plus-16 percent): As bad as Houston's pass defense is, its run defense is much worse -- it's the league's worst, in fact. Until they spend yet another first-round pick on a defensive lineman, that's not going to change, which will work out well for Lewis this week. A 100-yard day is extremely likely.

Matt Forte (Bears, plus-14 percent): Have we mentioned that the Rams gave up 75 points in the first two quarters of the last two games? We did? OK, well, let us reiterate: The Rams gave up 75 points in the first two quarters of the past two games they played. You don't think Matt Forte's going to get some of those points this week?

Warrick Dunn (Buccaneers, plus-13 percent): Dunn is a sneaky good start this week. It's not likely that Cadillac Williams will be 100 percent, so Dunn should get the bulk of the workload against a Lions defense that was so putrid and embarrassing against the Panthers last week that the announcers repeatedly noted that it was "just too easy" for the Panthers' backs. This is a good thing for Warrick Dunn.

Peyton Hillis (Broncos, plus-11 percent): This is a tricky one. We know the Raiders' rush defense is very mediocre, so that's a start. Will Tatum Bell get a huge portion of the carries? Not likely, since selling cell phones isn't likely to get you in game shape. At the very least, Hillis should get the goal-line carries, which means that he should be in line for a game similar to last week's.

Cedric Benson and Chris Perry (Bengals, minus-12 percent): The Steelers' rush defense should be able to swarm and easily overwhelm the Bengals' offensive line, and Benson isn't exactly the type to make people miss. On the other hand, if you're playing Chris Perry, bless your little heart. It's cute that you let your 6-year-old pick up a player off waivers. You still should have taught him better than to pick up Perry, though.

Antonio Pittman (Rams, minus-10 percent): Owners desperate for a starting running back might have grabbed Pittman after his 95-yard performance last week. The Bears are a big step up from the 49ers, though, especially when stopping the run. Pittman shouldn't get many chances Sunday.

Brian Westbrook (Eagles, minus-10 percent): It's possible that the Eagles could choose to bench an injured Westbrook and start Correll Buckhalter, but either way, their division rivals have gone and ticked off the Ravens' defense. You really expect them to give up two big games in a row?

Willis McGahee (Ravens, minus-9 percent): It's not as if we should expect a lot more out of the opposing backfield, either. The Eagles still have a very good run defense, and with the nuances of the Ravens' timeshare at running back, expect McGahee to spend most of his time pass-blocking as opposed to carrying the ball.

Wide Receivers

Antonio Bryant (Buccaneers, plus-15 percent): No. 1 receivers facing the Lions have averaged -- averaged -- 92 yards a game. Bryant is playing better than the average No. 1 receiver. It seems incredibly unlikely that he won't go over 100 on Sunday.

Santana Moss (Redskins, plus-13 percent): In the worst case, Moss is up against Marcus Trufant, who's struggled this year. If Trufant misses the game with lingering issues from a concussion, that's just gravy. Either way, Moss is going to get open deep, and Seahawks safety Brian Russell is going to get lost. And you will pick up six points.

Andre Johnson (Texans, plus-10 percent): The Browns have struggled mightily against top receivers this year, allowing 70 yards per game. Although some of that has to do with benched cornerback Brandon McDonald, Johnson's still going to be able to get open and should be in line for a big game.

Derrick Mason (Ravens, minus-11 percent): The Eagles let Asante Samuel simply go to work on opposing star receivers. The Eagles are allowing an average of 34 yards per game to the opposition's top receiver, best in football. Mason has the height to box out Samuel on a slant or two, but he's not going to get open deep, and it's very likely that Samuel will be able to lure Joe Flacco into a pick.

Marques Colston (Saints, minus-10 percent): Green Bay has been holding the opposition's top wideout to 39 yards per game, thanks to some great play by Charles Woodson. While Colston is likely to be above that figure, he's not likely to have more than a midlevel game of 60 to 70 yards.

Roddy White (Falcons, minus-10 percent): Carolina and cornerback Chris Gamble have actually put up the best DVOA against No. 1 receivers this season; they're sixth in the league in terms of yards, allowing those top guys 42 per game. In their first meeting, White had 90 yards but no touchdown; in Carolina, he won't do as well this time around.

Tight Ends

Todd Heap (Ravens, plus-9 percent): The Eagles have an excellent set of corners, but they struggle against tight ends, who average 60 yards a game against them. Heap should provide some comfort for Flacco when he's not being kept in for blocking purposes; he should have a few nice gains on seam routes.

John Carlson (Seahawks, minus-12 percent): It worked out well with Jason Witten last week, so we'll stick with it. The Redskins allow 21 yards per game to tight ends. That's not a recipe for success, so don't expect Carlson to have a lot of it.

Bill Barnwell is an analyst for FootballOutsiders.com.