Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Audibles at the Line: Week 16

The FO crew takes on the top contenders as the playoff field rounds into shape. Plus: the great Drew Brees debate of 2014.

10 Sep 2003

In Focus: NFC North

by Aaron Schatz

This is the last of a series of eight articles taking a closer look at every team in the NFL, division by division, using our new statistics such as line yards and DVOA (explained here).  Don't be scared away by all the numbers -- the goal of these IN FOCUS articles is to go through all the numbers and translate the most interesting trends into actual English paragraphs for those allergic to endless tables of stats.  You enjoy the stats separated by team, or just enjoy the insights of each team's commentary.

The format of these articles is explained at the beginning of the one on the AFC East. Remember, offensive numbers are better the more POSITIVE, defensive numbers are better the more NEGATIVE.  Overall total is offense minus defense, so the more positive the better.  Schedule strength is harder the more negative, with the hardest schedule ranked #1 and the easiest ranked #32.  New players on a team are colored blue and players who have left the team are colored red.

Previous articles:

Launch: AFC East (also explains format of IN FOCUS articles)

8/7: NFC East

8/17: AFC West

8/25: NFC West

8/25: NFC South

8/26: AFC South

9/8: AFC North

TEAM
W-L
Total
Rank
Offense DVOA
Rank
Defense OVOA
Rank
Schedule Strength
Rank
GNB
12-4
8.7%
10
-1.1%
20
-9.8%
5
3.0%
28
MIN
6-10
-2.3%
17
10.8%
6
13.2%
30
0.7%
18
CHI
4-12
-12.6%
27
-12.2%
27
0.4%
17
-1.3%
8
DET
3-13
-37.9%
32
-18.4%
28
19.5%
32
0.6%
17

Those choosing the Vikings to upset the Packers for the division title this year can take notice that DVOA thinks the two teams were much closer in ability last year than the records indicate.  I've written so much about the other seven divisions that I'm going to be short here.  Here's what we know.  Brett Favre is good.  Daunte Culpepper is good.  Randy Moss is good, and an asshole.  Moe Williams is good all the time but people think he's only good on third down.  Joey Harrington is good but young.  The Detroit front office is, in the words of George Orwell, "doubleplusungood."  The Bears had four good players: Two of them are now Patriots, one is in every commercial on television, and the other is the exceedingly underrated Marty Booker.  That does it for the NFC North.  Here are some numbers and notes: 

SHARED OPPONENTS

OUT: NFC South, AFC East

IN: NFC West, AFC West

HURTS: Both passing and rushing defense

HELPS: Passing offense

CHICAGO BEARS

Pass
Rank
Rush
Rank
Total
Rank
OFFENSE DVOA
-13.9%
25
-10.0%
24
-12.2%
27
DEFENSE OVOA
12.8%
27
-12.7%
2
0.4%
17


 

PASSING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Miller, Jim (TAM 03) 7.4% 14 328 1977 -1.1% 23 20.6 18
QB
Chandler, Chris -34.8% 47 184 928 -27.5% 42 -56.1 43
QB
Stewart, Kordell (PIT 02) 3.9% 19 173 1165 8.8% 15 5.8 20
QB
Burris, Henry (FA 03) -103.2% 55 250 -143.2% -46.6
RUSHING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Runs
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Stewart, Kordell (PIT 02) -20.4% 29 33 201 -19.3% 29 -9.2 30
QB
Burris, Henry (FA 03) 10.1% 11 15 98 3.9% 14 2.1 12
QB
Chandler, Chris 31.3% 6 35 33.2% 2.9
QB
Miller, Jim (TAM 03) 0.0% 5 14 -3.5% 0.0
RB
Thomas, Anthony -19.4% 46 214 724 -22.1% 45 -36.9 50
RB
Johnson, Leon (SDG 03) -15.7% 44 104 329 -17.0% 44 -15.4 39
RB
Peterson, Adrian 41.0% 19 101 40.2% 6.8
RECEIVING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
WR
Booker, Marty -7.4% 67 167 1272 -8.2% 67 -16.8 85
WR
White, Dez -12.7% 79 94 700 -15.1% 79 -15.0 82
WR
Robinson, Marcus (BAL 03) -45.1% 97 53 244 -46.1% 97 -31.3 98
WR
Merritt, Ahmad -67.4% 26 106 -68.3% -21.2
WR
Terrell, David 82.0% 10 127 82.9% 10.1
TE
Davis, John -3.9% 27 33 193 -3.1% 25 -1.7 27
TE
Lyman, Dustin 4.1% 17 20 121 1.1% 21 1.0 19
TE
Gilmore, John 16.6% 14 130 25.0% 3.5
RB
Thomas, Anthony -22.9% 46 41 188 -26.1% 47 -8.9 42
RB
Pritchett, Stanley 45.2% 27 165 32.3% 11.0
RB
Johnson, Leon (SDG 03) -12.4% 26 127 -12.6% -3.4
RB
Peterson, Adrian -9.0% 4 18 -12.4% -0.4


 

Line Yards
Adjusted
Rank
Not Adjusted
Rank
10+ Yards
Rank
Power
Rank
Offense
3.19
31
3.11
30
9%
32
66%
22
Defense
3.57
14
3.44
19
17%
14
61%
7


 

LEFT
MIDDLE
RIGHT
Line Yards
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Offense
18%
2.78
31
66%
3.44
23
16%
2.61
32
Defense
22%
3.53
10
47%
3.40
12
32%
3.84
21

Other important additions: DE Michael Haynes (R1), QB Rex Grossman (R1), OL Corbin Lacina (MIN), CB Charles Tillman (R2), LB Lance Briggs (R3)

Other important losses: OLB Roosevelt Colvin (NWE), DT Ted Washington (NWE), 

NOTES

Admit it: you have no idea how this team went 13-3 two years ago.  This needs to go on Bill Simmons' list of "things that never happened."

Marty Booker was the target of 32% of Bears passes outside the red zone but only 18% of Bears passes in the red zone.  Outside the red zone, only Marvin Harrison was thrown a larger percentage of his team's passes.

Although Booker's receptions were spread across the field, his teammates Dez White and Marcus Robinson were often set on one particular side: White on the right, Robinson (now in Carolina) on the left.

Kordell Stewart (in Pittsburgh) didn't actually rank that badly as a quarterback, but he was horrible on third down.

First down: +10% DVOA passing

Second down: +21% DVOA passing

Third down: -55% DVOA pasing

The Bears were the best team in the league at preventing rushing success by quarterbacks: -50% VOA.  And they didn't face Tommy Maddox and the leadfoot all-stars, either -- they had to go against Michael Vick, Daunte Culpepper, and Donovan McNabb.  Of course, how much will losing Roosevelt Colvin hurt them here?

DETROIT LIONS

Pass
Rank
Rush
Rank
Total
Rank
OFFENSE DVOA
-27.3%
28
-5.0%
20
-18.4%
28
DEFENSE OVOA
33.6%
32
3.5%
22
19.5%
32


 

PASSING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Harrington, Joey -25.4% 43 438 2444 -28.5% 43 -95.2 46
QB
McMahon, Mike -21.7% 41 156 874 -40.7% 47 -25.4 34
RUSHING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Runs
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
McMahon, Mike 43.0% 2 13 97 37.2% 2 7.2 6
QB
Harrington, Joey -72.0% 5 7 -74.3% -4.2
RB
Stewart, James (INJURED 03) 6.7% 15 231 1021 5.9% 18 13.1 11
RB
Schlesinger, Cory -59.5% 49 139 -63.4% -24.6
RB
Gary, Olandis (DEN 02) -3.5% 37 147 -4.1% -1.0
RB
Cason, Aveion (DAL 03) 4.8% 26 107 -8.0% 0.8
RB
Bryson, Shawn (BUF 02) -25.0% 13 36 -28.2% -3.1
RB
Cooper, Rafael 20.6% 12 57 5.1% 2.0
WR
Hakim, Az-Zahir -98.6% 4 3 -98.4% -5.2
RECEIVING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
WR
Hakim, Az-Zahir -10.7% 74 82 619 -14.7% 78 -11.2 72
WR
Schroeder, Bill 1.7% 44 77 637 3.3% 39 1.7 46
WR
Anderson, Scotty -17.1% 82 57 336 -15.6% 82 -12.8 76
WR
Jeferson, Shawn (ATL 02) 11.4% 21 49 449 7.4% 30 6.9 33
WR
Crowell, Germane (FA 03) -28.6% 93 47 238 -32.6% 94 -16.4 84
WR
Foster, Larry (ARI 03) -20.2% 30 179 -19.4% -8.1
TE
Ricks, Mikhael -21.7% 41 68 379 -24.1% 42 -18.3 45
TE
Owens, John -57.2% 15 49 -54.8% -11.3
RB
Stewart, James (INJURED 03) -9.8% 38 70 338 -11.9% 38 -6.6 40
RB
Schlesinger, Cory -15.8% 41 54 265 -13.2% 40 -9.4 43
RB
Cason, Aveion (DAL 03) 40.3% 7 32 288 47.7% 5 10.3 11
RB
Gary, Olandis (DEN 02) 66.0% 21 148 51.7% 10.8
RB
Warren, Lamont (FA 03) -42.8% 12 56 -43.0% -5.9
RB
Cooper, Rafael -72.3% 3 47 -67.4% -2.6


 

Line Yards
Adjusted
Rank
Not Adjusted
Rank
10+ Yards
Rank
Power
Rank
Offense
3.24
30
3.13
28
23%
3
50%
32
Defense
3.79
25
3.50
21
14%
6
66%
11


 

LEFT
MIDDLE
RIGHT
Line Yards
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Offense
22%
3.41
26
51%
3.33
26
27%
2.92
28
Defense
30%
3.60
11
53%
3.79
26
18%
4.09
27

Other important additions: WR Charles Rogers (R1), CB Dre' Bly (STL), DT Dan Wilkinson (WAS), LB Earl Holmes (CLE), LB Wali Rainer (JAC), LB Boss Bailey (R2)

Other important losses: LB Chris Claiborne (MIN), LB Clint Kriewaldt (PIT)

A NOVEL PLATOON IDEA

Here's an interesting statistic, another example of "small sample size, but still interesting":

 

DVOA in red zone
DVOA rest of field
# red zone pass plays
J. Harrington -96% -18% 57
M. McMahon +139% -33% 15

Of course, this point in McMahon's favor is counted by this:

 

DVOA in Q4
DVOA in Q1-Q3
# pass plays in Q4
J. Harrington +12% -40% 130
M. McMahon -93% +3% 40

Hmmm, maybe they could play McMahon the first 45 minutes, and just bring Harrington off the bench in the fourth quarter?

One more note: Harrington was probably the league's most consistent QB when it came to passing value on each down:

First down: -25% DVOA

Second down: -31% DVOA

Third down: -28% DVOA

OTHER NOTES

47% of Detroit passes were thrown to the right, the highest percentage of any team in the league (tied with Dallas).  They threw only 17% of passes in the middle of the field, next to last in the league (San Diego was last).

In general, the Lions passing game was much better throwing to the left side of the field, not the right side they preferred, but that's primarily due to two receivers: Az-Zahir Hakim (+55% DVOA left, -37% right) and Scotty Anderson (+82% DVOA left, -56% right) and the games with Harrington at quarterback (+17% DVOA left, -26% right).

The Lions were dead last in POWER situations (third or fourth with one or two yards to go) with Stewart.  How bad will they be without him?

Detroit's defense was actually pretty good at preventing runs to the left.  The unheralded linemen on that side include DT Shaun Rogers and DE James Hall, plus weak side LB Barrett Green.

Detroit's bad pass defense got worse as downs went along, and as the game went along:

First down: +8% VOA against

Second down: +20% VOA against

Third down: +51% VOA against (worst in league)

Q1: +4% VOA against

Q2: +23% VOA against

Q3: +19% VOA against

Q4: +50% VOA against

OT: +14% VOA against

The rushing defense was also worse on third down, although to a much smaller extent.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Pass
Rank
Rush
Rank
Total
Rank
OFFENSE DVOA
1.6%
17
-4.5%
19
-1.1%
20
DEFENSE OVOA
-36.3%
2
22.8%
32
-9.8%
5


 

PASSING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Favre, Brett 7.5% 13 576 3807 5.6% 17 38.3 13
QB
Pederson, Doug 15.0% 29 126 17.9% 3.7
RUSHING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Runs
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Favre, Brett -14.1% 25 14 80 -16.4% 27 -2.8 22
RB
Green, Ahman 8.2% 13 286 1241 3.1% 23 19.4 10
RB
Fisher, Tony 10.6% 70 283 5.0% 6.1
RB
Davenport, Najeh -7.9% 39 186 -12.8% -2.7
RB
Mealey, Rondell (FA 03) -17.8% 11 36 -25.9% -1.6
RB
Henderson, William 26.7% 7 27 1.2% 1.5
WR
Driver, Donald 56.3% 8 70 57.2% 4.6
RECEIVING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
WR
Driver, Donald 13.6% 17 113 1188 14.3% 16 20.6 13
WR
Glenn, Terry (DAL 03) 0.6% 50 106 891 -1.2% 53 0.8 49
WR
Ferguson, Robert -21.0% 87 52 293 -18.4% 85 -14.3 81
WR
Walker, Javon -27.3% 92 50 401 -25.7% 90 -17.0 86
TE
Franks, Bubba 8.2% 13 70 442 14.5% 12 8.3 11
TE
Walls, Wesley (CAR 02) -1.2% 23 36 248 -3.2% 26 -0.5 22
TE
Davis, Tyrone (FA 03) 48.9% 11 107 43.7% 6.9
TE
Martin, David -35.0% 11 33 -32.7% -5.2
RB
Green, Ahman -5.2% 32 74 393 2.6% 25 -3.9 36
RB
Henderson, William 22.8% 9 32 168 25.4% 13 7.6 14
RB
Fisher, Tony -81.2% 22 70 -78.1% -19.4
RB
Davenport, Najeh -40.0% 9 76 -24.0% -4.8


 

Line Yards
Adjusted
Rank
Not Adjusted
Rank
10+ Yards
Rank
Power
Rank
Offense
3.70
14
3.55
12
17%
16
62%
25
Defense
3.91
27
3.71
29
22%
28
60%
6


 

LEFT
MIDDLE
RIGHT
Line Yards
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Offense
24%
4.01
10
51%
3.55
19
25%
3.71
17
Defense
24%
4.59
32
53%
3.67
21
23%
3.74
19

Other important additions: LDE Chukie Nwokorie (IND), FB Nick Luchey (CIN), LB Nick Barnett (R1), CB Al Harris (PHI)

Other important losses: DE Vonnie Holliday (KAN), WLB Nate Wayne (PHI), FS Matt Bowen (WAS), RCB Tyrone Williams (ATL), CB Tod McBride (ATL)

SOME SCOUTS MAY BE RIGHT

This is what ESPN.com says about DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila: "They regard him as a premier pass rusher but some scouts question his lack of run-stopping bulk."  Notice something interesting about those directional rushing numbers?  Green Bay was the worst team in the league preventing runs left.  Who's the DE on that side?  KGB is.

Oh, and Philly fans might not want to hear this, but the LB on that side, who must also bear some responsibility for the troubles Green Bay had on left-side runs, was new Eagle Nate Wayne.  The Packers will now use Na'il Diggs, moved over from the strong side.

OTHER NOTES

This is just strange:

  • B. Favre passing from his own goal line to 39-yard line: +21% DVOA on 213 pass plays
  • B. Favre passing from his own 40-yard line to the 50-yard line: -54% DVOA on 79 pass plays
  • B. Favre passing from 50-yard line to opponent's 40-yard line: +50% DVOA on 75 pass plays
  • B. Favre passing from opponent's 40-yard line to opponent's goal line: +2% DVOA on 209 pass plays

Donald Driver receiving DVOA: +73% DVOA middle, -2% left or right

Green Bay was the best team in the league at preventing success on passing plays to running backs, allowing a -38% VOA on these plays compared to the league average of +17% VOA.  That's sort of strange since their rushing defense was so badÖ clearly, if you are playing the Packers, your backs should only take handoffs.

Green Bay's rush defense tightened up on third down but loosened up in the second half:

First down: +14% VOA against

Second down: +19% VOA against

Third down -24% VOA against

First half: -7% VOA against

Second half +26% VOA against

Green Bay was the best team in the league preventing pass success in the red zone.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Pass
Rank
Rush
Rank
Total
Rank
OFFENSE DVOA
-6.0%
20
30.7%
1
10.8%
6
DEFENSE OVOA
27.9%
30
-6.0%
7
13.2%
30


 

PASSING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Culpepper, Daunte -0.8% 21 598 3849 -9.4% 27 -3.9 21
RUSHING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Runs
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Culpepper, Daunte 16.6% 7 95 619 16.5% 7 19.0 3
RB
Bennett, Michael (INJURED 03) 9.0% 11 254 1297 9.7% 12 19.7 9
RB
Williams, Moe 43.6% 1 85 414 41.8% 1 34.8 4
RB
Chapman, Doug 98.0% 12 87 85.2% 8.3
TE/RB
Kleinsasser, Jim 0.1% 6 17 -12.3% 0.0
WR
Moss, Randy 34.3% 6 51 33.7% 2.7
RECEIVING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
WR
Moss, Randy 4.0% 39 184 1423 0.3% 49 9.3 32
WR
Bates, D'Wayne 29.8% 6 80 703 23.1% 8 29.4 9
WR
Alexander, Derrick (FA 03) -42.6% 39 170 -42.2% -22.9
WR
Campbell, Kelly -17.3% 32 210 -20.1% -6.7
WR
Walsh, Chris (FA 03) 45.3% 19 186 37.2% 9.9
TE
Chamberlain, Byron 12.3% 9 50 412 10.3% 13 7.6 12
TE/RB
Kleinsasser, Jim 48.9% 2 50 393 62.4% 1 25.3 4
RB
Williams, Moe 7.8% 20 42 231 15.3% 17 3.2 21
RB
Bennett, Michael (INJURED 03) 12.3% 15 41 351 19.5% 14 6.0 16


 

Line Yards
Adjusted
Rank
Not Adjusted
Rank
10+ Yards
Rank
Power
Rank
Offense
3.91
4
3.80
3
25%
1
73%
9
Defense
3.25
2
2.95
1
24%
32
54%
4


 

LEFT
MIDDLE
RIGHT
Line Yards
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Offense
21%
4.13
6
51%
3.59
16
27%
4.34
3
Defense
24%
3.83
21
57%
3.08
2
19%
3.03
2

Other important additions: RB Onterrio Smith (R4), RT Mike Rosenthal (NYG), RCB Ken Irvin (NOR), LCB Denard Walker (DEN), LB Chris Claiborne (DET), DT Kevin Williams (R1), LB E.J. Henderson (R2), P Eddie Johnson (R6)

Other important losses: LB Jim Nelson (IND), P Kyle Richardson (PHI)

MOE MONEY, NO PROBLEM

You know from reading our article on underrated running backs that we love Moe Williams. People think he's a third-down back, right?  Yes, he had 26 third-down carries to Bennett's four.  But:

Moe on first down: +61% DVOA on 35 carries

Moe on second down: +52% DVOA on 23 carries

Moe on third down: +21% DVOA on 26 carries

While Moe Williams was good all over the field, Michael Bennett's rushing value got worse the closer he came to the end zone.  Perhaps this is connected to the high number of breakaway runs he had -- like Barry Sanders, he's a bit of a home-run hitter, and there's more opportunity for one of those long runs when you're in your own end.  This trend did not hold for Bennett's receiving value.

 

Rushing DVOA M. Bennett  M. Williams
Own goal to 20 +48% +59%
Own 20-40 +22% +34%
40-40 +5% +51%
Opp. 40-20 -3% +36%
Opp. red zone  -14% +47%

By the way, that lower adjusted line yard number for rushes up the middle stays constant with both Bennett and Williams running the ball.  I guess center Matt Birk is the weak link on the Minnesota line.  Sorry, Harvard boy.

OTHER NOTES

44% of the Vikings passes in the red zone went to Randy Moss, the highest percentage of any player on any team by a full 7%.  But Moss actually had a -51% DVOA in the red zone, probably because he was quintuple-covered.  Every other Minnesota player thrown more than one red zone pass had a positive DVOA in the red zone (except for Derrick Alexander) led by the receiver on the other side of Moss, D'Wayne Bates (+73% DVOA).

Chris Walsh was the Vikings secret red zone target, with 7 passes thrown to him in the red zone (third on the team) but only 12 passes thrown to him over the rest of the field.  Then he retired.  I guess he wanted to stay a secret.

Daunte Culpepper had -34% passing DVOA in the red zone, +4% DVOA otherwise.

Minnesota had a very good, underrated run defense.  But you wouldn't notice it if you played your fantasy running backs against them, because they were extremely susceptible to giving up those big long runs.  The Viking run D was #2 in line yards allowed, and #4 in POWER situations -- but last in the league at allowing double-digit yard runs.

Vikings pass D actually wasn't that bad when ahead.  The Vikings allowed -22% pass VOA when ahead by more than a touchdown, +28% pass VOA otherwise.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 10 Sep 2003

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