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Denver's defense was still great at producing pass pressure, while two NFC East teams really improved over 2015. Also: pressure splits by number of rushers, and how sacks can be overrated. Just ask Brandon Graham (or Erik Walden).

30 Sep 2003

Week 4 Team Efficiency Ratings

by Aaron Schatz

Here are the team efficiency ratings after Week 4, measured by our proprietary Value Over Average (VOA) system that breaks down every single play and compares a team's performance to the league averaged based on situation in order to determine value over average.  (Explained further here.)  Last week's top two teams, Tampa Bay and Seattle, both had bye weeks, so they have the same ratings as last week and stay on top of the rankings.

A strange thing happened this week.  Teams whose reputations differed from their ratings for the first three weeks of the season had games that moved their ratings more in line with their reputations.

Carolina, who won their first two games on fluke plays and special teams despite being outplayed by Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, finally had a positive week according to our VOA system.  Stephen Davis is playing out of his head; I'll be introducing our first individual ratings sometime later today or tomorrow, but I'll reveal now that Davis has more rushing value than almost any other running back so far in 2003.  Nonetheless, I still believe that the Panthers are overrated.  That's not to say that they won't make the playoffs, or beat the defenseless Saints this week.  But they are not one of the five best teams in football, or even one of the ten best teams in football, certainly not so far.  I expect them to be returned to reality by Indianapolis in Week 6.

Jacksonville, whose offense had been causing me fits with their high VOA rankings after three losses, had a horrible game this week.  Both Houston and Jacksonville had awful games offensively, with a VOA of -66.3% for the JAC offense/HOU defense and -34.0% for the HOU offense/JAC defense.  As a result, the Jacksonville offense tumbles from the #5 ranking to the #19 ranking.  At the same time, the defense moves up from #25 to #17.  This is a good indication of why these ratings need to be taken with a few grains of salt so early in the season.  Jacksonville is a team in desperate need of opponent value adjustments, because they've been all over the map this year.

San Francisco was #5 in VOA last week, after two close losses in games where they outplayed the other team according to our ratings.  So this week they went out and got completely obliterated by the Vikings.  Terrell Owens was screaming for Tim Rattay to replace Jeff Garcia, but he really should have been screaming for a new defensive backfield.  To quote Gregg Easterbrook: "Ye gods."

The one team whose ranking still differs greatly from its public reputation is Tennessee.  VOA says the Titans were (barely) outplayed by the Steelers this week and won because their efficient drives just happened to coincide with the good field position they got from Pittsburgh turnovers.  As great as Steve McNair has been this year, Eddie George has been equally terrible.

The NFC East, which looked like a weak division before the season, has been great so far.  Dallas -- Dallas! -- is actually ranked as the best team in the division, with Washington right behind, and you know that Philly won't be this bad forever.  Heck, they were pretty good in Week 4.  Washington dominated the Patriots and that game was nowhere near as close as the final score.  They never should have been close to letting the Patriots tie it up.

Last week I wrote that "based on very, very early numbers, Cleveland and St. Louis are have played difficult schedules and are better than their VOA numbers."  So this week, St. Louis got to play Arizona.  Result, St. Louis moves up from #24 to #13 in VOA, and the early numbers no longer say they have played a difficult schedule.  All of which makes Green Bay look even worse for losing to Arizona.  It isn't even close -- no team has benefited from an easy schedule over the first four games as much as Green Bay.  Toss in unofficial early adjustments based on opponent quality, and the Packers drop from #12 to #21.  And if Green Bay isn't really that good, how bad does that make Chicago?  Yikes.  Thank god for baseball, because the Bears are horrific.

Cleveland still seems to have played a tough schedule and is probably better than their ranking.  I hate to say this as a Patriots fan, but right now New England is the other team that looks to be somewhat overrated due to an easy schedule so far.  Next week I'll finally feel comfortable enough to introduce these opponent value adjustments into the official rankings.  And, as I mentioned earlier, come back tomorrow for the first individual rankings of running backs using a brand new statistic that adds the importance of durability (a.k.a. "The Ricky Factor") into the VOA system.

Finally, a word about Atlanta.  Yes, I predicted that Atlanta would win the Super Bowl before the season, based on the idea that a) Doug Johnson wasn't that bad; b) Michael Vick would provide an emotional Tom Brady-esque shot in the arm upon his return; and c) they had a great defense.  Now, we know that a) has turned out to be pretty false, and who knows anything about b) yet.  But the real shock here is c), because I knew that my opinion of Doug Johnson was based on a small sample from 2002.  But Atlanta's defense was great over the entire 2002 season, finishing #8 in our 2002 defensive efficiency rankings.  This year they are #24.  What the heck happened here?

As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.  Here are the ratings through Week 4:

1 TAM 72.8% 1 15.1% 6 -57.7% 1
2 SEA 72.7% 2 27.3% 2 -45.4% 2
3 MIN 62.0% 3 34.7% 1 -27.4% 4
4 KAN 42.9% 4 12.9% 7 -30.0% 3
5 IND 38.8% 8 24.8% 3 -13.9% 9
6 DEN 24.4% 6 15.6% 5 -8.9% 12
7 DAL 23.6% 10 8.8% 9 -14.8% 7
8 PIT 23.0% 7 1.0% 12 -22.0% 5
9 WAS 21.3% 11 21.7% 4 0.4% 20
10 SFO 19.1% 5 5.5% 10 -13.6% 10
11 BUF 12.9% 9 -1.8% 17 -14.7% 8
12 GNB 7.3% 15 5.0% 11 -2.2% 18
13 STL 4.7% 24 -1.7% 16 -6.4% 15
14 OAK 4.5% 13 12.7% 8 8.3% 22
15 NYG -1.7% 16 -1.9% 18 -0.2% 19
16 JAC -3.3% 14 -6.0% 19 -2.7% 17
17 NWE -3.4% 12 -11.4% 21 -8.0% 13
18 HOU -6.8% 23 -22.2% 28 -15.4% 6
19 MIA -7.1% 17 -12.9% 23 -5.8% 16
20 CLE -8.1% 18 -16.0% 25 -7.9% 14
21 CIN -11.3% 22 -6.3% 20 5.0% 21
22 TEN -11.5% 21 0.8% 13 12.3% 25
23 BAL -12.7% 19 -25.9% 29 -13.2% 11
24 NYJ -18.9% 20 -0.4% 15 18.5% 27
25 SDG -23.1% 25 0.3% 14 23.4% 29
26 CAR -25.9% 30 -12.4% 22 13.5% 26
27 DET -34.6% 27 -15.1% 24 19.5% 28
28 PHI -34.6% 31 -26.3% 30 8.3% 23
29 ATL -39.2% 28 -27.6% 31 11.7% 24
30 NOR -44.4% 26 -17.7% 26 26.7% 30
31 ARI -55.0% 29 -18.6% 27 36.4% 31
32 CHI -79.7% 32 -43.2% 32 36.5% 32

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 30 Sep 2003