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28 Sep 2004

Week 3 VOA Ratings

by Aaron Schatz

Here are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings through Week 3 of 2004, 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.)

Moving Up: BAL (19 to 7), JAC (26 to 17), MIN (27 to 18), NO (23 to 14), PIT (14 to 6)

Moving Down: SF (15 to 31), TEN (8 to 20), DET (4 to 13), CIN (22 to 29)

The 2004 Jacksonville Jaguars continue to follow the storyline of the 2003 Carolina Panthers.  Last year, after two wins determined in large part by luck, the Panthers won their third game (23-3 over Atlanta) by truly outplaying their opponent   This year, after two wins determined in large part by luck, the Jaguars won their third game by truly outplaying their opponent.  Yes, the score was close, and the Jaguars needed a somewhat questionable pass interference call to get the ball close enough for Fred Taylor to run it in, but the Jaguars were the better team on Sunday.

There's a difference, however, between the 2003 Panthers and the 2004 Jaguars.  At this point in the season, the 2004 Jaguars are a far better team.  They are for real, or at least half for real.

After Week 3, the Jaguars rank #8 in the NFL with a defensive VOA of -14.8%.  Remember, however, that this is before adjustments for opponent.  When we begin to factor those in, Jacksonville's rating will improve because they shut down two of the NFL's best offenses, Denver and Tennessee.  Plus, unlike two of the teams currently ahead of them in defense, Jacksonville didn't get the advantage of playing a game in a monsoon.

I had Jacksonville as my pick for AFC South champion on our staff predictions until the day before we published them.  Scared by their offense's pathetic preseason performance, I hopped off the Jaguars bandwagon and picked the Titans instead.  The Jags' offense still hasn't been very good -- their offensive VOA of -22.7% ranks #26 in the NFL -- but it's been enough to keep the team afloat while the defense wins the game.  The Jaguars' special teams, after being the worst in the league last year, are currently ranked in the top five.  This is Exhibit A of one of my most common proclamations, that special teams are wildly inconsistent.  Josh Scobee has been a league-average kicker so far, and the Jags are second in the league on punt returns.

When you compare the 2004 Jaguars to the 2003 Panthers after three games, the 2004 Jaguars rate better on offense and much better on defense.  This link is to an older version of the VOA formula, but you can see that Carolina was still at the bottom of the league after three games.  The same is true if you look back at 2003 using the current formula.  Not only is Jacksonville much better than the 2003 Panthers were after three games, the Jaguars have beaten two expected playoff teams (Denver and Tennessee) while the Panthers had beaten just one (Tampa Bay).  They get a true test this week in facing Peyton Manning, and I fully expect them to lose, but like last year's Panthers they have a pretty easy set of games to end the year: the final five games include Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Houston at home, plus Oakland on the road.  It will be a major upset if Jacksonville does not go to the playoffs.  The question is, like the Panthers, will they suddenly find their passing game when they get there?

* * * * *

Here's your football SAT test.  2003 Panthers are to 2004 Jaguars as 2003 Buccaneers are to ________.

  • a) 2004 Packers
  • b) 2004 Chiefs
  • c) 2004 Titans
  • d) 2004 Rams
  • e) none of the above

The answer is B, 2004 Chiefs.  Despite losing their third straight game this week, the Chiefs actually move up in the VOA rankings to #10.  Their offense is underperforming, ranked only #10 (10.6% VOA), but their defense is playing much better than people think, actually ranking better than average at #13 (-6.7% VOA).  Part of that, of course, is Jake Plummer forgetting which hand he throws with, and part of it is Domanick Davis' shocking inability to run against the previously paper-thin Chiefs front seven.  How do you run against Kansas City 10 times and only gain 12 yards?  For all the gnashing of teeth regarding the Chiefs' inability to stop the run, their pass defense is currently seventh in VOA (fifth among teams that have never had to collect two of every animal) and they are tied for the league lead with five interceptions.

The weakness of the Kansas City defense, even more than an inability to stop the run, is that it falls apart in the fourth quarter.  Through three quarters, the Kansas City defense has a VOA of -33.4%, fifth in the league.  In the fourth quarter, the Kansas City defense has a VOA of 51.4%, 30th in the league.

The problem the Chiefs must now overcome is mental.  Last year, after they started the season with a series of unlucky losses, the Buccaneers began to play down to their record.  The Chiefs need to avoid doing the same thing.  Coming back from an 0-3 start to make the playoffs will be very difficult, especially in the stacked AFC, but it isn't impossible.  The next two games are very interesting for the Chiefs, playing Baltimore on Monday night and then Jacksonville the week after their bye.  Conventional wisdom says that each of these games will pit a great offense against a great defense, and a lousy offense against a lousy defense.  VOA says that so far, Kansas City's defense hasn't been as lousy as people think.  Of course, a poor run defense isn't the best weakness to have when you are playing the Ravens, and a defense that collapses in the fourth quarter isn't the best weakness to have when you are playing the Jaguars.

What about the other teams listed above?

I expected the Rams to decline this season, so their slow start is not a big surprise.  I do think they are better than they have showed so far, but Seattle has the easiest road to a division title of any team in football.

I'm not sure what's going on in Tennessee.  Part of the problem on offense has been the fact that the Titans have played two very good defenses, Miami and Jacksonville, but the 907th injury to Steve McNair can't help.  On defense, you start to feel things personally when you've made friends with an actual NFL coach, and it is really hard to watch Jim Schwartz's defense fall apart at the end of two games now.  I wrote that Kansas City has the third-worst defense in the league in the fourth quarter -- well, guess who has the worst defense in the fourth quarter.  Yes, Tennessee, 58.4% VOA.

Green Bay was my Super Bowl pick, based in large part on the improvement that their defense showed over the course of the 2003 season.  That defense has now been destroyed by injuries, the football equivalent of John Belushi's septum at 6am on a Sunday morning in 1978.  Grady Jackson, the nose tackle whose arrival sparked the Packer defense last season, is out.  His replacement, James Lee, is out.  The Packers also missed two cornerbacks on Sunday, Mike McKenzie and Ahmad Carroll, and it looks like they are about to trade McKenzie to New Orleans anyway.  Cornerback Michael Hawthorne, who did play, was slowed by injury.  And perhaps firing Ed Donatell simply because the Packers defense blew one play was not the best decision (homework assignment: compare and contrast Ed Donatell and Grady Little).  If Grady Jackson can be back at full strength by midseason, and the cornerbacks get healthy -- even if McKenzie is traded -- I think the Packers can come back strong in the second half of the season.  But they'll likely have lost home field advantage in the playoffs, and that will make it unlikely that my Super Bowl pick will prove accurate.

Finally, some comments about Tampa Bay.  The storyline from most football analysts is that Tampa Bay has steadily declined since they won the Super Bowl two years ago.  I still feel that is not the case.  The Tampa Bay team of the first half of 2003 was a very good team with some horrible luck.  The Tampa Bay team of the second half of 2003 was a good team that wasn't really playing that hard.  There was every reason to believe that the Bucs would bounce back this season.  It is not going to happen.  Sunday night's game was painful to watch.  Brad Johnson has suddenly gone from steady if unexciting to totally pathetic.  Ignore the garbage time comeback, he had no idea what he was doing Sunday night.  The defense has also started to decline.  Oakland's offensive line created a pocket larger than the ones in Ted Washington's pants.  Is it me, or is Ian Gold not doing much out there?  Anyway, I wanted one more chance to defend my NFC South pick for 2004, which was based on solid data, but I don't think I'll be writing much about Tampa for the rest of the season.

One more note: I've decided, for the most part, that instead of answering most questions in the discussion thread, I'll do a mailbag column roughly every other week.  Feel free to ask questions in the comments or email them to me.

* * * * *

Since the season is still young, there are fewer statistics listed than usual.  Early season ratings are based on very little data and are unreliable.  In addition, these ratings will not be adjusted for strength of schedule until Week 5.  OFFENSE and DEFENSE VOA are still adjusted to consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value.  SPECIAL DVOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season.  NON-ADJ TOTAL VOA does not include these adjustments.

As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.  I regret to inform everyone that there is no "playing in a monsoon" adjustment for Miami and Pittsburgh. Some minor errors in special teams ratings from earlier in the day are now fixed.

Team stats pages are now up. Player stats pages will be updated tonight.


TEAM

TOTAL
DVOA

LAST
WEEK

NON-ADJ
TOTAL VOA

W-L

OFFENSE
VOA

OFF.
RANK

DEFENSE
VOA

DEF.
RANK

SPECIAL
DVOA

S.T.
RANK

1 NE 54.1% 2 59.5% 2-0 34.0% 4 -17.7% 5 2.5% 11
2 SEA 52.9% 6 66.8% 3-0 4.6% 13 -48.3% 1 -0.1% 15
3 PHI 52.0% 1 44.9% 3-0 46.5% 1 2.1% 18 7.6% 3
4 NYJ 35.4% 5 49.4% 2-0 44.6% 2 11.2% 24 2.1% 13
5 NYG 29.2% 9 43.9% 2-1 21.2% 7 -10.6% 10 -2.5% 22
6 PIT 26.7% 14 21.0% 2-1 -10.5% 22 -34.7% 2 2.5% 10
7 BAL 20.6% 19 25.4% 2-1 -6.3% 20 -22.8% 4 4.1% 6
8 DEN 19.9% 10 15.5% 2-1 8.5% 11 -9.3% 11 2.1% 12
9 ATL 19.8% 3 37.3% 3-0 -2.8% 17 -17.0% 6 5.5% 4
10 KC 16.2% 12 7.9% 0-3 10.6% 10 -6.7% 14 -1.1% 18
11 DAL 15.6% 7 1.2% 2-1 20.8% 8 3.1% 20 -2.1% 21
12 IND 13.9% 11 11.6% 2-1 44.5% 3 30.1% 30 -0.5% 16
13 DET 9.6% 4 14.7% 2-1 -0.6% 16 -6.7% 13 3.5% 7
14 NO 1.1% 23 7.2% 2-1 6.0% 12 16.2% 27 11.2% 1
15 OAK -0.4% 17 2.2% 2-1 4.4% 14 0.8% 17 -4.0% 27
16 CAR -1.3% 13 -4.8% 1-1 2.8% 15 2.8% 19 -1.3% 19

TEAM

TOTAL
DVOA

LAST
WEEK

NON-ADJ
TOTAL VOA

W-L

OFFENSE
VOA

OFF.
RANK

DEFENSE
VOA

DEF.
RANK

SPECIAL
DVOA

S.T.
RANK

17 JAC -2.9% 26 6.7% 3-0 -22.7% 26 -14.8% 8 5.1% 5
18 MIN -6.4% 27 -0.1% 2-1 30.5% 5 30.0% 29 -6.9% 32
19 BUF -8.7% 16 -9.9% 0-2 -22.0% 25 -16.5% 7 -3.1% 25
20 TEN -10.0% 8 -12.3% 1-2 -11.0% 23 -3.8% 15 -2.8% 23
21 CHI -14.3% 18 -9.4% 1-2 -5.7% 19 4.0% 21 -4.6% 30
22 WAS -16.5% 25 -17.9% 1-2 -28.2% 28 -12.3% 9 -0.7% 17
23 SD -19.5% 21 -7.1% 1-2 -5.7% 18 15.9% 26 2.0% 14
24 STL -19.8% 30 -27.4% 1-2 23.4% 6 39.5% 32 -3.8% 26
25 GB -20.8% 20 -17.4% 1-2 14.4% 9 38.2% 31 2.9% 9
26 TB -24.5% 28 -21.3% 0-3 -30.9% 30 -8.2% 12 -1.8% 20
27 ARI -25.9% 32 -24.2% 0-3 -31.7% 31 -2.6% 16 3.2% 8
28 CLE -26.4% 24 -29.7% 1-2 -29.2% 29 5.2% 22 8.0% 2
29 CIN -29.5% 22 -36.6% 1-2 -12.6% 24 12.4% 25 -4.5% 29
30 HOU -37.9% 31 -42.4% 1-2 -9.5% 21 25.6% 28 -2.8% 24
31 SF -39.5% 15 -59.5% 0-3 -27.8% 27 6.2% 23 -5.5% 31
32 MIA -43.7% 29 -43.9% 0-3 -64.6% 32 -25.3% 3 -4.4% 28

* * * * *

You may have seen my comment in the quarterback ratings at ESPN Page 2 that Peyton Manning's game on Sunday was the best game since my PAR (Points Above Replacement) numbers begin in 2000.  Here are the top ten passing performances in the past five years according to PAR, which means without adjusting for opponent quality (since it is too early to include such adjustments on 2004 performances):

PAR Quarterback Team Year Week Opp. Stats
23.5 P.Manning IND 2004 3 GB 28-40, 393 yards, 5 TD
23.4 M.Bulger STL 2002 10 SD 36-48, 453 yards, 4 TD
21.5 M.Hasselbeck SEA 2002 12 KC 25-36, 362 yards, 3 TD
21.3 B.Johnson TB 2002 9 MIN 24-31, 313 yards, 5 TD
21.2 S.McNair TEN 2003 6 HOU 18-27, 421 yards, 3 TD, fumble lost
20.7 B.Favre GB 2003 16 OAK 22-30, 399 yards, 4 TD
20.4 J.Garcia SF 2000 6 OAK 28-41, 336 yards, 4 TD
20.3 K.Holcomb CLE 2003 11 ARI 29-35, 293 yards, 3 TD, fumble kept
20.3 K.Warner STL 2000 5 SD 24-30, 390 yards, 4 TD
20.2 K.Warner STL 2000 15 MIN 27-32, 346 yards, 0 TD

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 28 Sep 2004

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