Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

14 Jan 2014

Divisional Round Quick Reads

by Vince Verhei

Let's play a game. I'll give you some stats for two quarterbacks, and you tell me who had the better game. Quarterback A completed 56 percent of his passes for 7.0 yards per play and converted 4-of-13 third- and fourth-down plays. Quarterback B completed 69 percent of his passes for 6.4 yards per play and converted 7-of-10 third-down plays. The first QB had no interceptions and one fumble; the second had one interception and no fumbles, so the turnovers largely even out. For the sake of the QB Winz crowd, we'll even point out that Quarterback A was knocked out of the playoffs, while Quarterback B advanced to the conference championship round.

By now a lot of you have figured that Quarterback A was Drew Brees, the top passer of the week by DYAR, and Quarterback B was Peyton Manning, who finished third. And you've probably also figured out that Brees topped Manning due to opponent adjustments. Brees put up his numbers against Seattle, the best defense in the league, while Manning benefited from playing San Diego, one of the worst.

Those, obviously, are a pair of very wild extremes on either end of the spectrum. Over the course of a 16-game regular season, those extremes tend to even out ... for most players. A few unlucky souls ended up playing a particularly harsh string of opponents, while some feasted on patsies all year long. Looking at those groups of players can show us which were better than their raw stats and might be headed for "bounceback" fantasy seasons in 2014, as well as those who will be overdrafted next year.

We're doing this in the simplest manner possible, by subtracting each player's YAR (which do not include opponent adjustments) from his DYAR (which do), so we're not accounting for things like injuries or other in-season developments. Still, some strong patterns emerge in the numbers -- most notably, how badly we should feel for the quarterbacks of the NFC West and NFC South. Those two divisions featured the top three defenses in the league (Seattle, Carolina, and Arizona), two more in the top ten (Tampa Bay and New Orleans), and two more in the top 13 (St. Louis and San Francisco). The only bad defense in either division belonged to Atlanta (29th). And to top it off, the NFC West and NFC South played each other this year, which means at least half of each team's schedule was filled with good and great defenses.

Since Matt Ryan did not benefit from playing his own putrid defense, he ended up with far and away the hardest schedule of any quarterback this year. Ryan's 1,127 DYAR was 300 higher than his 827 YAR. No other quarterback had a difference of even 200. The top six quarterbacks, in terms of schedule difficulty, were all from one of these two divisions: Kellen Clemens (who started only nine games for the Rams), Carson Palmer, Mike Glennon, Drew Brees, and Colin Kaepernick. Cam Newton and Russell Wilson also made the top ten, though they were in a way the anti-Matt Ryans, in that they did not have to play their own fearsome defenses. The rest of the top 10 was filled out by Tom Brady and Matt Cassel (six starts). Wilson, Kaepernick, and Brady are still alive in the playoffs, which suggests that there's something to be said for a trial by fire.

On the other hand, Peyton Manning is also still alive, and he had the easiest schedule of any quarterback this year, feasting on San Diego and Oakland twice each, plus games against Dallas, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, and Washington. This does not mean Manning was overrated this year, as he still had a commanding lead in DYAR. It simply means he wasn't quite as spectacular as his multiple passing records would suggest. The divisional trends at this end of the spectrum are not nearly as strong as those at the top, but Alex Smith and Philip Rivers also made the top ten, and Matt McGloin was 12th in only six starts. After that, though, the top ten has three quarterbacks each from the NFC East (Robert Griffin, Eli Manning, and Nick Foles) and NFC North (Matt Flynn, Matt Stafford, and Josh McCown), and one from the AFC East (EJ Manuel). It's worth noting that three of the quarterbacks with the best raw numbers this year (Peyton Manning, Foles, McCown) built their statistics in part on soft defenses. And then there's Eli Manning, who played bad defenses and still led the league in interceptions.

The running backs with the most difficult schedules played for some familiar teams; the top four (DeAngelo Williams, Rashard Mendenhall, and Frank Gore were in a near dead heat for first place, with Marshawn Lynch a clear fourth) all played in the West or South divisions in the NFC, as did the sixth- (Zac Stacy), seventh- (Doug Martin), and tenth-place back (Mike Tolbert). Only two AFC runners made the top ten (Chris Johnson and Ryan Mathews). The other spot in the top ten is taken by LeSean McCoy, who is kind of the opposite of Peyton Manning. Like Peyton, he finished with a commanding lead in both YAR and DYAR, but unlike Peyton, he did it against a tough schedule.

The ten easiest schedules for running backs include three players from the AFC East (teammates Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory, plus Daniel Thomas) and three from the AFC North (BanJarvus Green-Ellis was second, and backfield-mate Giovani Bernard was third; Ray Rice also made the list, which is depressing as all hell considering his terrible raw numbers). Reggie Bush, Knowshon Moreno, and Pierre Thomas also faced easy slates, but the easiest of them all belonged to Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, whose dropoff after 2012 was even more severe than it appeared.

Finally we get to receivers, both wideouts and tight ends, and here the narrative shifts. The most difficult schedule belonged to Tampa Bay tight end Tim Wright, which makes the undrafted rookie's big year even more surprising. However, the top ten includes only one other player from the NFC South (Atlanta's Harry Douglas), and none from the NFC West. New England teammates Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman finished second and third behind Wright, and Minnesota's Jerome Simpson also had a rough go of things. The other five receivers in the top ten all played in the AFC North: Baltimore's Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta; Cincinnati's A.J. Green; Cleveland's Greg Little; and Pittsburgh's Emmanuel Sanders.

So if receivers don't want to play in the AFC North, where would they be better off? That's easy: The NFC East. New York Giants teammates Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks finished 1-2 in the standings, and Dallas' Terrance Williams and Dez Bryant both made the top ten as well. No team, though may have faced an easier schedule for receivers than Washington, which saw Pierre Garcon finish fifth, Leonard Hankerson seventh, Jordan Reed tenth, and Santana Moss 11th. The other two names in the top ten were Demaryius Thomas and, weirdly, Rob Gronkowski. The Pats faced a bunch of tough schedules overall, but in his seven games, Gronk was lucky enough to play Miami, Houston, and Cleveland, three of the four worst defenses against tight ends this year.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
1.
Drew Brees NO
24/43
309
1
0
178
178
0
With 2:40 left in the game and New Orleans out of timeouts, Marshawn Lynch scored a 31-yard touchdown that put Seattle ahead 23-8. Had Lynch taken a knee at the 1, Seattle could have milked a lot of clock and then tried a field goal to take a two-score lead, leaving the Saints little to no time to come back. As it is, Brees caught fire after Lynch's touchdown. From that point forward, he went 9-of-11 for 106 yards, with a touchdown and five other first downs. More than half his DYAR on the day came on those final two drives.
2.
Colin Kaepernick SF
15/28
196
1
0
90
100
-10
First four drives: 6-of-15 for 59 yards with three first downs and one sack. Last drive of the first half, plus second half: 9-of-13 for 137 yards with a touchdown and eight other first downs, plus an 8-yard DPI.
3.
Peyton Manning DEN
25/36
230
2
1
72
72
0
Without opponent adjustments, Manning would have been in first place by a whopping 43 YAR. With them, well, here we are. The Chargers were successful in containing Manning, who had only two 20-yard plays, both in the fourth quarter, one on a DPI. Manning had little trouble moving the chains, though. On third downs, he went 7-of-9 for 77 yards with an interception, plus the 23-yard DPI. That's one touchdown and six other first downs on ten third-down plays, and he would have had another first down if Julius Thomas hadn't fumbled a ball away.
4.
Philip Rivers SD
18/27
217
2
0
43
41
3
Virtually all of Rivers' value came late in the game. Eight of his first nine plays, and 12 of his first 15, were below replacement value. He did not have back-to-back positive plays until the fourth quarter, and he was still below replacement level halfway through the fourth quarter. On San Diego's last three drives (two touchdowns and a field goal), he went 11-of-15 for 173 yards with two touchdowns, five other first downs, and one sack. That's much better than what he did in the first half: 5-of-8 for 20 yards with more sacks (three) than first downs (two), and just 1 net yard.
5.
Tom Brady NE
13/25
198
0
0
38
38
0
Brady was horrendous on first and second downs (a combined 7-of-16 for 125 yards, but only three first downs), but he largely redeemed himself on third downs (6-of-9 for 73 yards and six first owns, plus a 17-yard DPI, with two sacks and one fumble).
6.
Russell Wilson SEA
9/18
103
0
0
-2
3
-5
Fun fact: Wilson was sacked three times on Saturday, each of which resulted in a loss of exactly zero yards. Wilson only threw for five first downs, and worse, those five throws were his only successful completions. After the game, Wilson said he avoided throwing deep balls due to the weather, but when he did throw them, he was accurate, going 3-of-5 for 65 yards on balls that traveled at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This also means that on passes shorter than that, he went 6-of-13 for 38 yards and two first downs.
7.
Cam Newton CAR
16/25
267
1
2
-4
-12
8
The story of Newton is really (as it has been for so many Carolina quarterbacks) the story of Steve Smith. Newton threw to Smith four times in the first half, all complete, for 74 yards, with one touchdown and one other first down, plus a 6-yard gain on second-and-8 and a 9-yard gain on first-and-10. After that, though, Smith's knee couldn't hold up, and he was targeted on only one pass in the second half, an incompletion. Left throwing to the likes of Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell, Newton went 8-of-15 for 131 yards after halftime, with an interception, and as many sacks (four) as first downs.
8.
Andrew Luck IND
20/41
331
2
4
-66
-69
3
Luck had his ups and downs in this game, but when he had a chance to lead a comeback, he was at his worst. Following his 35-yard touchdown to LaVon Brazill, Luck and the Colts got the ball back down seven points with about three minutes left in the third quarter. From that point forward, over a span of five drives, Luck went 5-of-14 for 39 yards with two first downs, two interceptions (the latter of which is treated as a Hail Mary so as not to over-penalize Luck for taking a desperate risk), and three sacks.


Five most valuable running backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
LeGarrette Blount NE
166
4
0
0
61
61
0
Blount was stuffed four times in 24 runs, but he made up for that with eight first downs, including runs of 73 and 30 yards. Plus, you know, half of those first downs were actually touchdowns. That also helps.
2.
Khiry Robinson NO
57
1
13
0
30
20
10
Robinson was stuffed three times in 13 carries. He had first downs on runs of 13 and 17 yards, though, and added a third-and-1 touchdwn. The Saints threw him one pass, resulting in a 13-yard gain on first-and-10.
3.
Stevan Ridley NE
52
2
0
0
27
27
0
Ridley's longest run gained only 10 yards, but each of his 14 runs gained at least 1 yard. He was on a roll by the end of the game. His last five carries: touchdown on third-and-goal from the 3; 9-yard gain on second-and-10; 2-yard gain on first-and-goal from the 3; 1-yard touchdown on second-and-goal; 10-yard gain on first-and-10.
4.
Montee Ball DEN
52
0
0
0
16
16
0
Your short-yardage chains-mover of the day. Ball had ten carries against San Diego, each gaining 1 to 9 yards. Seven of those carries came with 5 yards or less to go for a first down, and Ball picked up a new set of downs five times.
5.
Frank Gore SF
84
0
8
0
12
9
2
Gore's only first down on the day came on a 39-yard gain on third-and1 in the fourth quarter. Take that play away, and he averaged 2.8 yards a carry with four stuffs, and finished below replacement level.


Least valuable running back
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
Kendall Hunter SF
27
0
0
0
-19
-12
-7
Hunter's day was very similar to Gore's, with one big run (in Hunter's case a 17-yard gain on second-and-11) amidst a sea of crap. Seven of his other eight carries gained 2 yards or less, and he was stuffed three times. The only pass thrown his way was an incompletion on second-and-5.


Five most valuable wide receivers and tight ends
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Keenan Allen SD
6
9
142
23.7
2
77
Allen was targeted one time in the first half, an incompletion. His first target of the second half resulted in a 19-yard completion. That's the play where Denver cornerback Chris Harris tore his ACL. Harris was not covering Allen on the play, but it was after the injury when Allen got the bulk of his targets. Each of Allen's receptions gained at least 16 yards and a first down, including three conversions on third or fourth down.
2.
Anquan Boldin SF
8
12
136
17.0
0
49
Boldin gets 54 DYAR receiving, -5 DYAR for his incomplete pass attempt. Boldin's first seven receptions resulted in third downs, and the eighth was a 9-yard gain on second-and-10. He was also the target on an 8-yard DPI.
3.
Marques Colston NO
10
15
131
13.1
1
47
No, DYAR does not account for Colston's wacky forward lateral at the end of the game. As for plays that do count, eight of Colston's receptions picked up first downs; the other two were gains of 9 and 6 yards on first-and-10.
4.
Steve Smith CAR
4
5
74
18.5
1
38
See Cam Newton's comment in the quarterbacks table.
5.
Ted Ginn CAR
4
6
104
26.0
0
36
Each of Ginn's receptions gained at least 14 yards, though only three of them gained first downs. He had one reception on one target in the first quarter, then was not targeted again until there were less than seven minutes left in the game.


Least valuable wide receiver or tight end
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Da'Rick Rogers IND
0
4
0
0.0
0
-31
Two incompletions on first-and-10, one on second-and-1, one on second-and-6.

Posted by: Vince Verhei on 14 Jan 2014

27 comments, Last at 18 Jan 2014, 10:51pm by greybeard

Comments

1
by c0rrections (not verified) :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 12:09pm

Colston is on here twice with different numbers

3
by Anonymess (not verified) :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 12:39pm

Sounds like he had a pretty great day overall.

7
by Aaron Schatz :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 1:41pm

Oops! Will fix.

23
by justanothersteve :: Wed, 01/15/2014 - 12:09am

He should be. Those passing numbers were pretty bad.

2
by steveNC (not verified) :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 12:21pm

If Lynch went down at 2:40 or later, with NO out of timeouts, SEA could've done 3 kneeldowns (at 2:00, 1:20, and :40) and not even needed to kick a FG.

5
by Anonymess (not verified) :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 12:46pm

That depends on Lynch knowing the exact time left. If he had gone down at 2:41, the Saints would have had 40 seconds or so left.

4
by The Ancient Mariner (not verified) :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 12:40pm

I'm surprised Marshawn Lynch didn't make the RB table. That's not a terribly high bar to cross, this week . . .

11
by Vince Verhei :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 4:44pm

He was sixth. He had a boom-and-bust day, with four 10-yard runs, but six stuffs. But it was really negative value as a receiver that did him in (3-yd catch on first-and-10, incompletions on third-and-4 and first-and-10).

6
by Led :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 12:58pm

Although it looked ugly at times, that was pretty darn impressive performance by Brees. I know a lot of the value came late and there were some dropped INTs, but the weather conditions were awful and the defense was nasty. So I think DYAR provides useful insight here.

17
by jjh (not verified) :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 8:39pm

I disagree. Quite a bit of Brees' performance came when Seattle was in prevent zone in the late 3rd and 4th qtr. The QB analysis here seems to conveniently disregard that fact.

19
by Perfundle :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 9:45pm

Brees couldn't crack that very same prevent zone in Seattle the first time. Even Seattle's prevent zone is better than other teams' prevent zones, I'm guessing, so the fact that he did lead two touchdown drives is no easy feat (and neither drive involved any dropped interceptions).

20
by Keith_1 :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 9:55pm

I do not think there was an intentional disregard in this case. This case comes up often, and the explanation goes something like this: any play, at any point in a game, has some analytic and/or predictive value, so the success or failure is always measured. But I do not think that really applies here either.

Within the context of the specific game and situation, in such a close game throughout (being no more than two scores down), prevent or not, a quick strike made it a touchdown + 2-pt difference. With that, Brees' success in the 4th was no accident. If not for a certain bone-headed play, the Saints quite literally had two seconds for a hail mary; assuming it was scored, a 2-pt conversion pushes overtime.

The plays leading up to that are very important.

8
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 2:03pm

Gore's game looked to my eyeball like the tale of two halves. The first he was terrible--it seemed like S.F. was faced 2nd and 10 every time. In the second half he looked good--I remember several 5 or 6 yard runs in addition to the big one.

9
by t.d. :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 4:10pm

If the best quarterbacks all played the same set of shitty defenses, maybe the opponent adjustments aren't doing enough to separate out individual performance from context (ie they all look like shitty defenses because they played all the best quarterbacks). It's odd that all the major, team crippling injuries among contenders concentrated in the AFC this year Last year, the Ravens won in great part because their opponents suffered crippling in-game injuries (Dennard and Moreno), and the first Pats-Broncos game appeared to swing on a similar set of circumstances, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if this week's game is swung on lucky breaks

10
by Perfundle :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 4:29pm

"ie they all look like shitty defenses because they played all the best quarterbacks"

Not really. The QBs San Diego faced in the regular season, for instance, had passing DVOA ratings of

43.5%
43.5%
11.5%
4.5%
2.6%
-5.0%
-5.0%
-5.7%
-7.0%
-9.7%
-12.2%
-13.0%
-13.8%
-13.9%
-16.2%
-21.0%
-32.1%

Other than Manning and Romo, that's a pretty pathetic list. San Diego was rated as a god-awful defense because they allowed 23 TDs, 66.4% completion percentage, 8.0 YPA and only 11 INTs facing those QBs.

12
by t.d. :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 5:15pm

not suggesting that san diego was anything but a shitty defense, rather that Baltimore, for example, looked like a decidedly worse defense because they played Manning, and Seattle/San Fran/New Orleans/Caroina didn't have to contend with an offense like that (or Philadelphia)

13
by jebmak :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 5:45pm

Could you post Manning's VOA? I was arguing with someone over whether he should have been blamed for the loss if SD had just onside kicked again and he had never seen the ball after that 4th qtr TD. I said that he had had a fantastic game, and maybe some blame should fall on his defense for once. (Pointless, I know, but knowing that his VOA really was fantastic would make me feel better).

14
by Vince Verhei :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 6:50pm

33.7%, best in the league. This is also why I posted his YAR, which was far and away better than anyone else.

15
by jebmak :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 7:53pm

Thank you kind sir.

16
by Red :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 8:25pm

Vince - How much did Cam Newton's meaningless 58 yard completion on the final drive inflate his DYAR and DVOA? The 49ers didn't even look like they were trying on that play.

Also, what would Brees' DYAR have been if his fluky 52 yard completion had been intercepted like it probably should have?

18
by Vince Verhei :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 9:40pm

Newton's play was worth 34 DYAR, his most on any one pass in the game.

Brees' big play was worth 31 DYAR, tied with his TD pass for his biggest play of the game. As an INT, it would have been -60.

24
by greybeard :: Wed, 01/15/2014 - 12:43am

So he had additional 91 dyar because of luck not skill.

26
by LionInAZ :: Wed, 01/15/2014 - 6:18pm

Luck or poor execution by the Seattle D?

Even if you subtracted those 91 DYAR, he'd still finish just behind Kaepernick in 2nd place.

27
by greybeard :: Sat, 01/18/2014 - 10:51pm

"Luck or poor execution by the Seattle D?"

Either way, it was not his making. He threw what should have been an interception and gained 91 DYAR.

I did not mean to say that he played bad. But look at the QB stat page, 91 DYAR makes a QB 23rd highest QB based on DYAR. Such a huge impact.

21
by Bruce Lamon :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 11:30pm

Surprised that Lynch was not a top-5 running back. Penalized for scoring?

22
by Bruce Lamon :: Tue, 01/14/2014 - 11:30pm

Surprised that Lynch was not a top-5 running back. Penalized for scoring?

25
by Vince Verhei :: Wed, 01/15/2014 - 1:00am

See comment 11.

Unless we add some very, very, very elaborate clock-based analysis, a player will never be penalized for scoring. In some cases, obviously, it is best not to score, and in those cases we should all use a little common sense when analyzing the numbers.