Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
29 Sep 2013
by Rivers McCown
When announcing the incredibly senseless "clear bag" policy before the season started, the NFL used a Roger Goodell staple: the public relations wording of "enhanced." "NFL to Enhance Public Safety," this piece begins, as if making people bring clear bags was suddenly going to change the stadium atmosphere forever, making violence impossible. (Oh, right.)
Enhancing something, by the dictionary definition, means to add something extra that makes (something) better, more intense, or more attractive. While things at the gate have definitely been more intense, in so much as stadiums have been turning people away for being inches over the policy, I'd argue that this is neither a better nor more attractive solution. Fortunately, the NFL had it's strategic director of security, Ray DiNunzio, talk to one disgruntled fan, and MMQB.com had full access to the interview. Let's see how that went...
"With the bags we’re allowing, no one can bring a pressure cooker or another device that we associate with terrorism," DiNunzio said. "We feel as though the size of the bag we’re permitting will not permit somebody to bring the kind of explosive that somebody brought to Boston."
"There is no more safety with my Raiders tote bag and that clear bag," Johnson said. "Please tell me why it’s safer."
"You’re right, you can’t prevent terrorism," DiNunzio said. "But you can harden your target, you can make it less convenient to target our stadiums."
In the end, they agreed to disagree.
I don't agree to that, and neither should you.
While I teeter ever so deftly on the no-politics line that Aaron likes to enforce around here, I'll say that the very fact that the director of security admits that this doesn't prevent anything is cause enough to not invoke the policy. Look, if someone wants to commit a terrorist act at a football game -- and I mean just a true act of terror, not some kind of coordinated Bane-esque attack -- it actually isn't very hard to do that. The NFL doesn't search vehicles coming on to parking lots. Tailgates carry plenty of enormous fuel tanks. It might not happen inside a stadium, but using the kind of paranoid logic that invokes these kinds of procedures to begin with, it's not at all unfeasible to suggest that a check-in point could be bombed or attacked.
The reason that hasn't happened, of course, is that most people going to NFL games are not sub-human waste. They are people. Like you and me.
A cynic might be inclined to say, wonder why the NFL would announce this rule and then immediately roll out a line of clear bags for $19.95. A cynic might ponder if any NFL owners, executives, or other high-profile figures might have some sort of attachment to these security firms, which now have increased importance and a stronger foothold in the market.
A cynic might wonder if these new rules are seizing on the raw emotion and drama of what happened in Boston to make a quick buck.
I attended the Houston Texans home opener as a ticketed customer. I say ticketed customer, instead of fan, because that is what I felt like. Perhaps it's the NFL's new-found insistence that "we" make football. Perhaps it's that borderline-creepy commercial where one Seahawks fan is welcomed by his first name and suddenly the entire stadium is targeted to try and sell him things.
Or, perhaps it's because I watched a woman get turned away for her purse being a half-inch too big while I, with a pocket knife hidden in one of my keys, held my hands up to be metal-wanded and walked by without incident.
I am not going to pretend that this is some kind of final straw that should drive fans away from the game forever. It is, inevitably, a mild inconvenience for people who can usually afford to pay for those. I asked Steph Stradley, erst-while Texans fan and blogger for the Houston Chronicle (and outspoken anti-bag policy advocate), for her thoughts on the experience:
Lines are slightly slower. Fans need to choose between five dumb options to bring their stuff in the stadium: 1. Large plastic see-thru bag where everybody can see your business; 2. Purse slightly bigger than an index card; 3. A gallon ziplock bag; 4. Shoving everything in your pockets (which in womens clothes tends to be smaller, and well, clothing tighter); 5. Go to a special unknown entrance to get your medical stuff checked.
I chose index-card purse. Prior to the policy, I did not own a purse that tiny because it is a ridiculously impractical, small size obviously determined by a man with no taste or empathy. I went on eBay, and after much effort, found some small bags that would sort of work.
They are so small I cannot put both my phone and my wallet in them. Convenient! So I have to take my ID, credit card and cash and just slip a hair tie around them. I worry about stuff dropping out of the purse because it is so small. I get my best friend to pack mule other stuff in the clear bag thing, like a rain poncho because rain was in the post-game forecast and car keys.
In talking to people at the game, I heard about fans who got their wallets rejected for being a half-inch too big. Yes, the 4.5-inch x 6.5-inch size is smaller than many wallets. It's smaller than the length of some gameday tickets.
I would add, for those of you who would see this as something to label as "first-world problems" and quickly move on, that women are used to being able to carry reasonably-sized purses just about everywhere. Leaving them without the option to do so without exposing their business is creepy and short-sighted. I'm not fashion's greatest ally, but I'd also note that carrying around clear plastic anything is very tacky.
I have to admit: it really phased me. Walking around with all these clear bags everywhere. You start to see this world that only security experts see, where people stop being people and start being threats. Where the entire world has become a bunch of unruly children who can't behave properly, so now they must be treated as such.
So I made it a point to talk to as many people as I could while I was up and about -- that happened often, because neither of these teams really moved the ball all that much -- to try to restore some humanity to the proceedings. I mostly got dejected reactions when I asked about the clear bags. A resigned "I guess I feel safer," was the most pro-bag response I got.
I saw one woman with an honest-to-goodness bag. A light canvas bag that probably doubled as a reusable grocery bag on non-game days. I asked her about it, and her only response was a finger over her mouth, tapped twice.
That's what you have become, NFL. I'm not a woman, but to say that this is only a degrading policy to them isn't far enough. It's a step towards a world where people are scared to speak publicly about sneaking an actual bag into a stadium. It's a step toward alienating all of your fans. It's a step towards the world you create in your commercials, where we are not people, but piles of money to be shuffled around.
As I said, this isn't going to end the NFL or anything. They are free to conduct their business however they wish, and they are free to replace conscientious objectors with new fans that will plop down just as much money as spurned ones. But given Goodell's past public comments on improving stadium experience, this new policy would seem to be a big change of pace on the issue. Mild inconveniences pile up over time. Ticket prices rise in areas of demand. All of the sudden, it sounds much more appealing to just buy an enormous television, while TV rights deals continue to boom.
A cynic might say that the NFL is getting out of the fan appeasement business -- there's no money to be made in it.
One of the main reasons that your author was so down on the San Diego Chargers coming into the year is that their secondary depth chart is a mess. They managed to sign Derek Cox -- an injury-prone, but solid cornerback -- in the offseason. But after Cox and Eric Weddle, the cast of characters patrolling the San Diego secondary would best be described as a motley crew. 2011 third-rounder Shareece Wright is back there, as is camp cut Richard Marshall. But with Wright out nursing a hamstring injury, the starter opposite Cox was waiver claim Johnny Patrick.
Patrick, another third-round pick in the 2011 draft, was waived by the Saints after two largely unproductive years where he barely saw the field. They opted to start 2012 fifth-rounder Corey White ahead of him last season. I remember Patrick most as a minor bickering point on our 2012 organizational rankings: I didn't want to give him much credit since he didn't crack the field, and the Saints were at the very bottom of the list after the Bountygate punishment and Mark Ingram trade. NOLA.com Saints (at the time) beat writer Jeff Duncan agreed that the Ingram trade looked bad, but thought New Orleans could make up some of the deficit with guys like Patrick and Martez Wilson, who hadn't played a big role yet. Obviously he sees more of the Saints practices than I do, so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And, in that light, I was a little stunned that the Saints waived Patrick. It's not like they had a huge influx of young talent at cornerback or anything.
Well, after watching his play against Tennessee this week, I can tell you exactly why they let him go: he is a replacement-level cornerback at best, and a lot of Tennessee's success in the passing game was driven both by him and the ways that John Pagano had to scheme around him.
I have Patrick playing 30 of the 32 defensive snaps in the first half. San Diego used a lot of zone to help him out. They also used him in the slot whenever they had the opportunity to do so. Just about every snap he played man coverage, he was beaten. Here were the highlights:
1Q: 1-10-SD 42 (1:00) 10-J.Locker pass incomplete deep left to 82-D.Walker. -- Patrick has safety help, and he actually stays pretty clean on the play. Don't get used to this.
2Q: 3-2-SD 2 (13:40) 10-J.Locker pass short right to 82-D.Walker to SD 2 for no gain (32-E.Weddle). -- San Diego brought six -- a frequent thing in this half, as I believe they were trying to exploit Chris Johnson's poor blocking -- and Patrick is not the hot read.
2Q: 3-1-TEN 18 (9:42) (Shotgun) 10-J.Locker pass short right to 13-K.Wright to TEN 21 for 3 yards (26-J.Patrick). -- Patrick yields an enormous cushion on third-and-1. This is an easy catch.
2Q: 1-10-TEN 21 (9:07) (Shotgun) 10-J.Locker pass short right to 85-N.Washington pushed ob at SD 44 for 35 yards (32-E.Weddle). -- This is an exact replica of the last play. Patrick gives way too much cushion. This wouldn't be so bad, but his change-of-direction skills when he sees a play happening in front of him are, frankly, not NFL-caliber. To make things worse, he blows the tackle on Nate Washington, allowing a big gain.
2Q: 1-10-SD 44 (8:29) 10-J.Locker pass incomplete deep middle to 15-J.Hunter (32-E.Weddle). -- Tennessee went right back to the scene of their last torching, isolating Justin Hunter out wide on a shot play. Patrick bit on the corner hesitation and Hunter had a wide-open post throw, but Jake Locker was a bit too slow to pull the trigger, and he ran out of end zone real estate so he had to put some arc on the ball and put it up for grabs. Weddle saved Patrick's bacon by skittering into position and breaking it up.
2Q: 1-10-TEN 24 (4:39) 10-J.Locker pass short right to 82-D.Walker pushed ob at TEN 41 for 17 yards (38-M.Gilchrist). -- The throw is there on Patrick, but Locker's first read is Delanie Walker.
2Q: 1-10-SD 36 (2:00) (Shotgun) 10-J.Locker pass deep right to 85-N.Washington to SD 20 for 16 yards (26-J.Patrick). -- Patrick has to recover as Washington runs and out-and-up. Patrick manages to cut off the play, but he has to jam on the breaks as Washington pulls it back. Locker scrambled and bought some time on this play, so I can't give Patrick full credit for the completion, but he was playing from behind in the route from the second Washington moved up the field.
Other than those plays, I also saw a rather disinterested tackler. He blew the one tackle. He also led with his helmet and back on a tackle you won't see Goodell champion on one of his safety highlight reels. On run plays, he was happy to crowd the ball, but he didn't want anything to do with joining the pile. What's that Alex Gibbs said about corners again?
He was better in zone. He generally passed guys off fine. But he wasn't ever really challenged on those instances in the first half.
I was hoping, when I started this, I'd see some indication of why the Saints thought him worth a third-round pick. Instead, I just saw every indication of why they let him go.
by Ben Jones
Neither team has been playing that hot so far this year, and it isn't even cold enough in Buffalo yet to make a joke about that. Baltimore takes their 21st-ranked offensive VOA (13.4% pass and -30.3% rush) against Buffalo’s 17th-ranked defensive VOA (3.8% pass and -7.4% rush). Running successfully with Ray Rice (questionable with a hip) and/or Bernard Pierce may not be in the cards, but passing to Torrey Smith may work. Buffalo has a VOA of 25.6% and is giving up 115 yards a game to No. 1 receivers. On the other side of the ball Buffalo’s 20th-ranked offense (12.9% pass VOA and -18.4% rush VOA) takes on Baltimore’s 20th-ranked defense (14.6% pass VOA and -22.3% rush VOA). Baltimore really has struggled against No. 2 receivers (37.2% VOA, ranked 29th), and is average or better in all other categories, though Buffalo doesn’t seem to be the team to take advantage of this. Nominal No. 2 receiver Robert Woods has just a 39 percent catch rate through three weeks.
The battle of Ohio shall commence! Cincinnati and Cleveland both come in to the contest having taken down an NFC North foe last weekend. That’s where the similarities end. The Browns used every trick in the book to take down the Goliath that is the Minnesota Vikings, whereas the Bengals used a solid defense, a timely fumble recovery touchdown, and a batted-ball fourth-down stand to hold off the Packers. The Bengals are better by almost any measure you can find, though they may struggle against the Browns ninth-ranked defense (-10.2% VOA overall, eighth against the run, 12th against the pass). Looking closer, the Browns have been great against No. 1 wideouts (second-ranked -58.9% VOA), and mediocre or worse against all others. Of course, the Browns have faced the Dolphins, Ravens, and Vikings. Those teams don't have A.J. Green.
105 players will have 10 whole fingers, while one only has nine. Rashad Johnson's missing digit aside, there are plenty of reasons to think that this'll be an ugly game. One of our preseason darlings, the Buccaneers, enters with a new quarterback. Mike Glennon got a scathing review in our Lewin Career Forecast. If you divide Glennon's year 3-5 projections by the system into proper years, then divide again by 16 games, you get an average of -8 DYAR a game. If you divide Josh Freeman's season to date by three games, you get an average of -35.6 DYAR a game. If there's a way of damning with praise fainter than "Mike Glennon could be better than Josh Freeman has so far," nobody has invented it yet.
I picked the Chiefs in my survival league this week. Since I’m an Eagles fan the Giants will dash my hopes again, and defeat the Chiefs due to some bone-headed clock-management by Andy Reid. What’s that Rivers? You want some actual stats to support this? ...Bah!
The Chiefs have been playing excellent football on offense, ranking seventh in both running and passing VOA (7.7% rushing, and 27.7% passing), and lights out on defense (third, -27.4% VOA) with their only weak link coming against the run (8.6% VOA, ranking 29th). (Notice: all three teams who have faced Philadelphia are 27th or worse against the run.) The Giants have a -64.6% VOA when running the ball, so they are not in the best position to take advantage of this perceived weakness, especially once Tom Coughlin's doghouse contains every back on the roster and the Giants are forced to use reverses. The Chiefs have yet to turn the ball over. That seems like a sustainable trend.
As Aaron pointed out in this week’s DVOA rankings, the Jaguars are making a push for the worst team of the DVOA Era. Their VOA is -91.0%. They are mired in year three of a quarterback controversy that no self-respecting franchise would allow to happen, and their roster is expansion-team barren outside of that. Indianapolis’s weakness is on defense (where they have a VOA of 5.5%). And, well, that number should be better next week. Jacksonville has a -68.2% offensive VOA. Seriously. Things might turn around a little for the Jags when Justin Blackmon makes it back to the lineup, but when waiver claim Stephen Burton is your No. 3 receiver -- and even he's out for this game with concussion symptoms -- it's fair to say the talent level matches the results.
A week after being a road favorite, the Lions are a home favorite this week against a Bears team that VOA favors. Does VOA really favor Chicago though? One big advantage for Chicago is in special teams: the Bears have a special teams VOA of 3.0%, good for eighth in the league. The Lions are 30th with a -9.8% VOA, continuing a trend of awful recent special teams play. Luckily for Detroit, their troubles are on kicking field goals and extra points (-6.5 points below expected), which Chicago won’t be able to exacerbate. Removing special teams and giving Detroit a small boost for home-field advantage turns this game into a very even contest. Which is perfect, because under Jim Schwartz, Detroit never tries long field goals and always gets aggressive on fourth down. Or wait, no, the opposite of that.
After last week’s listless performance, the Texans get to face another of last year’s playoff teams. With Seattle’s top ranked defensive VOA (-39.6%, though one of those games was Jaguars-influenced), Houston could really use some short fields. But, since Houston still employs special teams coordinator Joe Marciano, they probably won’t come from Houston’s 32nd-ranked special teams (-13.8%). The Texans get 1.8 points above replacement from their kickoff returns -- in all other special team facets Houston has negative value thusfar.
Looking deeper, Seattle’s defensive "weaknesses" match up well with Houston's strengths. Seattle has their worst VOA against No. 1 receivers (7.3% ranked 19th). That seems like it'd be a good thing to exploit, but Andre Johnson is a game-time decision. Seattle is also only 17th (-10.2% VOA) against the run. For Houston to be successful, their defense needs to dominate Seattle's injury-riddled offensive line. Russell Okung is out. Breno Giacomini and Max Unger are doubtful. A McQuistan brother may start at left tackle. J.J. Watt licks his lips.
For whom does Big Ben toll ... Le’Veon Bell, of course. Can the newly healthy Steelers rookie get their running game (-67.0%, worst in NFL) going in spite of their offensive line (ranked 30th with 2.74 adjusted line yards)? Will Todd Haley allow him more than eight carries, all on two drives? Minnesota is better at defending the pass (-0.6%) than the run (3.2%) by VOA. Minnesota really struggles against running backs in the passing game (35.0% VOA, ranked 28th), so perhaps Le’Veon (and friends) will contribute via the pass. At least until they fumble.
Christian Ponder has a fractured rib and won't play this week. The fortunate thing for the Vikings is that there shouldn't be much of a skip between what Ponder offers and what Matt Cassel offers. The unfortunate thing is that ... there shouldn't be much of a skip between what Ponder offers and what Matt Cassel offers.
If the Jets wear their Titans throwback uniforms this week, could players just switch sides at their own discretion? The Jets are wearing their regular uniforms, thanks a lot No Fun League. Both teams struggle mightily at covering the tight end. The Jets rank 29th (VOA of 44.1%) and the Titans rank 30th (46.0% VOA). On the other hand, neither team has much at tight end to take advantage of this with. Kellen Winslow (!) has a positive DVOA (8.6%). Delanie Walker does not. A couple of years ago, this might have been the game where Jared Cook randomly scored two touchdowns on 10 receptions.
One of these teams is going to be 3-1. That is a thing that will happen.
Will double the days of preparation work for the Eagles, or will they have to resort to magic to defeat the Broncos? The last time these two met, Brian Dawkins had an emotional return to the Linc, Kyle Orton and Donovan McNabb led their teams in passing, Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter led in rushing, and the Eagles eked out an emotional win. I’m just delaying the inevitable: discussing how good Denver is. Because discussing how Peyton Manning will carve up a bad secondary with a first-time rookie starter depresses me. Philadelphia’s defense is worse against the pass (35.2% VOA) than the run (-13.6% VOA). Philadelphia does decently against No. 1 wideouts (-2.1% VOA, ranked 17th) but atrociously against all others.
Denver’s relative weakness is defense (being ranked 12th, not first like offense and special teams). Denver’s defense is very strong against the run (-41.5% VOA ranked second), but weaker against the pass (6.4% VOA, ranked 19th). It'll be a testament to the Chip Kelly run offense if they tack big numbers on Denver. The Broncos are weakest against No. 2 wideouts (19.5% VOA, ranked 19th). Unfortunately for the Eagles, they start Riley Cooper, so odds are they won't be taking advantage of that.
Dallas has been middle of the road in most areas, whereas San Diego is a bit more extreme. The Chargers rank third on offense and 31st on defense. So, will the Chargers offense regress and let them down, or will the defense rise to the occasion and win the day by not blowing a fourth-quarter lead? On offense the Chargers excel at throwing the ball (63.8% VOA) led by Philip Rivers and the surprisingly-relevant Eddie Royal (third among receivers in DYAR with five touchdowns). Dallas struggles most against tight ends, so look for Antonio Gates to have a big day. Royal and Danny Woodhead? Not so much. On defense, the Chargers struggle across the board against the pass (41.8% VOA) ... though they are better against the No. 1 receivers and tight ends than against the rest. Hmmm ... no, you should still start Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.
The eagerly-anticipated Super Bowl XVIII rematch. Will the spirit of Marcus Allen be coaxed by Darren McFadden, or stolen away and used by Alfred Morris, RGIII, and company? The answer to this ludicrous question is, obviously, none of the above. Why would the spirit of Al Davis let Marcus Allen's spirit play at all?
Why am I blathering on about spirits of people? Because watching these two teams play, you can hear the funeral music. The Redskins defense is pulling off the rare feat of being ranked 32nd overall, 32nd against the rush, and 32nd against the pass. Oakland’s average offense (VOA 0.1%, ranked 16th) is not Philadelphia, Green Bay, or Detroit. Terrelle Pryor may miss this game with a concussion. If the Redskins can't hold this offense down, then the problems go far beyond what has already been stated. And a LOT has been stated already.
On the other side of the ball, Washington’s 12th-ranked offense (6.3% VOA) will attempt to feast on Oakland’s 30th-ranked defense (26.0% VOA overall, 43.1% VOA against the pass, and 4.2% VOA against the rush). Oakland struggles mightily against "other" wide receivers and tight ends.
To end the day, we get those pesky, good-for-nothin’ northerner Patriots invading Dixieland and taking on the gentlemanly Falcons. The national consensus is that the Patriots have spit-and-bailing-wired themselves to a 3-0 record against bad teams. In truth, New England has the league’s fourth-best overall defensive VOA and pass defense VOA (-18.7% and -25.1% VOA respectively). They have the best VOA against No. 1 wideouts (-60.5% VOA) in what should be a tough contest against Julio Jones. While this has come against some offenses we perceive as bad, it matches what we thought coming into the season: that the Patriots defense could take the next step.
While the Patriots are 23rd on offense, they should be getting both Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski back shortly. (Both are "Patriots questionable," which could mean anything from "they'll start" to "they’ve grown an extra appendage.") Roddy White is still fighting through a high-ankle sprain and has been rather ineffective thus far. If he continues to be more of a decoy, the Falcons offense could have a rough night.
15 comments, Last at 01 Oct 2013, 1:20pm by Aaron Brooks Good Twin