1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary
1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Aaron Schatz

There seems to be a general belief among fans that the 1990 Giants were one of the luckier Super Bowl champions in NFL history. They beat the defending champion San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship on a last-minute field goal by Matt Bahr, helped in part by injuries that knocked Joe Montana out in the middle of the game. Then Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick put together a defensive game plan to stop the superior Buffalo Bills offense, and the Giants escaped with a miraculous Super Bowl trophy when Scott Norwood went right on what would have been the game-winning field goal.

Today we're adding 1990 into our DVOA database -- unfortunately, we didn't quite get to it in the preseason -- and when it comes to the popular story of the 1990 Giants, our numbers disagree. The DVOA ratings suggest that "wide right" didn't create a big Super Bowl upset; it actually prevented one.

The 1990 Giants are actually quite underrated by history. They started the season 10-0, and set an all-time NFL record with just 14 turnovers. They had the highest DVOA rating of the season, ranking in the top seven in offense, defense, and special teams. Of course, the Giants were not as good a team by the time they got to the playoffs, because they had to replace Phil Simms (20.4% pass DVOA) with Jeff Hostetler (-10.0% pass DVOA), but their wins over Buffalo and San Francisco should not be considered upsets. The Bills were the best offense in the league, but they finished just sixth in overall DVOA because they had an average defense and poor special teams. The 49ers may have gone 14-2, but they were only seventh in DVOA, because they picked on the easiest schedule in the league.

(The Giants and 49ers were both 10-0 heading into Week 12 and were scheduled for Monday Night Football the next week, but the Giants lost to the Eagles and the 49ers lost to the Rams. Despite those losses, the matchup of 10-1 teams still holds the record for the most viewers in Monday Night Football history.)

What about the Super Bowl itself? Well, more bad news for Buffalo fans. According to our ratings, although the Giants outplayed the Bills over the entire season, the Bills outplayed the Giants in that one game... and lost anyway. Although I haven't had a chance yet to run DVOA for all the playoff games of 1989-1990, I did do Super Bowl XXV. Here are the ratings for that game, both adjusted and non-adjusted:

Super Bowl XXV
BUF 30% 50% 14% -7% BUF 10% 38% 21% -7%
NYG 22% 32% 19% 10% NYG 0% 28% 38% 10%

* * * * *

Here are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings for 1990, measured by our proprietary Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system that breaks down every single play and compares a team's performance to the league averaged based on situation and opponent in order to determine value over average. (Explained further here.)

1 NYG 30.8% 6 26.5% 13-3 10.5% 7 -14.4% 4 5.9% 2
2 PHI 28.0% 8 24.8% 10-6 11.1% 6 -15.9% 3 1.0% 11
3 LARD 26.0% 14 19.8% 12-4 20.0% 2 -4.4% 13 1.6% 9

No, no, wait. That doesn't look right. Let's try this again, in the proper 1990 style:

OK, I guess we should run all the separate offense and defense ratings too... OFFENSE and DEFENSE DVOA are adjusted for opponent quality and to consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value. SPECIAL TEAMS DVOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season. NON-ADJ TOTAL VOA does not include these adjustments. DVOA is a better indicator of team quality. VOA is a better indicator of actual wins. WEIGHTED DVOA gives a stronger consideration to games late in the season. Remember that, as always, defense is better when it is NEGATIVE.

1 NYG 30.8% 6 26.5% 13-3 10.5% 7 -14.4% 4 5.9% 2
2 PHI 28.0% 8 24.8% 10-6 11.1% 6 -15.9% 3 1.0% 11
3 LARD 26.0% 14 19.8% 12-4 20.0% 2 -4.4% 13 1.6% 9
4 KC 23.3% 13 27.6% 11-5 8.6% 9 -11.7% 6 3.0% 5
5 WAS 22.4% 10 21.1% 10-6 14.1% 4 -5.7% 11 2.5% 6
6 BUF 21.2% 7 23.8% 13-3 20.9% 1 -2.9% 14 -2.6% 24
7 SF 18.8% 1 21.1% 14-2 12.9% 5 -7.0% 9 -1.1% 17
8 MIA 17.1% 22 19.2% 12-4 9.3% 8 -7.2% 8 0.7% 13
9 CHI 15.0% 11 12.7% 11-5 2.4% 15 -16.3% 2 -3.7% 25
10 PIT 13.8% 18 17.6% 9-7 -8.7% 19 -21.6% 1 0.9% 12
11 SD 10.9% 16 10.3% 6-10 4.1% 13 -7.2% 7 -0.5% 15
12 HOIL 10.1% 20 12.2% 9-7 16.9% 3 1.6% 15 -5.2% 28
13 MIN 4.3% 5 5.7% 6-10 -9.1% 20 -12.8% 5 0.7% 14
14 SEA -0.4% 25 -2.3% 9-7 -4.4% 18 -5.6% 12 -1.6% 21
15 NYJ -7.1% 26 -3.6% 6-10 2.2% 16 12.3% 24 3.1% 4
16 PHX -7.3% 27 -16.2% 5-11 3.5% 14 12.6% 25 1.8% 8
17 DEN -7.5% 4 -11.7% 5-11 5.2% 12 8.4% 19 -4.3% 26
18 DET -8.9% 19 -5.5% 6-10 6.8% 10 14.4% 28 -1.3% 19
19 ATL -11.0% 24 -9.4% 5-11 -13.0% 21 3.0% 17 5.0% 3
20 LARM -11.3% 3 -10.8% 5-11 6.4% 11 13.1% 26 -4.6% 27
21 CIN -12.3% 9 -11.8% 9-7 1.7% 17 11.6% 22 -2.4% 23
22 NO -12.5% 12 -6.9% 8-8 -15.8% 23 2.8% 16 6.1% 1
23 DAL -19.9% 28 -17.4% 7-9 -23.6% 28 -5.9% 10 -2.1% 22
24 GB -21.1% 15 -25.5% 6-10 -13.6% 22 8.9% 20 1.4% 10
25 IND -24.0% 17 -25.8% 7-9 -16.3% 24 7.1% 18 -0.6% 16
26 CLE1 -30.3% 2 -38.9% 3-13 -20.3% 26 12.2% 23 2.2% 7
27 TB -30.7% 21 -27.7% 6-10 -19.9% 25 9.5% 21 -1.4% 20
28 NE -38.0% 23 -40.3% 1-15 -23.4% 27 13.4% 27 -1.3% 18
  • ESTIMATED WINS uses a statistic known as "Forest Index" that emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles.
  • WEIGHTED DVOA is adjusted so that earlier games in the season become gradually less important. It better reflects how the team was playing at the end of the season.
  • 1990 SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#28, most negative).
  • PYTHAGOREAN WINS represent a projection of the team's expected wins based solely on points scored and allowed.
  • VARIANCE measures the statistical variance of the team's weekly DVOA performance. Teams are ranked from most consistent (#1, lowest variance) to least consistent (#28, highest variance).

RANK 1990
1 NYG 30.8% 13-3 13.1 2 25.0% 5 1.6% 10 11.9 2 12.1% 9
2 PHI 28.0% 10-6 12.1 3 33.4% 1 -0.7% 15 10.7 6 7.5% 2
3 LARD 26.0% 12-4 13.3 1 27.1% 4 5.1% 3 10.1 9 3.3% 1
4 KC 23.3% 11-5 11.4 5 30.8% 2 -2.2% 19 11.3 4 8.5% 3
5 WAS 22.4% 10-6 11.2 6 20.0% 7 3.3% 9 10.2 8 18.8% 21
6 BUF 21.2% 13-3 10.2 7 28.3% 3 -2.0% 18 12.3 1 20.2% 23
7 SF 18.8% 14-2 11.5 4 20.4% 6 -6.4% 28 11.4 3 10.2% 5
8 MIA 17.1% 12-4 10.0 9 10.3% 11 -0.8% 16 10.9 5 17.9% 20
9 CHI 15.0% 11-5 9.6 10 0.5% 15 -5.3% 25 10.0 10 28.0% 28
10 PIT 13.8% 9-7 10.2 8 19.3% 8 -5.0% 24 9.8 11 24.9% 26
11 SD 10.9% 6-10 9.1 11 16.2% 10 0.0% 13 9.1 12 13.7% 11
12 HOIL 10.1% 9-7 9.0 12 19.3% 9 -3.1% 20 10.6 7 17.4% 19
13 MIN 4.3% 6-10 7.3 15 3.6% 13 1.0% 11 8.7 13 15.8% 17
14 SEA -0.4% 9-7 8.6 13 6.1% 12 4.5% 6 8.6 14 10.6% 6
RANK 1990
15 NYJ -7.1% 6-10 6.4 18 -4.0% 17 -5.9% 26 6.5 20 13.9% 12
16 PHX -7.3% 5-11 7.3 14 -0.9% 16 4.3% 7 4.5 26 24.6% 25
17 DEN -7.5% 5-11 6.3 20 -12.7% 20 5.6% 2 6.8 19 11.2% 7
18 DET -8.9% 6-10 6.8 16 1.6% 14 0.4% 12 7.0 18 15.1% 14
19 ATL -11.0% 5-11 6.4 19 -17.3% 22 -3.3% 21 7.5 17 14.2% 13
20 LARM -11.3% 5-11 5.7 22 -12.2% 19 -1.6% 17 6.2 21 13.7% 10
21 CIN -12.3% 9-7 6.6 17 -13.4% 21 -6.2% 27 8.2 15 19.4% 22
22 NO -12.5% 8-8 5.9 21 -5.4% 18 -4.1% 22 8.0 16 9.6% 4
23 DAL -19.9% 7-9 5.4 23 -18.3% 23 4.7% 4 5.9 22 21.5% 24
24 GB -21.1% 6-10 4.3 26 -26.7% 25 -0.5% 14 5.7 24 15.3% 15
25 IND -24.0% 7-9 5.0 24 -21.3% 24 4.6% 5 5.9 23 15.6% 16
26 CLE1 -30.3% 3-13 4.8 25 -37.8% 28 4.1% 8 2.4 27 17.3% 18
27 TB -30.7% 6-10 3.7 27 -36.9% 27 -4.6% 23 5.0 25 26.4% 27
28 NE -38.0% 1-15 2.9 28 -36.2% 26 7.1% 1 1.7 28 11.8% 8

DVOA for 1990 is now listed in the stats pages:

The Giants are boosted to the top of the ratings in part by a difficult schedule in the NFL's best division. We hear people talk about the NFC East that way these days and laugh, but in the late 80s and early 90s it really was the best. Just ask any frustrated Eagles fans who went through year after year of just-missing Buddy Ryan teams. The Eagles finished second in DVOA for 1990, but lost in the Wild Card round to another NFC East team, Washington. (Washington, of course, would then go on to dominate the league the following year.)

Another strong division was the AFC West. The Raiders and Chiefs finished third and fourth overall in DVOA, although neither could make it out of the AFC playoff bracket. It's also interesting to see the Chargers ranked 11th at 6-10. They got even less lucky the following year, when they finished 14th in DVOA but went just 4-12. In 1992 they finally broke through with an 11-5 season, ranking 10th in DVOA. So their DVOA rating stayed basically the same for three years while the team went from six wins to four to 11.

Also in the AFC West was Denver, one of three teams that took a huge tumble in the DVOA ratings in 1990. The Broncos dropped from fourth to 17th, the Rams dropped from third to 20th, and most remarkably, the Browns plummeted from second overall to 26th. We talked about that Browns team when we did the 1989 DVOA commentary a couple weeks ago. The team had gotten old, so their drop in 1990 probably makes more sense than their ranking of second in DVOA in 1989. However, there wasn't a lot of roster turnover here. The Browns had only four new starters on offense (three linemen and a fullback) and two new starters on defense. They also had a new offensive coordinator; head coach Bud Carson didn't get along with the guy who had run the offense in 1988 and 1989, some guy named Marc Trestman. One of the biggest issues for this Cleveland team was turnovers. The 1989 team was top five in fewest interceptions, fewest fumbles, and most interceptions forced. The 1990 team was bottom five in those same categories on offense, and missed the bottom five of interceptions on defense by just one pick.

What about the other two tumbling teams? The 1990 Broncos were one of the first teams to stand out for suffering the "Super Bowl Loser's Curse." The offense was just as good as it had been the year before, but the defense dropped from fourth to 19th in DVOA (they picked off only 10 passes in 1990), while special teams fell from 14th to 26th. The Rams dropped off in all three phases of the game; they started most of the same players, but had a hole at inside linebacker where Mel Owens retired and Fred Strickland only started five games before an injury.

[ad placeholder 3]

The New England Patriots were by far the worst team in the league in 1990, earning them the right to... trade the No. 1 overall pick to Dallas for the No. 11 pick, the No. 41 pick, two part-time starting linebackers (David Howard, Eugene Lockhart), and a defensive back who never played again (Ron Francis). The Cowboys took defensive tackle Russell Maryland to add to a defense which had already been 10th in DVOA in 1990. The Cowboys' offense, on the other hand, was dead last in the league in DVOA during the first year with all three triplets. The following year, the Cowboys' offense improved from 28th to fourth, but the defense dropped from 10th to 24th. You weren't expecting year-to-year consistency, were you?

Now let's take a look at the best and worst players of 1990, by position:

Quarterbacks: The Houston Oilers used the run and shoot, and that had Warren Moon shooting, and shooting, and then shooting some more. Moon had 620 pass plays, one of only two quarterbacks over 550 passes. (The other was Jim Everett at 585.) Moon did all that shooting well enough to lead the league with 1,544 passing DYAR, significantly ahead of second-place Dan Marino at 1,265 passing DYAR. Moon's biggest day came against Kansas City in Week 15, with 527 passing yards and 267 passing DYAR. Then he was injured against Cincinnati the following week. That meant Cody Carlson had to start Week 17 in a "win or go home" scenario against Pittsburgh, the top-ranked pass defense of the year according to DVOA. No problem for Commander Cody! Carlson threw three touchdowns and had 161 DYAR as the Oilers won 34-14.

Moon was only fourth in passing DVOA, behind three other quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts. Two of those names will probably surprise, and the other will not. The top quarterback by DVOA was Jay Schroeder of the Raiders. It probably helped that his offense was so built around Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson; Schroeder threw just 21 passes per game. He also gets a statistical boost from a difficult schedule, playing seven games against teams that finished in the top eight of DVOA pass defense. Jim Kelly of Buffalo was second in pass DVOA, while Steve DeBerg of Kansas City was third in pass DVOA with a career year that included 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

The worst quarterback of the year was Tampa Bay's Chris Chandler, who finished dead last with -438 DYAR despite just 100 pass plays. Chandler completed barely 50 percent of his passes for just 5.6 yards per attempt with only one touchdown, six interceptions, and 15 sacks. Even worse, but on fewer passes, was Dallas backup Babe Laufenberg. He also had one touchdown and six interceptions, but completed just 36 percent of his passes for 4.2 yards per attempt. That works out to -374 DYAR and -97.4% DVOA. Yikes.

Of course, no discussion of 1990 quarterbacks is possible without talking about QB EAGLES, a.k.a. the great Randall Cunningham. Passing the ball, Cunningham was 11th in both DVOA and DYAR. That's nice, but that's not why Tecmo Super Bowl players remember QB EAGLES. They remember the man who carried the ball 105 times for a ridiculous 949 yards with five touchdowns and turned safeties into touchdown passes with plays like this. Cunningham's 1990 season easily sets a new record for the most running value by a quarterback in a single season:

Highest Rushing DYAR in a Season, 1989-2012
Player Year Team Runs Yds TD FUM DVOA DYAR
Randall Cunningham 1990 PHI 105 949 5 3 44.8% 297
Michael Vick 2006 ATL 119 1,038 2 4 35.2% 261
Michael Vick 2004 ATL 106 919 3 2 29.7% 241
Steve McNair 1998 TEN 66 573 4 1 49.2% 214
Daunte Culpepper 2000 MIN 72 490 7 0 39.5% 209
Donovan McNabb 2002 PHI 57 469 6 1 50.4% 200
Michael Vick 2010 PHI 90 681 9 3 29.0% 192
Rich Gannon 2000 OAK 74 545 4 1 38.5% 189
Cam Newton 2011 CAR 117 718 14 0 14.5% 188
Steve Young 1991 SF 58 421 4 0 47.4% 186

Running Backs: Barry Sanders led the league with 1,304 rushing yards in 1990, on 5.1 yards per carry, and also leads the league in rushing DYAR. This is actually the first year in our database with Sanders on top, although his total of 330 rushing DYAR is actually lower than his total when he finished second in 1994, 1996, and 1997. Sanders also led running backs with 67.0% receiving DVOA and was second (very close behind Kansas City's Todd McNair) with 186 receiving DYAR.

Marion Butts finished second in rushing DYAR in his only 1,000-yard rushing season. New Orleans fullback Craig "Ironhead" Heyward was a surprising third with 202 DYAR on only 129 carries, because he led all running backs (minimum 100 carries) in both DVOA and Success Rate. Actually, what's surprising about Heyward leading the league in DVOA is that Bo Jackson didn't lead the league in DVOA during his Tecmo Bo year. He was fifth with 18.7% DVOA, partly due to opponent adjustments, and he was just 14th in DYAR because he had only 125 carries.

The least valuable running back was actually a player with less than 100 carries, who therefore doesn't qualify for our rankings. Rookie Leroy Hoard of Cleveland had 2.6 yards per carry on 58 carries with four fumbles, leading to -104 rushing DYAR. It's pretty amazing that a guy who started out like that had a 10-year career. The lowest rushing DYAR for a player with at least 100 carries belonged to Tim Worley of the Steelers, who had a 36 percent Success Rate with just 3.8 yards per carry. Then came Christian Okoye, who had just 805 yards on 245 carries after getting cooked by the Curse of 370.

Two more interesting names: First, rookie Emmitt Smith had 131 rushing DYAR (16th) and 4.3% DVOA (19th), although he was lousy as a receiver with -40.7% receiving DVOA. Also, Roger Craig hit the wall in astonishing fashion. He had just 3.1 yards per carry, which gave him -20.3% rushing DVOA. Even more remarkable, Craig was a replacement-level receiver: -14.8% DVOA and -2 DYAR.

[ad placeholder 4]

Wide Receivers: Jerry Rice led all receivers in DYAR again, although this was not one of his better seasons. The value here was more about volume than usual, as Rice was listed with 174 pass targets. Andre Rison was the only other receiver over 140 targets. Rice had a catch rate of just 57 percent and was 16th with 10.6% receiving DVOA -- good, but not what we think of as Rice-quality. It was actually a bit of a turning point year for Rice. It was his first year with at least 100 catches, but his yards per reception average fell to 15.0 after being above 18.0 in four of his first five seasons, and it was never over 15.5 yards per reception again.

Rice did have one of his biggest individual days in Week 5 against Atlanta, with 13 catches for 225 yards and five touchdowns. That day was worth 110 receiving DYAR, putting it just below the top ten wide receiver days in DVOA history.

The remarkable thing about the 1990 wide receiver stats page isn't Rice or Mark Jackson of the Broncos, who ranked second in DYAR. Look at the way that Moon spread the ball around to the four receivers in the Houston Oilers' run-and-shoot. Haywood "I'm Not a Group of Jeffs" Jeffires finished third in DYAR. Ernest Givins was fourth. Drew Hill was seventh. Curtis Duncan was eighth. That's four wide receivers in the top eight for DYAR, each with at least 60 catches and 750 receiving yards.

The least valuable wide receiver of 1990 was Brett Perriman of New Orleans, at -129 receiving DYAR.

Tight Ends: The top three tight ends in receiving DYAR are really, really unsurprising: Brent Jones, Keith Jackson, and Mark Bavaro. That's pretty much the best tight ends of 1990 right there. Chicago's James Thornton had one of the lowest tight end seasons ever with -126 DYAR; he caught just 19 of 48 passes with one touchdown even though the Bears played eight games against the eight defenses with the worst DVOA against tight ends.

Here are some more fun tidbits about the 1990 season. Thanks again to Jeremy Snyder for putting these all together and finding video. Jeremy was also responsible for our Tecmo Super Bowl DVOA graphic above, and for transcribing all the 1989 and 1990 play-by-play.

  • In a weird bit of scheduling, the NFL put three games in Week 1 where new head coaches faced the team they had run just one year before Jerry Glanville's Falcons beat the Oilers 47-27, but Bruce Coslet's Jets blew a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead against the Bengals and Joe Bugel's Cardinals were blanked 31-0 by the Redskins.
  • Emmitt Smith held out as a rookie and signed just two days before the first game of the season, so the Cowboys started former Washington Super Bowl hero Timmy Smith. Smith's line: six carries, six yards, -12 DYAR, cut, never played in the NFL again.
  • The Dolphins played the Giants in Week 2, which was actually the first game between these teams since 1972. The Giants had finished fifth three times when the old schedule rotation had the top four teams in the AFC East and NFC East playing each other the next season. The other time the AFC East and NFC East played each other was 1987, and the Giants-Dolphins game was in Week 3, the only week cancelled by the strike. 
  • Patriots haters have fond memories of the Lisa Olson incident in Week 3 of 1990, which was not very good for Victor Kiam's reputation.
  • Cincinnati's World Series run led to the Bengals playing five straight road games from Week 4 through Week 8. Oh, multipurpose stadiums, you are so missed by nobody! In the final week of this streak, Jerry Glanville ran out of one of the Atlanta Braves' dugouts to avoid shaking Sam Wyche's hand when the game was over (video here).
  • In Week 8, the 49ers picked off Cleveland quarterback Mike Pagel on three straight plays. I don't mean three straight Cleveland plays. I mean three straight plays, period, because the first two picks were cancelled by offside penalties on San Francisco.
  • Legend of Buddy Ryan, 1990 Edition, Part I: With the Eagles beating the Vikings by five with 1:58 to go in Week 6, Buddy Ryan sent Roger Ruzek out for a 19-yard field-goal attempt on third-and-goal. This actually is less ridiculous than it seems: without the two-point conversion available in 1990, the field goal basically iced the game about as much as a touchdown would, and the third-down attempt would have allowed for a second attempt if the snap had been botched on the first one.
  • Legend of Buddy Ryan, 1990 Edition, Part II: Week 10 brought us The Body Bag Game. Here's the NFL Top 10 feature on that game. Running back Brian Mitchell ended up as the quarterback on the final Washington drive and actually led the team down the field for a garbage touchdown. He completed 3-of-5 passes for 40 yards, plus a 13-yard DPI and a 3-yard sack: 45.5% DVOA, 31 DYAR.
  • Derrick Thomas set an NFL record with seven sacks against the Seahawks in Week 10, but he couldn't take down Dave Krieg on the final play as Krieg hit Paul Skansi in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
  • Against Pittsburgh in Week 12, the Jets punted on third-and-24 from their own 16, midway through the second quarter. Ken O'Brien was no Randall Cunningham or even Matt Cassel; the punt went 23 yards and was returned for 12.
  • When is a punt not a punt? In overtime of a Week 14 game against Miami, Jeff Feagles of Philadelphia kicked a bad punt snap directly off the ground. The kick was downed by the Eagles 23 yards downfield and treated as a punt. However, since Feagles never had possession of the ball, there was no punt. It should have been a fumble, recovered by Philadelphia, followed by an illegal kick penalty that would give the Eagles the ball with a ten-yard penalty from the line of scrimmage. Instead, Miami drove the short field for the winning field goal. This article tries to explain.
  • In a Week 16 game against Pittsburgh, the Browns lost fumbles on each of their first three plays from scrimmage. They eventually tied the NFL record by losing eight fumbles during the game.
  • From the Cleveland Plain-Dealer report on Week 17's loss to Cincinnati: "The Browns got off to a shaky start in the second half, getting caught with their pants down, so to speak. On the first play from scrimmage, the Browns' defense had only nine men on the field and were forced to use a timeout... What happened is we were wet and everybody was changing clothes (in the locker room)," [interim head coach Jim] Shofner said. "And a couple of our young linemen just didn't get it done in time."

As noted earlier, all 1989 and 1990 stats are now available on the usual stat pages. However, 1989 and 1990 have not yet been added to the Premium database, and they are not yet listed on player pages. We'll be working on that over the next few weeks and we'll let everyone know when we finally get things updated.


65 comments, Last at 17 Jul 2019, 9:32pm

1 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Fantastic work, the Techmo graphic was the best.

For some reason in my brain, I remember that Niner's game where they kept intercepting it. I was a Niner's fan, and somehow that recalls the memory. Or my brain is making it up.

So weird to look back on the old seasons with advanced stats, easily my favorite article of the year. Thanks so much!

5 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

We have data on Smith and Sanders first 10 years now. Here is how they compare for their first 10 years (Note: Smith played 5 more years where he compiled 4400 yards and 28 TD):

Smith: 2900 rush DYAR, 12.64% rush DVOA, 51.1% success rate
Sanders: 2376 rush DYAR, 11.00% rush DVOA, 47.1% Success rate

Smith: -164 rec DYAR, -19.49% rec DVOA, 81.3% catch rate
Sanders: 302 rec DYAR, -1.26% rec DVOA, 70.5% catch rate

Smith: 2736 total DYAR
Sanders: 2678 total DYAR

That's basically even especially when you consider Smith had 181 more rush attempts, and 45 more pass attempts

43 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Even in output/production... I think most would agree Smith had considerably more assistance in producing such output from his surrounding offense however.

Both are great players and I'm in no way disparaging Smith, but in context Smith was a key cog in a smooth running race car... Sanders was basically dragging a broken down jalopy behind him as far as he could take it.

56 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

The whole "Barry Sanders was the only player worth a damn on his team and won 10 games a year by himself" rhetoric has become ridiculously overblown over the years. Yes, his quarterbacks were rubbish, but he had multiple multi-time Pro Bowlers on his offensive line and Herman Moore was one of the most underrated receivers of all time (he's basically been forgotten because Sanders' acolytes would rather perpetuate a myth than honestly evaluate the talent of his teammates), his defences / special teams were usually ok. There was talent on those teams.

I remember one of the first articles on this site was (Lions fan) MDS doing a piece comparing a running back to his backups. He was surprised that Sanders' backups actually had a better average than Emmitt "product of the greatest line ever who was never touched until he was 5 yards downfield" Smith's backups over the years. Yeah, Smith's backup's were garbage, but Sanders' backups never amounted to anything either, so I'd say the difference between their respective offensive lines has been massively overstated over the years.

It seems like the narrative has gone from "Barry's teammates weren't as good as Emmitt's" to "Barry's teammates weren't good".

57 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

The difference in their lines was significant. Then add in the fact that one had a FB and TE blocking most of the time and the gap widens further. Lomas Brown and Kevin Glover were the only linemen of note on the Lions while Barry played. Both were drafted in 1985.

1985: Att:18 Yards:26 RushTDs:20 YPC:28
1986: Att:16 Yards:15 RushTDs:16 YPC:19
1987: Att:25 Yards:25 RushTDs:23 YPC:24
1988: Att:26 Yards:27 RushTDs:28 YPC:28

The 4 years of the Lions with Lomas Brown and Kevin Glover (without Barry) the didn't have a single rushing stat in the top 1/2 of the league and were dead last in several stats multiple years. The year prior to Barry arriving the perennial all pro/pro bowl lineman were able to bulldoze the way for their RBs to be last in the league in YPC, last in the league in rushing TDs, and second to last in yards. Take the literal worst rushing team in the league (and one of the worst offenses in history) and add Barry Sanders and here are the results.

1989: Att:20 Yards:8 RushTDs:1 YPC:1

Barry takes the Lions from worst to first in TDs and YPC. He leads them to a top 10 finish in yards despite still only ranking 20th in carries. No one, not Payton, Brown, LT, Smith, Faulk, Simpson, Dorsett etc. etc. have had such a dramatic effect on a team. That wasn't because Brown and Glover all of a sudden learned how to block - it was because you put the GOAT RB in the backfield.

61 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

I agree with almost all your comment. I would only nitpick this:

"Then add in the fact that one had a FB and TE blocking most of the time and the gap widens further. "

Obviously, one of the whole points of the run-and-shoot was to reduce the overall body mass in the "pit," giving the RB more space in which to operate. I would be very surprised if run-and-shoot backs had a lower rate of success than their pro-set counterparts.

lllll AJ

62 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

I wouldn't be. Yes, you're trying to clear out the box to make more running room, but the point of the run'n'shoot is to create big plays. I would expect run'n'shoot offenses in general to have lower success rates at everything, but compensate with higher yards per play.

Or to look at it from the opposite perspective, the point of running from an I-form with a TE and FB, and pulling guard, is that you're basically guaranteed* to get 2-3 yards because you have a bunch of blockers at the point of attack.

I would imagine that run'n'shoot backs get tackled in the backfield a more than traditional I-form backs, especially prior to the last 10 years or so.

63 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

"but the point of the run'n'shoot is to create big plays."

Oh, strongly disagree. I think the R&S was much more of a ball-control offense than was, say, the Coryell system -- that fact was just overlooked because people saw four wide receivers and a single running back (the "ace," as that formation was often called back then) and instinctively associated that with Hail Marys and similar big-play situations. But if you dropped all your defenders ten yards deep, a good R&S team would cheerfully chip away at you all day with underneath crossing routes and off-tackle runs.

In the Lions' case, we just got used to seeing big plays because of Sanders. But Sanders wasn't the typical back for that system -- or any system, really. More typical would have been backs like Ironhead Heyward, Lorenzo White, Gary Brown, Steve Broussard, etc.

lllll AJ

64 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Except the Lions were horrible at running the Silver Stretch. Mitchell had 1 fluke year but the other years teams didn't have to respect the pass. It was pretty sad when the Lions make the NFC Championship game and the Redskins don't even leave their base D. The Lions would trot out 4 WR sets and the Skins would leave all their LBs/DL on the field. Barry's rookie year was the only time I remember teams really playing a lot of nickel and dime Ds. Once they realized the Lions couldn't pass there was no reason to keep the run stoppers off the field.

Also, once Barry did get a regular FB and TE on the field he ran for 2K yards.

6 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

"LARD" is almost as good a team name as the "Loins," with the added bonus of not having been devised by the creative genius that is RaiderJoe.

7 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

I thought the perception that it was a huge upset was in light of the 51-3 and 15-13 conference championship games, plus the Giants' dependence on Hostetler instead of Simms. The Bills probably would've had the higher dvoa if the playoff games were included in an 18 game season (though rolling the Bears and upsetting the 2-time defending champs on the road wasn't too shabby, either)

8 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

The fortunate part of the Giants win over the Niners in the NFCCG was that they obtained possession of the ball, leading to the winning field goal at the end of the game, via what was essentially an unforced turnover, when Roger Craig dropped a handoff. That dropped handoff did more to affect coaching reputations than just about any play I can think of. Without it......

Parcells doesn't get his 2nd Super Bowl victory, and although I think he was a HOF coach without it, I guarantee you the anti-Parcells movement would have been much more powerful absent a 2nd Lombardi.

Belichik doesn't receive his Certified Defensive Genius designation. Who knows what happens; just being in a different spot than Tom Brady may have been huge.

If the Bills beat the Niners, Marv Levy's reputation would have received a huge boost.

If the Niners beat the Bills, George Seifert likely never gets fired from the Niners, never has a disaster in Carolina, and retires with 3 or more Lombardis, and the highest winning percentage among all NFL coaches. He becomes a slam dunk HOFer, and is spoken of in the same breath as the recognised GOAT coaches, instead of being largely forgotten.

I knew it was weird play when I saw it live, but I had no idea just how weird.

12 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

via what was essentially an unforced turnover, when Roger Craig dropped a handoff

Officially, the fumble was forced by Erik Howard's helmet. Craig certainly had possession after the handoff.

Craig also fumbled at the beginning of that drive at the 49ers' 24, but the 49ers recovered. (And the Giants somehow didn't recover this Joe Montana fumble on the previous drive with the score 13-9.)

14 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Two things you left out if the 49ers had held on to win:

1) Steve Young starts the Super Bowl with one week's preparation.

2) Bill Parcells either stays with the Giants or decides to leave before Belichick and Coughlin are hired for other jobs. Ray Handley goes on to law school.

16 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

That's one reason why I mentioned the fact that the Bills may have indeed beaten the Niners, and say that it is hard to say whatever would have happened to Belichik's career. He very likely becomes a head coach, but misses the Browns debacle. Having missed it however, maybe he misses the chance to eventually have a HOFer as a qb, and like I said, who knows what happens.

28 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

it is hard to say whatever would have happened to Belichik's career. He very likely becomes a head coach, but misses the Browns debacle.

The end of his tenure in Cleveland qualifies as a "debacle," but because Modell was moving the team, not because of his coaching job. There's a perception (I'm not accusing you of sharing it) that his entire term with the Browns was a disaster, and that's not the truth. He took over a bad team and built a good one, beating the Patriots in the playoffs the year before it all melted down. Certainly, his tenure in New England has had some "right place, right time" aspects to it, and he certainly made mistakes in Cleveland, but it's hard to believe that he wouldn't have succeeded as a head coach somewhere.

29 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Bill Belichick, Ozzie Newsome, Nick Saban, and Thomas Dmitroff were all on the same staff in Cleveland. That's friggin' absurd in retrospect.

(Ok, fine, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, and Scott Pioli were there, too, but that was before they got promoted above their competency. They were fine in their roles at the time)

50 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

"Who knows what happens; just being in a different spot than Tom Brady may have been huge."

Meh, I'd bet that for 60+% of the coaches in the NFL, Brady ends up back on the bench as soon as Bledsoe is healthy, and ends up as a footnote somewhere.

In 2001 Brady was still a kid who was too skinny to develop into anything, and didn't have the arm strength to be an NFL quarterback. Belichick deserves atleast some credit for sticking with the upstart non-prospect over his Franchise QB. I don't think most coaches would have.

And as a corrolary to that, while I think Brady is a once in a lifetime kind of find, I would bet that there have been more than a few NFL caliber QBs who never got a real shot because of bad coaching/talent management.

53 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

The point was that if even a great coach doesn't have the luck of getting a great qb on his roster (even if the great coach deserves credit for recognizing his talent once he lands on the roster), the great coach's reputation can take a severe beating.

9 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

When was Derrick Thomas' sack record for a single game surpassed? PFR has the Seahawks game as the current record:


10 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

It should have been a fumble, recovered by Philadelphia, followed by an illegal kick penalty that would give the Eagles the ball with a ten-yard penalty from the line of scrimmage.

Not quite: you mean to say "that would result in Eagles ball, *or* a ten-yard penalty from the line of scrimmage and a replay of the down." It'd be bizarre if you could magically get possession again by illegally kicking the ball, after all.

11 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Interesting to see Parcell's Giants' special teams were 1 and 2 in consecutive years. Parcells was always very big on special teams play so it'd be interesting if he was able to keep them play at a consistently high level even though it seems ST are highly variable.

15 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Aaron, do you have the PBP data for the 1988 or earlier seasons? I hope you can introduce them next offseason. I find the 1988 49ers fascinating. A 10-6 SB winner. They might become the worst DVOA for a SB champion.

40 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Aaron's right; there's no way the '88 Niners are the worst DVOA champ. They had a plus-75 point differential, and that includes a 22-point blowout loss in the final game when the Niners rested their starters. They only had one other big loss, against Atlanta in week 3 when they outgained the Falcons but turned it over four times. Overall they were in a bunch of really close games, with 8 of their games decided by a total of 21 points (the Niners went 4-4 in those games). Also they came on strong late in the season and in the playoffs, so their weighted DVOA would have been much better than their overall DVOA.

59 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Also, if there was a ever a case of record and DVOA underrating a team's true ability, the 1988 Niners would be a classic case. They were 13-2 in 1987 and will probably be the #1 DVOA team that year, and were 14-2 in 1989 and the #1 DVOA team that year as well, with the same core of players. Montana was hurt a lot in 1988 and Walsh spent the first 11 games of the season flipping back and forth between Montana and Young, with mixed results, as Young was still pretty raw and played poorly (with the exception of that miracle run against the Vikings). They started 6-5. Then Montana got healthy, Walsh settled on him as the QB, and the team reeled off a 39-5 stretch that included two Super Bowls before losing the 1990 NFCCG to New York.

18 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

The week 16 game in Pittsburgh where the Browns fumbled on their first three plays was especially gratifying to the home crowd because of Cleveland's 51-0 victory in the 1989 opener.

19 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

I'm just amazed to the Raiders up there at #3. That 1990 season was a ray of hope for the fans after the downturns in 1987 & 88. It seemed to me that Jay Schroeder had his one decent year because Steve Beuerlein held out and wasn't looking over his shoulder.

The hiring of Art Shell in '89 seemed to bring back the Raider way and I guess the Bed & Breakfast offense wasn't as bad as it was by the time 2006 rolled around.

The blowout by halftime in the AFC Championship game was just devastating after everything that season had promised.

20 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Looking at those ratings for the Superbowl performance is quite interesting. History's painted that one as Parcells / Bellichick's greatest moment, but it looks like their offense did much more to win the game than their defence did.

27 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

When people ask why pre-season DVOA projections don't spit out 14-2 records, this is what they should probably look at:

11. SD 10.9% (6-10)

13. MIN 4.3% (6-10)

21. CIN -12.3% (9-7)

22. NO -12.5% (8-8)

Just because you have an above average ranked DVOA does not guarantee that you will win more of your games than you lose.

Of course, the opposite is also true. You can have a below-average DVOA, and go .500 or better.

Even when there is a 14-2 team, there is no guarantee that it will be a top-5 team by DVOA, as shown by SF (#7), which is ranked lower than two different 10-6 teams.

Then you have a 6-10 team as the 2nd worst team in the league, barely behind a 3-13 team.

When averaged out 10,000 times, this is probably why a LOT of records gravitate between 6 and 10 wins, as extremes are incredibly hard to forecast and unlikely to happen.

51 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

The fact that there are a couple of historical examples where the prediction would be way off is no reason to hedge all of your predictions so badly that they're basically meaningless.

Also, a 0 +/- 10% DVOA team is basically average. The 14-2 argument was talking about DVOA teams that are in the +30% range, which pretty much always win more than 10 games.

25 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Here's the effect of Super Tecmo Bowl on my life...I remember how good the teams were from that year more by how good they were in Super Tecmo Bowl than by remembering actual games. When I first looked at the rankings I thought for sure there was no way the Broncos could've gone 5-11 that year because I remember easily winning the Tecmo Super Bowl with them.

26 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

"The Browns got off to a shaky start in the second half, getting caught with their pants down, so to speak. On the first play from scrimmage, the Browns' defense had only nine men on the field and were forced to use a timeout... What happened is we were wet and everybody was changing clothes (in the locker room)," [interim head coach Jim] Shofner said. "And a couple of our young linemen just didn't get it done in time."

That kind of thing can also happen to veterans as the same thing happened to Desmond Howard against the 49ers in Green Bay in the 96 playoffs. It was raining the entire game (that cold, barely above freezing January rain, might I add) and all of sudden I see Andre Rison making an ill-fated attempt to field a kickoff resulting in a turnover. Turns out Howard was in the locker room changing his uniform and the return unit was suddenly missing a key component. The end result was nil as the Packers won easily so it makes for a good story. On a side note my future wife was at that game and she said that was the coldest she's ever been in her life.

32 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

If I remember the story correct: Buddy Ryan angered Shula in the preseason driving for a game winning field goal late in a meaningless preseason game. Word is after the regular season game Shula told Buddy Ryan quote "That's the field goal that counts." and then walked off the field.

34 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Sort of. In the preseason, the Eagles recovered a fumble with 3 seconds left, then kicked a truly meaningless 40-yard field goal to make the final score 23-14.

Shula: "I wouldn't expect anything different (from Ryan). It's something we'll remember."

(2013 equivalent: In the final week of the preseason, up 21-20, the Patriots took possession on the Giants' 9 with ten seconds left and had Tim Tebow throw a pass into the end zone.)

42 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

I always thought the "upset" talk about this Super Bowl had more to do with Jeff Hostetler than any sort of indictment on the Giants team itself. If Simms had played I highly doubt the matchup would be considered as lopsided as it was.

46 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

I'm surprised there isn't a bit more discussion of week 12, given that it was the first time every division leader lost in the same week since they went to 6 divisions. (Counting Cincinnati as the AFC Central leader, since they were 6-4 at the time and Houston/Pittsburgh were both 5-5).

47 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

I just heard Parcells on the radio talk about how confident he was & kept emphasizing they had stopped Buffalo in both the preseason & reg. season. I thought that was a little strange because:
A) Lol preseason
B) They lost at home in December (17-13, Kelly & Simms both hurt. Like the Super Bowl, there were 0 turnovers in this game).
Close game granted, but when you get down to it he's basically saying "we didn't get blown out at home". Well yah, elite teams usually don't.

Anyway the Bills weighted # being better is expected. I figured they would be punished a bit for their early 3game home stretch vs the Broncos/Raiders/Jets filled with lucky defensive & special teams TD sparked wins. It took a bit for the offense to hit its stride.
I wonder if they were also punished for laying down vs the Redskins in Game 16 though?

48 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Aaron, I asked you about the Super Bowl Losers Curse a few years back, and you said that you didn't think that the SB losers decline any more than would be expected based on aging players regressing from higher than expected performance. Is the fact that you're bringing it up here just a nod and a wink to the fact that it doesn't really exist, or has your thinking changed?

52 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Oh, multipurpose stadiums, you are so missed by nobody!

Even without them (is Oakland the only one left?), the Baltimore Ravens still got (slightly) screwed in 2013.

54 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

I have been waiting for this column for a year, since I read the 1991 column. I was six years old in 1990, and this is the first season that I can remember watching. Obviously I remember almost nothing from that year--other than it being awesome--but I have three distinct memories from games that I watched live (not counting Norwood's miss, which I had to watch on tape because of bedtime restrictions):

1. Tecmo Bo's 88-yard run against Cincinnati in the regular season.

2. ABC showing pictures of Steve DeBerg's hand with screws in it prior to KC's wild card matchup against my Dolphins.

3. Jim Kelly completely destroying the Dolphins in the snow a week later.* That was probably the saddest day of my life up to that point.

*Bonus memory from that game: Roy Foster's guard-eligible Fat Man Touchdown catch. I found that game online about a year ago, but it appears to have been taken down.

60 Re: 1990 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

"and when it comes to the popular story of the 1990 Giants, our numbers disagree."

Silly statement. You can be the very best team in the league and still be incredibly lucky to win a championship. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

The Giants were a championship caliber club. they were also incredibly lucky to win the championship. Those two are not mutually exclusive.