1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

by Aaron Schatz

The time has come to add another year to our grand Football Outsiders DVOA database. This time, we're going all the way back to 1992. If you are a Dallas Cowboys fan, sad because your team didn't even come close to playing the Super Bowl in its home stadium this year, come sit and bask in the glow of the awesomeness that was the early-90's Cowboys.

When we broke down 1993 through 1995, we were surprised to see that, according to DVOA, "wrong team" won the Dallas-San Francisco rivalry each year. That's not the case in 1992, as the Dallas Cowboys are on top of the DVOA ratings. The Cowboys were even more impressive because they had to play in a killer division. The All five teams in the NFC East rated 16th or better in DVOA. The Randall Cunningham and Reggie White-led Philadelphia Eagles finished second in DVOA overall, ahead of the 49ers. The Washington Redskins, coming off one of the greatest seasons in NFL history, fell to 9-7 because of their schedule but actually finished sixth in DVOA. The 4-12 Phoenix Cardinals -- to make things easy, we're still going to mark them as "ARI" in our data -- finished 15th in DVOA, with their adjusted rating nearly 10 percentage points higher than their unadjusted rating.

The best team in the AFC, according to DVOA, was the Houston Oilers. So if you are a Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans fan who agonizes over the Frank Reich comeback game blowing your franchise's best shot at a Super Bowl title, well, here's another opportunity to feel sad. The Bills ranked second in the AFC, but the DVOA difference between Houston, Buffalo, and third-place Pittsburgh was pretty minor.

1992 also featured the worst offense in DVOA history, the most unbalanced team in DVOA history, and the most overachieving team in DVOA history, but we'll get to those after we run the big table.

* * * * *

Here are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings for 1992, 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.)

DVOA represents adjusted statistics. 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 DAL 35.4% 13-3 35.4% 41.1% 1 19.8% 2 -14.4% 7 1.1% 9
2 PHI 33.7% 11-5 27.0% 27.1% 4 6.7% 5 -24.7% 1 2.3% 3
3 SF 31.3% 14-2 32.9% 34.0% 2 29.6% 1 -2.4% 17 -0.7% 16
4 NO 23.6% 12-4 27.5% 32.0% 3 0.3% 11 -24.2% 2 -0.9% 17
5 HOIL 18.4% 10-6 20.4% 20.0% 7 9.0% 3 -10.8% 9 -1.4% 19
6 WAS 18.2% 9-7 12.4% 20.4% 6 4.9% 8 -14.8% 6 -1.5% 21
7 BUF 17.1% 11-5 17.8% 11.7% 9 5.9% 6 -9.7% 10 1.5% 6
8 PIT 16.9% 11-5 17.5% 10.7% 10 -0.2% 12 -15.8% 5 1.3% 8
9 MIN 14.1% 11-5 12.2% 14.8% 8 -4.5% 15 -17.9% 4 0.7% 11
10 SD 12.0% 11-5 23.5% 24.1% 5 4.9% 9 -6.9% 12 0.2% 12
11 MIA 10.2% 11-5 13.2% 4.6% 14 6.8% 4 -5.9% 14 -2.5% 25
12 KC 6.0% 10-6 10.1% -2.3% 15 -5.1% 18 -11.0% 8 0.1% 13
13 CLE1 -0.6% 7-9 0.5% 7.1% 11 -5.6% 19 -4.2% 16 0.8% 10
14 LARD -1.3% 7-9 -5.7% 4.9% 13 -8.4% 20 -8.4% 11 -1.4% 20
15 ARI -5.0% 4-12 -14.5% -7.6% 16 -4.5% 16 2.5% 22 2.0% 5
16 NYG -6.4% 6-10 -11.5% -11.2% 20 5.4% 7 7.6% 26 -4.2% 27
17 GB -6.6% 9-7 -2.5% 7.0% 12 -4.1% 14 0.4% 19 -2.1% 23
18 CHI -6.7% 5-11 -8.5% -7.6% 17 -4.9% 17 1.7% 20 -0.1% 14
19 LARM -11.8% 6-10 -14.3% -7.8% 18 1.0% 10 9.7% 27 -3.1% 26
20 NYJ -11.9% 4-12 -9.1% -10.8% 19 -17.2% 23 -6.5% 13 -1.2% 18
21 DEN -14.1% 8-8 -19.7% -18.8% 23 -20.4% 25 -4.9% 15 1.4% 7
22 ATL -15.4% 6-10 -14.4% -14.0% 21 -1.1% 13 17.3% 28 3.0% 2
23 DET -17.1% 5-11 -24.6% -27.0% 26 -18.2% 24 1.9% 21 3.0% 1
24 CIN -18.0% 5-11 -16.3% -18.4% 22 -11.1% 22 4.6% 24 -2.2% 24
25 TB -22.0% 5-11 -19.0% -33.6% 27 -10.4% 21 3.5% 23 -8.2% 28
26 SEA -25.0% 2-14 -27.4% -25.2% 24 -45.9% 28 -21.6% 3 -0.6% 15
27 IND -27.3% 9-7 -22.9% -25.3% 25 -31.6% 26 -2.1% 18 2.2% 4
28 NE -39.9% 2-14 -42.1% -35.8% 28 -32.2% 27 5.9% 25 -1.8% 22

DVOA for 1992 is now listed in the stats pages:

Positional stats pages are also now updated. Unfortunately, we have not yet had a chance to add the 1992 data to our premium database, or to our premium player database. We'll get to that sometime in the next couple weeks, at the same time that we update the player database with all the 2010 data and change the similarity scores from 2007-2009 to 2008-2010. We'll do all of 1992 and 2010 in one fell swoop, sometime in late February. Look for an announcement in Extra Points.

One of the craziest aspects of the 1992 season was the absurd lack of deviation in special teams. The top special teams belonged to Detroit, at just 3.0% DVOA. In the other 18 years of DVOA, number-one team with the lowest rating was Kansas City, which had 5.5% DVOA on special teams. Twenty-six of the 28 teams in 1992 finished with special teams DVOA between -3.1% and 3.0%. By the way, the lack of standard deviation has nothing to do with the old 35-yard line for kickoffs, as the special teams ratings in 1993 (the last year of kickoffs from the 35) look like pretty much any other year.

Way, way, way behind everyone else you will find the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished 1992 with -8.2% DVOA on special teams -- the fourth-worst rating in history, worse even than this year's San Diego Chargers. Tampa Bay actually got a solid year from punter Dan Stryzinski, but the return men were poor, the kickers were horrific, and the kick coverage was putrid. Ken Willis and Eddie Murray combined to go 12-for-22 on field goals, and they couldn't stop kicking the ball out of bounds. Willis kicked the first nine games of the season and hit it out of bounds five times. He averaged 60 yards per kickoff (not counting squibs or onside kicks) and had only five touchbacks, which is very low considering that kickoffs were still at the 35-yard line that year. Then Murray took over for the final seven games and didn't have a single touchback, while hitting it out of bounds three more times. He averaged only 55.5 yards per kickoff. The Bucs weren't the only other team with a single-digit touchback total, but at least the others -- New England, Green Bay, and the New York Giants -- had the excuse of playing in cold weather.

Maybe the coaches were asking Willis and Murray to kick it out of bounds in order to prevent kick returns. The kick coverage for Tampa Bay allowed an average return of 25.6 yards, the highest in the league by 1.6 yards and six yards higher than the league average. They allowed six different kickoff returns of 50 or more yards, including an 89-yard return by Mel Gray in each of their two division games against Detroit. (One was a touchdown, the other one he was tackled at the four-yard line.)

The lack of deviation in special teams is even stranger when you consider the high level of deviation in wins in 1992. Only one team went 8-8, and ten different teams had either 11 wins or 11 losses.

Of course, no discussion of 1992 is complete without a look at the mind-numbing offense of the 1992 Seattle Seahawks, which averaged only 8.8 points per game. The Seahawks' -45.9% offensive DVOA sets a new FO record, surpassing the 2005 San Francisco 49ers (-42.0%) as the worst offense we've ever tracked. It gets worse if you isolate the passing game from the running game. The running game was below-average -- Chris Warren was good, with 4.6 yards per carry, but for some reason the Seahawks gave fullback John L. Williams 114 carries at 3.0 yards a pop, which drags their rating down to 23rd. But the passing game was abysmal. Previously, only two teams had pass offense DVOA below -45%: the 2005 49ers (-57.9%) and the 2004 Bears (-51.2%). The 1992 Seahawks had pass offense DVOA of -71.0%. Longtime quarterback Dave Krieg had signed with the rival Kansas City Chiefs in the offseason, so the Seahawks started his longtime backup, Kelly Stouffer. After five horrible games, they handed the reigns to 1991's first-round pick, Dan McGwire, who was technically the third-stringer. McGwire at least managed to complete half his passes, but couldn't get more than seven yards per completion. McGwire was nice enough to fracture his hip halfway through his first start, so from then on, the Seahawks went with former Giants and Cardinals backup Stan Gelbaugh (except for two games where Gelbaugh was injured and Stouffer played again). This is just awful:

1992 Seattle Seahawks Quarterbacks
Player GS Comp Att C% TD INT Sack NetY/P DVOA DYAR
Stan Gelbaugh 8 121 255 47.5% 6 11 34 3.6 -48.1% -635
Kelly Stouffer 7 92 190 48.4% 3 9 26 3.1 -81.0% -950
Dan McGwire 1 17 30 56.7% 0 3 7 1.6 -105.5% -196

It didn't help things when an injury cost star receiver Brian Blades 10 games. As a result, Williams was the team's top receiver, at 556 yards. If your fullback is the top receiver, your team needs serious help, or you employ Larry Centers, or both. The top wideout was a guy from Montreal named Tommy Kane, who had 369 yards in 11 games and was cut by the team the following preseason. He played one season in the CFL, became a drug addict, and is currently in prison for killing his wife.

What makes this horrendous offense even crazier is that the Seahawks defense was really, really good. Cortez Kennedy had 14 sacks and won Defensive Player of the Year -- on a 2-14 team! Safety Eugene Robinson joined Kennedy on the AFC Pro Bowl roster, and outside linebacker Rufus Porter added to Kennedy's pass pressure with another 9.5 sacks, which is a very high number for a linebacker on a 4-3 defense. The Seahawks are the most imbalanced team in DVOA history, by far:

Biggest Offense-Defense Imbalances in DVOA, 1992-2010
Year Team Offense Rk Defense Rk Difference*
1992 SEA -45.9% 28 -21.6% 3 67.5%
2002 KC 38.0% 1 15.1% 29 53.2%
2010 NE 46.1% 1 5.5% 19 51.6%
2004 KC 32.9% 2 17.1% 30 50.0%
1997 NO -38.6% 30 -10.6% 7 49.2%
2008 DEN 24.0% 2 24.7% 31 48.7%
1998 SD -28.7% 30 -19.5% 2 48.2%
1998 OAK -28.1% 29 -19.5% 3 47.6%
2010 HOU 26.0% 2 20.9% 31 46.9%
1999 PHI -28.7% 30 -17.7% 4 46.5%
*Because defensive DVOA is better when negative, "Difference" here is offense plus defense.

Despite all this horror, the Seahawks did not get the first overall pick in the draft. The New England Patriots went 2-14 as well, and won the right to pick first overall by tiebreaker. The Patriots also fired Dick MacPherson and lured Bill Parcells out of the NBC broadcast studio, another way in which they completely dominated the Seahawks in the battle to turn things around. The advantage of Drew Bledsoe over Rick Mirer was nothing compared to the advantage of Bill Parcells over Tom Flores in the "let's lure a Super Bowl-winning coach back to the sidelines" sweepstakes.

You may notice that there is a team listed between Seattle and New England at the bottom of the 1992 ratings, however, and you may notice that team even had a winning record. That would be the 1992 Indianapolis Colts, possibly the luckiest team in NFL history. The Colts finished 9-7 even though opponents outscored them 302-216. They had 5.0 Pythagorean wins, and the biggest difference in NFL history between Pythagorean wins and actual wins. In the first part of the season, the Colts lost games 38-0 to Buffalo, 26-0 to San Diego, and 28-0 to Miami. They were 4-7 after losing 30-14 to Pittsburgh on November 22. Then they finished the year with a five-game winning streak -- but they won those games by an average of four points. This is where Jason Whitlock would point out that Jeff George just wins football games. It didn't hurt that the Colts recovered 59 percent of fumbles that season and had a below-average schedule.

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

Quarterbacks: Steve Young led the number-one offense in DVOA and was the top quarterback in DYAR by a hefty margin, even though he only attempted 402 passes thanks to a run-heavy offense. Between passing and rushing, Young was about 500 DYAR ahead of any other quarterback. You may notice on the quarterbacks page that the 49ers also have the top two players on the "secondary quarterbacks" table. Steve Bono had 89 DYAR in a couple of games where Young had to leave with injury, and Joe Montana had 59 DYAR when he came back from an injury that had cost him nearly two seasons and played his final San Francisco game in Week 17.

All the expected great quarterbacks of the early 90's appear high on the DYAR list for 1992. Dan Marino is second, Troy Aikman is third, and Jim Kelly is fourth. Some kid named Brett Favre finished 13th in DYAR in his first season as a starter for Green Bay, with a roughly average DVOA. However, two very good quarterbacks were surprisingly terrible in 1992. John Elway tried to play through a shoulder injury that came in the first game of the year against the Raiders, and was awful: 10 touchdowns to 17 interceptions, with -437 DYAR (44th out of 49 ranked quarterbacks). Boomer Esiason also had a terrible year for Cincinnati, completing only 51.8 percent of his passes with 4.2 net yards per attempt and -474 DYAR (46th).

Running Backs: Emmitt Smith adds another year to the argument that he was the best and most consistent running back of the DVOA Era, leading the league with 375 rushing DYAR. Between 1992 and 1995, Smith finished first in DYAR three times and was essentially tied for first in the fourth year (1993). Lorenzo White finished second in rushing DYAR in his only 1,000-yard season; you may remember that he completely collapsed in 1993, dropping by more than a yard per carry. White also ranked third among all running backs in receiving DYAR. Thurman Thomas was fourth in rushing DYAR and second in receiving DYAR, but the top running back in receiving value was San Diego's Ronnie Harmon.

Jonathan Stewart Vaughn of the New England Patriots was the least valuable running back in the league, with -120 rushing DYAR. He clearly stands very low on the historic list of Jonathan Stewarts, far behind both Jonathan Stewart Leibowitz and Jonathan Stewart who is not DeAngelo Williams. Dave Meggett, surprisingly, was the league's lowest-rated running back as a receiver, gaining just 3.5 yards per pass. Barry Sanders had one of his really horrible offensive lines and finished just 15th with 95 DYAR. His Success Rate of 43 percent was 35th out of 41 ranked running backs.

Wide Receivers: Michael Irvin once again tops the league in DYAR. Like his teammate Emmitt Smith, Irvin finished first in DYAR three times and second in DYAR once during the four-year period from 1992 to 1995. The more we go back in DVOA history, the more I wonder if Michael Irvin was the loudest underrated player in NFL history. The guy really was a machine, with valuable mid-length gain after valuable mid-length gain. I put him on my ballot for NFL Network's "Top 100 Players" and I'll stand by that vote.

At least this time, we have a good excuse for putting the Playmaker above Jerry Rice; Rice had an "off year" by his own standards, with just 1,201 yards and 275 DYAR (fourth). Sterling Sharpe and Eric Martin finished second and third, between Irvin and Rice. Rice's teammate John Taylor had a fabulous 54.4% DVOA in limited time, catching 25 of 35 passes for a 71 percent catch rate and 17.1 yards per reception. Cincinnati's Tim McGee and Carl Pickens were the least valuable wide receivers of 1992 according to DYAR.

Tight Ends: Brent Jones leads all tight ends with 188 DYAR, but 1992 was not a really strong year for tight ends. Jay Novacek and Mark Bavaro finished second and third. (Quick, raise your hand if you remember that Bavaro played a year for the Cleveland Browns in 1992.) Seattle's Ron Heller was the least valuable tight end, with a 41 percent catch rate and -103 DYAR. Don't confuse him with Philadelphia's Ron Heller, who was a left tackle. We have to mark them R.Heller-TE and R.Heller-T in our database.

Great players who appear in the DYAR/DVOA stats for the first time include James Brooks, Ottis Anderson, Freeman McNeill, Al Toon and Roy Green. Defensive players whose careers ended in 1992 include Chip Banks, Bob Golic, Mike Singletary, and Fred Smerlas. It was also the final year for the great offensive tackle Anthony Munoz.

We have to thank all the readers who participated in the 1992 transcription project: Jeremy Billones, Nathan Jahnke, Peter Koski, Kevin Mayo, Sander Philipse, Jonathan Schafer, and the ridiculously prolific Jeremy Snyder. Jeremy not only did more games than anyone else, he also took care of translating the gamebooks for various teams whose official scorers were using non-standard play descriptions back in the pre-Internet Stone Age. Next stop: 1991, which is about two-thirds transcribed at this point.


171 comments, Last at 17 Aug 2012, 9:11am

122 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

DVOA rewards 4.5 yards and a cloud of dust, which is exactly the kind of runner Smith was. Once Smith lost his HOF-caliber line, though, he became a replacement-level running back. In his last couple of Dallas seasons, he was pretty much indistinguishable from Troy Hambrick.

Sanders, by comparison, would have killed for a merely replacement-level offensive line. His senior season at OSU should be educational as to what he was capable of with a good offensive line. He was damn-near untackleable once he got into the second level.

109 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Brian Blades also killed someone. So that's two wide receivers for the 1992 Seahawks that killed people. How tragic. I mean, -71.0 Passing DVOA. Just wow.

114 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Is the Chargers' 17-percentage-point opponent adjustment for pass defense the biggest single adjustment in DVOA history? They played seven games against pass offenses ranked in the bottom five (Seattle, Denver and Indianapolis twice; Cincinnati once) but only three games against teams with positive passing DVOA — all of them in the AFC Central, none ranked higher than 10th.

No wonder the Chiefs went out and signed Joe Montana.

116 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Just a few quick hit thoughts about the 92 season that i can now see through a different light thanks to this analysis

- I remember that the ESPN hacks gave Philly no chance to win in New Orleans, and that it was a huge upset from a public perspective (no idea on betting line).

- this was the first of the "dennis green can win with any quarterback seasons." and for whatever reason Minny was favored over Washington in a game that wasnt close.

- The biggest story of the year was San Diego being the first 0-4 team to make the playoffs. It was as if they were a cinderella darling, and then got destroyed.

117 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

The Viking quarterbacking in that game was so bad as to be comical. Sean Salisbury was worse playing the game than he was at talking about it, which barely seems possible. I remember one play, where Salisbury had a wide open receiver in the flat, as a checkdown, and The Steak, under no pressure overthrew him by 15 feet.

Since Tarkenton retired, the most consistent story of the Vikings is an otherwise talented roster trying to find makeshift solutions behind center. Some years they make it work, and in others they don't.

123 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

To be fair, NO lead that game 20-7 late in the third quarter, and 20-10 going into the 4th quarter. Then the Saints melted down.

The Eagles then went TD Pass, pick deep in NO territory to set up another TD, a Reggie White safety followed by a FG in the ensuing drive, then a pick-6 to wrap up the game, winning 36-20.

And to think that game was the same day as the infamous Bills comeback vs. the Oilers. I think the Bills set the record in that game for most points in a quarter (28 in the 3rd), and then the Eagles almost equaled it in the night game (26 in the 4th).

Link for interested readers: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F00614FF3F5B0C778CDDA80894DB494D81

"I reminded the team about the Houston-Buffalo game," said Rich Kotite, the Philadelphia coach. "They were down, 35-3, and they came back to win, 41-38. We're down 10. What's the big deal?"

126 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

28 points wasn't a record for one quarter, unless perhaps if you restrict the category to Wild Card games. The Redskins put up 35 on Denver in the 2nd quarter of Super Bowl 22 (1987). (Of course, given your loyalties, I can't blame you for putting such an event out of your mind...)

124 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Also, the line was NO by 3.5, which considering they had HFA, means that Vegas thought they were roughly equal teams, which DVOA would probably disagree with, but not strongly.

Link: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=22NcAAAAIBAJ&sjid=xVYNAAAAIBAJ&pg=1488,737917&dq=philadelphia+eagles+new+orleans+saints&hl=en

131 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

That line does not seem out of whack considering they were two quality teams. Remember though in 1991 Vegas had significantly better access to research and information than John Q public. New Orleans that year though just happened to be one of ESPN's "it" teams, the quintessential good team made to be great by the media

133 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

I remember saying to a Dallas fan that I thought their defense was at least as good as the Skins defense in 91, meaning that I thought they could stop Buffalo. He was so insulted that I did not think they were BETTER than the Skins that he slugged me. Ahh, the memories.
PS Reason # 247 to hate Dallas forever.

139 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

By DVOA, the 1992 Redskins had a (very) slightly better defense than the 1992 Cowboys. Of course, Dallas had a significant edge in weighted DVOA, which probably contributed to your friend's high estimation of that unit.

145 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

This long on the topic and no one mentioned that 1992 was the end of the first Joe Gibbs era.

Regarding Michael Irvin, its my memory that he shredded Darrell Green consistently. Of course memory and perception can change based on the game situation, I remember one monster Thanksgiving game in particular. I think it must've been the 11/16/97 game... I just remember Irvin torching Green for a critical catch... perhaps that memory is burned into my brain that my mind says "Irvin always torched Green like that".

149 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

When I think "torch" I think about receivers burning CBs deep, and I don't think anyone did that to Green. But I do remember Irvin always having the advantage over the much smaller and less physical Green in running the short stuff. Irvin had like a half a foot and 30 lbs on the guy.

162 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

My friends and i used to refer to a guy being burned deep as being Dimry'd. Will have to go back and look - but there was a stretch there where Jerry Rice caught 7 TD's in consecutive starts against the Charles Dimry lead Falcons.

171 Re: 1992 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

"outside linebacker Rufus Porter added to Kennedy's pass pressure with another 9.5 sacks, which is a very high number for a linebacker on a 4-3 defense"

I think this is a little misleading, as from what I understand Porter was basically used as an edge rusher.