DVOA Analysis
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1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

by Aaron Schatz

Here's the moment that Washington Redskins fans have been waiting for -- at least, the Washington Redskins fans who read Football Outsiders. With the official unveiling of the 1991 DVOA ratings, the Redskins pass the 2007 Patriots as the highest-rated team in DVOA history.

Washington may have been the most well-rounded team in NFL history. We now have DVOA ratings for 645 teams, and in that whole group, the 1991 Redskins rank 17th in offense, 16th in defense, and 13th in special teams. They rank fifth all-time in pass offense and 11th in pass defense. They aren't ranked as highly on run offense and run defense, but were still among the top ten teams of 1991 in both ratings. The Redskins were the best defense and the third-best offense in the second half with the score within a touchdown, which helps make them the first team to ever hit 16.0 Estimated Wins.

BEST OVERALL DVOA, 1991-2011
TEAM YEAR W-L TOTAL
DVOA
OFFENSE
DVOA
OFFENSE
RANK IN YR
DEFENSE
DVOA
DEFENSE
RANK IN YR
S.T.
DVOA
ST. RANK
IN YR
WAS 1991 14-2 56.9% 27.2% 1 -21.1% 3 8.6% 1
NE 2007 16-0 52.9% 43.5% 1 -5.8% 11 3.6% 7
NE 2010 14-2 44.6% 42.2% 1 2.3% 21 4.7% 8
GB 1996 13-3 42.0% 15.2% 3 -19.3% 1 7.4% 2
SF 1995 11-5 40.0% 18.6% 5 -23.7% 1 -2.2% 22
PIT 2004 15-1 37.6% 16.3% 8 -18.9% 3 2.4% 10
PIT 2010 12-4 35.4% 14.3% 5 -20.7% 1 0.4% 16
DAL 1992 13-3 35.1% 23.6% 2 -9.5% 5 1.9% 8
NE 2004 14-2 34.2% 23.3% 3 -10.7% 7 0.2% 16
STL 1999 13-3 34.0% 17.7% 4 -13.5% 3 2.8% 9

The ratings for past teams will look different from the ratings currently listed on our stats pages because they represent the new DVOA v7.0, and we haven't yet had time to get all the stats pages updated with the newer version of the stats. As I noted a week ago when the book came out, we'll get to that in the next couple of weeks and then run a few articles showing updated top-ten lists and how DVOA v7.0 has changed the historical rankings.

But I digress; back to the Redskins. A lot of the best teams in NFL history got a little extra boost by picking on an easy schedule, but not Washington. They had an average schedule, and a harder-than-average schedule of opposing defenses. One reason for that: 1991 was not only the year of the best overall team in DVOA history. It was also the year of the best defense in DVOA history, which showed up on Washington's schedule twice: the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles.

* * * * *

Here are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings for 1991, 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.

TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
NON-ADJ
TOT VOA
W-L OFFENSE
DVOA
OFF.
RANK
DEFENSE
DVOA
DEF.
RANK
S.T.
DVOA
S.T.
RANK
1 WAS 56.9% 54.5% 14-2 27.2% 1 -21.1% 3 8.6% 1
2 SF 26.0% 22.0% 10-6 24.0% 2 -4.8% 8 -2.8% 22
3 NO 19.6% 18.8% 11-5 -1.7% 17 -24.5% 2 -3.2% 23
4 BUF 19.1% 28.0% 13-3 21.5% 3 2.1% 16 -0.2% 16
5 PHI 17.9% 18.1% 10-6 -24.6% 26 -42.4% 1 0.1% 14
6 KC 17.8% 17.1% 10-6 13.3% 5 -2.1% 9 2.5% 6
7 HOIL 11.8% 16.5% 11-5 9.2% 9 -5.8% 7 -3.2% 24
8 DAL 9.9% 3.4% 11-5 17.6% 4 11.4% 24 3.6% 2
9 CHI 7.3% 5.1% 11-5 5.3% 10 -7.7% 6 -5.7% 28
10 NYG 6.1% 0.5% 8-8 12.5% 6 7.0% 22 0.7% 12
11 ATL 5.8% -1.8% 10-6 3.5% 14 1.2% 15 3.6% 3
12 DEN 3.5% 9.0% 12-4 -1.8% 18 -10.2% 4 -4.9% 27
13 LARD 1.9% -3.5% 9-7 -0.9% 16 0.3% 12 3.2% 4
14 SD 1.6% -4.8% 4-12 4.7% 11 3.6% 17 0.5% 13
TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
NON-ADJ
TOT VOA
W-L OFFENSE
DVOA
OFF.
RANK
DEFENSE
DVOA
DEF.
RANK
S.T.
DVOA
S.T.
RANK
15 CLE1 1.0% 3.3% 6-10 3.7% 13 1.1% 14 -1.7% 20
16 MIN 0.5% 6.5% 8-8 11.8% 8 10.6% 23 -0.7% 18
17 DET -1.2% 1.4% 12-4 -2.6% 19 0.9% 13 2.3% 8
18 MIA -1.3% 3.4% 8-8 12.2% 7 14.5% 28 0.9% 10
19 SEA -3.8% -5.8% 7-9 -14.9% 22 -8.2% 5 2.9% 5
20 NYJ -4.4% 2.4% 8-8 4.7% 12 5.2% 19 -3.9% 26
21 PIT -7.6% -7.5% 7-9 -8.6% 20 0.3% 11 1.3% 9
22 LARM -10.7% -24.1% 3-13 0.4% 15 13.5% 26 2.4% 7
23 GB -15.4% -11.2% 4-12 -15.9% 23 -0.8% 10 -0.2% 15
24 CIN -24.3% -29.0% 3-13 -9.8% 21 14.1% 27 -0.4% 17
25 PHX -24.3% -35.1% 4-12 -20.4% 24 4.6% 18 0.8% 11
26 NE -31.5% -28.4% 6-10 -23.7% 25 5.9% 20 -1.9% 21
27 TB -38.1% -41.3% 3-13 -28.4% 27 5.9% 21 -3.8% 25
28 IND -47.7% -40.1% 1-15 -32.8% 28 13.5% 25 -1.5% 19
  • 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.
  • 1991 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).



TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
W-L ESTIM.
WINS
RANK WEIGHTED
DVOA
RANK 1991
SCHED
RANK PYTH
WINS
RANK VAR. RANK
1 WAS 56.9% 14-2 16.0 1 52.4% 1 0.1% 17 13.9 1 12.6% 15
2 SF 26.0% 10-6 11.0 4 31.2% 2 3.3% 10 12.3 2 16.9% 21
3 NO 19.6% 11-5 10.2 7 14.6% 6 1.3% 12 12.0 3 15.8% 20
4 BUF 19.1% 13-3 11.2 2 21.1% 3 -14.3% 28 11.4 5 10.3% 11
5 PHI 17.9% 10-6 10.3 6 20.3% 4 4.4% 8 9.4 8 21.9% 27
6 KC 17.8% 10-6 11.1 3 12.4% 7 4.9% 6 10.2 7 8.8% 8
7 HOIL 11.8% 11-5 10.3 5 10.9% 9 0.9% 14 11.8 4 5.2% 2
8 DAL 9.9% 11-5 9.8 8 15.3% 5 6.4% 3 8.9 11 18.7% 24
9 CHI 7.3% 11-5 9.1 9 4.0% 14 1.0% 13 9.0 10 15.1% 17
10 NYG 6.1% 8-8 8.9 11 2.8% 16 5.4% 5 7.5 19 7.1% 4
11 ATL 5.8% 10-6 8.6 12 12.2% 8 4.8% 7 8.6 13 14.1% 16
12 DEN 3.5% 12-4 8.0 15 -1.8% 18 -4.4% 21 10.3 6 8.7% 7
13 LARD 1.9% 9-7 8.0 14 4.9% 12 2.4% 11 8.0 15 17.5% 22
14 SD 1.6% 4-12 7.7 16 5.2% 10 4.2% 9 5.9 22 4.9% 1
TEAM TOTAL
DVOA
W-L ESTIM.
WINS
RANK WEIGHTED
DVOA
RANK 1991
SCHED
RANK PYTH
WINS
RANK VAR. RANK
15 CLE1 1.0% 6-10 7.4 18 -1.7% 17 -0.6% 19 7.8 17 7.9% 6
16 MIN 0.5% 8-8 8.5 13 4.1% 13 -8.2% 25 7.8 16 18.3% 23
17 DET -1.2% 12-4 8.9 10 3.5% 15 -2.7% 20 9.3 9 19.1% 25
18 MIA -1.3% 8-8 7.7 17 5.0% 11 -10.6% 27 7.8 18 7.8% 5
19 SEA -3.8% 7-9 7.2 20 -7.0% 20 0.4% 16 8.5 14 9.8% 10
20 NYJ -4.4% 8-8 7.4 19 -4.0% 19 -10.0% 26 8.7 12 10.9% 12
21 PIT -7.6% 7-9 7.2 21 -9.6% 21 0.6% 15 6.4 21 11.7% 14
22 LARM -10.7% 3-13 5.9 22 -10.6% 22 8.9% 2 3.6 24 6.6% 3
23 GB -15.4% 4-12 4.5 25 -10.8% 23 -4.7% 22 6.7 20 8.9% 9
24 CIN -24.3% 3-13 4.7 24 -24.0% 25 5.6% 4 3.6 25 20.0% 26
25 PHX -24.3% 4-12 4.9 23 -22.0% 24 12.2% 1 3.5 26 15.2% 18
26 NE -31.5% 6-10 4.2 26 -26.9% 26 -6.5% 24 4.8 23 15.5% 19
27 TB -38.1% 3-13 3.7 27 -46.1% 27 -0.2% 18 3.1 27 27.1% 28
28 IND -47.7% 1-15 0.0 28 -47.1% 28 -5.8% 23 1.6 28 11.4% 13

DVOA for 1991 is now listed in the stats pages:

Statistician Eddie Epstein wrote a book a few years ago called Dominance, about the best teams in NFL history. He chose the 1991 Redskins as the second-best team ever, behind only the 1985 Bears. Doing these ratings definitely has me thinking about just skipping the late '80s for now and going straight to 1985 so I can compare the Bears to both the Redskins (overall) and the Eagles (on defense).

If you look closely at the ratings, you can get a bit of a sense of how two units -- the Eagles' defense and the Redskins' special teams -- really overwhelmed the rest of the NFL in 1991. Remember, with the new version of DVOA, every year is normalized to average 0%, so there should generally be 14 teams above average and 14 teams below average. On defense, you'll notice there were only 10 teams above average in 1991, with 18 teams below average. And while special teams are split 14 and 14, the difference between the Redskins and second-place Dallas is bigger than the difference between Dallas and 18th-place Minnesota.

The Redskins might actually be even higher in DVOA if they had not rested their starters for most of their Week 17 game against Philadelphia. Backup quarterback Jeff Rutledge was 6-for-16 in that game, and the Eagles scored 17 points in the final quarter to beat the Redskins 24-22. Even with that fourth-quarter flop, the Redskins had a 49.9% DVOA for that loss. The Redskins didn't have a below-average DVOA in a single game all season. In fact, the Redskins only had DVOA below 20% for one game all year, a 17-13 win over the Giants in Week 9. Their DVOA for that game was 19.5%.

Washington started the season with a ridiculous 45-0 slaughter of a Detroit team that was missing Barry Sanders due to a rib injury. That's a team that eventually went 12-4. I know Barry Sanders was good, but the guy was not 45-points good. The Redskins' single-game DVOA of 149.6% sets a new record for the strongest game we've ever measured, passing the 1999 Steelers' dismantling of the debut expansion Browns and the 1994 Eagles' shocking upset of the eventual champion 49ers. The Redskins bookended their season by clobbering Detroit (this time with Sanders) 41-10 in the NFC Championship. I don't have DVOA for that one yet because I haven't had a chance to run all of the historical playoffs with the new formula; that's an August project.

The 1991 Redskins are also famous for Tony Kornheiser's "Bandwagon" columns that followed the team throughout the year, considered by some to be the best series ever written by a sports columnist. You can find those linked here.

As great as the Redskins were, the Eagles may have been even more interesting. The 1991 Eagles completely lap the field in terms of defensive DVOA. Only the 2002 Bucs had a better pass defense, and only the 2000 Ravens had a better run defense, and the Eagles were much more balanced than either of those teams.

BEST DEFENSIVE DVOA, 1991-2011
YEAR TEAM W-L DEFENSE
DVOA
PASS
DEFENSE
RANK
IN YR
RUN
DEFENSE
RANK
IN YR
1991 PHI 10-6 -42.4% -48.6% 1 -34.9% 1
2002 TB 12-4 -31.8% -51.9% 1 -8.8% 8
2008 PIT 12-4 -29.0% -32.8% 1 -24.2% 2
2004 BUF 9-7 -28.5% -34.7% 1 -21.9% 2
2008 BAL 11-5 -27.8% -27.1% 2 -28.6% 1
2009 NYJ 9-7 -25.5% -36.5% 1 -13.9% 7
2000 TEN 13-3 -25.0% -23.0% 2 -27.4% 2
2003 BAL 10-6 -25.0% -29.5% 1 -19.9% 3
1991 NO 11-5 -24.5% -33.1% 2 -12.3% 5
2000 BAL 12-4 -23.8% -14.8% 7 -36.6% 1

It probably seems strange that there are no teams from 1992-1999 on this list, but they do show up when we get into the teens, with teams like the 1995 49ers (11th) and 1998 Dolphins (14th).

It's crazy to imagine how few points the Eagles might have given up if they were playing with a halfway-decent offense instead of losing Randall Cunningham to a torn ACL in the first game of the season. The Eagles were stuck depending on an over-the-hill Jim McMahon for 11 starts, plus Jeff Kemp for two and Brad Goebel for two. McMahon actually wasn't half bad, with 6.9% passing DVOA, but the other two quarterbacks were awful, especially Goebel who had no touchdowns with six interceptions. And the running game was dreadful, with 3.1 yards per carry as a team.

Still, the Eagles were fifth in the league in points allowed, and first in yards allowed by nearly 400 yards -- and the team that was second in yards allowed is also on that top-ten defenses list, the 1991 New Orleans Saints. The Eagles allowed 3.9 yards per play, where no other team allowed fewer than 4.5. As bad as their running game was, their run defense was even better, allowing 3.0 yards per carry. Three-fourths of the starting defensive line was All-Pro (Reggie White, Jerome Brown, and Clyde Simmons). Linebacker Seth Joyner and cornerback Eric Allen made the Pro Bowl as well.

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The Saints and Redskins had really good defenses as well that year. The Saints of course were led by their linebackers, with Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson, and Pat Swilling all making the Pro Bowl and Rickey Jackson being awesome without getting a trip to Hawaii. It wasn't really the easiest year to find space on the NFC Pro Bowl defense, was it? The Redskins only got two guys onto the Pro Bowl roster, defensive end Charles Mann and cornerback Darrell Green. That defense was also a source of future general managers, both good (cornerback Martin Mayhew) and not-so-good (Matt Millen).

You definitely see the NFC dominance in the DVOA ratings for 1991. Buffalo, the AFC Champion, ranks fourth, the highest AFC team and one of only three AFC teams in the top 11.

Three other teams stand out in 1991, for being overrated (Detroit), underrated (San Diego), and just plain dreadful (Indianapolis).

The Lions were one of the most inconsistent teams of the year, which is what happens when you win 12 games but lose 45-0 (to Washington) and 35-3 (to San Francisco). Otherwise, it's a little hard to tell why they ended up only 17th in DVOA. The Lions didn't have too many super-close victories, but did go 4-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less. They didn't particularly take advantage of long plays that are discounted by DVOA, with only four gains of 50 yards or more. They did benefit a little extra from fumbles on defense, recovering 15 of 23. They also benefitted from poor opponent special teams, ranking third in Hidden special teams value.

San Diego was the opposite, somehow going 4-12 despite being an average team by DVOA with the league's lowest variance. The Chargers went a horrifying 2-8 in games decided by a touchdown or less. (They were 2-1 in games decided by eight points, but in 1991 that didn't count as a touchdown or less because there was no two-point conversion.) They didn't have particualrly bad luck on fumbles, and their schedule was ninth in the league, so it wasn't all about opponent strength. They just kept losing close games. Part of San Diego's problem was a significantly unbalanced offense, which ranked second in rushing DVOA and 19th in passing DVOA. That made it tough for them to come back from a deficit, and they just happened to end up with more fourth-quarter deficits that needed erasing than fourth-quarter leads that needed protecting.

When San Diego went 11-5 the next season, it wouldn't have been a big surprise to Football Outsiders readers, if there had been Football Outsiders readers in 1991. Or if there had been an Internet. Or if I had not still been in high school (my 20th reunion is this Saturday).

Finally, to finish up discussion of teams: Yes, Indianapolis is listed there with 0.0 estimated wins, one of only two teams to hit that mark. The other was Detroit in 2009. It's the flipside of Washington; the Colts were the worst offense and defense in the league in the second half of close games, and the worst offense in the league in the first quarter. Their only win all season came by one point over the 8-8 Jets, and they scored more than a touchdown only five times. For this disaster, they won the right to draft Steve Emtman, whose career was derailed by injuries. The next season, they may have been the luckiest team in DVOA history, going 9-7 despite ranking 27th in a 28-team league in DVOA. In 1993, they were back to 4-12.

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

Quarterbacks: Mark Rypien, was you might expect, is the leading quarterback of 1991 in both DYAR and DVOA. Rypien had a season that was somewhat equivalent to the one Aaron Rodgers just had for the Packers; the passing game was so efficient and the team so good overall that Rypien didn't have to throw as many passes as the other top quarterbacks of his era. Rypien started all 16 games but had just 434 pass plays, including DPIs. Warren Moon is second in DYAR, and in the run 'n' shoot he had 686 pass plays. That's ridiculous in other direction. The average team in 1991 had 540 pass plays, including DPIs.

The top DVOA guys, other than Rypien, are generally guys who didn't play the whole season for one reason or another. Steve Young (second in DVOA) missed five games with injuries; when he was out, Steve Bono came in and was fourth in the league in DVOA. Troy Aikman (fifth in DVOA) missed four games; when he was out, Steve Beuerlein came in and was third in the league in DVOA.

The worst quarterback in the league, based on total value, was Jeff George, who was in his second year with the Colts. George comes out with -590 DYAR despite having an above-average completion rate: over 60 percent when the NFL average was 57.4 percent. The issue here wasn't really turnovers, as George threw only 12 picks. However, George was Captain Checkdown with a league-low 8.3 yards per completion, and he took a league-leading 56 sacks. He did this against one of the easiest defensive schedules in the league. Also having a really bad season was Tom Tupa of the Cardinals, in his only season as a regular starting quarterback. He was strictly a punter and third-string emergency quarterback from then on.

Finally, teaching a lesson in not getting roped in by small sample size, Todd Marinovich started the final game of the regular season for the Raiders and had 49.2% DVOA and 152 DYAR.

Running Backs: 1991 was the year of Thurman Thomas, who led the league in both rushing (306) and receiving (290) DYAR. He's seventh all-time in receiving DYAR for running backs, and tenth in combined rushing-receiving DYAR for one season. Emmitt Smith, in his second season, was second with 266 DYAR. He had strange receiving numbers, too. Emmitt Smith early on was much like LaDainian Tomlinson early on, with awful receiving DYAR because he was so often getting hopeless dumpoffs. Smith had -55 receiving DYAR despite an 82 percent catch rate, because he had just 5.3 yards per reception and fumbled three times on receptions for good measure.

Barry Sanders actually led the league in rushing YAR, but he drops to fifth in DYAR because of strength of schedule. It's a bit of an odd schedule; on the surface, it doesn't look like Detroit's schedule of opposing run defenses was that easy. The Lions missed the Eagles, but they did have to play six games against the teams ranked sixth through ninth in run defense DVOA: San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, and Green Bay. Except Sanders didn't play against Washington in Week 1, and he had only seven carries against San Francisco in Week 8. His two highest-carry games came against the two worst run defenses in the league, Miami and Indianapolis.

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Rod Bernstine of San Diego, a converted tight end, was third with 260 rushing DYAR and actually led the league in rushing DVOA.

The least valuable back in the league was rookie Leonard Russell of the Patriots. Man, was Leonard Russell bad. In 1991, the Pats made him the 14th overall pick out of Arizona State and gave him 266 carries at 3.6 yards per carry. They resisted the urge to throw him many passes, at least, just 26 of them. He caught 18 and had just 4.5 yards per reception. So that's -151 rushing DYAR and -47 receiving DYAR. The year after, 1992, Russell got another 123 carries at 3.2 yards per carry and was second-to-last in the league with -89 rushing DYAR. In a six-year career, Russell never averaged more than 3.6 yards per carry, although he at least had positive DYAR in 1993 and 1996.

Eric Dickerson was also near the bottom of the league with -124 rushing DYAR. 1991 was the year he finally fell off the cliff, with 3.2 yards per carry at age 31.

Wide Receivers: DVOA loves Michael Irvin. Just loves him. Michael Irvin finishes first in receiving DYAR for 1991, which means he now ranked first in four out of five seasons from 1991-1995. In the other season, 1994, he ranked second to Jerry Rice. Here's the rank of those seasons in all-time receiving DYAR according to the new formula, in order: 20th, 19th, 23rd, 42nd, and first. Wow. Irvin was also first in DVOA in both 1991 and 1992, ahead of the part-time receivers who make our rankings despite having only one-third as many passes. Wow.

Gary Clark of the Redskins finished second in the league in DYAR and fourth in DVOA. Art Monk was 15th, Ricky Sanders 21st. The Redskins had the best three-wide attack in the league, although other teams had more impressive duos. The Bills had Andre Reed (third) and James Lofton (fourth). The 49ers had Jerry Rice (10th) and John Taylor (seventh). And the Miami Dolphins had Mark Duper (eighth) and Mark Clayton (ninth).

The least valuable wideout in the league was a depth guy for the Houston run 'n' shoot named Tony Jones. He had -45.3% DVOA when no other receiver with at least 50 targets was below -27.7%.

Tight Ends: Tight ends just weren't a big part of offenses in 1991 when compared to 2001, or especially when compared to 2011. Eric Green of the Steelers led the league with 170 DYAR one year after he was taken 21st overall in the 1990 draft. (It's remarkable how few highly-drafted tight ends have been busts.) Green was one of only three tight ends with at least 100 DYAR. Last year, by comparison, there were 13 different tight ends with 100 DYAR.

A fairly obscure undrafted H-back out of Stanford named Jim Price led the league in receiving DVOA and was tied for second in DYAR. Here's an article about him for those curious. He eventually played limited time for the 1993 Cowboys Super Bowl team. He was tied with Ethan Horton of the Raiders. Jay Novacek was fourth and Steve Jordan (gratuitous Brown reference!) fifth. The least valuable tight end in the league was San Diego's Derrick Walker, who had a miserable 6.7 yards per reception and converted just one out of seven passes on third down.

Usually in these articles, I note the great players who show up in our play-by-play breakdowns for the first time, but there were surprisingly few great players whose careers ended in 1991. Players who appear in the DYAR/DVOA stats for the first time include Gerald Riggs and Mike Rozier, and a lot of ex-USFL guys including Marcus Dupree. A few coaches show up as players for the first time, including Gary Kubiak, Mike Mularkey, and Jimmy Raye.

(Correction: This Jimmy Raye is actually the son of Jimmy Raye the offensive coordinator. The younger Jimmy Raye is Director of Player Personnel in San Diego.)

The 1991 play-by-play is available almost entirely because of the work of one man, Jeremy Snyder. After using multiple volunteers for previous seasons, Jeremy ended up basically doing 1991 by himself, except for the game I had to transcribe myself off a DVD. (1991 was the first season where we couldn't find every single gamebook somewhere, but I found a Falcons DVD collector who was able to send me the missing Minnesota-Atlanta game, and I transcribed the play-by-play myself.) Jeremy has done a great job of translating the gamebooks for various teams whose official scorers were using non-standard play descriptions back in the pre-Internet Stone Age. He's already done most of 1990, too, but we're missing a few games from that season and I'm going to need to contact the teams looking for gamebooks, and after that NFL Films looking for any videotapes. For those curious, the list of missing 1990 games:

  • Week 3 WAS-DAL
  • Week 5 LARM-CIN
  • Week 7 LARM-ATL
  • Week 8 ATL-CIN
  • Week 11 LARM-DAL
  • Week 16 ATL-LARM
  • Week 17 ATL-DAL
  • Week 17 LARM-NO (second quarter only)

The 1991 stats are now available for both team and position stats page. The 1991 data is not yet in the premium database, because we need to get all the new DVOA v7.0 data in there. We'll be doing that soon. We also don't have the 1991 data on player pages yet, because of the player page permission issues we've been struggling with, as noted in this article. We'll work on getting that taken care of as soon as possible.

Comments

218 comments, Last at 11 Sep 2012, 7:12pm

1 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

If their 30-24 loss to the Rams was any indication, a good part of the blame for the Chargers' 2-8 record in games decided by 7 points or fewer belonged to their coach, Dan Henning. In that game, the Chargers:

1. Ran a play from their own 1 with one second left in the first half. Marion Butts was tackled for a safety.

"I felt the best thing to do was to take our No. 1 short yardage play, which generally covers every defense that we face," he said. "We ran it and they outdefensed us. (The Rams) either made a mistake or they're smarter than we are."

2. Called a draw on 4th-and-10 with 2:08 left. Ronnie Harmon gained 7 yards.

Henning still believes the draw was the best call.

"You ask anybody in this league . . . one of the most devasting plays in the game is a fourth down draw," he said. "They work as much or more than passes do under those conditions."

Reporters continued to press Henning on his play selection. Finally, he flatly was asked if he blew the draw call.

"After I made that explanation and you continue to harp on it," he said. "What you should do is go back and join one of the staffs on the Senate Judiciary Committee and beat your (expletive) brain out all day."

Henning never had a head coaching job in the NFL after 1991.

101 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Ironically, Henning was hired as the Lions OC in 1993 because they wanted to get rid of the run and shoot and run Barry Sanders out of a two back set more. Unfortunately Sanders was lost for the year in week 11, the offense went from mediocre to terrible (wasting a pretty good year from their defense), and Henning was blamed. After a 13-0 home loss to Minnesota, he was fired by Wayne Fontes, and the Lions decided to go back to a hybrid run and shoot (3WR, 1TE) After cleaning out his office, he quipped to a reporter, "I'd better get out of here before Wayne changes his mind again." (obviously referencing Fonte's legendary indecisiveness when picking a starting QB).

2 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Finally, teaching a lesson in not getting roped in by small sample size, Todd Marinovich started the final game of the regular season for the Raiders and had 49.2% DVOA and 152 DYAR.

FWIW, Marinovich also started the following week's wild card game and threw 4 interceptions on 23 passes. Both games were against the Chiefs.

3 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Is the Top-10 Defense DVOA table updated to reflect v7.0?

If so, I'm glad that the 2002 Bucs hold onto the all-time pass-defense DVOA, because that team was just silly good defending the pass (I'm curious to know what Gannon's DVOA and DYAR for teh Super Bowl is given how good the Bucs were). I was born in 1991, so obviously I wasn't there. I have heard about how incredible the 1991 Redskins were, how well built they were on offense with the Hogs. Had no idea about this incredible 1991 Eagles defense.

I agree that 86-90 will be a bit of a letdown compared to what '85 and '84 can bring with the Bears and 49ers (475-227 point differential), but those years might do give you three great Giants defenses, some other great defenses, the 49ers in '87 and '89, and a team that could contend for among the worst Super Bowl champions.

4 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Yeah, I certainly understand wanting to go back and see the '85 Bears, but in '90, you've got arguably the best Bills team of the NFL era, the end of the 49er Joe Montana era (I, for one, am ready for the Irrational Montana v. Young thread)...

Lots of good in 1990. Finish off the decade!

8 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

'86-'90 also gives you the bizarre 1987 Vikings who outscored opponents by one point and made the playoffs at 8-7 and then proceeded to blow out a very good Saints team and easily beat a 49ers team that was probably the best team in the NFL that season.

'87 also gives you perhaps John Elway's finest season while his team is among the worst Super Bowl participants ever.

15 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

You know, I thought about that but saw they started the season 2-1 with a combined score of 71-58 and thought they were fine. I had never realized that the replacement players were not the first three games of the season, which I had just assumed. I'm not sure why I had assumed that, but I had.

So the '87 Vikings just became far less interesting. Phooey.

34 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Well, let us not discount Anthony Carter catching 230 yards worth of passes. It's interesting how similar the 1987 Vikings team was to the 2008 Vikings team; tremendous on the line of scrimmage, good to great talent at running back, and a big gaping hole at quarteback. I was at the Vikings Redskins game in the regular season at the Metrodome, and if Wade Wilson doesn't play like Tommy Kramer after Tommy's usual Saturday night refreshments (the game was on a Saturday night), the Vikings would have won by two touchdowns intead of losing in overtime. Then they lost a few weeks later by a td in the NFCCG,coming within an inch of forcing ot.

The '87 team, of course had a big edge over the '08 team at receiver, but I think the '08 team was better on the line of scrimmage. I know Doleman is in the HOF, but there is no doubt in my mind that, comparing peaks, Jared Allen is better.

89 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

OK, I'd forgotten about Anthony Carter, my bad.

As for comparison between Doleman and Allen, while you are probably right I'd just like to point out that teams seem to throw a lot more nowadays than back in the late 80s. I think Allen has a lot more opportunity to rush the passer (and the left tackles in the NFC are a woeful bunch, especially the NFC North, which is without any decent blindside protectors).

106 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

What used to frustrate me about Doleman was that, in a division with the Ditka Bears, and a conference with the Parcells Giants, Gibbs Redskins, and a Walsh Niners that was still using a more run-heavy West Coast (until about '89 or so), Doleman would not make a decent effort to play the run honestly, so focused he was on boosting his sack totals. Allen, playing a cover-2 that emphasizes having the end getting upfield even more than was the case 25 years ago, in an era where passing is everything, still manages to play the run better than Doleman did. Your point about today's conference not having the Jumbo Elliots, Jimbo Coverts, and Joe Jacobys at tackle is a good one, however.

I don't want to be too harsh on a guy who delivered a lot of big plays and has, after all, the ugly yellow blazer hanging in his closet, but such is the lot of a fan of a team which lost in 4 straight Super Bowl appearances, and then followed with losses in 5 straight Conference title game appearances; the shortcomings of even great players drives you nuts. I remember one year, with the Vikings locked in a late season race for the division with the Bears, when the Vikings lost a close one, and Doleman was quoted about how happy he was to get a couple sacks, with Pro Bowl selections soon to be announced. Ugh.

205 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

I know it's not kosher to dump on a legend, but isn't the bigger common factor in those 4 straight SB losses the coaching? In the vast majority of cases teams at the conference championship or Super Bowl level are pretty comparable in talent -- it's the innovativeness of the coaching that is a bigger factor in championship or SB wins. (Not to make you suffer unduly, but note the dismemberment of the Vikings by the Giants in the 2000 NFC championship.)

The vast majority of those losses came under the regimes of Bud Grant and Dennis Green. It's easy to blame players, but when it comes down to awful losses by supposedly very talented teams, the blame has to rest with the coaching.

209 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

The more precise point was that the deeper you get into the playoffs, the more important game-planning becomes, because the teams that make it to the conference championship level all have very good talent. But those teams that put together the better game plan (e.g., 2009 Saints against Indy) are the ones who walk away with the trophy. Neither Grant, Levy, nor Green ever won that ultimate challenge in the end. Even if you think there were players who didn't put forth their best efforts when it counted, the coaches bear some blame for that too, since motivation is part of the job description.

211 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

With apologies to Bills fans, how much blame does Levy get (or credit to Parcells) because Norwood happened to miss that field goal? It may be that there are coaches who would have won Super Bowls with those Buffalo teams. I'm sure there are many more coaches who'd never have gotten them close to a Super Bowl.

Barry Switzer won a Super Bowl, and he'll always have the ring, but I'd rather have Grant, Levy, or Green (among others) coach my team. I suspect you would, too.

208 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

LionInAZ - absolutely.

TMQ (for all his writing sins) once put forward that as great a coach as Marv Levy was in the regular season, his flaw was not motivating the Bills enough in the postseason. As you say, come the playoffs just executing as a well-oiled machine isn't enough, you need to have some wrinkles AND to motivate and fire up the players which Parcells/Belichick of the Giants and Jimmy Johnson of the Cowboys did very well with their teams. I'd be interested to know which camp Gibbs falls in because he has always seemed quite quiet and not overly motivational in which case the Levy/Bills theory falls apart somewhat.

Nonetheless I always felt Tony Dungey had the same problem with the Colts and that is why they were never quite as effective in the postseason under him as they were in the regular season. (Alternatively you could blame it on the Polian who was the GM of both Bills & Colts).

210 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Do not buy theory. At that point plauoffs all yeans should be high motivated. T. Flores like Gibbs considered quiet compared to other coaches but yhose 2 combine for 5 super bowl titles.

Think motivation from coaches happen in training camp and throughout reg season. Especially comes through after a loss or losing streak or bad situation with dead man walking coach. Like aramms last year w:the s. linehan. That's when you see a coach motivate a tezm

That is all known too drink to finish

212 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Re: "TMQ (for all his writing sins) once put forward that as great a coach as Marv Levy was in the regular season, his flaw was not motivating the Bills enough in the postseason."

This, to me, is bonkers. There's never been any actual way to measure "motivation" in any way, and I am convinced that the sports punditocracy brings up things like "Team A just wanted it more" when they really have no idea what they're talking about.

Moreover, I can't imagine how someone would be such a great motivator through the regular season and the start of the play-offs and then, once they've won the AFC Championship, suddenly forget how to motivate. "Hey guys, now that we've almost gotten to the title, let's dial it back and take a break. This isn't so important anyhow.... I'm tired." For real? And are we to imagine that 50-something adult men-- men who have won championships at multiple levels, had award-winning performances-- they're all going to see this coach somehow dial down the motivation factor and just be OK with it? That's crazy.

Are we to imagine that Peyton Manning didn't win as many play-off games because Tony Dungey didn't motivate him? What does that even mean?!? Likewise, does just excitedly saying "How 'bout them Cowboys?" somehow take a run-of-the-mill NFC Championship team and make them a dynasty?

Look, Marv Levy may be to blame for the Bills' Superbowl disasters. But to get to the bottom of that, one would have to do a lot more than write an intellectual-lite mostly-sports column for ESPN while having no real insight into football or how it's coached.

213 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

If Levy's Bills weren't successful in the playoffs, it's the first I've heard of it. They had a winning record in the playoffs (11-8). They made it to the championship game four times. Once, they lost on a late missed field goal. The other three times, they lost to historically great teams that were much, much better than they were. I see no evidence that any lack of motivation held the Bills back -- they played well in the playoffs.

215 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Ok don't want to misrepresent his comments ... here's what he actually wrote on 31-Aug-2004 ... debate as you will ...

TMQ has always admired Levy, one of the few accomplished coaches who really believes sportsmanship matters more than victory. If you could have any famous NFL coach to your house for dinner, you would do well to choose Levy: he's a warm human being in a profession where many of the successful are cold at heart. But Levy's admirable qualities may have held him back from Super Bowl triumph, as the farther you go in the playoffs, the more important game plans and psych-ups become. In that environment, win-at-all-cost types tend to prevail.

Levy won four AFC championships, but consider the incredible talent he had in the Jim Kelly-Bruce Smith-Thurman Thomas years -- 17 players from that era made the Pro Bowl, and several will make Canton. During the Kelly-Smith winning run, Levy's teams were 97-47 or .674 in the regular season but fell to 11-8 or .579 in the postseason. Through the regular season in 1990s, Levy was 14-2 against NFC East, during his Super Bowl appearances in the same period, Levy was 0-4 against the same division. At the Super Bowl pressure-cooker, that extra level of total determination seemed missing. Levy did not enforce Super Bowl curfews, for instance, relying on his players' good judgment not to go out and party; many went out and partied, and it showed on game day. During the regular season, Levy consistently beat Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs and Jimmy Johnson: at the Super Bowl, when game plans and psych-up tactics mean more, he was blanked by these three. In the regular season, Levy was king; in the postseason, one of the princes.

216 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Fair enough. I'd still quibble a bit with his analysis. To begin, having "incredible talent" guarantees nothing. We've all seen teams that looked incredibly good that went to the Super Bowl far less than expected (e.g. the Colts) or didn't even go at all (e.g. the Chargers). So for Levy to actually take that talent and go to the Super Bowl four straight times is, in my opinion, something to be commended, and not derided.

I don't understand where he gets that 14-2 stat, and I certainly thing that it's been taken out of context. Note: he takes Levey's stats during the whole of the 1990s (like anyone cares about Levy's coaching in 1997, when the Bills were obviously no longer contending). That's just Easterbrook trying to slant the argument by manipulating the data. Let's look at the regular season during just their Super Bowl run:

1990: W vs. Cardinals (45-14-- week 10); W vs. Giants (17-13-- week 15); L vs. Redskins (14-29-- week 17 game)
1991: No games vs. NFC East
1992: No games vs. NFC East
1993: W vs. Cowboys (13-10-- week 2); W vs. Giants (17-14-- week 5); W vs. Redskins (24-10-- week 9); W vs. Eagles (10-7-- week 15)

So that's their Super Bowl run-- and let's agree that it's impressive. 6-1 vs. the NFC East. But then again, some of those wins weren't impressive (e.g. vs. the Cardinals, or their 13-10 win against the Cowboys playing without their MVP Emmitt Smith, who was holding out for a bigger contract, or the 1993 Redskins, who had quickly fallen down to earth after their dominating 1991 season). And even most of their wins were close-- in 1990 the beat the Giants just 17-13. Their win against the Eagles in 1993 was just 10-7.

None of this, though, seems like it's overwhelming evidence that Levy had some NFC East hang-up when it came to the play-offs. He didn't "consistently" beat Jimmy Johnson in the regular season. He did once, when the focal point of their offense (and the best player in the game at the time) was holding out. He didn't "consistently" beat Bill Parcells. He beat him once in a close game. During the rematch, Parcells won thanks to a missed field goal. (I guess by some definition, winning one game out of one could be called "consistent" winning, but that's not really what most people think when they hear "consistent".) He was 1-1 versus Joe Gibbs during this time-- a win against a declining team in 1993, and a meaningless loss in week 17. That hardly sounds like domination.

So again, I reject Easterbrook's notion that something just "happened" in the play-offs wherein Levy suddenly became an inept coach.

69 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

I also think that Barrett Robbins' absence had a huge impact. That year, he was just the most dominant center I've ever seen. Just taking good tackles and clubbing them senseless play after play. (Which, let's be fair, could very well have been steroid-fueled.)

lllll Alaska Jack

131 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Jon Gruden was playing scout-team QB, that's how well he knew Gannon and the offense. The Raiders didn't bother to change any of their terminology, and the Bucs were frequently able to call out what the Raiders were running on offense before the play started.

132 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

On paper it does look incredibly stupid but consider this ...

The Raiders were headed to cap hell

They had 37-ish year old QB and mid-30s WRs that really made a great offense.

Your window for success is definitely closing.

The team you just traded your headcoach to does not appear on your schedule for another two years so the only possibility is that highly remote, unlikely, odds-against chance that you meet in the Super Bowl.

I'd assume changing all your terminology is a preseason / training camp thing ...

So up until the moment you win the AFC Championship game and then find out that the Bucs have won the NFC you've made a good wise decision based on a low risk possibility.

What do you then do given that you only have one week between Championship games and SB. If you change the terminology now you risk total confusion vs not changing and hoping the Bucs don't learn yours or figure it out quick enough.

AND as another poster said losing Barrett Robbins was a huge loss to the offense. As good as Adam Treu was he got shoved around that day by a great Tampa d-line and that meant he needed guard help which left the tackles struggling to protect Gannon.

5 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

I wonder how less sucky the Eagles offense had to be for them to stack up to the Redskins.

109 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

No, they just needed McMahon, but they couldn't even catch a break keeping their back-up QB healthy. If Cunningham doesn't go down, they would have been right up there beside Washington as the best team in the league. The 1991 Eagles ranks as one of the most crushing "could've been" teams of all-time.

119 Re: 1991 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

Yeah, but at a certain point, i think expecting to only need your back-up QB to start a handful of games is reasonable. They lost their 3rd stringer to injury as well. It was a brutal year. And then Jerome Brown dies in the off-season, which meant there would be no chance of ever seeing a defense that good again in Philly - that season ends with the playoff blowout loss that would define our fans' hatred of the Cowboys for a generation. In 1993 everything falls apart: infuriating tightwad Norman Braham decides to save money by letting Reggie White walk, Rich Kotite reverts to his true form, the teams burns through 3 starting QB's including Bubby Brister & Ken O'Brien (creating fears later proven correct that Cunningham would never, ever stay healthy) and then "poof" it's over. In 1991, it seemed like they would have a legendary defense for another 5 years, everybody was reasonably young and in their prime...