Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

16 Aug 2012

ESPN: Ranking NFL Teams by Depth

The three thinnest and three deepest teams in the NFL get the ESPN treatment.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 16 Aug 2012

15 comments, Last at 22 Aug 2012, 11:25am by PackersRS


by PackersRS (not verified) :: Thu, 08/16/2012 - 5:29pm

Don't have an ESPM insiders subscription, but I see the Packers are #1.

Awesome work. You know your football.

Rating depth is a funny thing. The Packers may very well be the deepest team all around in football, but if Newhouse can't get healthy and Matthews goes to the IR the Packers don't make the playoffs. Going by that, I'd wager the Giants would be in a better position if their key players got injuried.

QB depth doesn't matter. If your team is built around the QB (and good teams should be), if he's out you're not going to win the SB. The most thing you can do is worsen your draft position/FA rights for next year.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 08/16/2012 - 7:06pm

I disagree with most of what you have said but then I can't agree with most of what is in the article. Maybe I'm losing the plot.

However, I think the Bears would disagree with your 'qb depth doesn't matter' statement, if they'd had a backup they might have made the playoffs by which time Cutler would have been back.

by PackersRS (not verified) :: Fri, 08/17/2012 - 12:28pm

True, true, but I did raise a condition to that phrase.

Even with Cutler the team wasn't built around the QB. At some point, with Cutler active (week 6), Forte was responsible for 46.2% of the Bears' yardage on offense. Granted, the sample size is small, but 45% by a non-qb is too big a margin to be ignored.

by tuluse :: Fri, 08/17/2012 - 1:54pm

Forte was important too, but I think you're using those numbers wrong. If a pass is completed to Forte both Cutler and Forte would get credit for the yardage. You seem to be implying that Forte getting a lot of yards meant Cutler wasn't involved with it.

by chemical burn :: Mon, 08/20/2012 - 4:15pm

Yeah, I'm curious how if the team wasn't built around Cutler how losing him turned them from a Superbowl contender to virtually irrelevant. According to DVOA, Forte only had significant value in the passing game, so switching from Cutler to Hanie (who was not even good enough to throw it 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage to an RB) hurt Forte for sure.

by PackersRS (not verified) :: Mon, 08/20/2012 - 5:41pm

What I implied was that if a player is accountable for 45% of his team's offensive yardage, biggest percentage in the league by far, it's obvious he's the key player of the offense. Regardless of how he got that yardage. And it's not only the raw numbers. How much responsability did Cutler have at the LOS? Almost nothing. How much of the offense was tailored around him? Not saying it was right or it was his fault, but compare his situation to Rodgers, Brees, Mannings, Brady... The Bears didn't fit the (abritrary) criteria I estabilished...

As for the Bears' decline, losing Cutler (who was playing the best football of his career) obviously had a big blow, I'm not denying that, but how much of a contender was the Bears to begin with? They had only won 2 games against playoff participants (Falcons, Lions @ Soldier Field) out of 5 (Saints, Packers, Lions @ Ford Field). Both games at home. Which also happen to be the only above .500 teams they beat.

So who's to say they would've made the playoffs, much less the SB with Cutler healthy?

by akn :: Mon, 08/20/2012 - 6:32pm

After Cutler went down, the Bears remaining schedule was Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos, Packers, Seahawks, Vikings. Considering how close the games against the Raiders, Chiefs, and Broncos were, it's likely the Bears would have been 11-5 or 12-4, earning a wild card spot.

After that, anything is possible, as the Packers soon discovered.

by Eddo :: Tue, 08/21/2012 - 10:12am

All fairly true, though subjectively, Cutler was indeed much more important. The passing game would (and did) collapse without his quick release and awareness behind that line, with those receivers.

With regards to whom the Bears beat: they also beat the Chargers and Eagles, both of whom would have been playoff teams with one more win.

by tuluse :: Tue, 08/21/2012 - 11:40am

"So who's to say they would've made the playoffs, much less the SB with Cutler healthy?"

They had such an easy schedule, with Cutler I'm pretty sure they win enough to make the playoffs.

Who ever suggested they were a lock for the Superbowl even with Cutler? I think they had as a good a shot as any non-Packers team, but that is far from a guarantee.

Also, they played 6 playoff teams, they lost in overtime to the Broncos because they could only score 10 points and Marion Barber making 2 key mistakes.

"ow much of the offense was tailored around him? Not saying it was right or it was his fault, but compare his situation to Rodgers, Brees, Mannings, Brady... The Bears didn't fit the (abritrary) criteria I estabilished..."

Ok, Cutler isn't as good as any of those players either. If you're point is that the Bears are less reliant on Cutler than the Packers are on Rodgers, I accept that. It doesn't mean they're not reliant on him at all.

by PackersRS (not verified) :: Tue, 08/21/2012 - 5:36pm

No, my point isn't that. My point is that the Bears' offense wasn't as exclusively tailored to Cutler as those other offenses are, so the correlation isn't the same.

That's my point. I know, I'm not getting it through.

The Packers, Saints, Giants, Colts with Manning, Patriots, and Steelers all would have to restructure their offense if their starting QBs went down. Chicago wouldn't. The difference is just in quality. So, in the Bears' case, QB depth can be the difference between playoffs and not (though, again, it wasn't certain they would've made it, though it was an easy schedule, they would've to have won 2 more games than they did, which is anything but guaranteed). But in those other team's cases, an extended period without their QB, regardless of the backup, would mean that they would have to limit their playbook significantly, exactly because of how much the offense is built around the strenghts and weaknesses of those QBs, which normally translates to losses.

It seems the Bears are moving (rightfully so) to a more Cutler-oriented offense, but it was clear at least to me that last year it was built with Forte in mind. And if that's the case, though Campbell is a better backup than anything those listed teams have, if Cutler is out for more than 3 weeks the offense will stink. I'm betting we're going to see a lot of deep in-post combos from the Bears, since Cutler is so good with the deep throws and he now has 2 big WRs to throw to. But Campbell isn't very good at the deep ball, which will limit the use of those routes, and so on...

In sum, QB depth for teams that are built around their QB is relatively irrelevant, unless it's a short period of absense, that doesn't involve any playoff games, since their offenses can't be run successfully by any other QB without drastic changes, and changing playbooks, or even offensive tendencies, midseason is not an easy task. Not only that, but usually teams that are built around the QB tend to depend on that QB to mask weaknesses more than others. It is particularly true in the Packers', Saints' and Patriots' cases.

I could be completely wrong. Probably am. But that's my theory.

by tuluse :: Tue, 08/21/2012 - 5:42pm

Well it's hard to know these things without sitting in team meetings, but I think Martz offense was tooled to Cutler more than you think.

Also, I'm not sure how important your metric is at all. I think you could argue by the same logic that the 49ers offense was not designed for Steve Young, I think he was still important to them.

by PackersRS (not verified) :: Tue, 08/21/2012 - 8:31pm

Cutler reportedly didn't have any control at the LOS, no audibles no nothing, because Martz' system didn't have audibles. He did change plays, but IIRC he got into a fight with Martz because of it. I don't know if it was adapted to Cutler but I saw the same scheme he ran in St Louis... Hi-Lo, flat checkdown, tons of screens.

My theory isn't a metric. I'm not that smart. And I don't know enough of the 49ers offense under Young to say anything... But from what I heard and read both him and Montana were acquired with the WCO in mind, not the other way around.

And I'm not arguing that the importance of the QB is measured by how adapted the offense is to him, I never made any mention to that thought, though I agree with it. Mike Martz nonwithstanding. Most of the successful offenses are built this way. If the QB is the most important player in the field, why not cater the offense to suit him?

by chemical burn :: Tue, 08/21/2012 - 9:28pm

Actually, the West Coast being tailored to Steve Young is (I believe) incorrect. That he would take off running and improvise used to drive Bill Walsh nuts. Evidence can be found in his classic quote on pocket passers versus scrambling QB's "I prefer classical musicians to jazz musicians."

by PackersRS (not verified) :: Wed, 08/22/2012 - 11:25am

I didn't say the WCO was tailored to him, I said the opposite... That he was brought in because he had the necessary traits to play in the WCO (mobility, accuracy, intelligence, etc...). Improvisations aside.

by PackersRS (not verified) :: Tue, 08/21/2012 - 5:38pm

Forgot to say that "wouldn't need to restructure" should be read "wouldn't need to restructure significantly". It's obvious another QB means different offenses, but how drastic is the change is my point.