Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Jan 2013

New England and the Top Offensive DVOA Games Ever

I can't believe I didn't notice this when I was going over this weekend's DVOA ratings yesterday. Remember how the Patriots' single-game DVOA against Houston was surprisingly high? Well, it turns out it wasn't just very high. It was "top ten of all-time high," at least on the offensive side of the ball. Eighth, to be exact. The Patriots had a lot of mid-range gains rather than depending on a couple of big plays, plus they had very few plays that lost yardage and no turnovers. They did this against the defense that ranked No. 3 in DVOA this season.

Here's a list of the best offensive DVOA games since 1991:

Top 10 Games of Offensive DVOA, 1991-2012
Rank Year Team DVOA Week vs. Score Opp DVOA
1 2005 SD 113.8% 3 NYG 45-23 13
2 2003 KC 105.0% 15 DET 45-17 21
3 2009 ARI 102.8% 18 GB 51-45 2
4 1991 SF 98.8% 17 CHI 52-14 6
5 2000 STL 98.6% 5 SD 57-31 9
6 1998 DEN 97.0% 2 DAL 42-23 24
7 2011 SD 95.1% 13 JAC 38-14 5
8 2012 NE 94.7% 19 HOU 41-28 3
9 2009 IND 93.6% 2 MIA 27-23 18
10 2007 DAL 91.0% 1 NYG 45-35 13

You'll find a box score for the top game here. This was when Drew Brees was still in San Diego. Brees was 19-for-22, while LaDainian Tomlinson had 192 yards and three touchdowns on just 21 carries. He also threw for a touchdown on a halfback option.

No. 2 is Kansas City with Priest Holmes rushing for three touchdowns and Trent Green going 20-for-25.

Third is the Arizona-Green Bay Wild Card shootout from three years ago. Fourth is the game at the end of the 1991 season where the 49ers had missed the playoffs despite being 9-6 and essentially took out their frustration on the Bears.

The game ranked ninth may be the most interesting because the Colts only scored 27 points. This is the Monday night game from a couple years ago where the Dolphins dominated time of possession 45:07 to 14:53 but lost anyway because the Colts scored so quickly every time they got the ball, while the Dolphins were grinding away with the Wildcat.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 15 Jan 2013

37 comments, Last at 18 Jan 2013, 1:04pm by JDB


by batesbruce :: Tue, 01/15/2013 - 9:46pm

Wow, stats don't have eyeballs, nor would we want them too. But on the eyeball test did this seem like a top 10 all time offensive performance?

by MC2 :: Tue, 01/15/2013 - 10:26pm

No, but then again, based on the eyeball test, I don't think anyone looks at the Texans and sees the third best defense in the league. I know I sure as hell don't.

by Judy (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2013 - 10:06pm

Would anyone even have picked it as top 10 just for NE's offense?

by stephen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2013 - 10:38pm

agreed. very surprising. i think it reveals how much emphasis DVOA puts on negative plays, of which the pats had very few - and since the texans were so strong on defense this year... but it does seem like the first game against them, even, was more impressive.

by Red :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 3:25am

This. IMO, the one noticeable flaw in DVOA is that it overweights turnovers, which are largely random events. Brian Burke's GWP model does a much better job of regressing the effect of turnovers down to the appropriate level. This is especially true in today's offense friendly environment, where it's much easier for teams to recover from mistakes and put up points in a hurry. It puzzles me why you discount the value of big plays because they're "non-predictive", yet simultaneously give a huge penalty for turnovers, which are even more non-predictive than big plays!

by Aaron Schatz :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 12:10pm

Because we've tested the penalty for turnovers to get the most accurate DVOA overall. It used to be higher, we made it lower, and if we made it lower than this, the stat wouldn't be as accurate in either measuring the past or projecting the future.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 1:31pm

"This. IMO, the one noticeable flaw in DVOA is that it overweights turnovers, which are largely random events"

Turnovers aren't non-predictive events.

by JDB (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2013 - 1:04pm

LT lost a fumble in that Chargers/Giants "Drew's Your Daddy!" Bowl.

When one also scores four TDs, turnovers are forgiven.

by Aaron Schatz :: Tue, 01/15/2013 - 10:45pm

I was shocked too. I had to go back and look at it a couple times and check plays to make sure there were no errors. I don't think people realized how efficient that game was, though. The Pats had 7.2 yards per play. The Texans allowed only one game over 6.3 yards per play during the regular season, and that one was 6.8. On top of that, it was only the third game all year where the Texans did not force a fumble or intercept a pass.

Compare this game to the Week 14 HOU-NE game. In that game the Pats had just 6.3 yards per play, two fumbles (which they recovered themselves), and an interception (by Ryan Mallett after he came in to replace Brady).

by Anon (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2013 - 11:28pm

Watching that game, it seemed like NE was in charge, but not utterly dominant (not like ARI a couple years ago where you just knew they were scoring whenever they touched the ball)... Then again, Houston was putrid this year against great offensive teams (GB, NE twice), so it seems like the defense adjustments are inflating this figure...

by Kulko :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 2:21am

Well it definitely looks like NE is a very much matchup for HOU. So this number is certainly a bit inflated by thinking hou would be harder to beat. The oher effect at work here, is that Aaron and BB just love the same style of offense, which doesnt look dominant to most observers.

by ammek :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 4:52am

Six hundred points in 17 games, and the fewest turnovers per play in the league (and, like, the fourth-fewest turnovers per play ever)? Eight more first downs per game than the average team, and four more than any other team? That looks pretty dominant to me.

by Briguy :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 2:34am

How did Indy end up on that list by scoring 27 points against the number 18 team? That seems awfully pedestrian.

by Theo :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 5:22am

As stated in the intro, they didn’t have the ball for long because Miami was grinding out drives with the wildcat. But WHEN the Colts had the ball, they scored at will.
So they scored 27 in only one quarter of the game. Not one half, which is normal.

by Aloysius Mephis... :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 6:25pm

Bear in mind DVOA is a rate stat, not a cumulative stat. It's easier for a team to get on this list if don't have too many possessions in a game. The same way a running back who throws one pass all season for a 30-yard touchdown will have an outlandishly high passing DVOA.

by Red :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 2:59am

Aaron, now that you've normalized DVOA, any chance you could give us a new table of the best ever QB games in your database? Seeing that ARI/GB game on there reminded me to ask you about this.

by Aaron Schatz :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 12:11pm

Need to work on some updated playoff numbers in the offseason, then I'll try to do so, yep.

by Duff Soviet Union :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 4:53am

How did the 2000 St Louis Rams not top the list for the game ranked fifth above? They had 11 offensive possessions (not including a 3 play kneel down drive to end the game) and on these possessions they gained 620 yards (56 yards per drive) and scored 6 touchdowns and 5 field goals against the 9th ranked defense that year? How exactly do you do better than that?

by Theo :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 7:53am

What game?

by tballgame (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 11:05am

DVOA is based on play-by-play analysis. You cannot look at total yards or points or drive lengths to understand the scoring. If you start a drive with two consecutive plays that gain 10 yards, according to DVOA, that is better than starting a drive with one play that nets -1 yard and a second and 11 play that gains 21 yards. The best games are going to be games where the offensive team has no turnovers, few completions, few/no sacks, and the running back rarely/never gets stopped for short yardage/no gain/a loss. This stat is more about measuring the lack of negative than the magnitude of the positives.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 3:54pm

DVOA hates big plays and loves Wes Welker.

by Blackamallow (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 4:29pm

This is so funny, and it's true.

by BJR :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 7:16am

When an objective grading system throws up a surprising result like this I'm less inclined to look for faults in the system, and more inclined to look at where the collective 'eyeballs' might be wrong. That's not to say I'm convinced this was one of the top ten offensive displays of all time, but that if DVOA says it was this good, the chances are it was indeed very, very good, and not just a glitch in the system.

A couple of thoughts on why this wouldn't meet the 'eyeball test':

New England waxed Houston only a month ago, so it didn't come as a surprise to most observers that it happened again. In fact it was almost expected, as evidenced by the pre-game Vegas odds. This doesn't alter the fact that it was a highly efficient offensive performance against a very good defence.

It wasn't a blowout victory, in the traditional sense. The game (in contrast to the first meeting between the sides, and many other seemingly dominant performances) remained close on the scoreboard until the third quarter. The reason for this, of course, is that Houston's offence and special teams were performing well themselves, which has nothing to do with New England's offensive performance.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 9:49am

Houston's offense wasn't actually performing well either. It was primarily their special teams that kept this from being a 42-3 game at the half.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 7:46am

I suspect part of the problem for the 'eyeball' test is that there's very little of outstanding note about the Pats performance.

They only led 17-13 at the 1st half.

Then all they did in the 3rd quarter was score two touchdowns one off a turnover, and then only 10 points in the 4th.

Brady was only 25 of 40 ... Mesko punted 5 times

It's not like the 59-0 drubbing of the Titans in the snow with a 45-0 lead at halftime and Brady throwing 6 TDs by the middle of the 3rd quarter ...

by johns :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 8:51am

They just never recovered after that Gronkowski injury on their second offensive series. He's a great player but the health of players like Talib and Ninkovich, both of which dodged major injury bullets the past several weeks, is more critical to their championship hopes.


by dbostedo :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 11:41pm

Uh oh... looks like the spammers are learning... perhaps becoming sentient, even... when SpammerJoe shows up, the end is nigh...

by TomC :: Thu, 01/17/2013 - 11:50pm

im sorty Dvae I can't do thta.

by tballgame (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 11:17am

I see that Tom Brady's best game was better than Manning's best game, so I assume that means that FO has decided Brady is the better QB.

Sorry, I was all geeked up for this discussion this week and then Denver blew it. On that note, heard Mike Lombardi say Monday that Manning did not throw a single seam pass against the Ravens and he thought that could be a career first. Is that something that can be checked?

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 3:32pm

I guess we can therefore be thankful that the Broncos lost, sparing us Yet Another Irrational Brady-vs-Manning thread...

by Danny Tuccitto :: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 4:59pm

I'd just like to augment the absurdity of that #1 game by noting that it's the only one in which an offense was over 100% both passing (120.7%) and running (109.3%).

by chips (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2013 - 12:48am

Cant see how NE offensive performance was better than the niners one. More yards, first downs, avg play, time of possessions, rushing yards, 3rd down conversion....obviously this metric has serious flaws

by dryheat :: Thu, 01/17/2013 - 9:35am

Strength of defense?

by Dean :: Thu, 01/17/2013 - 5:05pm

Where does the Eagles dismantling of Washington on MNF 2 years ago rank?

by Tom Gower :: Thu, 01/17/2013 - 8:41pm

Not sure of a ranking, but 63.6%. The Redskins were 26th in defense and outside of the two long touchdowns, Vick's other 26 passing attempts resulted in less than 200 yards. Still an awesome game, just not of the same historic proportions.

by ElGee (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2013 - 10:27pm

Aaron -- can you post the offensive DVOA of the playoff games for Peyton Manning and Tom Brady? Do you have a page for playoff DVOA?

by TomC :: Thu, 01/17/2013 - 11:53pm

I was on a plane home from college during #4, so I asked my brother to tape the game (and I do mean "tape"). He let me watch one quarter then came and stood in front of the TV and said: "I can't let you do this, let's just go and get a beer."