Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Aug 2006

FO Ranks All 32 Teams on FOX: Defensive Backs

We continue our series reviewing each unit team-by-team. If you don't yet own a copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2006, and want a hint of some of the great data we collected with the game charting project, this is the article for you. If you've been wondering when the Seattle Seahawks would finally be ranked low in something, this is the article for you. If you are a Denver Broncos fan and you want to see us praise your team and say very mean things about your division rivals, this is really the article for you.

Posted by: Bill Moore on 12 Aug 2006

49 comments, Last at 29 Aug 2006, 5:55pm by dennis johnson


by rk (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 12:44am

"Barber and teammate Brain Kelly have rather high opponent completion rates"

Can we nickname Ronde Pinkie?

by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 12:55am

Isn't Cincy's DB strength due a) the pressure put on the opposing offense to score b/c Cincy's offense is so potent, and b) the fact that they were unusually lucky having NFC North opponents throw a zillion INTs their way?
I'm an admitted Ravens homer, but I feel that if opposing offenses aren't under any pressure to score, they won't challenge a quality DB often. Hence average DBs on a team with a good offense will put up better numbers than good DBs on a team with a lousy offense.
Also under consideration I think are defensive backfields that are succesfull due to the constant pressure the front 7 bring. I would probably slide Pitt (I remember that stretch during last year when the DBs were consistently getting torched on 3rd down because of the lack of pressure), Carolina, and Philly down because its seems like their DBs are all pretty average when opposing QBs have time to throw. Granted all DBs are worse the more time QBs have, but I think these instances are more glaring.

by matt r (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 2:38am

man, i really don't get you guys...chicago at #3? did you WATCH the playoff game?

and after weeks of complaining that my lions were too low, you finally listen, and...rank them way too high in what i feel is the weakest part of the team.

dre bly is just completely overrated, a classic example of people seeing the interceptions but not the open ten-yard curls on third and eight. beyond that, there's...bupkiss. we stink.

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 6:18am

Wow, what are the odds that both Brain Kelley and Brain Dawkins -- probably the only two Brains you'll ever hear of -- would wind up playing Defensive Back in the NFL?

by the K (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 8:17am

Okay, homer alert.

Buffalo at #20? Is there a better cover corner in the league than Nate Clements, except for possibly Bailey? Troy Vincent made a solid transition to FS after playing most of his career at CB. Terrence McGee is getting better every year...they just didn't seem to get better in 2005 because the atrocious run defense left the corners with little help on the outside on most plays.

Also, I'd be very surprised if Ko Simpson becomes a starter this year barring injury to Vincent. In addition, Ashton Youboty has not gotten many of the reps at nickel back in camp, though he has had some. Jabari Greer and Eric King have both had more reps, though King's are slipping over the past few practices, IIRC. Whitner is also listed behind Bowen on the depth chart at SS, but he did miss the first week of camp with a holdout. I'm surprised Wire is listed third, he's had an impressive camp so far.

by Alex (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 9:42am

Re: 3
I think Chicago's at #3 because the personell is very good. FO isn't ranking them according to how stupid their defensive scheme was for one game.

I pretty much agree with this list. My question is how much having a very bad secondary will affect the Chargers. They're predicted to do quite well, but having a bad secondary could lose the game for them easily.
Will they still challenge for tops in the AFC West, or will they get beaten by last second field goals set up by long completions game after game?

by Theo (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 10:25am

Do you also look at how much pressure the front 7 makes?
DVOA pressure adjusted??

by admin :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 11:23am

Let he who has never misspelled cast the first stone.

by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 11:51am

The Bears are legit at # 3. They have good talent, they just had an incredibly poor scheme vs. Steve Smith.

by Kaveman (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 12:01pm

#2: Another factor is how well the defense stops the run. Opposing offenses throw more when behind, true, but also when their running game is shut down.

Which makes me even happier about the Broncos' secondary ranking. :-)

Incidentally Bill, Darrent Williams started across from Champ Bailey last year until he was injured. I believe he is ahead of Foxworth on the depth chart now although he is being pushed; Foxworth has had a good offseason.

by Noble (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 1:17pm

3: One poor performance doesn't destroy a team. Well. Statistically anyways.

by dlm (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 1:25pm

While it's nice to see the Broncos secondary get some well-deserved recognition, you seem to have confused two of the Broncos three rookie corners.

The Broncos cornerback situation was chaotic early on and fluid thereafter. Champ Bailey and Lenny Walls were the starting cornerbacks at the beginning of the season. Walls went down in Week 2 against San Diego. (While Bailey turned the game and the Broncos season around by returning an interception for a TD) Walls was replaced in Week 3 against the Chiefs by rookie Darrent Williams, a 2nd rounder from Oklahoma State. Bailey went down with a separated shoulder that same week. He was replaced by Domonique Foxworth, taken in the 3rd round from Maryland. Foxworth and Walls started against Jacksonville in Week 4. The two rookies Williams and Foxworth started in Week 5 against Washington. Bailey returned for Week 6 against New England, and he and Darrent Williams remained the starters until Williams got dinged and was replaced by Foxworth for the rest of the regular season.

The Broncos were determined to fix a secondary that had been burned by the Colts for two consecutive years in the playoffs. So they took three cornerbacks (a 2nd, and two 3rds) in the 2005 draft in Darrent Williams, Karl Paymah, and Domonique Foxworth. While Williams was chosen primarily as a punt returner, he showed unexpected prowess as a corner. Paymah was thought to be a good raw talent, but struggled throughout the season in limited use. Foxworth showed skills as a finesse corner who made some big plays as a nickelback when not starting. This year Foxworth is pressing Williams hard for the starting position opposite Champ Bailey.

by Paging Roger Cossack (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 5:27pm

Hey, Green Bay love! Wow, this seems to be the only FOXSports category in which they didn't end up in the bottom third. Well, I'm happy, but skeptical. They looked terrible in preseason, but granted, it is preseason. I feel like GB's secondary may look overrated due to their DLine. I had hopes for it before, as they have great DT depth, but not really anything at DE. Their inability to hurry the QB will probably lead to more blown coverages than usual.

by Pio (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 9:29pm

Unfortunately the Broncos' top-rated secondary has to make up for our inability to generate a pass rush without blitzing. Hopefully Kenard Lang and Elvis Dumervil will be able to help in that regard, but if not then we're still pretty susceptible to losses like the AFC championship game. Then again, the Steelers were pretty much unstoppable in last years' playoffs, so it's not exactly the biggest concern imaginable.

by MJK (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 10:22pm

The Broncos were funny in the playoffs last year. Save for the one timely Bailey interception, their secondary looked horrible against the Patriots, but it was saved by a very good pass rush--Brady was hounded all day in ways not many other teams managed. Then in the Pittsburg game, no pass rush, but a pretty good secondary.

I suspect of all the parts of a team, the secondary is most dependent on the schemes used for a particular opponent. E.g., see the earlier comments about the Bears and Steve Smith.

by MJK (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 10:25pm

Wow, I hadn't realized that both Ty Poole and Duane Starks got picked up by Oakland... If they end up as starting corners, then, good luck, Oakland fans. I can hear Jake Plummer salivating now...

Of course, they won't both end up as starting corners, because Ty Poole will have a mysterious season ending in Week 2, but hang around on the inactive list taking up a roster spot until being moved to IR in Week 8.

by Bill Moore (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 10:54pm

On Chicago: there was a struggle as to where to place the Bears. Keep in mind that this is the team that last year posted the best DVOA against the pass. A great deal of that performance can be attributed to the performance of the linebackers, and that is addressed in the book. However, it doesn't take a Brain (Kelly or Dawkins) to realize the team has talent in the secondary. Frankly, I think the secondary gets less respect from Bears fans than non-Bears fans. The blogging in Chicago is so anti-Tillman its crazy, almost too crazy.

As for Detroit: you know expectations are low when a Lions fan complains that 19th is "way too high" for the secondary. The weakest part of the team, really?? It's not quarterback, wide receiver, the offensive line, player personnel? The pass defense DID rank 17th last year.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 3:10am

Very interesting stats... most of the time secondaries are only ranked on their pass coverage, but the game charting project is able to shed light on who plays the run well... nice!

The Cowboys are ranked too high because their secondary cost them the playoffs last year in both games against the Redskins. Judging a secondary based on a sampling of 2 minutes and a blow-out is way better than this.

So while we are talking about schemes can someone tell us why Terrance Newman wasn't covering Santana Moss during the Week 2 MNF game? Possible the best 5 minutes of a game in any this past season (I have to admit the first 55 minutes doesn't have no alibi).

Oh yes, my copy of PFP 2006 shipped this weekend! I'm fairly certain it got delayed because I combined the order with some baby/toddler cook-book goodness for the wife.

by thad (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 10:06am

re 30
That's a good question. I have no idea.
I could totally see it happening once, anybody can blow a coverage and anybody can make a bad call.
But twice, at the end of a close came?
That seemed really stupid.

by thad (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 10:24am

sorry I meant re 18
I totally enjoyed this series of articles. I thought they were like a miniskirt, long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting.
I also like the use of stats like stops and defeats.
In the future could you include a few short chats?
by the time I get to the 20th ranked team and read that a cornerback has a 52 percent completion percentage I have comepletey forgotten where the top cornerbacks ranked.
I just mean like a top 5 list of stop percentage or defeats or something along the lines of a short leaderboard.

by bowman (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 10:40am

Will FO rank the coaches?

So JAX has average defensive units (14, 17, 17), but finished #7 in Defensive DVOA.

Meanwhile, CIN ranked #20 in Defensive DVOA with units ranked 30, 7, and 2; and NE was ranked #27 in defensive DVOA with units ranked and 7, 13, and 13.

PLEASE rate the coaches - I'm dying to hear the explanation how some teams play above their expectations and other teams play below theirs.

by bowman (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 10:49am

On the Offensive side, JAX has units ranked 9, 30, 26, and 21, and had an offensive DVOA ranked #10.

Meanwhile, WAS had units ranked 10, 3, 13 and 6, and had an offensive DVOA ranked #12.

Again, from this series, I get the impression that Belichek and Gibbs aren't coaching their talent to potential, and Del Rio is a top 3 coach.

by admin :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 11:17am

Let's try this again for those of you who didn't see it the first seven or eight times I wrote it.

Each FO writer came up with their article on their own, and the rankings are their own final decisions. You cannot add together the rankings to figure out "what FO thinks of team X."

You haven't proven anything about Jack Del Rio or Tony Dungy or Mike Holmgren or anything else. You've only proven that Bill Moore, Mike Tanier, and Michael David Smith do not share a hive mind.

There are coach rankings coming, from Michael David Smith, and they are not in any way an attempt to "square" the total rankings of the eight units. They are only an attempt to deliver the learned opinions of one Mr. Michael David Smith.

by bowman (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 11:34am


OK, I'll explain my reasoning again.

3 different people placed different defensive units of JAX as average, and their DVOA last year was #7.

3 different people placed differenet defensive units of NE as above average, and their DVOA last year was #27.

Yes, I understand that the person rating DLs can belive that one DL is "overrated" due to relying on the LBs and DBs, and another unit is "underrated" because they have to compensate for their poor LBs and DBs.

I also understand that I am comparing last year's DVOA to this year's "rankings", and that the comparison does not take into account injuries, additions, subtractions and depth to the units.

However, I still think there is value to pointing out any wild fluctuations between the subjective rankings and the objective ones. It will be more instructive to compare these preseason rankings to this year's final DVOA, so each individual composing these rankings can adjust their weights used, if needed, so they can produce more accurate rankings.

Finally, it is amusing to constantly overestimate the "ranking" of the team you follow, except for the 1 unit you feel is the weakest, which is vastly overrated. (by reading the threads, this is a common theme...)

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 1:08pm

3 different people placed different defensive units of JAX as average, and their DVOA last year was #7.

I think all that says is that the 3 authors don't agree on what made Jacksonville a #7 defense.

It could also be because Jacksonville wasn't a #7 defense - not by the end of the year. Jacksonville was #17 in weighted defensive DVOA.

Jacksonville started off strong, and faded greatly. That might help explain the ratings.

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 1:12pm

Incidentally, I really hope whoever does special teams looks at Philly's weighted ST DVOA as well. Full season, they were dead-on average. But using weighted DVOA, Philly was second in the league.

I can't see Philly's special teams being lower than second. Buffalo I can understand being first.

by cjfarls (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 1:16pm


Remember the DVOA you cite is for 2005, these rankings are for 2006... FA's and rookies come in, people get old, etc.

While I agree that DVOA doesn't match the rankings, I have had only minor quibbles with the admittedly subjective rankings and the justifications presented.

Basically, until we have this years DVOA stats, its kinda hard to compare... might be a fun guest article for next off-season though... While injuries,etc are sure to throw some cases out of whack, we could analyze: "How smart are the Football Outsiders?"

by bowman (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 2:01pm

27 - Exactly my point. A fun comparison. An article to revisit them at the end of the year would be fun, to point out spectacular successes and failures, as well as highlight backups and rookies who overperformed.

I really don't want to sound negative, but ranking units on a site that provides a objective ranking based on inovative statistical analysis INVITES comparisons between the two completely seperate rankings.

by Yakuza Rich (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 3:27pm


Dallas was in the nickel package and Newman moves to the slot in the nickel package. The slot position isn't exactly easy to play in the NFL, so it's an advantage to have a guy like Newman who can play the slot well in the nickel and give the "easier" LCB spot to Aaron Glenn where at least Glenn can use the sideline as an extra defender. Tampa has been moving Ronde Barber to the slot in their nickel package for years.

What happened in the week 2 game is that Dallas went to a Cover 4. My guess is D-Coordinator felt the only way Washington could make a comeback is if they started to hit some short & intermediate passes since Brunnell stunk the entire game and hadn't beaten anybody with the deep ball in 2 years. I didn't have a problem with the first defensive playcall, but the second one in a row was pretty silly on Zimmer's part. And contrary to popular belief, those TD's were Glenn's responsibility, not Williams' who correctly played his responsibility which was man coverage on Cooley on the first play and Patten (IIRC) on the second play.

by Yakuza Rich (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 3:30pm

***dre bly is just completely overrated, a classic example of people seeing the interceptions but not the open ten-yard curls on third and eight. beyond that, there’s…bupkiss.***

Bly's stats were pretty good in PFP, if I remember right. Also, KC Joyner's stats on Bly are pretty good as well. Bly played #1 WR's more than any CB in the league last year (64% of the time) and managed to up good stats despite having an anemic pass rush and doing it with a cast on his hand. I think he's far from overrated.

by sippican (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 4:12pm

This article and the method of evaluating db performance kicks all sorts of ass.

Nicely done.

by Bill Moore (not verified) :: Mon, 08/14/2006 - 4:39pm

"I really don’t want to sound negative, but ranking units on a site that provides a objective ranking based on inovative statistical analysis ..."

One should note that this was a series requested by FOX for FOX readers (of which FO readers are a subset). Additionally, a goal for this series was to not just make it a DVOA list. I expect each writer viewed the mix of past performance vs. future potential slightly differently.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 3:04am

I'm with Bowman above (and it's not just his name). Time to rate the coaches (OC and DC). After reading that my Colts DBs were, as expected, about average, as in all other individual D categories despite a high DVOA from 2005, I am ready to see how Ron Meeks stands up against his peers.

Of course, if their D ends up ranked 16 in DVOA this year, I will slink off and memorize this series of articles verbatim. Of course, as Aaron pointed out for the seventeenth time and Pat put very politically above, this series represents multiple authors' views of what makes the components work and they might disagree.

Also, great old SNL reference to the floor wax/dessert topping (for us old coots), and Marvin Harrison's footrints on Rashean Mathis's face.

Wow, is SD really #32? For a team often touted as "the best team to not make the playoffs" (and this Colt fan would not really argue that point too much), hard to believe they have this glaring a weakness. Lucky for them their front 7 is pretty studly.

by EnglishBob (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 4:17am

Bobman, you can not rate the coaches seperately using DVOA (I think). The DVOA scores of all the players are a direct result of outcomes on the pitch and therefore reflect how well the coaches are scheming against their rivals.

A great example of this (in my opinion) is Clinton Portis's collapse in rankings on his first year in Washington. It is a really good example (I think) of the scheme influence on a player's rating. Washington used him poorly, stuffing him up the middle, and lo and behold his rating collapses- I don't believe he suddenly became a much worse player. So how much of Portis's high Denver rating is due to the scheme and Shannahan) and low rating due to the scheme in Washington (and Gibbs)? It's impossible to seperate statistically but we can still have strong opinions on this.

by JonL (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 11:27am

Now that the Redskins traded for Mike Rumph, they should drop a few places, no?

by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 4:19pm

Re Chicago, I'm a Bears homer, and Tillman is the weak link there. He's been living off the game-saving interception against Moss for too long. He does not have the speed to keep up with elite receivers. If he misses a jam, he's toast (see the 50+ yd TD Roy Williams scored in Week 2 last year).

The coaching staff made him look even worse by refusing to roll coverage to Smith. I think some of Mike Martz's "I'd rather lose my way than win by doing something else" rubbed off on Lovie.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 5:04pm

Of course, if their D ends up ranked 16 in DVOA this year, I will slink off and memorize this series of articles verbatim.

Actually, Indy's ranking along with their DVOA makes sense, but you have to realize what happens when you put all of them together. The articles basically said Indy has a great pass rush, bad linebackers, poor run defense, and one safety that can play the run well. From that, you'd expect high defensive line yards (check), very high sack rank (check), about average 10+ yards (check - the one good safety makes up for the poor linebackers).

The question then becomes "how did Indy end up with a decent DVOA?" Because when you're forcing other teams to pass, a pass rush is critical, and the Colts have one of the best in the league.

In other words, the Colts defense is perfect when paired with that offense.

If you tried to pair up the Colts defense with an ineffective offense, though, you'd be in a lot of trouble.

That's why the defensive line ranking - which, I would agree, is the best part of that defense - specifically states "ranking Indy's defensive line is really hard." What do you do when a unit is perfect for what a team asks of it, but which would be a liability on a slew of other teams?

by thad (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 6:29pm

Pat, are you sure about that?
Think about it, when you are forcing the other team to pass quite often you are playing a prevent defense or an 8 man zone or something, and a pass rush isn't critical.
The Colts defense seems well set up to win in the reguar season but once the playoffs come around
1. Teams have better o-lines, somewhat mitigating the pass rush
2. They have better offenses that are able to score early.
I don't know what the perfect d for the Colts would be, but one would want perhaps a little more flexability, doncha think?

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 6:34pm


Don't forget the cap. Part of why the Colts do that (and I agree with Pat's assessment) is that it allows them to play a pretty cost-efficient defense while dedicating so much money to their O.

by TracingError (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 10:10pm

34: How much is scheme and how much is the absence of any passing game threat two years ago? I don't recall other shifty runners like Joe Washington or Kelvin Bryant having trouble in Gibbs' scheme.

22: WAS added two receivers, who, whether or not they were great, should represent a huge improvement over their weakest links LAST YEAR, 2nd and 3rd receiver, and hence open up the passing game and thereby the running game.

Same reasoning for NE--if you have one glaring weakness, in this case pass defense, it's difficult to cover for it, and your overall rating will tend to fall to your worst area, as teams will of course exploit your weakest link.

by ram (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 12:29am

yeah ok the team with the 28th pass defense has the best dbs in the league...

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 11:28am

Gee, very insightful, ram. I never thought about it that way. Very persuasive arguement.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 12:28pm

Houston's DBs do indeed suck, but they don't suck quite badly enough for Philip Buchanon to get a start. Lewis Sanders is currently listed as the starter across from Robinson, but he may be demoted to the nickel role when Faggins returns from injury.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 12:56pm

I don’t know what the perfect d for the Colts would be, but one would want perhaps a little more flexability, doncha think?

Sure. And I'd like a million dollars and a cookie.

The Colts spend a lot on offense, and they have to go with a little less on defense. The way that they end up with an 8th ranked defense is by spending money on a pass rush, and shoving their opponents deep into a hole with their offense, while filling in the hole with a pass rush.

Yeah, that presents problems when facing a great defense. It also presents problems when facing a team with a lot of short-range weapons, like Philly (which is why I was hoping for a Philly/Indy Super Bowl in 2004 or 2005). But it's the best you can do.

by B (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 4:28pm

Pat: I'll give you a cookie, but for the million dollars, you're on your own.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 4:55pm

See? I want more flexibility, damn it! I want to someone to offer me a million dollars, or a cookie!

Sadly, all the Colts could get, was a cookie.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 5:29pm

The problem with ranking them as a unit though is that it's such a damn fine cookie.


by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Tue, 08/29/2006 - 11:37am

I knew I got here too late. There aren't any cookies left.

I put off reading these as long as I could because I knew what I'd find.

Bad offense - check. Bad defense - check.

There is no hope in Motown this year.

by dennis johnson (not verified) :: Tue, 08/29/2006 - 5:55pm

PREDICTIONS are just that and whenever a season starts it always changes the way people view teams,players,and coaches.
Most teams don't know themselves what will be the outcome,but i do believe FO insiders are wrong on some teams,and seattle seahawks are one of those teams.They play the weakest division in the NFL so how are they up there in coaches,when the dolphins have two EX-NFL coaches on the defense side as well as the offensive side.MULARKY AND CAPERS,any answers to why they aren't up there or is it because they need to prove themselves in one of the most toughest divisions..