Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features


» 2018 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Is Kirk Cousins the best free-agent quarterback in recent memory? Should Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler have gotten the larger contract? And what makes a free-agent contract good or bad, anyway?

14 Oct 2006

Game Previews: PHI-NO, SEA-STL

by Aaron Schatz

While few fans expected Chicago to be as dominant as they seem to be early in the season, most fans expected them to once again win their division. The same cannot be said for the NFC's other three division leaders. Each of these 4-1 teams is coming off a season of double-digit losses. Which teams are for real, and which teams are just enjoying some early luck?

Two big games this weekend will go a long way towards providing the answer, with two of the division leaders playing each other, and the third hosting the defending NFC champions.


(Sunday, 1pm)

Not only are both of these teams 4-1, but each loss came by a single score. Nonetheless, play-by-play breakdown shows that the Eagles have been the superior team this year in every phase of the game except for field goals and punt returns.

The biggest difference is on offense, where the Eagles are averaging 6.8 yards per play. That's more than a full yard per play ahead of every other NFL team except the Giants (6.1). Donovan McNabb leads all quarterbacks in passing by nearly 300 yards. The Eagles still prefer the pass to the run, but when they do run, they're the best team in the league according to the Football Outsiders DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metrics.

DVOA ranks the Saints tenth in passing offense -- better than anyone expected, but far below the Eagles. While veteran Joe Horn is getting his yardage as usual, the leading lights of the New Orleans passing game are both rookies. Nobody expected seventh-round pick Marques Colston from Hofstra to become the go-to guy for new Saints quarterback Drew Brees; he leads all rookies with 374 yards receiving. But everybody expected second overall pick Reggie Bush to get a lot of time as a slot receiver, and he's second among all running backs in receiving yards.

Bush is quite similar to Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, and it will be fascinating to watch both players work against defenses designed to stop them. The Saints so far rank second in preventing gains on passes to running backs, and the Eagles rank fourth.

Bush has been great as a receiver, but terrible as a runner. In college, USC could create huge holes for him, but with the Saints the holes are smaller, and Bush isn't getting through them. Despite his legendary speed, linebackers have been getting to him on slow-developing outside runs before he is able to turn the corner and accelerate. As a result, he's averaging barely three yards per carry -- bad enough to cancel the benefits of a big comeback season from veteran Deuce McAllister. McAllister, averaging 4.8 yards, has a style far more suited to a Saints line that's better at blocking up the middle.

McAllister should be able to gain yards against an Eagles run defense that's been league-average so far. But DVOA ranks the Philadelphia pass defense fifth, while the New Orleans pass defense ranks just 15th. The Saints also must overcome an injury to rookie safety Roman Harper, replaced in the lineup by journeyman ex-Giant Omar Stoutmire. Philadelphia is also dealing with injuries in the secondary, but starting cornerback Lito Sheppard played well in his return last week, and undrafted free agent Joselio Hanson actually managed to shut down superstar Terrell Owens for most of the game. The Eagles lead the league with 23 sacks, and while the Saints are near the top of the league in preventing sacks, the same could have been said a week ago about Dallas -- until Philadelphia sacked Drew Bledsoe seven times.

Not only are the Eagles playing better than anyone outside of Chicago, they're winning games despite bad luck. The Eagles have a poor fumble recovery rate and the only field goal missed against them was a 54-yarder.

It all adds up to an easy Eagles win, except for one caveat, a variable that nobody can measure with numbers. The post-Katrina Saints have been energized by the crowd during their first two home games since returning to the Superdome, and that emotional lift could make this game much closer -- or even produce an upset.


(Sunday, 1pm)

The Seahawks are underperforming expectations this year, while their archrivals in St. Louis are surpassing them. But it's difficult to tell how good each of these teams is, because of the circumstances surrounding their wins and losses.

The Rams surprised the league by upsetting Denver on opening day, but since then have played four close games against four of the league's worst teams -- and actually lost to San Francisco. In general, the Rams have been lucky in the same ways the Eagles have been unlucky. Although Marc Bulger has the lowest completion percentage of his career, he has thrown zero interceptions -- primarily because defenders have dropped a number of would-be turnovers. (As we learned last year from Eli Manning, a lower completion percentage with very few interceptions isn't sustainable over the long term, although Manning's completion percentage last year was much lower than Bulger's this year.) Furthermore, opposing offenses have fumbled seven times and the Rams have recovered all seven, a feat of total randomness rather than skill. Two of these fumbles weren't even forced by the Rams defense, just quarterbacks dropping the snap, and one of those was Kurt Warner fumbling the ball away when Arizona was in field-goal range and down by just two points.

For 11 quarters of play to start the season, it looked like Seattle had fully defied the infamous Super Bowl Loser's Curse. Then came the 27 garbage-time points they allowed the Giants in the fourth quarter of a game they once led 42-3, followed by a complete whitewash at the hands of the Chicago Bears. Despite a winning record, Seattle ranks just 19th in our DVOA ratings, solely because of these five quarters. In general, garbage time plays and blowouts are just as predictive of future performance as any other plays, but it's hard to believe that the Seahawks will play as badly for the rest of the season as they did two Sundays ago in Chicago.

Seattle's offense is plagued by injuries to running back Shaun Alexander and along the offensive line. Those problems are compounded by poor decision-making by usually steady quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck threw only nine interceptions in 2005, but already has seven this year. The improved St. Louis pass defense, meanwhile, ranks second in the NFL with eight interceptions.

Seattle gets starting tight end Jerramy Stevens back from injury, and veteran wide receiver Bobby "The First Down Machine" Engram is out sick, so don't expect to see as much of that four-wideout set that's become a Seattle staple since the trade for ex-New England receiver Deion Branch. But the Seahawks may want to use Stevens more as a blocker, since the Rams lead the league in defending passes to tight ends. On the ground, while backup Maurice Morris has to fill in for Alexander, St. Louis is not Chicago, and Seahawks shouldn't have trouble running the ball against a Rams defense giving up 4.7 yards per carry (24th in the NFL).

The Rams are back to being one of the league's top offenses, despite a major change in philosophy with the hiring of head coach Scott Linehan. They run more and throw more short passes. Running back Steven "Don't Call Me Stephen" Jackson is tied for the NFL lead with 465 rushing yards, but the Rams aren't necessarily more efficient on the ground -- Jackson has the same 4.1 yards per carry average as last year, and the Rams' run offense ranks 15th in DVOA. Also, like every other Linehan team, the Rams stall out in the red zone, and kicker Jeff Wilkins leads the league in both field goals and attempts. The Seattle defense was dominant for the first 11 quarters of the season, and porous in the last five, so it's not easy to gauge how good it really is. One important matchup: While this year's Seahawks have been much stronger against starting receivers than they have been against slot receivers, cornerback Marcus Trufant historically has great difficulty covering Rams star Torry Holt.

Seattle still looks like the better team, but like New Orleans, the Rams will enjoy a significant home-field advantage. The Seahawks have always had trouble winning at the Edward Jones Dome; even last year, when they were far better than the Rams, they beat them by just six points. And while Seattle had the bye week off to prepare for this game, historical research shows that the team coming off the bye week has no advantage when both teams have winning records. (If you own a copy of PFP 2005, check out the San Francisco chapter for that analysis.)

An edited version of this article appeared in Friday's New York Sun.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 14 Oct 2006

39 comments, Last at 16 Oct 2006, 8:57am by someone


by Adam, VA (not verified) :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 5:06pm

Great previews as always. First!

by Andrew (not verified) :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 5:12pm

McAllister should be able to gain yards against an Eagles run defense that’s been league-average so far.

The Eagles shut down Tiki Barber, Frank Gore, Ahman Green, and Wali Lundy/Vernand Morency. The only guys who've run on them were Julius Jones and Marion Barber, because they willingly sold out against the pass to shut down Owens, Glenn, and Witten, and get to Bledsoe, figuring that however much Jones and Barber might run, it wouldn't be enough for Dallas to win.

I think more than the Eagles being league average in run defense is that run offense has been putrid around the league this year so far, making a lot of otherwise suspect run defenses look as good as that of the Eagles.

Since New Orleans doesn't have a Tight End threat like Witten or Shockey, I expect to see 8 men in the box and McAllister and Bush getting shut down and dropped for losses. Reggie Bush will have a sad introduction to the NFC East by Matt McCoy if they think he is actually mismatched against him in the passing game. Maybe if they can isolate him on Dhani Jones ...

by DschAf (not verified) :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 5:14pm

Any insider info on the Lamb's ailing cornerbacks? If both Brown and Fisher are out, their 24th ranked run-defense is the least of their worries.

by max (not verified) :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 5:29pm

Well, a couple of things:

#1 "Running back Steven “Don’t Call Me Stephen� Jackson is second in the league with 465 yards".

Are you sure he's not tied for 1st? And also, isn't Jackson clear 1st in yards from scrimmage?

#2 "historical research shows that the team coming off the bye week has no advantage when both teams have winning records. (If you own a copy of PFP 2005, check out the San Francisco chapter for that analysis.)"

Yes. I have it. And it doesn't say no advantage. It actually says the team with the bye does worse than expected when both teams have winning records. (.728 pre-bye winning pct v .478 post-bye game result)

But despite the usual anti-St.Louis slant here, there is some objectivity. Holt does own Truffant. And the Rams are poor against the run. I expect they will have trouble against Seattle on the ground. But I don't know if that will be enough for Seattle to win in the dome. If the Rams get to Hasselbeck like they got to Plummer, it won't be.

Clearly, the Seahawks look like the better team going into this game. But they may not after Sunday. God only knows what the DAVE will look like if that happens.

by max (not verified) :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 5:35pm

#3 Thanks for confirming the anti-Rams bias here.

To answer your question, Fisher is expected to play, he says he's ready to go, but Brown is a game time decision. Word out of St. Louis is that Brown is gonna be out and either Hill or Butler will start.

by luz (not verified) :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 5:45pm


i know exactly what you mean. this site is also anti-new england, chicago, pittsburgh, denver and seattle, as well. it's pathetic.

by Harris (not verified) :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 6:20pm

That the Eagles are good at running the ball, yet Reid would still rather hear the death rattle of his only child than call a hand-off is unspeakably maddening. I don't expect him to be Chuck Noll, but calling a slant on 3rd and inches in a tight game with a division rival while trying to hold a lead is . . . is . . . I'm not sure what the hell that is.

by David (not verified) :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 7:00pm

Part of that is probably that the defenses the Eagles play are taken by surprise whenever they call a run. Regardless, the third-and-inches call was insane, but relying on the pass isn't, I think.

by Tony (not verified) :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 7:05pm

My thoughts on the Eagles/Saints: For the Saints to be effective, they have to establish a true run game--fast. They have to wear down the defense with McAllister to the left, McAllister to the right, and McAllister up the middle--then set up the play action and deeper downfield stuff to Horn and Colston.

They also have to be very careful that they don't fall behind by too much while they're trying to establish the run.

A good point is made that the Saints don't have a TE like Witten or Shockey to draw coverage, so expect Bush out of the backfield to be covered in multiple levels.

The Saints offensive line is also a MAJOR key to this game. If the Eagles start getting to Brees early, this game's just about over.

Also with Stoutmire in at safety, expect McNabb (who seems to pick on weak links in the secondary as if he's been point-and-aimed that way) to fire over the top to his side with regularity.

by admin :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 7:24pm

Sorry about that. Like most of my innocent, honest mistakes, my ignorance about Jackson's league-leading yardage total clearly demonstrates my hatred for the city of St. Louis and for reader max personally. F%&k that stupid arch.

(I'll go fix the error now. I can't believe that people still charge me with bias after watching me go from "the guy who hates Denver" to the "clear Broncos fan who hates Indianapolis" back to "the guy who hates Denver" in the course of a single year. It's pretty pathetic.)

by Not saying (not verified) :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 7:34pm

Re: 10

To be fair to the pathetic people, most of them probably haven't watched you go through these stages. Most of them seem to show up once to make their comments (or emails, though, thankfully, we're spared those) and then disappear.

Max appears to be somewhat unique, if he actually has PFP 2005 and stills claims there is only "some objectivity". That takes a lot of blinders.

I also wanted to point out that nfl.com has Jackson listed as #2 in yards, not #1 with Gore. I think the NFL hates St. Louis.

by Doug Farrar :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 7:34pm

Two NFC West backs co-lead the NFL in rushing yards, and neither of them is named Shaun Alexander or Edgerrin James.

What do you think THOSE preseason odds might have been?

by Not saying (not verified) :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 7:38pm

To be clear, nfl.com lists them with the same number of yards, but puts Jackson as #2.

Also, re: #4, how does "the team with the bye do[ing] worse than expected" contradict the idea that they don't have an advantage? Did they change the meaning of disadvantage while I wasn't looking? Was it just in St. Louis and I didn't notice because of my bias?

by the K (not verified) :: Sat, 10/14/2006 - 8:59pm

Anti Bills bias too. Goddamn Pats fans.

#12: One of them not being named Shaun Alexander is surprising, but Steven Jackson being better than Edge doesn't surprise me a lot. C'mon, it IS still Arizona.

by max (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 12:19am


Sorry Aaron. Didn't mean to come down hard on you. Really, it was the Tanier article that got me going. The one about all of Seattle's STAR receivers.

Anyway, I'm from CT, so the stupid arch is fine with me.

by max (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 12:26am


The sucking up is nauseating. You must be looking for a free copy of PFP 2007. Man up, big guy.

by Kal (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 2:46am

How could we forget the Anti-Falcons bias? Come on now. And then there's calling SF and Houston last year historically the worst teams ever.

Tell ya what, Max - when St Louis can stop struggling against teams like Detroit, San Francisco, Green Bay and Arizona, I'll start supporting them. Until then, they look fairly shaky. Then again, so do the Hawks right now.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 3:26am


Aha! I see in #10 you came full-circle on Denver, but did not deny your hatred of Indy! Come on, come on, admit it. Damn Pats fans.....

Yes, I am kidding. IMO, you have bent over backwards to be fair to Indy, and I assume that rankled a lot of Pats fans ("The traitor!"). So, really, you may or may not hate Indy or any number of teams, but it doesn't matter as far as FO is concerned. Thanks for being fair, and really, your skin is pretty damn thick considering some of the hate mail you get.

by ammek (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 5:00am

Not to mention Russell and Vinny's blatant anti-Temple prejudice.

by sam_acw (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 5:24am

This site is really anti houston too. Every time they get mentioned it is only to comment on how they suck!

by Not saying (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 7:04am

Re: 16

I think I was less sucking up to Aaron and more just insulting you. But I suppose you can take it any way you want; it's a free country. I mean you did take #3 as proof of this site's anti-Rams bias, so you obviously enjoy stretching the evidence anyway.

by Tim R (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 8:44am

I'm curious about the randomness of fumbles. I'm not denying that its luck not skill that determines recoveries but does the situation of the fumble make a significant difference to the chance of it being recovered by the defense or is it always 50/50. For example would a muffed fair catch be more likely to be recovered by the punting team as the returner would likely be surrounded by gunners or not?
Also if fumbles are not always 50/50 then how do St.Louis' recovereis compare.

by Harris (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 9:42am

If sucking up can score me a free PFP 2007, then allow me to be the first to say: Women want to be with Aaron Schatz and men want to be him. His genius-level intellect is always a surprise considering his dark, somewhat voluptous beauty. He's also a gourmet cook, a phenomal stunt driver and a tender and attentive lover.

by jebmak (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 10:08am

This site is clearly anti-Falcons. Remember last year when they were 6-2 and these jerks insisted that they were only average?

by max (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 10:14am


Well done. But next time you may want to consider a little idol worship for John McCain. I'm guessing that would lock up the free PFP from Aaron.

by jebmak (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 10:18am

Though, to be fair to max, I don't think that he is saying that the numbers are biased. He is saying that some written articles have been biased. I think that this is a posibility given that no one can be completely unobjective.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 11:24am

All this yippin' about bias from the St. Louis fan and he's not gonna tell me they're a lock to win so I can grab them in my office pool? :D
Seriously, this is the most interesting game of the week from the point of view of DAVE vs. DVOA, because it's the only game where they disagree. With the approximate 17% home field advantage, Seattle has a marginal advantage in DAVE (3.4%) and St. Louis has a large advantage in DVOA (34.2%).

by chuangtzu (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 11:34am

RE: #15

Exactly how many teams have three receivers starting for them that were #1's for a team last year? Add DVOA star Bobby Engram (when healthy) as a 4th receiver and you have what some might call a star-studded receiving corps.

by navin (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 11:38am

Washington has two #1s from last year but it doesn't seem to be helping them out any. (Brandon Lloyd and Santana Moss)

by Comrade Jason (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 11:46am

#22: There is some data about that, but I don't know where on the site to find it--maybe someone else can find it for you? But you are right. If I recall correctly, muffed snaps are much more likely to be recovered by the offense, while fumbles by WRs are more likely to be recovered by the defense and things like that.

by MR (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 12:41pm

Nice reference to the Prospectus by Dan LeBatard on ESPN's "Sports Reporters" this morning.

by Englishbob (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 12:50pm

The prospectus is getting air time in the UK too. Presenter Mike Carlson who covers the Monday night games over here has a copy prominently on his desk. Monday night games start at around 2am in the UK, so only for the committed (or recording).

I thought the article was great and will be watching Philly v NO with interest. I couldn't detect any bias in the St Louis article- can people just grow up on this issue! If you think an article is slanted just state why and leave it at that, then other readers can decide on the merits of the comments. I wasn't anti St Louis at all, but after the whinging I now hope they get stuffed by Seattle!

by joel in providence (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 1:31pm

how could there be anti-St. Louis bias here? no one CARES about St. Louis.

by Jake (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 1:37pm

Aiyee, looks like we need the FO critic template posted at the bottom of every article that discusses a team's strength.

My terrible team is clearly ranked too low because we beat one decent team and lucked out against a couple bad teams. Fan optimism is clearly better than this crizzap.

by someone (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 2:19pm

"As a result, he’s averaging barely three yards per carry — bad enough to cancel the benefits of a big comeback season from veteran Deuce McAllister."

But McAllister is a painfully mediocre back according to FO and some posters here. What's he coming back to?

by Insancipitory (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 5:41pm

Well the line up for NFL Replay seems to be Eagles at Saints, and Seahawks at Rams (with all the flukey plays can't see this one changing). Now if only the heart palpitations would stop.

by coltrane23 (not verified) :: Sun, 10/15/2006 - 10:06pm

Well, it appears that the FOMBC has had the final word in St. Louis. And apparently, DAVE does have something to say even into mid-October.

I'm still not happy with the way the 'Hawks have been playing, but I'm happy about the win in St. Louis. That's always a tough one.

Seattle's running game is adequate, at best, with Alexander out--still better than him playing on one foot, though. Having Stevens back next week (I'm assuming he'll be back then, he was inactive today) should help the offense in the run and pass. But that Seattle secondary . . . yikes.

by Darrel Michaud (not verified) :: Mon, 10/16/2006 - 1:02am

#35: My guess is the good back he was in 2002 (7th in DPAR).

by someone (not verified) :: Mon, 10/16/2006 - 8:57am

re.38. Nope, he was always a highlight reel player who got stuffed in short yardage, was a poor receiver, was old after having been in the league four seasons, and wasn't worth his contract extension as he was so injury-prone. That's all according to some of the geniuses who populate this site. They predicted his knee injury as well, can you believe that? Stick around and learn something from these guys - it's not just about stats round here.