Quick Reads
The best and worst players of the week according to Football Outsiders stats.

Conf. Championship Quick Reads

Conf. Championship Quick Reads
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Vince Verhei

The last time the New England Patriots faced the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, Tom Brady came into the game as a three-time champion who had led the league in touchdowns, while Eli Manning was a first-time finalist who had led the league in interceptions. Up to that point, Manning had shown little reason to believe he belonged at Brady's level. Manning and the Giants walked away with the Lombardi Trophy, though, and in the following four years the quarterback has proven that he can play at his best in January. A big game in Indianapolis against the New England Patriots could cement his legacy among the best playoff quarterbacks in recent history. The last time Manning played the Patriots, however, his performance was nowhere near that level.

In three games this postseason, Manning has 350 total DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement – more info available here). That's third among quarterbacks so far this year. His Super Bowl rival Tom Brady has 384, while Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints has 601. Whichever quarterback wins the Super Bowl will likely finish second to Brees in the playoff rankings this season.

(How good was Brees in his brief playoff stint? Our database of playoff games goes back to 1995. In those 17 seasons, only three other quarterbacks – Kurt Warner in 2008, Peyton Manning in 2009, and Aaron Rodgers in 2010 – have gone over 600 DYAR in a single postseason, and they played three or four games each. Brees nearly topped them in only two contests. That's what happens when you complete nearly 69 percent of your passes with seven touchdowns against a pair of good defenses.)

It's not shocking to see Manning's name near the top of the playoff leaderboard. In his Super Bowl-winning postseason of 2007, he led all quarterbacks with 398 total DYAR. Since 1995, only nine quarterbacks have gone over 400 DYAR in a single postseason (Warner's 621 DYAR in his 2008 Super Bowl season with the Cardinals leads the way.) Both Brady and Brees could join that club if they play well in two weeks.

How do Manning's total postseason numbers stack up? In his ten playoff appearances, He has totaled 708 DYAR. Not surprisingly, Brady blows him away in this department, with 1,704 DYAR in 21 playoff games. Both men make the top ten since 1995:


Most Total Postseason DYAR, 1995-2011
Quarterback DYAR Games
Peyton Manning 2,317 19
Tom Brady 1,704 21
Kurt Warner 1,612 13
Drew Brees 1,330 9
Brett Favre 1,111 20
Aaron Rodgers 832 7
Matt Hasselbeck 787 11
Eli Manning 708 10
Ben Roethlisberger 634 14
Philip Rivers 595 7

(Hopefully this puts to rest the notion that Eli's older brother had a habit of choking in the playoffs. Peyton Manning's postseason numbers – 63 percent accuracy, 7.5 yards per pass, 2.6 percent interception rate – are nearly identical to his regular season performances of 65 percent accuracy, 7.6 yards per pass, and 2.7 percent interception rate.)

Brady could post the highest single-game DYAR in history in the Super Bowl and he still wouldn't catch Peyton Manning here. He's also unlikely to throw three or four interceptions and finish with negative DYAR, so he probably won't fall back behind Warner. In other words, win or lose in the Super Bowl, Brady's status amongst his peers probably won't change.

The Giants quarterback, though, could rise or fall a couple of spots in the rankings. A terrible game for Eli against New England could drop him down behind Roethlisberger and maybe even Rivers. A great game would launch him above Hasselbeck and Rodgers, putting him amidst the league's absolute best passers over the last decade and a half.

The problem for Manning is that DYAR accounts for the quality of each player's opponents – and the Patriots defense has been lousy. This is the team that allowed Dan Orlovsky to complete 81 percent of his throws, gave up three touchdowns to Matt Moore, and allowed Vince Young to enjoy the only 400-yard passing day of his career. The only quarterbacks who started against New England and failed to throw a touchdown were Tim Tebow and Tyler Palko.

When you're playing a defense this bad, you can post outstanding raw statistics and still walk away with a mediocre DYAR number. In Week 8, Ben Roethlisberger completed 72 percent of his passes against New England for 365 yards and a pair of scores. He finished seventh among quarterbacks in DYAR that week.

To truly have a "big day" against the porous Patriots secondary, Manning will likely need to throw for at least three or four touchdowns with no interceptions. He has already played New England once this year, in Week 9, and he fell far short of those numbers. He completed just 20-of-39 passes for 250 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He finished with 76 DYAR that day. If that's how he plays in the Super Bowl, he'll remain sandwiched between Hasselbeck and Roethlisberger on that table.

On the other hand, while Manning's numbers against New England weren't anything to write home about, they were better than Brady's (21 incompletions, two interceptions, 37 DYAR). More importantly, at the end of the day the Giants had beaten the Patriots 24-20. It goes without saying that Manning and New York would take a replay of that result, no matter what the boxscore says.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
1.
Tom Brady NE
22/36
239
0
2
119
119
1
Brady and Joe Flacco each completed 22 passes in 36 attempts on Sunday. Brady gained 239 yards with no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions, while Flacco gained 306 yards with two scores and only one interception. And yet Brady finished ahead of Flacco in the DYAR standings, and it wasn't close. Why? It's not the rushing numbers – Brady's touchdown came on a 1-yard sneak, a situation in which many quarterbacks would have scored. Instead, the difference comes down to opponent adjustments. Quite simply, Brady and Flacco weren't competing on a level playing field. Flacco was lucky enough to be facing the New England secondary, and we've already talked about their wretched performance this season. Only two teams were worse in our defensive rankings. Baltimore, though, was first in overall defense and first against the pass. The Ravens defense finished in the top three in completion percentage, yards per pass, and sacks, and gave up fewer touchdown passes (11) than any other squad. Brady didn't add to that touchdown total on Sunday, but he did throw for 15 first downs, and went 5-for-7 on third down with less than ten yards to go.
2.
Joe Flacco BAL
22/36
306
2
1
57
56
1
In the past two weeks, Flacco has played one good game and one bad one, and has one win and one loss to show for it. His production, however, has not matched the ultimate outcome in either contest. Last week, he played terribly against Houston, but got bailed out by the league's best defense against a third-string quarterback. This week, he was much better against New England, but was outdueled by a future Hall of Famer. If there's one area where he would have liked to have played better against the Patriots, it would have been in the red zone. The highlights showed Lee Evans' late near-touchdown and Billy Cundiff's missed field-goal attempt on the final play of the game, but the Ravens missed out on scoring opportunities all game long, scoring just one touchdown in four red zone drives. That touchdown was Flacco's 6-yard pass to Dennis Pitta. Otherwise, the quarterback went just 3-of-6 for 13 yards with a sack inside the New England 20.
3.
Eli Manning NYG
32/56
316
2
0
44
44
0
If anyone tells you that the Giants' win over San Francisco was due in any significant way to Manning's late-game heroics, ignore them. In his last 29 dropbacks, starting late in the third quarter and going into overtime, Manning went 12-of-25 for 100 yards, only five first downs, and four sacks. Granted, one of those first downs was a go-ahead touchdown pass to Mario Manningham. Really, though, Manning did most of his work in the first half, going 16-of-25 for 181 yards and 10 first downs (including a touchdown to Bear Pascoe), good for 83 DYAR, best of any QB this week.
4.
Alex Smith SF
12/26
196
2
0
7
5
3
It was all-or-nothing for Smith and the 49ers against the Giants. He threw touchdowns of 73 and 28 yards to Vernon Davis, and his other three first downs gained a combined 59 yards. Otherwise, he went 7-of-21 for 36 yards, with three sacks. Most notable was his dreadful showing on third down, much discussed by the announcers during the game: 4-of-8 passing for 47 yards, but only one first down, plus a sack. We'll have more to say about Smith and the 49ers when we get to the week's worst receiver(s).
Five most valuable running backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
Frank Gore SF
74
0
45
0
25
17
8
Gore wasn't explosive against the Giants – his longest carry gained only 11 yards – but he was efficient, averaging 4.6 yards on his 16 carries. Eleven of those runs gained 4 yards or more, and only two of them were stuffed for a loss. He didn't get a single third-down run, but that's for good reason. In the regular season, Gore picked up a first down on only 25 percent of his third-down carries, worst rate for any running back with at least 20 third-down runs. The 49ers also threw Gore eight passes, and though he caught six of them for 45 yards, the majority of those yards coming on a 24-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter.
2.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis NE
68
1
0
0
21
25
-4
Green-Ellis' success rate against the mighty Ravens defense was a mighty 60 percent. Though he was stuffed for no gain or a loss three times in his 15 carries, he had eight runs for 4 yards or more, and two for 10 or more. He finished with five first downs, including a touchdown.
3.
Ahmad Bradshaw NYG
74
0
52
0
10
11
-2
Bradshaw's raw numbers (a 3.7-yard average on 20 carries) may not seem like much, but again we must consider the quality of the opponent. By FO's numbers, San Francisco had the best run defense in the league. Bradshaw had a workman-like day against the 49ers. He only had two first downs and didn't break a single 10-yard run, but he was stuffed for no gain just twice and gained 3 yards or more 13 times. He also caught six of eight passes for 52 yards, 30 of them coming on a second-and-10 catch late in the fourth quarter.
4.
Danny Woodhead NE
18
0
7
0
5
5
0
Woodhead had six carries for 18 yards and one first down, plus one catch for 7 yards. On the plus side, he was thrown only one incompletion, and gained at least 1 yard on each of his carries. Look, it was championship weekend. Only four teams played. The pickings for running backs are pretty slim, OK?
5.
Ricky Williams BAL
22
0
0
0
5
5
0
Williams had six carries for 22 yards. His first run resulted in a 5-yard loss, but each carry after that gained somewhere between 2 and 9 yards, and he picked up a pair of first downs.
Least valuable running back
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
Ray Rice BAL
67
0
11
0
-9
-7
-2
Rice played two weeks of the 2011 postseason, and finished as the bottom-ranked running back twice. In those two games, Rice averaged 3.0 yards per carry. He added five receptions, but while two of those catches led to first downs, the other three gained a total of precisely zero yards, and three more passes aimed Rice's way fell incomplete. At least he ran for a first down this week, something he failed to do last week against Houston. He had three first downs against New England: a 12-yard gain on second-and-3; a 5-yard gain on second-and-5; and a 1-yard gain on third-and-1. His other 18 carries averaged 2.7 yards each, including two stuffs for no gain or a loss. Like Flacco, Rice also played a part in Baltimore's red zone struggles. He had six carries inside the 20, and five of them gained 2 yards or fewer. Between the two games, Rice had 12 carries inside the 20 and seven inside the 9, and he failed to reach the end zone on any of them.
Five most valuable wide receivers and tight ends
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Victor Cruz NYG
10
17
142
14.2
0
44
The Giants threw to Cruz 10 times in the first half, resulting in eight catches for 125 yards and seven first downs. After that San Francisco was largely able to contain him – he caught two passes in the third quarter for 17 yards, and each of the five passes thrown to him after that fell incomplete – but by then the damage had been done.
2.
Vernon Davis SF
3
5
112
37.3
2
40
Davis' five targets, in order: 73-yard touchdown; incomplete; incomplete; 28-yard touchdown; 11-yard gain on third-and-12. That's 57 percent of San Francisco's total receiving yardage, and he did it on just three catches.
3.
Torrey Smith BAL
3
5
82
27.3
1
36
One week ago, Smith was a non-factor, catching one pass for 9 yards in four targets against Houston. He fared much better in his five targets against New England, catching three balls for three first downs (including a 29-yard touchdown) and 82 yards. Before opponent adjustments, it was the most valuable game for any receiver this week. Alas, it came against New England, and thus Smith gets knocked down a peg or two. Regardless, it was a good game for the final outing of Smith's rookie campaign. He only topped 82 yards three times in the regular season.
4.
Rob Gronkowski NE
5
8
87
17.4
0
28
Each of Gronkowski's receptions gained a first down, and three of them gained more than 20 yards. He did this in the AFC title game against the best pass defense in football. It's getting so routine that it's easy to take Gronkowski for granted. We should try to avoid that.
5.
Wes Welker NE
6
8
53
8.8
0
19
Welker had just one 10-yard catch on the day, a 14-yarder in the second quarter, but he picked up four first downs, twice keeping drives alive on third down.
Least valuable wide receiver or tight end
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Michael Crabtree SF
1
5
3
3.0
0
-35
Crabtree, the former first-round draft pick who is allegedly San Francisco's number-one wideout, was the target on one pass in the first three quarters against New York. It was incomplete. His first target in the fourth quarter was caught – for a 3-yard gain on third-and-5. He saw three more balls after that, none of them complete. If there's any consolation for Crabtree, he was not alone at the bottom of the standings. He had plenty of teammates to keep him company. The second-worst receiver of the week was Kyle Williams, who had zero receptions in four targets (and that's not even including the two fumbles on special teams that led to 10 New York points). The third-worst receiver? Another 49er, Delanie Walker. The tight end had two receptions in four targets for 36 yards, and though one of those was a 29-yard gain for San Francisco's only third-down conversion of the day, Walker fumbled at the end of the play. Any questions as to San Francisco's biggest need entering the offseason?

Comments

162 comments, Last at 29 Jan 2012, 2:26am

128 Re: Conf. Championship Quick Reads

Just going to throw this out there- people don't take conditions (particularly wind) into account enough when making comparisons between players based on aggregate numbers. The Meadowlands has always been a tough place to play. Also, the NFC East is probably the toughest division to compete in, with three strong franchises and a fourth that spends and has a future HoF coach. This is also probably the first team Eli's been on that has good talent at the skill positions, and even this team is mediocre on the line (although it's been a strength most of his career). The past couple of years, the Giants have been done in by a lousy secondary, rather than the offense

ed: well I see most of my observations have already been made, but the division being tough is a big part of 'struggling to make the playoffs', if you consider a guy making the playoffs five times in seven yaers as struggling

129 Re: Conf. Championship Quick Reads

I'd contend that the AFC North is just as difficult a division, particularly this season. AFCN had three teams that played consistently like contenders (and, of course, sent three to the playoffs), while the NFCE had two that slacked off half the season before showing signs of who they should be, one that just underachieved, and one that ... well, I really don't know how to describe Dallas this year.

Incidentally, Flacco's made the playoffs four years running, but is still (fairly) described as "struggling". Now I won't contend that he's on par with Manning the Younger, but it just indicates that such numbers can be deceptive.

153 Re: Conf. Championship Quick Reads

Yeah, I wasn't talking about this particular year, I was talking about years the team underacheived and missed the playoffs. This year, both the AFC and NFC North were better than the East, but, on a yearly basis, the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants view themselves as contenders and act accordingly.

142 Re: Conf. Championship Quick Reads

Aside from the Western divisions I don't think that any of the remaining divisions are substantivly easier or harder than the other divisions. AFC East has had the Pats dominating for most of the past decade with the Jets and Dolphins usually alternating effectivness. Only DET was a pushover in the NFC North previous to the last season and a half. The AFC North is a brutal division with the Steelers and Ravens being consistently dominant and Cincy playing decently more often than not. The NFC South has had at least two teams that are playoff contenders and the AFC South has been a tough division since the Texans started being competent a couple years ago.

I think when fans complain that X team isn't "accuratly" assessed because of some condition relating to weather or their division they're ignoring the fact that those same issues exist for every team, or they are remembering a time when the league was structurally different (changes in alignment and salary cap).

If I had to pick a "hardest division" off the top of my head and with no checking of actual stats I'd flip a coin between both of the North divisions.

154 Re: Conf. Championship Quick Reads

Regular season totals for the past 10 years:

NFC East: 338-301-1
AFC East: 338-302
AFC South: 338-302
NFC South: 330-309-1
AFC North: 326-312-2
AFC West: 312-328
NFC North: 305-335
NFC West: 271-369

In the playoffs, the AFC East is 19-11, the NFC East 16-17, and the AFC South is 13-15.

152 Re: Conf. Championship Quick Reads

If Brady's Defense doesnt come up huge for him, everyone is talking about how bad Brady has performed in the playoffs the last 3 yrs. He was awful against the Ravens in 2009. He was equally horrible against the Jets in 2010. And the way he played in the AFC champ game was certainly less than spectacular. He would have been listening to a firestorm of criticism if the Ravens dont blow it.

160 Re: Conf. Championship Quick Reads

So why does Verhei use cumulative DYAR rather than average? For this naive viewer a 30 point gap between the top 4 and the bottom 6 looks significant