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

Week 5 Quick Reads

by Vincent Verhei

Like all great stories, it started with a simple Tweet. I pointed out that New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley was off to a slow start against Carolina and suggested that the Giants would have been better off picking a player at another position with the second overall pick in this year's draft. The Tweet was picked up by Giants fans, who were not terribly happy with me or my opinions. So of course I poked the bear, updating Barkley's rushing numbers throughout the day, which served only to fan the flames, until finally I noted that the most important thing was Barkley's health after he appeared to injure himself scoring a receiving touchdown at the end of the game. (It looks like he's fine.) Today, though, I don't want to talk about the pros and cons of social media interaction, nor about the finer points of roster-building methodology and the relative importance of various positions in 2018. Instead, we're going to simply look at Barkley's final rushing numbers against the Panthers and New York's rushing statistics this season, and compare them to similar inefficient but explosive offenses of the past.

On the surface, Barkley's rushing numbers this weekend are unimpressive, but hardly unusual: 15 carries for 48 yards and a 3.2-yard average, with no touchdowns or fumbles. However, he finished with -15 rushing DYAR, among the bottom five totals for running backs this week. That's because 104 percent of Barkley's yardage (not a typo) came on just two runs, a 20-yard gain in the second quarter and a 30-yard gain in the third. His other 13 carries went backwards in the aggregate, combining for a loss of 2. Twelve of Barkley's carries gained 2 yards or less, and seven went for no gain or a loss; only Ezekiel Elliott was stuffed more often this week, and he had five more carries than Barkley did. We can't just ignore those two big runs, however. Barkley had a total of 30 open field yards explained here on Sunday, among the top five totals for a running back this week. (And yes, as so many Giants fans were eager to point out to me, he had an excellent day as a receiver: four catches in four targets for 81 yards, two touchdowns, and 48 DYAR.)

This week was an extreme example, but the Giants have had a boom-and-bust running attack all season. They are now averaging 1.47 open field yards per carry; going into Monday Night Football, that's the second-best mark in the NFL behind the other New York team, the Jets. However, they have been stuffed on 28 percent of all carries, the second-worst such figure in football, better only than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's still early in the season, but then it's not that early. I think after five weeks, we're all pretty confident in the good (the Rams), the bad (the 49ers), and the ugly (Tennessee's uniforms) of the 2018 season. There's no guarantee the Giants' run game will maintain a performance this erratic for 11 more games, but it's certainly a pattern worth monitoring.

We have offensive line numbers compiled dating back to 1996, and since then only two teams have finished first or second in open field yards while finishing last or next to last in stuff rate. One won't surprise you: the 1998 Detroit Lions, who were actually first and last in these respective categories. This was your standard 1990s Detroit season: Barry Sanders ran for more than a thousand yards (1,491, to be precise) while the Lions finished with a losing record (5-11).

The other team isn't quite as notable: the 1997 Raiders, who finished second in open field yards (behind Sanders and the Lions, of course) while ranking last in stuff rate. Oakland's leading rusher that season was Napoleon Kaufman, a player with whom I became quite familiar while living in Seattle. Kaufman twice led the Pac-10 in rushing and was the University of Washington's all-time leading rusher until Myles Gaskin broke his record last season. Kaufman was basically Ant-Man before Paul Rudd, a small man with the muscles of a giant. Just 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, he reportedly ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash (which would have been good for a speed score of 108.2). In high school, he was the California state champion runner at both 100 and 200 meters, and also had a 24-foot long jump. The Raiders drafted him 18th overall in 1995, and though he played only six seasons and had just one 1,000-yard campaign, he had a bevy of highlight plays. He scored eight touchdowns of 50 yards or more (six rushing). He is the fourth-leading rusher in Raiders history, and his 227 rushing yards against Denver in 1997 remains a franchise record. He was in the top ten in rushing DVOA in 1995, 1996, and 1999 -- but just 34th in 1997, when his hits in the backfield outweighed his long runs. He abruptly retired after the 2000 season, getting out of the league with his money and his health and starting a ministry outside of Oakland.

The following table lists some other boom-and-bust rushing attacks -- all teams since 1996 that finished in the bottom five in stuff rate, but the top five in open field yards (remember that the NFL expanded from 30 teams to 31 in 1999, and then to 32 in 2002). These are team statistics, but each club is listed with their lead running back and his DVOA for that season (note that Jay Ajayi led the 2017 Dolphins in carries even though he was traded to Philadelphia in the middle of the year), along with win-loss record and playoff fate:


Bottom-Five Stuff Rate, Top-Five Open Field Yards, 1996-2018

Year Team Stuff% Rank Open
Field
Rank Team
Rush
DVOA
Lead RB* Ind.
Rush
DVOA
W-L Playoffs
1997 OAK 27% 30 1.50 2 -10.6% Napoleon Kaufman -8.5% 4-12 --
1998 DET 28% 30 1.28 1 -3.3% Barry Sanders -6.4% 5-11 --
2000 CIN 25% 28 1.12 3 5.1% Corey Dillon 3.4% 4-12 --
2001 PIT 24% 28 1.13 4 15.3% Jerome Bettis -4.0% 13-3 Lost AFC-CG
2007 JAC 23% 30 1.37 2 11.3% Fred Taylor 10.5% 11-5 Lost AFC-Div
2007 MIN 22% 28 1.75 1 14.4% Adrian Peterson -13.0% 8-8 --
2008 KC 22% 29 1.08 4 -6.3% Larry Johnson -16.1% 2-14 --
2009 SF 23% 31 1.25 4 -2.1% Frank Gore 2.9% 8-8 --
2010 TEN 26% 31 1.25 4 -9.8% Chris Johnson -7.5% 6-10 --
2011 MIN 23% 28 1.15 3 11.7% Adrian Peterson 10.4% 3-13 --
2011 PHI 25% 32 1.10 4 17.7% LeSean McCoy 15.8% 8-8 --
2012 MIN 24% 29 2.08 1 7.8% Adrian Peterson 24.9% 10-6 Lost NFC-WC
2012 TEN 24% 28 1.19 3 -14.0% Chris Johnson -11.3% 6-10 --
2013 SF 24% 29 0.98 5 2.3% Frank Gore -16.3% 12-4 Lost NFC-CG
2015 STL 23% 28 1.17 3 -6.4% Todd Gurley 10.0% 7-9 --
2016 MIA 24% 31 1.13 4 -3.9% Jay Ajayi 9.3% 10-6 Lost AFC-WC
2017 MIA 27% 30 1.07 4 -20.5% Jay Ajayi -5.1% 6-10 --
2017 NYJ 26% 29 1.04 5 -14.4% Bilal Powell -30.4% 5-11 --
2018 NYG 28% 31 1.47 2 -17.1% Saquon Barkley 13.2% 1-4 ??
* Running back with the most carries (not necessarily yards) on the team

First observation: man, that's a lot of good running backs! Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, LeSean McCoy, and Sanders are all former rushing champions. Sanders and Jerome Bettis are in the Hall of Fame; Peterson and Frank Gore (and maybe even Todd Gurley) will join them some day. Larry Johnson had a pair of 1,700-yard seasons for Kansas City. Corey Dillon and Fred Taylor had seven 1,000-yard seasons apiece. The fact that Peterson, Johnson, Gore, and Jay Ajayi each appear multiple times suggests that this isn't random noise, and there's more to being a boom-and-bust runner than statistical chance.

It might be good news for the Giants that runners like Barkley tend to have long, productive careers, but the results of these seasons don't offer much hope that New York will win many more games this season. The 18 prior teams in this table had an average rush offense DVOA of 0.3%, and their lead runners had an average individual rushing DVOA of -1.7%. More importantly, their combined win-loss record was just 128-160 (0.444). Only five made the playoffs, combining for a 4-5 postseason record and no Super Bowl appearances.

Which brings me back to the point I was trying to make with my Barkley Tweet in the first place: It's fine and dandy to have a premium running back ripping off the occasional highlight-reel run. But if your offensive line lets that runner get stuffed too often, none of those highlights will come in January.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Sacks
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Opp
1.
Philip Rivers LAC
22/27
339
2
0
1
183
183
0
OAK
First four drives: 6-of-10 for 57 yards with three first downs and one sack. Rest of the game: 16-of-17 for 282 yards and 10 first downs, including two scores.
2.
Drew Brees NO
26/29
363
3
0
2
178
187
-8
WAS
3.
Ben Roethlisberger PIT
19/29
250
3
1
0
115
109
6
ATL
Almost all the success Roethisberger had in this game came throwing to his left (3-of-5 for 67 yards, plus a 38-yard DPI) or middle (11-of-13 for 141 yards with one interception) of the field. To the right, he was just 5-of-11 for 42 yards.
4.
Jared Goff LAR
23/32
321
1
2
1
111
105
6
SEA
Is there some kind of burial ground around the 35-yard line(s) at CenturyLink Field that stopped Goff from performing? Up to that point he went 18-of-22 for 298 yards. Inside of that point, he went 5-of-10 for 23 yards with one touchdown, one 5-yard DPI, one sack-fumble, and one interception. (His other interception came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half and is counted as an incompletion for DVOA/DYAR purposes.)
5.
Aaron Rodgers GB
33/52
442
3
0
4
105
96
9
DET
We might not be talking about Mason Crosby's missed field goals if Rodgers had played better on third downs, where he went 4-of-7 for 60 yards, one 21-yard DPI, one sack-fumble, one intentional grounding, and only three conversions.
6.
Tom Brady NE
34/44
341
3
2
0
102
98
4
IND
On throws up the middle, Brady went 11-of-14 for 148 yards with nine first downs (including a touchdown) and one interception.
7.
Russell Wilson SEA
13/21
198
3
0
2
81
81
0
LAR
In Week 4, Wilson's average depth of target was 5.7 yards, third-lowest among starting quarterbacks. In Week 5 that average doubled to 11.4, highest in the league.
8.
Deshaun Watson HOU
33/44
375
1
1
1
78
85
-7
DAL
Quarterbacks have scored 62 touchdowns on 147 dropbacks inside the opponents' 5-yard line this season, a rate of 42 percent. Watson had six dropbacks inside the Dallas 5: four incompletions, one sack, and one 1-yard touchdown.
9.
Kirk Cousins MIN
30/37
301
1
0
1
78
77
1
PHI
I know Minnesota won, but I question the mindset of guaranteeing a quarterback $84 million and then almost never letting him throw downfield. Only two of his passes in the first half traveled more than 8 yards downfield; both were incomplete. Then his first pass of the second half was a deep ball completed to Adam Thielen for a 68-yard gain.
10.
Case Keenum DEN
35/51
377
2
1
4
77
77
0
NYJ
Red zone passing: 5-of-11 for 32 yards with one touchdown, one other first down, and one interception (though that came on the last play of the game with Denver down by 18, and we're counting it as a Hail Mary so as not to overly punish him for it).
11.
Carson Wentz PHI
25/34
311
2
0
3
69
62
7
MIN
Wentz only threw five passes up the middle against Minnesota, but he completed four of them for 89 yards, with every completion picking up 15 yards and a first down. So ... why did he only throw five passes up the middle?
12.
Patrick Mahomes KC
22/38
313
0
2
1
59
44
15
JAX
First four third-down dropbacks: 4-for-4, 74 yards, four conversions. Last five third-down dropbacks: 0-for-4, two interceptions, one sack, no conversions.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Sacks
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Opp
13.
Eli Manning NYG
22/36
326
2
2
1
36
36
0
CAR
Manning's last pass of the third quarter and first pass of the fourth were both intercepted. At that point he was at -63 DYAR, which would have been in the bottom five for the week. Then he caught fire, completing each of his last five passes for 108 yards and four first downs, including two touchdowns that briefly put New York back in front. Briefly.
14.
Matthew Stafford DET
14/26
183
2
0
3
25
25
0
GB
Is the run-and-shoot back in Detroit? Stafford threw only one pass to a tight end; it was incomplete. The Lions have thrown only 15 passes to tight ends this season, the fewest in the league.
15.
Andrew Luck IND
38/59
365
3
2
1
18
18
0
NE
Deep balls: 6-of-14 for 132 yards. Miami's Ryan Tannehill only has six completions on deep balls all season.
16.
Derek Carr OAK
24/31
268
1
1
3
10
9
0
LAC
Think Derwin James has had an impact on the Chargers' defense? Throwing up the middle, Carr went 8-of-11 for 82 yards, but only three first downs and one interception. Also:
17.
Andy Dalton CIN
20/30
248
1
1
2
6
10
-4
MIA
Deep balls: 5-of-6 for 116 yards and a touchdown.
18.
Baker Mayfield CLE
25/42
342
1
1
5
5
-3
8
BAL
On throws to the middle of the field, Mayfield went 4-of-8 for 26 yards with as many first downs (one) as interceptions.
19.
Matt Ryan ATL
26/38
285
1
0
6
3
0
4
PIT
It's rare to see Ryan on the ground this often -- this is the most times he has been sacked in a game since a 34-3 loss to Carolina in the last week of 2014.
20.
Sam Darnold NYJ
10/22
198
3
1
1
-1
-4
2
DEN
Feast-or-famine for Darnold on third downs. He only converted three of his nine third-down dropbacks, but those conversions included touchdowns of 20 and 76 yards. All told, he went 4-of-8 on third downs for 114 yards, with one sack and one interception.
21.
Josh Rosen ARI
10/24
170
1
0
1
-11
-11
0
SF
Rosen's first pass was a 75-yard touchdown to Christian Kirk, but he only had four more first downs the rest of the day. His last first down was a third-down conversion with Arizona clinging to a 14-6 lead midway through the third quarter. From that point forward, he only completed one of his last seven passes, with that one completion being a 2-yard gain on third-and-7.
22.
C.J. Beathard SF
34/54
349
2
2
4
-15
-28
12
ARI
Beathard had a monstrous day throwing to his running backs: 11-of-14 for 108 yards and nine first downs, including a touchdown. Ninety-six of those 108 yards came after the catch, so this tells us more about the receivers than it does about the passer.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Sacks
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Opp
23.
Cam Newton CAR
21/34
237
2
2
1
-19
-2
-17
NYG
Third-down passing: 3-of-8 for 23 yards with one interception and just one conversion, though that was an 18-yard touchdown to Christian McCaffrey on third-and-4. He also converted one fourth-down pass, a 27-yard gain to Jarius Wright on fourth-and-1 near midfield with the Panthers up by three in the fourth quarter.
24.
Joe Flacco BAL
29/56
298
0
1
2
-29
-39
9
CLE
Red zone passing: 4-of-9 for 21 yards with one first down, no touchdowns, and one interception. That's bad in a game the Ravens lost by three in overtime.
25.
Josh Allen BUF
10/19
82
0
1
1
-40
-42
2
TEN
Through five games (really four and a half), Allen has now amassed -446 DYAR and a -63.0% DVOA. The single-season records are -1,130 DYAR, set by David Carr with the expansion Texans in 2002, and -74.8%, set by Jared Goff as a rookie in 2016. Allen must now be considered a serious threat to both records -- assuming he lasts the full season. He has taken a league-high 19 sacks, putting him on pace for more than 60, a number that has only been hit eight times in league history.
26.
Dak Prescott DAL
18/29
208
1
2
2
-53
-67
15
HOU
After his touchdown that put Dallas up 13-10 in the third quarter, Prescott went 8-of-14 for 88 yards and only two first downs, with two sacks. He has had two passes and five runs on fourth-and-1 in his career, and picked up a first down every time. Just FYI.
27.
Marcus Mariota TEN
14/26
129
0
1
2
-73
-77
4
BUF
Inside the Buffalo 40, Mariota went 3-of-7 for 18 yards with no first downs, two sacks, and one fumble. That's how you lose to Josh Allen.
28.
Alex Smith WAS
23/39
275
0
1
3
-88
-103
15
NO
29.
Ryan Tannehill MIA
20/34
185
1
2
3
-91
-94
3
CIN
Tannehill didn't throw a single pass in the red zone, but he still managed to produce three touchdowns -- one for the Dolphins, two for the Bengals. I still think Derek Carr's interception in Week 1 was the funniest of the year, but Tannehill's off-the-helmet pick-six to Michael Johnson is a strong contender:
30.
Blake Bortles JAX
33/61
430
1
4
5
-136
-150
14
KC
Five Best Running Backs by DYAR (Total)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Isaiah Crowell NYJ
15
219
1
1/1
12
0
76
68
8
DEN
This is the most rushing yards in a game by a player with less than 16 carries since Bobby Mitchell had 232 yards on 14 carries in NINETEEN FIFTY-NINE. Crowell had six first downs, including gains of 15, 36, 54, and 77 yards, the latter a touchdown. That's 142 open field yards in this game. Matt Breida is the only other player with 142 open field yards this season. Crowell had 1 (one) run for no gain or a loss, and it came with the Jets up 21-10 in the third quarter.
2.
Wendell Smallwood PHI
3
27
0
3/4
44
1
41
15
26
MIN
Smallwood's three carries were all successful: a 5-yard gain on second-and-6, and 13- and 9-yard gains on first-and-10. His three catches included a 23-yard gain on third-and-7 and a 12-yard touchdown on second-and-10.
3.
Kyle Juszczyk SF
1
12
0
6/7
75
0
41
6
35
ARI
Juszczyk's only carry was a conversion on third-and-1. Five of his six receptions produced first downs, including two third-down conversions; the other was a 7-yard gain on first-and-10.
4.
Sony Michel NE
18
98
1
1/1
12
0
39
31
7
IND
Six first downs on the ground, including a 34-yard touchdown and gains of 14 and 15 yards, while being hit for no gain or a loss just twice.
5.
Saquon Barkley NYG
15
48
0
4/4
81
2
33
-15
48
CAR
Hey, we said he had a great day as a receiver, with touchdowns of 15 and 57 yards.
Five Best Running Backs by DYAR (Rushing)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Isaiah Crowell NYJ
15
219
1
1/1
12
0
76
68
8
DEN
2.
Sony Michel NE
18
98
1
1/1
12
0
39
31
7
IND
3.
Derrick Henry TEN
11
56
0
0/1
0
0
22
27
-5
BUF
Henry's longest carries went for 12 and 14 yards, and he only had one other first down, but every one of his runs gained at least 1 yard.
4.
Matt Breida SF
8
56
0
1/1
5
1
30
16
14
ARI
Just one run for no gain, more than balanced out by a pair of 17-yard gains.
5.
David Johnson ARI
18
55
2
2/3
16
0
13
15
-2
SF
A long run of 10 yards, only three first downs, and three runs for no gain or a loss. It, uh, was not a very good week for running backs.
Worst Running Back by DYAR (Total)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Bilal Powell NYJ
20
99
0
0/0
0
0
-30
-30
0
DEN
Well, let's start with the positive: Powell had runs of 38, 16, and 15 yards, giving him 39 open field yards, second in the league behind his teammate Isaiah Crowell. (After getting steamrolled by the Crowell-Powell Connection, the Broncos defense has given up a league-high 238 open field yards.) After that? Eleven of Powell's 20 carries gained 2 yards or less, three resulted in a loss of yardage, and he lost a fumble on a 1-yard gain at his own 19.
Worst Running Back by DYAR (Rushing)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Bilal Powell NYJ
20
99
0
0/0
0
0
-30
-30
0
DEN
Five Best Wide Receivers and Tight Ends by DYAR
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
Opp
1.
Odell Beckham NYG
8
14
131
16.4
1
64
CAR
Beckham's totals include 21 DYAR receiving, 43 DYAR for his one pass, a 57-yard touchdown to Saquon Barkely. Based purely on receiving statistics, he would not have made the top 20 this week. He had seven first downs, including a 33-yard touchdown catch, but he loses DYAR for incomplete passes on important and receiver-friendly downs: second-and-8, second-and-14, and fourth-and-3.
2.
Tre'Quan Smith NO
3
3
111
37.0
2
60
WAS
3.
Robert Woods LAR
5
7
92
18.4
0
57
SEA
Woods' totals include 38 DYAR receiving, 19 DYAR rushing for his two carries for 53 yards. Each of his catches gained at least 8 yards and a first down, and he also drew a 5-yard DPI on fourth-and-2.
4.
Robby Anderson NYJ
3
5
123
41.0
2
51
DEN
Anderson only had two first downs against Denver, but those two first downs were 35- and 76-yard touchdowns. So, you know, that's good.
5.
Demaryius Thomas DEN
5
6
105
21.0
1
50
NYJ
Four of Thomas' catches produced first downs, including a 42-yard touchdown on third-and-4.
Worst Wide Receiver or Tight End by DYAR
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
Opp
1.
Ricky Seals-Jones ARI
0
6
0
0.0
0
-40
SF
I mean, 0-for-6 speaks for itself, right?

Comments

144 comments, Last at 11 Oct 2018, 2:41pm

1 Re: Week 5 Quick Reads

" Kaufman ... reportedly ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash. In high school, he was the California state champion runner at both 100 and 200 meters, and also had a 24-foot long jump. The Raiders drafted him 18th overall in 1995"

What on earth made Al Davis draft a player like that so high ...

29 Re: Week 5 Quick Reads

Chase Stuart looked into it this morning:
http://www.footballperspective.com/isaiah-crowell-and-the-best-single-game-ypc-averages-ever/

Traditional stats-wise, he had the best YPC in a game with 15+ carries, just edging out Derrick Ward's 15 for 215 for NYG in 2008 (no other player within 1 YPC).

19 Re: Week 5 Quick Reads

We make fun of Davis's draft tendencies, but that criticism is inappropriate in this case. Kaufman was productive in college at a major program and was basically an early version of Jamaal Charles in the NFL -- a low-usage/high-efficiency shift speedster.

2 Re: Week 5 Quick Reads

Has there been a specific article on Blake Bortles on this site?

I'm just eyeballing his mechanics in that video and something looks horrible. He doesn't seem to have his feet set (albeit under a lot of pressure) and just throws the ball with his arm/shoulder.

4 Re: Week 5 Quick Reads

Saquon is yet another piece of evidence that a running back in today's nfl cannot bring a rushing attack by himself. Its been a quietly understated fact, but once you remove qb runs, the offensive running game has been in a slow decline just as passing has been on the upswing. Are the two related? Maybe, but it sure rings a blow to the view that a running game is a qbs best friend.

22 Re: Week 5 Quick Reads

Two pieces, the rules changes, and the emphasis on passing that they drove; lack of contact practices (especially in training camp) & the new cut-blocking rules really make a huge difference in the effectiveness of the power-running game. Add to that the changes in draft emphasis at the guard, TE, FB, & HB positions away from downhill blocking/running/pulling etc... (as a direct result of the increased value of the passing game) and the number of power runs that are failed plays (less than 3 yards) appears to have skyrocketed. This has substantially change the game, especially for teams protecting a lead.

28 Re: Week 5 Quick Reads

good points. Also seems to me that offensive holding is called far more often on run plays than pass plays now and from my youth it seemed offensive holding was almost never called on run plays.

5 Re: Week 5 Quick Reads

What would a similar analysis of passers or receivers be (removing the high success plays?)

I recall doing a back of the envelope comparison of a couple of running backs several years ago. One was beloved, the other was thought to be much inferior. Doing a Pareto type chart of their respective run distances showed the key difference was a small percentage of long runs, essentially the high success plays removed here.

7 Re: Week 5 Quick Reads

re: Cousins:

Only two of his passes in the first half traveled more than 8 yards downfield; both were incomplete.

This was very much by design, with their offensive line troubles and Philly's offensive line Cousins didn't have time to throw downfield often, and was pressured almost instantly on anything more than a 1-2 step drop. Even the long pass mentioned below was with someone right in his face as he threw it. That being said I recall an early pass to Thielen that was well more than 8 yards downfield that was completeld (it was with pressure on him so he couldn't step into it and just had to lay the ball way out there but Thielen was able to track it down.

Then his first pass of the second half was a deep ball completed to Adam Thielen for a 68-yard touchdown.

The 68 yard pass to Thielen was not a Touchdown. It was thrown from their own 5. After a move it looked like he might've had a chance to score but he tried to cross up the last guy and got tackled at the 27. That drive reached the 2 after a Diggs reception but then ended in a field goal.

From watching that game I find it hard to believe the takeaway was Cousins should be throwing deeper. The gameplan they used I feel was instrumental in the success they had. Maybe versus lesser defensive lines they can do that but this IMHO was not the day to try that.

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Cousins played well, incredibly well under pressure. The only throws he did miss were deeper throws where he actually had time. I thought the game plan was excellent, with the exception of many of the third and short calls in the red zone. Those plays lacked imagination and in none of the cases were they thinking they had 2 downs to make 2 or 3 yards if they wanted to be aggressive.

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Vince, the Vikings in all likelihood would love to have Cousins take more shots downfield. They also want him to stay on the field, but the frequency with which he is taking significant hits means that it is in question. They have been down 2 or 3 projected o-line starters from July all season, their oline coach died of a heart attack just before camp opened, and they simply don't block well enough to take more deep shots. It isn't at 2016 levels, where Bradford had to get the ball out in about 1.25 seconds to avoid being crushed, but it is pretty bad. The only thing saving them is that Cousins has been super accurate with large humans in his face, and Diggs and Thielen get seperation very, very, quickly.

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RE: Wentz:

Wentz only threw five passes up the middle against Minnesota, but he completed four of them for 89 yards, with every completion picking up 15 yards and a first down. So ... why did he only throw five passes up the middle?

The bulk of those I believe came on the final Philadelphia touchdown drive which started with 2 minutes and change left down by two scores and no timeouts left. The Vikings conceded 10-15 yard passes in the middle in exchange for tackling them quickly and keeping the clock moving, they essentially decided to not take a chance on getting beat deep and take their chances with the OSK that Philadelphia had to make. This proved successful (just barely).

I'm guessing they defended the middle better the rest of the day, or at least he had better options elsewhere.

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That last Eagle drive was really interesting, in that the Eagles were out of timeouts, and Zimmer obviously decided to concede the middle of the field, and eventually give the Eagles a really short shot at the end zone, as long as it came after the two minute warning. I wonder if the new kickoff team alignment rules played a role, because I think the percentage of successful expected onside kicks is going to decline significantly. I think the rate previous to this year was about 8% , and if that gets driven down to 2-3%, some strategy may change.

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I'm going to have to disagree that it was successful as it allowed way more than enough time for them to score, recover an onside kick, and score again (that they didn't recover the kick is irrelevant to the success of the defensive strategy).

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What you need to know (and I'm too lazy to look up) is the win probabilities for the Vikings when A) the Eagles began their last possession B) when the Eagles lined up for their onside kick, and C) what it would be if we assume the expected successful expected onside kick rate declines by, I dunno, 50%, due to rules changes.

It may be that removing the possibility, or reducing as much as possible the possibility, of the Eagles scoring before the 2 minute warning, maximized the Vikings chance of winning.

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All four of those completions were marked "short middle" on the play-by-play, and came after Minnesota had taken a 20-3 lead. Call me crazy, but I'm guessing that the Vikings were playing a little looser in the short middle in favor of taking away deep throws and sideline routes once they were up by three scores in the second half. I'm not sure that "throw up the middle more" would have been a particularly good strategy for the Eagles in this game.

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Wow, after a couple weeks where we might have questioned if there was 'changing of the guard' at the top of the QB rankings, the veterans hit back with a vengeance this week. Helps of course with Rivers and Roethlisberger facing Oakland and Atlanta's non-defenses before opponent adjustments properly kick in.

Re. the Cousins blurb - the mindset of not letting him throw downfield was presumably precisely because they have $84 million invested in him. Going into the game the Philly D-Line vs. the Vikings' O-Line appeared a huge mismatch. Credit to the Vikings' coaches, and Cousins, for executing an effective gameplan that mostly involved getting rid of the ball extremely quickly.

Re. Beckham - think I'd prefer DYAR for receivers to exclude passing numbers. I understand you don't like making exceptions for individual plays, but this feels like a circumstance where it just skews the numbers in a non-predictive way.

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re: Beckham, I agree. I think I'd rather see the tables broken out by "Most rushing DYAR" and "Most passing DYAR", with positions combined.

As I type that, it gets me thinking: how are the baselines done? I'm vaguely recalling that RB receiving DYAR is based on passes to other RBs, but not WRs. Is that true, or is it compared to all receptions?

If the former, I wonder if, as offenses get more versatile, if that's no longer the best way. Should we judge a reception by Tarik Cohen against receptions by only other RBs, when he's often lining up in the slot. Or a run by Keke Coutee against only other runs by WRs?

If it's the later, then I definitely would prefer the Quick Reads tables to be broken out by "DYAR type" instead of player positions.

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One thing that I think was understated in your analysis, Vince, is that Barkley's "boom-and-bust" output is mostly a function of the terrible O-line. Or rather, the "bust" is a function of the O-line. The "boom" is a function of Barkley's talent. Believe me, I've watched a ton of Giants games over the last few years, and before Barkley the running game could best be described as "bust-and-bust".

This explanation is consistent with the teams in your table. Many good running backs getting open-field yards on their own, many bad o-lines not giving the RBs a chance to even get started on a large % of plays. And, obviously, this explains why the overall records of these teams are poor: it's tough to succeed if your O-line sucks.

All this to say that Barkley--despite the uneven numbers to start the year--is everything he's cracked up to be. Just watching him for a few plays will tell you that. Does that make him worth the #2 pick? Given his position, opinions will differ, but at least he's a very good player...that's not true of a whole bunch of #2 overall picks historically.

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How many teams have good offensive lines? I bet most people would have said the cowboys before this season.

The offensive line, much like the secondary, is an any unit to rip since there its composed of so many players that blame is diffuse.

I feel like, given how much everyone gripes about their lines, that the average o line in the nfl is terrible. For the giants, I believe their line isn't great, but I suspect a good chunk of their poor play has more to do with their limited qb than it does with a terrible o line.

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When I think about Pat Shurmur squeezing out a 16th ranked passing DYAR, with Bradford (whom I now am convinced the FO crowd, including me, has underrated for a good chunk of his career), 17 different blockers who didn't block at all, and a receiving corps that was mostly injured, in 2016, I tend to agree with you that Eli is the biggest problem.

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I know no one on this site ever has a good word to say about Manning, and I don't really want to get into a debate about where he falls in the QB hierarchy, but I will point out that the line is very clearly a huge problem. Eli is not responsible for the running game finishing in the bottom quartile in five of the last years (18th in 2015!). And you can only expect so much from a QB when they are under pressure by the time they reach the top of their drop most of the time. The one Giants game in prime time so far was a great example of this--they didn't even have time to run 12-15 yard routes before Manning got swamped--almost every single dropback. No one succeeds under that kind of pressure.

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Even with heavy brownie points for lacking a run game having terrible protection, the Giants passing game has been anemic for a very long time. I don't deny that given ideal circumstances, Eli might look pretty good, but he still quite old and the Giants were drafting in a very QB heavy draft. I can't understand the justification ex-ante or ex post for drafting Barkley.

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"Maybe the Giants should have been investing their resources into that unit, rather than at RB?"

1) It's not like I disagree entirely, but Barkley isn't just a great open field runner, as Vince noted. He's also a great receiver and was extremely highly regarded in pass blocking in college. It's not nuts to consider that they just basically figured hey, we're not winning this year, and Barkley's not a prospect we can get every year, whereas there will likely be a quality OL prospect *next* year too.

2) Plus they did sign Nate Solder in the offseason (which was panned by a lot of people given the price tag) so maybe the problem is their offensive line *evaluation*, not their resource commitment. (Which is an even worse prospect for Giants fans!)

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The thing about O Line is, it only takes one bad player to sink you. The Giants signed Soldier to a record deal and drafted Hernandez at guard in the second round--that is a heavy investment in the position. But you'll never be able replace all five starters with quality players in one offseason, and the atrocious play from the right tackle position in particular has really been backbreaking for the offense. I'm sure that coming up with a quality RT is item #1 on next offseason's priority list. In the meantime, the coaching staff needs to make chicken salad from chicken shit, and Barkley is certainly part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

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Which begs the question, is it worth investing heavily in an offensive line. Note the distinction between investing at all vs investing heavily. No one thinks the Seahawk did the right thing.

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I think it's something that you have to really commit to if it's going to work. The Cowboys' excellent lines of the last few seasons came from spending their first round pick on a lineman in 3 of the 4 drafts from 2011 to 2014. PIttsburgh's excellent line stems from spending one or both of their top two picks on a lineman every year from 2009 to 2011. The Rams line has a big money free agent in Whitworth and two second-round picks.

If you're not going to go in on O Line for years like those teams did, it probably makes more sense to shoot for an average line and spend your draft capital at a higher priority position--it only takes one WR to catch a touchdown or one DE to sack the QB, but it takes five good linemen to protect the QB. It's just not a position where one good player can make a gigantic impact.

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After watching things like:
Jared Goff improvement with his offensive line being upgraded
The Dolphins falling apart when Laramie Tunsil got hurt
etc.

I wonder if the best strategy might just be to draft the best available offensive lineman in the first round every year. Between injuries, draft busts, and careers that only last 5 seasons, a team that always invests in offensive line might just be able to always have a decent-to-good offensive line.

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The rams also have a very deep set of receivers and a smart offensive head coach along with a elite running back who works in both the passing game and running game. Its hard to isolate the effects of each component.

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I've been thinking about this a little more, and the Cowboys, Steelers, Saints, and Rams lines each have three high-pedigree players (either drafted by the team in the first two rounds or a premium free agent) and two low-pedigree players. So it seems like the best strategy is to go spend the resources to get three studs to anchor your line, and then sift through low picks, UDFA's, and the waiver wire to find two good-not-great players to fill out the line. Three top players is enough talent that you can design your blocking schemes to use those guys' strengths to cover for the weaknesses of the other two, so long as those other guys aren't awful.

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The cowboys also have an anemic offense and the Steelers and Saints are helmed by hall of famers. The Broncos and Colts of the Manning era never featured great lines. At best, in the early Colts days - it was Glen and Saturday - two great players not three. The patriots invest heavily in their line, but its managed to do well with waiver wire stuff in the past - not coincidentally also helmed by a hall of famer.

The real question is - what should a team with a qb like Stafford, Cousins, or even a team like Seattle do? Should they invest in three high quality offensive linemen?

This discussion happened in the Colts blogosphere when they drafted Nelson. Sure, the line was poor and he's been ok so far - but really - is that a good use of resources? Given that i think a big chunk of the hits Luck takes are his own fault, I'd rather have had a better receiver or help on defense and I think that remains the smarter play.

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" it takes five good linemen to protect the QB."

That's why I can't see the Chiefs sustaining this level of QB play...as long as Cam Erving is in that quintet. :)

He gets to practice in the trenches against another old overdrafted bust teammate now, Nate Orchard.

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Agree with this; I was being rather facetious with my initial comment about the O-Line. As noted below, the real mystery remains why the Giants did not use this year's opportunity to draft Eli's replacement.

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If you want to see bust-and-bust, look at the 1999 Lions team after Sanders retired. They were even still good at open-field yards (6th!), but second-level yards disappeared and the offense cratered.

In 2000 they got James Stewart and completely changed personalities. Nearly last in open-field and 2nd-level yards, but 6th in stuff rate. They basically played two FBs. That team somehow went 9-7 (after starting 8-4, and missed the playoffs) using smoke and mirrors, but was so bereft of talent that the next year they entered the Millen Error with a vengeance.

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I'd have made the exact same point if you hadn't. Completely agree. I'll just add, that Barkley seems to be trying very hard to *not* be just a boom-or-bust running back. He's not just trying to bounce everything to the outside. He's occasionally missing the best read, but mostly it's just what Baldinger shows here. Look at him being patient, trying to find ANY sliver of a hole on the first play here. There is absolutely nothing.

https://twitter.com/BaldyNFL/status/1049695964850782209

I don't know how long it is going to take to get this line in shape, and I hope he doesn't develop bad habits before, but I think he is going to be exceptionally good if he stays healthy and they ever get some run blocking going.

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I don't think it's out of place to criticize the Giants for taking a running back instead of a "premium" position like QB. However, I don't think the most effective support for that argument is "look how bad Barkley is!" Because that's completely disingenuous as statistically he's doing fairly well (#5 for RBs this week in DYAR!) and if you watch him, he looks absolutely special.

His situation isn't all that dissimilar to Ladainian Tomlinson as a rookie. The 2001 Chargers were poo. They went 5-11 and had a crappy offensive line. Tomlinson could only muster 3.6 yards-per-carry. He went #5 overall that year. Would anyone at this point argue the Chargers shouldn't have taken Tomlinson? They had no idea Brees would be available in the 2nd round and who knew Brees would be THAT good? (Obviously no one or he would have gone #1 and not ended up on a second team).

At the end of the day, the Giants could have done much worse than taking Barkley. Is there any reason to believe Josh Allen or Sam Darnold are better than the litany of other top 10 QBs with just average pedigrees? No QB outside of Mayfield had a QBASE score that would suggest they will be longterm starters in the league. I kind of like Rosen but I'm not convinced Barkley isn't a better longterm piece for the team.

I was tempted to reply on twitter but it seemed like something that was worth more words and reflection.

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Clearly nobody in hindsight would argue against taking Tomlinson #5 overall, because Tomlinson is now in the Hall Of Fame. Barkley is a great talent, without doubt, but I'm stopping short of predicting he ends up in the HOF. In addition, the relative importance of running the ball has been further marginalized since Tomlinson's day.

The Giants have a bad, old QB and a bad O-Line, and they took a RB with the #2 overall pick, in a draft that was acclaimed for its QB prospects. That remains indefensible.