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

Wild-Card Quick Reads

by Vincent Verhei

For 16 games this season, the Houston Texans had the best run defense in the NFL. Game in and game out, week after week, nobody could run the ball with any success against J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham and company. Only 11 players rushed for even 40 yards in a single game against Houston, and even then those 11 players averaged just 3.6 yards per carry against the savage Texans front. Houston also finished first in both adjusted line yards and open field yards -- nobody gained consistent yards against Houston, and nobody ripped them for big runs either.

Then came the playoffs and second-year Indianapolis running back Marlon Mack. Mack quietly had a big year for the Colts. He missed four games and ran for less than a thousand yards, but still finished fourth in DYAR and eighth in DVOA among running backs.

Mack's first carry of the postseason, like so many runs against Houston this year, went backwards. Soon things got much better though -- his 25-yard gain later in the first quarter was the longest by a running back against the Texans all season. That wasn't Mack's last big run of the day -- he added a 29-yarder in the third quarter, then 15-and 26-yard gains to put Houston away in the fourth. His success was somewhat sporadic, but he largely avoided disaster. He had no fumbles, and each of his 16 carries in the last three quarters gained at least 1 yard. Mack finished with 148 rushing yards against the Texans, 66 more than anyone had in the regular season. Only two players all year, and none since October, amassed even half of Mack's production.

Mack's receiving numbers were less impressive (two catches in three targets for 6 yards), but given his rushing totals and the massive boost he would get from opponent adjustments, we all expected him to have one of the finest playoff games our advanced statistics had ever analyzed. To know that for sure, we would have to update our list of great running back playoff games, something we hadn't done in several years. We still need to go back and update this list for seasons that occurred before Football Outsiders was born, but we do have numbers for all backs back to 1995 -- more than two decades of football. Mack's game finished lower than we expected in that list, but still made the top ten.

All Running Back Playoff Games, 60 Total DYAR or Better (1995-2018)
Player Tm Yr Wk Run Run
Yds
Run
TD
Rec Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
Shane Vereen NE 2012 Div 7 41 1 5/6 83 2 95 34 61 HOU
Terrell Davis DEN 1998 Div 21 199 2 1/2 7 0 92 91 1 MIA
Thurman Thomas BUF 1995 WC 25 158 1 3/3 42 0 91 60 30 MIA
Deuce McAllister NO 2006 Div 21 143 1 4/4 20 1 89 73 16 PHI
Lamar Smith MIA 2000 WC 40 209 2 3/3 18 0 82 77 5 IND
Curtis Martin NE 1996 Div 19 166 3 2/3 9 0 80 82 -2 PIT
Dorsey Levens GB 1996 CCG 10 88 0 5/5 117 1 78 32 46 CAR
Terrell Davis DEN 1997 WC 31 184 2 4/4 11 0 77 81 -4 JAX
Arian Foster HOU 2011 WC 24 153 2 3/3 29 0 76 62 14 CIN
Marlon Mack IND 2018 WC 24 148 1 2/3 6 0 75 81 -6 HOU
L.Tomlinson SD 2006 Div 23 123 2 2/4 64 0 75 60 15 NE
Eddie George TEN 2000 Div 27 91 1 8/10 52 0 74 53 21 BAL
LaMont Jordan NYJ 2002 WC 20 102 2 1/1 9 0 74 66 8 IND
Emmitt Smith DAL 1995 Div 21 99 1 3/3 40 0 72 45 27 PHI
Natrone Means JAX 1996 Div 21 140 1 4/4 46 0 71 47 24 DEN
Priest Holmes KC 2003 Div 24 176 2 5/5 32 0 70 56 13 IND
Tiki Barber NYG 2002 WC 26 115 1 5/5 62 0 69 32 37 SF
Robert Smith MIN 1999 WC 28 140 0 3/3 58 1 67 26 41 DAL
Cedric Benson CIN 2009 WC 21 169 1 3/3 12 0 67 62 5 NYJ
Jerick McKinnon MIN 2017 CCG 10 40 0 11/12 86 0 66 27 40 PHI
Justin Forsett BAL 2014 Div 24 129 0 2/2 17 1 66 54 12 NE
Terry Kirby SF 1997 Div 25 120 2 3/4 24 0 65 58 7 MIN
Emmitt Smith DAL 1996 WC 17 116 2 4/4 26 0 64 56 8 MIN
Pierre Thomas NO 2009 CCG 14 61 1 3/3 38 1 63 42 21 MIN
Devonta Freeman ATL 2016 SB 10 78 1 2/2 46 0 62 42 20 NE
Marshall Faulk STL 2001 CCG 31 159 2 4/7 13 0 62 72 -11 PHI
LeGarrette Blount NE 2014 CCG 30 148 3 0/0 0 0 62 62 0 IND
James White NE 2016 SB 6 29 2 14/16 110 1 61 25 37 ATL
Charlie Garner OAK 2001 WC 15 158 1 3/3 27 0 61 47 14 NYJ
Ronnie Harmon SD 1995 WC 1 -1 0 10/17 133 0 61 -4 65 IND
LeGarrette Blount NE 2013 Div 24 166 4 0/0 0 0 61 61 0 IND
Willie Parker PIT 2008 Div 27 146 2 0/1 0 0 61 65 -4 SD
Ray Rice BAL 2009 WC 22 159 2 0/1 0 0 60 63 -3 NE
Reggie Bush NO 2009 Div 5 84 1 5/5 24 0 60 52 8 ARI
Devonta Freeman ATL 2016 Div 14 45 1 4/5 80 0 60 30 29 SEA

That's 35 games with 60-plus DYAR. LeGarrette Blount, Terrell Davis, Devonta Freeman, and Emmitt Smith appear twice each; nobody does so three times. Only two of those games came in the Super Bowl, which isn't that surprising when you remember the Super Bowl is just one of 11 playoff games each season. What is surprising that that the two Super Bowl running backs played in the same game: Freeman for Atlanta and James White for New England in Super Bowl LI.

Not surprisingly, Mack's game looks a lot better if you look at rushing DYAR only. It's still not the best on record, but it is the third-best on record, and the very best in the last two decades. The only two games that surpass it: Terrell Davis' 199-yard, two-touchdown game against Miami in the divisional round in 1998, and Curtis Martin's 166 yards and three touchdowns against Pittsburgh in the divisional round in 1996. When the only names above you are both in the Hall of Fame, you've done pretty well for yourself.

While we're here, we'll leave you with the list of the worst running back playoff games we have on record. Nobody from this year makes it, though Seattle's Chris Carson wasn't too far off. Names from recent seasons include Leonard Fournette and Dion Lewis last year and Lamar Miller and LeGarrette Blount from 2016. You'll note that Blount appears on both lists, as do Tiki Barber, Justin Forsett, Eddie George, Willie Parker, and Lamar Smith. Let this be a warning to Colts fans: just because Mack had a great day against Houston, we can't count on him having a great day next week.

Although that brings up an interesting question: if Mack and the Colts can run like crazy over the Texans and their top-ranked run defense, what can they do against the Chiefs, the worst defense against the run in the league? That remains to be seen, but don't expect Mack to finish atop the tables next week -- opponent adjustments will be working against him this time.

All Running Back Playoff Games, -40 Total DYAR or Worse (1995-2018)
Player Tm Yr Wk Run Run
Yds
Run
TD
Rec Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
Willie Green CLE 2002 18 25 30 1 2/2 8 0 -69 -69 0 PIT
Tiki Barber NYG 1997 18 17 35 0 3/10 31 0 -65 -52 -12 MIN
Leonard Fournette JAX 2017 18 21 57 0 3/5 21 0 -54 -46 -9 BUF
Lamar Miller HOU 2016 18 31 73 1 0/1 0 0 -53 -47 -6 OAK
Autry Denson MIA 1999 19 6 10 0 1/1 -9 0 -52 -24 -29 JAX
Warrick Dunn TB 1997 18 18 72 0 3/6 0 0 -51 -8 -43 DET
Dion Lewis NE 2017 20 9 34 0 7/8 32 0 -51 -3 -48 JAX
Edgar Bennett GB 1995 19 23 51 0 0/2 0 0 -49 -38 -11 SF
Edgerrin James IND 1999 19 20 56 0 1/5 8 0 -49 -35 -14 TEN
Willie Parker PIT 2008 20 24 47 0 2/2 -2 0 -46 -34 -12 BAL
Lamar Smith MIA 2000 19 8 5 0 1/1 4 0 -45 -43 -2 OAK
Eddie George TEN 2002 19 15 34 1 0/1 0 0 -45 -42 -3 PIT
Brian Westbrook PHI 2008 19 18 36 0 5/5 10 0 -42 -28 -14 NYG
J.J.Johnson MIA 1999 19 8 9 0 2/3 11 0 -42 -19 -23 JAX
Justin Forsett BAL 2014 18 16 36 0 1/2 7 0 -41 -35 -6 PIT
Richie Anderson DAL 2003 18 6 18 0 7/10 20 0 -41 -20 -21 CAR
LeGarrette Blount NE 2016 21 11 31 0 0/0 0 0 -40 -40 0 ATL
Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Sacks
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Opp
1.
Nick Foles PHI
25/40
266
2
2
1
93
93
0
CHI
Foles' DYAR triples due to opponent adjustments. Including sacks and DPIs, he averaged 6.9 yards per dropback against Chicago. Only three quarterbacks in the regular season were that efficient moving the ball against the Bears: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and -- of all people -- Brock Osweiler. (Those three, like Foles, were all victorious.) He was especially effective when throwing up the middle: 13-of-19 for 147 yards with nine first downs, including a touchdown, and one interception.
2.
Russell Wilson SEA
18/27
233
1
0
1
75
59
16
DAL
Wilson's average pass came with 10.0 yards to go for a first down. That's partly why he only threw for six first downs. None of them came on third downs, when he went 3-of-8 for 24 yards with a sack (though he did convert his two fourth-down throws on gains of 22 and 7 yards). All six came on throws that traveled at least 10 yards downfield; on those throws, he went 5-of-9 for 166 yards.
3.
Andrew Luck IND
19/32
222
2
1
0
56
41
15
HOU
On his first four drives, Luck went 14-of-18 for 174 yards with two touchdowns, 10 other first downs, and an interception. At that point, the Colts led 21-0, and Luck apparently took the rest of the afternoon off. He threw for only three first downs the rest of the day, going 5-of-14 for 48 yards, plus a 23-yard DPI.
4.
Dak Prescott DAL
22/33
226
1
1
1
51
28
23
SEA
The bulk of Prescott's action came on throws to his right, where he went 12-of-20 for 104 yards, plus an 8-yard DPI, for eight first downs and one interception.
5.
Philip Rivers LAC
22/32
160
0
0
1
44
34
9
BAL
Inside the Baltimore 40-yard line, Rivers went 5-of-10 for only 26 yards, though three of those completions picked up first downs. He kept throwing screens and dumpoffs, and they kept failing -- he completed all 10 of his throws to receivers behind the line of scrimmage, but for a total of just 36 yards. He did not pick up a first down on throws to his right, where he went 6-of-9 for 10, count 'em, 10 yards.
6.
Mitchell Trubisky CHI
26/42
303
1
0
2
28
38
-10
PHI
Trubisky did not throw a single pass in Philadelphia's red zone. In the front zone -- the area between the 20- and 40-yard lines -- he went 5-of-10 for 43 yards with one touchdown and one other first down. He did not pick up a first down on throws to his left, where he went 6-of-10 for just 30 yards.
7.
Deshaun Watson HOU
29/49
235
1
1
3
-97
-128
31
IND
Third-/fourth-down passing: 9-of-14, 68 yards, one interception, one sack, one touchdown, only three conversions.
8.
Lamar Jackson BAL
14/27
194
2
1
7
-99
-110
11
LAC
The Ravens fell behind 23-3 early in the fourth quarter. To that point in the game, Jackson had gone 3-of-10 for 25 yards with five sacks (which lost a combined 27 yards), an interception, and a fumble. That includes a streak of 19 straight dropbacks without a first down, and 14 straight without a successful play. That worked out to -162 passing DYAR, which ... well. Obviously, he played better after that, but it was too little, too late. Jackson joins Warren Moon as the only quarterbacks ever with one interception, seven sacks, and three fumbles in a playoff game. He is the seventh member of the 1-6-2 club. All seven of those men lost, but the list of names is more impressive than you would think.
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.
Marlon Mack IND
24
148
1
2/3
6
0
75
81
-6
HOU
Mack finished with eight first downs against Houston, including gains of 15, 25, 26, and 29 yards. He was stuffed just twice.
2.
Ezekiel Elliott DAL
26
137
1
4/5
32
0
19
17
1
SEA
Elliott's six first downs against Seattle included gains of 13, 17, and 44 yards. He was stuffed four times, including on third-and-1 and first-and-goal from the 1.
3.
Lamar Miller HOU
5
18
0
8/10
63
0
15
7
8
IND
It, uh, wasn't a big week for running backs. Four of Miller's five carries came on second down; he picked up first downs on two of them. Two of his catches also led to first downs.
4.
Mike Davis SEA
4
10
0
2/2
22
0
10
4
6
DAL
Each of Davis' carries gained either 2 or 3 yards. One of them was a third-down conversion. His two catches were a 9-yard gain on first-and-10 and a 13-yard gain on third-and-20.
5.
Wendell Smallwood PHI
8
20
0
2/3
20
0
-3
-1
-2
CHI
Smallwood gained 10 yards on his one run that went for a first down and 10 on his other seven carries. His two catches were a 22-yard gain on second-and-8 and a 2-yard loss on third-and-6.
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.
Marlon Mack IND
24
148
1
2/3
6
0
75
81
-6
HOU
2.
Ezekiel Elliott DAL
26
137
1
4/5
32
0
19
17
1
SEA
3.
Lamar Miller HOU
5
18
0
8/10
63
0
15
7
8
IND
4.
Mike Davis SEA
4
10
0
2/2
22
0
10
4
6
DAL
5.
Jordan Howard CHI
10
35
0
0/1
0
0
-4
2
-6
PHI
Two of Howard's runs went for first downs; three resulted in stuffs.
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.
Chris Carson SEA
13
20
0
2/3
-1
0
-35
-19
-16
DAL
Carson's longest run gained just 5 yards. He had no first downs and only two successful carries, but was stuffed for no gain or a loss five times. His two catches were an 8-yard loss on first-and-10 and a 7-yard gain on second-and-14.
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.
Kenneth Dixon BAL
6
11
0
3/3
53
0
-4
-26
23
LAC
Dixon did not run for a first down against L.A.; his longest carry gained 4 yards, and his only successful run was a 3-yard gain on second-and-5. His worst runs went for no gain on third-and-1 and a loss of 2 (and a loss of the ball) on second-and-24.
Five Best Wide Receivers and Tight Ends by DYAR
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
Opp
1.
Allen Robinson CHI
10
13
143
14.3
1
46
PHI
Four of Robinson's five first downs came in the second half.
2.
Dontrelle Inman IND
4
4
53
13.2
1
39
HOU
Three of Inman's catches resulted in first downs. He also gained 23 yards and another first down on a DPI.
3.
Tyler Lockett SEA
4
6
120
30.0
0
33
DAL
There were three catches this weekend that gained 40 yards or more. Lockett had two of them, to go along with a 25-yarder.
4.
Keke Coutee HOU
11
14
110
10.0
1
29
IND
Six of Coutee's catches gained first downs, but all of those came with Houston down by multiple touchdowns in the second, third, or fourth quarters.
5.
Amari Cooper DAL
7
9
106
15.1
0
25
SEA
Four of Cooper's catches produced first downs, including 27- and 34-yard gains in the fourth quarter.
Worst Wide Receiver or Tight End by DYAR
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
Opp
1.
Ryan Griffin HOU
1
5
6
6.0
0
-35
IND
Griffin's one catch was a 6-yard gain on first-and-10.

Comments

20 comments, Last at 10 Jan 2019, 2:47am

5 Re: Wild-Card Quick Reads

It is intensely frustrating that Russell Wilson had a good game this week, and that the Seahawks running backs were terrible, and that essentially they lost this game because they wouldn't put the ball in their best player's hands.

7 Re: Wild-Card Quick Reads

Incredibly bad gameplan by Seattle there. Wilson is the best player on that team and they kept him hobbled the whole game with run, run, pass on 3rd and long. Lockett and Baldwin could have eaten Dallas alive if they had a chance.

6 Re: Wild-Card Quick Reads

So, a week after facing the best running defense in the NFL, the Colts will now face the worst running defense in the NFL.

This should be...interesting.

11 Re: Wild-Card Quick Reads

Passing DYAR only:

Q1: -7
Q2: -7
Q3: -3
Q4: 55

And he had two big throws at the end of the third too. In the last 17 minutes of the game, he went 9-of-13 for 173 yards with one sack, one touchdown, and five other first downs. He only had seven first downs before that.

9 Re: Wild-Card Quick Reads

I feel the need to point out the most frequent victim (or culprit) of all those great playoff rushing games: The bad old Colts D.
As painful as the two Blount games were recently, the Lamar Smith game still haunts me. He had 214 rush yards in 2 playoff games that year--209 of which were against the Colts (granted, he had an OT period to work with). Yes, in playoff game 2 that year had had 8 rushes for 5 yards vs the Raiders. 2000 was his career year, yet he had only a 3.7 YPC and averaged 76 YPG in the regular season. Indy had beaten the Dolphins just two weeks before but Smith managed a good game with 97 yards. He only broke 100 4 times that year, yet racked up 209 in his first playoff game. His QB had a 44 rating and just 176 yards with three interceptions! So either the Colts were selling out to stop the pass, or they had nothing to fear from the passing game and just decided to demonstrate their incompetence for all to see in their run D.

How do you limit a QB to a game like that, win the TO battle 3-0, never have your QB sacked, have a 107 yard rusher, have only ONE penalty for 10 yards, and still lose? It boggles the mind. Miami did nearly double Indy's TOP and first down total. And oh yeah, Vanderjagt hit 3/4 FGs including a 50-yarder, but shanked the potential GWK in OT. While he could have won it, he certainly did not lose it.

I suppose we all have stories like this. Right? Help me out here, guys, right? Please say yes.
Time for a nap before my apoplectic rage consumes me.

10 Re: Wild-Card Quick Reads

I'm sure that's frustrating.

My team is the Lions.

The two best teams since 1957 lost out to the 1962 Packers and the 1991 Redskins -- the #1 and #3 all-time DVOA teams.

In their rare good seasons, they invariably run into a historically-dominant juggernaut. They even split with the 1962 Pack -- that team's only loss! (The less said about the 'Skins games the better)

16 Re: Wild-Card Quick Reads

Ah yes, the Thanksgiving day massacre, I still think Rodger Brown's performance that day was the best defensive single-game performance in NFL history.

Where did you get the 62 pack as number one question mark was that from that regression analysis done a few years ago to score teams in the pre FO era?

12 Re: Wild-Card Quick Reads

Negative rushing DYAR, negative receiving DYAR, and Smallwood still makes top 5 RBs. "It, uh, wasn't a big week for running backs." Indeed. Quirk of the stats (he was only negative 3 total) but I bet that's a first for a playoff round with 4 games.

13 Re: Wild-Card Quick Reads

I think there's an issue in the "worst running backs" table. The first entry says the team is "CLE", which implies that Cleveland was in the playoffs at some point. Surely that's an error.