Overall Most Improved And Declined Teams

Concluding the series today I look at the three most improved and most declined teams overall. We have examined the outliers for the following

  1. Passing Yards Per Attempt
  2. Points Per Play
  3. Rushing Yards Per Attempt
  4. Offensive Line Sacks And Hits Allowed
  5. Rushing Defense of Yards Per Attempt
  6. Passing Defense of Yds/Att, QB Rating and QB Hits
  7. Defensive Points Per Play Allowed

I have given each category a weight of 12.5 points with the one exception of Passing Defense. That category encompassed both passing stats (yds/Att, QB rating) as well as Defensive Line Stats (Sacks, QB Hits). So I weighted that as double for a 25 weight. Together a 31 place increase on all categories would sum out to a perfect 100. The offense and defense are worth 50% each.

The top four teams in Overall Improvement.

1. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts were the only team that improved in every category. Their top improvement was in Offensive Line with a 10.9 out of a possible 12.5. The addition of linemen Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith from the first two rounds of the 2018 draft have really paid off.

Their second biggest improvement was in offensive points per play.  They were tops in improvement in this category with 8.9 out of 12.5. The 2018 Colts were second in receiving touchdowns with 39. They were tie for last in 2017 with just 13. Andrew Luck‘s touchdown percentage of 6.1% was sixth in the league. The Colts signed free agent tight end Eric Ebrom in 2018 free agency. Ebrom had 13 receiving touchdowns in 2018 on the Colts. That was the Colts entire 2017 team receiving touchdowns and it was tie for the second most receiving touchdowns in the league.

Their next biggest improvement was on the defense in Points per play allowed. They were the third most improved team in that category. Again the 2018 draft pick of linebacker Darius Leonard paid off. Leonard was 2018 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, made the NFL All-Rookie Team and was named a First Team All-Pro. His statistics for 2018 are:

  • Two interceptions,
  • Eight Passes Defended,
  • Four Forced Fumbles,
  • Two Fumbles Recovered,
  • 111 Solo Tackles,
  • 163 Total Tackles,
  • 12 Tackles for Loss, and
  • Eight quarterback Hits.

The site pro-football-reference.com assigns an Approximate Value (AV) to each player per year to attach a relative value of that player for each year. They gave Leonard an 18 which was tied for third among all NFL players in 2018. Leonard joins only six other rookies of all time that had an 18+ AV their rookie season.

The Colts held the number one and number three spot for 2018 rookies top AV with Leonard and Nelson. Nelson was tie for fourth in AV among all offensive linemen in 2018.

2. Cleveland Browns

Not that far behind the Colts were the Browns as the second most improved team in 2018. The Colts came in at 37.9 out of 100 and the Browns were at 35.1. The Browns’ biggest improvement was a tie of both offensive line and pass defense.

The 2017 Browns had the most offensive quarterback hits in the league with 130. The league average was 89. The Browns’ number of offensive quarterback hist decreased to 71 in 2018. That was the sixth lowest in the league and well below the league average of 90. The Browns signed right tackle Chris Hubbard in 2018 free agency. The line did not significantly upgrade. Some of the decrease could be attributable to the play of their rookie quarterback, Baker Mayfield, for a fast release and the ability to avoid pressure.

The Browns had the top improvement score in pass defense with a 17.7 out of 25. The next best increase were the Giants at 12.9. As detailed in my post on pass defense  the Browns were aided in this category by great play by their young guys of Denzel Ward, Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi. Going into 2019 they should improve more as they added pass rusher Olivier Vernon and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

The Browns’ third biggest improvement was in Offensive Passing Yards Per Attempt with a 7.26 out of 12.5. it was the biggest improvement in this category across the league.

Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield made the NFL All-Rookie Team. He was one of eight quarterbacks that had 4+ game winning drives in 2018. His 5.6% TD percentage was tenth in the league among starting quarterbacks.  Mayfield’s 7.66 yards per passing attempt was 11th among starting quarterbacks,

In 2019 the Browns added receiver Odell Beckham in a trade with the Giants. Over his five year career Beckham has averaged 14 yards per reception and 12 touchdowns per 16 games. Beckham leads all active wide receivers in touchdowns per game with a 0.75. That comes out to 12 TDs per 16 games. The next receiver is rookie Calvin Ridley who averages out to 10 TDs per 16 games. However Beckham is only 18th in TDs per target averaging out to 7 TDs per 100 targets. The leader is second year player Chargers receiver Mike Williams who averages out to 12 TDs per 100 targets.

3. Houston Texans

The third most improved team was the Houston Texans. They were the most improved team in defense with 22.2 points out of 50. The next most improved team in defense were the Giants at 16.9. Their biggest overall improvement was in defensive points per play allowed with an 11.3 out of 12.5. This was the largest increase in any category by any team.  Their 19.8 points per game allowed was tie for fourth best in the league.  In 2017 they were last in the league with 27.3 points per game allowed.

Defensive end J.J. Watt came back from two injury plagued seasons in 2016 and 2017 with a vengeance. He was second in the league in sacks and tied for first in forced fumbles. His first  sack in two seasons came in a loss to the Giants in which he had three sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble.

Rookie Free Safety Justin Reid had a 101 interception return for a touchdown in the 23-21 win over Washington in week ten.  Reid had three interceptions, ten passes defended and 70 solo tackles. For defensive backs with 3+ interceptions and 10+ passes defended, Reid had the third most solo tackles.

Linebacker Zach Cunningham picked off Baker Mayfield for a pick six in week thirteen. The Houston has a strong linebacker core in Cunningham, Benardrick McKinney and de/lb Jadeveon Clowney. At pro football reference the 2018 linebackers sorted by Approximate Value (AV) only the Texans and the Bears  ahe three linebackers with a 9+ AV. As reported by Pro Football Focus  47.2% of Jadeveon Clowney‘s career run tackles have been for a loss of yardage or no gain.  Over his 4 year career, McKinney has generated 169 defensive stops and missed only 29 tackles on 418 attempts.

4. New York Giants

The Giants are the fourth most improved team overall from 2017 to 2018. Their sum total came out to 29.  They improved in six of the seven categories with the only decline in Offensive Line Play. Their two biggest improvements were tie  and were Offensive Points Per Play and Pass Defense.

In offensive scoring the biggest improvement came from rookie running back Saquon Barkley. After the kicker, Barkley was the highest scorer on the Giants with 11 rushing touchdowns, four receiving touchdowns and a 2-point conversion.  Excluding kickers Barkley was the third highest scorer in the league. He accounted for 92 points or an average 5.8 points per game. Barkley accounted for 38% of the Giants touchdowns.

The Giants had the second best improved pass defense second only to the Browns. The Giants sum of opposing quarterbacks’ passer rating differences from their Giant game to their yearly average dropped from +88.7 in 2017 to  -111 in 2018. Opponent passing yards per attempt differential went down from a +11 to a + 1.7 and the Giants increased their quarterback hits from 64 to 84. The Giants were tie with the Bills for seventh in pass interceptions. They were tenth in opponent passer rating. They still have much to improve. They were 31st in 20+ yard passing plays and also in sacks.


The Giants are prepped to continue the improvement in 2019. Even though they let Landon Collins walk in free agency, they have a boatload of new secondary players going into 2019.

Cornerback Sam Beal was chosen in the 2108 supplemental draft but was injured and missed last season. He is returning for 2019. According to Pro Football Focus, Beal allowed the lowest passer rating in the Mid-American Conference on throws into coverage in 2017.

They signed safety Antoine Bethea in free agency. As reported on Big Blue View – last season 17 safeties saw at least 40 targets per Sports Info Solutions. Bethea was second in yards allowed per target (5.58) and yards allowed per coverage snap (0.51).

They traded for safety Jabrill Peppers. Since switching to  a more hybrid role in his second year Peppers has had a stellar year. Pro Football Focus graded Peppers with a 77.3 coverage grade in 2018 which was a 15.6 increase from his rookie year.

The Giants drafted cornerback Deandre Baker in round one of the 2019 draft.  According to Pro Football Focus in 2018 Baker was dominant in coverage, allowing a passer rating of just 40.2.

The Giants drafted cornerback Julian Love in the fourth round of the 2019 draft. Love was top four in the FBS each of the last two years in passes defended. He is seventh on the career leaders list of career passes defended since 2005. Love finished just behind Baker in PFF’s three year coverage grade.

They drafted cornerback Corey Ballentine in round six of the 2019 draft. Ballentine won the Cliff Harris Award presented to the top defensive player in the country representing Division II, III and NAIA colleges and universities. He was one of only three NCAA Division II players to be selected for the 2019 Reese’s Senior Bowl where he was a standout player.

The Giants had a 5-11 record but eight of those losses were by a touchdown or less. Five of the losses were by a field goal or less. Their 7.45 point average loss margin was the seventh lowest in the league.  Here are the 2018 top ten teams in average loss margin showing games lost, total loss margin and average loss margin. The Giants are in pretty good company of strong defenses. Seven of the ten teams listed here were in the top ten teams for overall defense score.

Chicago Bears 4 14 3.5
Kansas City Chiefs 4 14 3.5
Houston Texans 5 20 4
Seattle Seahawks 6 28 4.67
Pittsburgh Steelers 6 33 5.5
Baltimore Ravens 6 40 6.67
New York Giants 11 82 7.45
Indianapolis Colts 6 46 7.67
Denver Broncos 10 81 8.1
Tennessee Titans 11 91 8.27

The three teams that declined the most overall.

30. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles declined in five of the seven categories with only a one position advance in the other two – offensive line and passing yards per attempt. Their worst decline was in the offensive run game where their -10.5 out of +-12.5 was the worst overall decline by any team in any category. The Eagles were 30th in rushing yards per attempt with 3.94 They were 20th in rushing touchdowns and 29th in rushing plays of 20+ yards. They were one of just four teams that had zero rushing plays of 40+ yards.

In 2018 they lost their lead rusher LaGarrette Blount in free agency. Blount had 766 rushing yards in the 2017 regular season at a 4.4 yard average. In their Super Bowl victory Blount Blount rushed for 90 yards, which included a 21-yard touchdown run.

In 2019 the Eagles traded for Bears running back Jordan Howard. In his three year career on the Bears, Howard had averaged 4.3 yards per attempt. Per 16 games Howard has averaged 1,000+ rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, 25 receptions and 193 receiving yards.

In the 2019 draft second round they selected Penn State running back Miles Sanders. Sanders converted 80% of his fifteen 3rd down and 1-3 yards to go attempts. That percentage was second best among drafted running backs with 3+ attempts. At the combine he was first among running backs in the 3-cone drill and third in the 20-yard shuttle. Both important drills for backs measuring burst and change of direction.

The Eagles had a 9-7 record in 2018 and made the playoffs. However when you go 13-3 the previous season and win the Super Bowl you are primed for a decline. Attached at the end of the article is also a sorted list of only the 2018 season. In that ranked list the Eagles come in at 16 of the 32 teams. Their mid ranking is a significant decline from Super Bowl champions. Here is a look at how teams have fared after winning the Super Bowl.

SB winning season Super Bowl Winner Record the next season Playoffs the next season?
2017 Eagles 9-7 Yes
2016 Patriots 13-3 Yes
2015 Broncos 9-7 No
2014 Patriots 12-4 Yes
2013 Seahawks 12-4 Yes
2012 Ravens 8-8 No
2011 Giants 9-7 No
2010 Packers 15-1 Yes
2009 Saints 11-5 Yes
2008 Steelers 9-7 No
2007 Giants 12-4 Yes
2006 Colts 13-3 Yes
2005 Steelers 8-8 No
2004 Patriots 10-6 Yes
2003 Patriots 14-2 Yes
2002 Buccaneers 7-9 No
2001 Patriots 9-7 No
2000 Ravens 10-6 Yes

31 Oakland Raiders

The Raiders declined in all seven categories. Their biggest decline was in the offensive line as measured by hits and sacks allowed. They had a -8.9 out of +-12.5. It was the second largest decline in o-line across the league. They ranked 24th in the league in my combined hits and sacks calculation. The big difference was that they were ranked number 2 the year before. The Raiders declined more on offense than defense with their offense decline ranking 31st.  Only the Jaguars had a larger decline on offense.

Besides starting a pair of rookies at the two offensive tackle spots, the Raiders lost receiver Michael Crabtree in 2018 free agency  and they traded receiver Amari Cooper after six games into the 2018 season. Truly a recipe for decline.

The two rookie offensive tackles together allowed 21.5 sacks. That is more sacks than the team total sacks for either the Patriots, Saints or the Colts. The lost receivers of Cooper and Crabtree were the top two Raiders in 2017 receiving touchdowns and accounted for 65% of the teams receiving touchdowns that season. They were two of the top three Raiders receivers in reception yards and accounted for 35% of the team receiving yards.

In 2019 the Raiders again lost their top two receivers in yards and receiving touchdowns. Receiver Jordy Nelson was released and tight end Jared Cook was signed as a free agent by the Saints. Together Cook and Nelson accounted for 47% of the Raiders receiving touchdowns and 40% of the receiving yards.

The Raiders signed free agent receiver Tyrell Williams from the Chargers. In four years on the Chargers Williams per 16 games averaged 778 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns and a catch percentage of 60%. In addition the Raiders traded for receiver Antonio Brown from the Steelers. Over his last 6 years Brown has averaged per 16 games 1590 yards, 12 touchdowns and a 67% catch percentage. To help the offensive line they signed right tackle Trenton Brown in free agency making him the highest payed offensive lineman in 2019. Per Pro Football Focus, Brown allowed 35 pressures in 2018. That ranked 18th out of 26 linemen that took 1000+ snaps.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars declined the most overall of all teams. Their offense decline was the worst with a -31 out of a possible -50 points. The next worst offense decline of the Eagles was only -19.  The Jaguars defense was a standstill between 2017 and 2018 with a net sum of zero. So their whole decline was from the offense.

They were 32nd in O-line decline and 31st in decline for rushing yards per attempt, points per play and passing yards per attempt. In actual NFL rank for 2018 alone they were 30th in yards per pass attempt (5.8) and passing touchdowns (15). They were 31st in 40+ passing plays (3). They were 27th in rushing yards per attempt (4.14) and tied for 32nd in rushing touchdowns (7). The Jaguars were 30th in offensive sacks (53) and quarterback hits (111). They were 31st in points per game (15.3) and 32nd in touchdowns (25).

Pro Football Focus gave quarterback Blake Bortles a 64.1 grade which was 32nd among quarterbacks. The Jaguars had a quarterback passer rating of 79.1 which was 28th in the league. Running back Leonard Fournette was injured and played only eight games. He averaged only 3.3 yards per attempt. Looking at receivers by 2018 reception yards the top three Jaguars  came in 47th (Dede Westbrook – 717), 56th (Donte Moncrief – 668) and 94th (Keelan Cole – 491).

In 2019 the Jaguars signed quarterback Nick Foles as a free agent. Foles is entering his eighth season after being selected in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft.  Foles had a Pro Bowl season in 2013, was extremely efficient in his post season 2017 Super Bowl run and had a good five regular season games in 2018.  In regular season games over the last 2-5 seasons Foles has ranked in the bottom 10-29% of starting quarterbacks in yards per pass attempts. Over his seven year career in the regular season he has averaged a 62% completion percent, 20 touchdowns to 10 interceptions per 16 games,  an 88.5 passer rating and 7.1 passing yards per attempt.  Of quarterbacks that have played over that time-frame his passer rating ranks 14th out of 27.

In Conclusion

Here is a spreadsheet of all the teams with their change in each category from 2017 to 2018 –overall change update. For each category it has the team, their rank change and that change adjusted to be worth +- 12.5 points. The Pass defense category was adjusted to be +- 25 points. There is a sum midway for the Offense scores and at the far right is the sum for the defense which is followed last by a total sum for the change across all categories. It is currently sorted in decreasing total Sum. The largest increase in any category is highlighted in yellow and the largest decrease in orange.

Also provided here is a ranking of just the 2018 season – overall 2018. It is currently sorted from best to worst, The higher the sum the better. If a team was first in each category they would have a 100 sum. Turns out in this analysis the Patriots were the ninth ranked team. The Bears and Ravens had near top scores on defense with a 48 and 49 out of 50 respectively.

Here is the 2017 season – overall 2017. It turns out that the Eagles here came out as the top team in 2017 slightly edging out the Vikings. In 2017 the Saints had a 49 out of 50 on offense and the Vikings had a 48 on defense.

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