Continue reading "Twenty-Nine Days and A Retirement At Twenty-Nine"

" />

Twenty-Nine Days and A Retirement At Twenty-Nine

Twenty-nine days to the NFL Hall of Fame Game and for our 29 NFL fact  we look at one of the top players at their position that retired at age 29 this year.

Tight End Rob Gronkowski or “Gronk” retired from football on March 24th 2019 at age 29. Gronk has not played as long as some of the all time great tight ends. However his statistics puts him in the conversation of the best tight ends of all time. All statistics discussed here pertain only to tight ends.

  • In receiving yards per game Gronk is all time number one with 68.4 yards. He holds the Super Bowl record for most receiving yards by a tight end with 116 yards in Super Bowl LII for the 2017 season  against the Eagles. Gronk is tie for first among tight ends with Tony Gonzales and Jason Witten for most 1000+ yard receiving seasons with four.
  • Catch percentage is not available for all the tight ends. For the ones it is available only Tony Gonzales (65.9%) and Jason Witten (71.1%)  are the top tight ends with a better catch percentage than Gronk’s 65.6%.
  • In receptions per game Gronk is seventh all time as shown in the following table.
Player From To Tm G Rec Rec/game
Travis Kelce 2013 2018 KAN 80 410 5.1250
Jordan Reed 2013 2018 WAS 65 329 5.0615
Kellen Winslow* 1979 1987 SDG 109 541 4.9633
Tony Gonzalez* 1997 2013 TOT 270 1325 4.9074
Jason Witten 2003 2017 DAL 239 1152 4.8201
Zach Ertz 2013 2018 PHI 91 437 4.8022
Rob Gronkowski 2010 2018 NWE 115 521 4.5304
Kellen Winslow 2004 2013 TOT 105 469 4.4667
Jimmy Graham 2010 2018 TOT 137 611 4.4599
Antonio Gates 2003 2018 SDG 236 955 4.0466
Jeremy Shockey 2002 2011 TOT 136 547 4.0221
Shannon Sharpe* 1990 2003 TOT 204 815 3.9951
  • In receiving touchdowns Gronk is third all-time. If we look at receiving touchdowns per game he is first among tight ends as shown in the following table. Gronk leads all tight ends in seasons with 10+ receiving touchdowns with five such seasons. He also holds the record for the most touchdowns by a tight end in a season with 17 touchdowns in 2011.
Rk Player Games Tds TD / Game
1 Rob Gronkowski 115 79 0.6870
2 Jimmy Graham 137 71 0.5182
3 Julius Thomas 71 36 0.5070
4 Antonio Gates 236 116 0.4915
5 Harold Carmichael 182 79 0.4341
6 Jim Mutscheller 95 40 0.4211
7 Kellen Winslow* 109 45 0.4128
8 Tony Gonzalez* 270 111 0.4111
9 Travis Kelce 80 32 0.4000
10 Bernie Casey 105 40 0.3810
  • Over the last 25 seasons Gronk has the highest receiving yards per target (9.9 yards) and yards per reception (15.1 yards)  among all tight ends that were selected to at least one All-Pro First Team.
  • Gronk has been selected to more All-Pro First Teams per season than any other tight end  (44.4%).
  • Gronk is regarded as one of the top blocking tight ends in the modern era. Bill Belichick regarded Mark Bavaro as the best blocking tight end he had seen. He then has high regard for Gronk and says – “He can do a lot of things that I haven’t had many guys, I’d say, other than Bavaro, be able to do”
  • Pro Football Reference assigns an approximate value to each player per season. Among tight ends Gronk has the highest AV per season.

Thirty Days and Thirty Passing Touchdowns

There are thirty days until what I consider the unofficial start of the NFL season, the Hall Of Fame Game, on August 1st 2019. To kick this waiting period off today I look at some NFL fact related to the number thirty. Thirty is a good benchmark for passing touchdowns in a season. It is not too easy or too hard to attain.

Out of all retired quarterbacks in NFL history only 32 had at least one season of 30+ passing touchdowns. Of those only five had greater than 20% of their seasons meeting that benchmark. Three of those five quarterbacks are in the NFL Hall Of Fame and another one, Peyton Manning, probably will be. Here is the full list of retired quarterbacks with at lest one season of 30+ passing touchdowns sorted by the percentage of seasons meeting the criteria. Hall of Fame quarterbacks have an asterisk after their name. Quarterbacks with greater than 20% of their seasons meeting the benchmark are in bold.

Player From To Tm 30+ Seasons Yrs Seasons / year
Peyton Manning 2000 2014 IND/DEN 9 17 52.94%
Brett Favre* 1994 2009 GNB/MIN 9 20 45.00%
Tony Romo 2007 2014 DAL 4 13 30.77%
Kurt Warner* 1999 2008 STL/ARI 3 12 25.00%
Dan Marino* 1984 1994 MIA 4 17 23.53%
Daunte Culpepper 2000 2004 MIN 2 11 18.18%
Jeff Garcia 2000 2001 SFO 2 11 18.18%
Daryle Lamonica 1967 1969 OAK 2 12 16.67%
Steve Bartkowski 1980 1981 ATL 2 12 16.67%
Carson Palmer 2005 2015 CIN/ARI 2 14 14.29%
Dan Fouts* 1980 1981 SDG 2 15 13.33%
Steve Young* 1994 1998 SFO 2 15 13.33%
Randall Cunningham 1990 1998 PHI/MIN 2 16 12.50%
Warren Moon* 1990 1995 HOU/MIN 2 17 11.76%
Y.A. Tittle* 1962 1963 NYG 2 17 11.76%
Sonny Jurgensen* 1961 1967 PHI/WAS 2 18 11.11%
Vince Ferragamo 1980 1980 RAM 1 9 11.11%
Brian Sipe 1980 1980 CLE 1 10 10.00%
Jim Kelly* 1991 1991 BUF 1 11 9.09%
Scott Mitchell 1995 1995 DET 1 11 9.09%
George Blanda* 1961 1961 HOU 1 12 8.33%
Jim Everett 1988 1988 RAM 1 12 8.33%
Donovan McNabb 2004 2004 PHI 1 13 7.69%
Lynn Dickey 1983 1983 GNB 1 13 7.69%
Steve Beuerlein 1999 1999 CAR 1 14 7.14%
Babe Parilli 1964 1964 BOS 1 15 6.67%
Joe Montana* 1987 1987 SFO 1 15 6.67%
John Brodie 1965 1965 SFO 1 17 5.88%
Johnny Unitas* 1959 1959 BAL 1 18 5.56%
Dave Krieg 1984 1984 SEA 1 19 5.26%
Len Dawson* 1964 1964 KAN 1 19 5.26%
Vinny Testaverde 1996 1996 BAL 1 21 4.76%

 

 

Today the league is a much more pass oriented league. Some factors contributing to this have been

  • Quarterbacks coming out of college more skilled in reading defenses,
  • Bigger faster receivers,
  • More schemes using shotgun, west coast offense and run-pass option,
  • Changes in coach play calling philosophy, and
  • Rule changes/enforcement protecting quarterbacks and receivers.

In 2019 among active quarterbacks there have been 19 quarterbacks with at least one season of 30+ passing touchdowns. That is more than half of all the retired quarterbacks making that benchmark. Also the season percentage numbers of making that benchmark are up. The number of active quarterbacks with over 20% of their seasons meeting the benchmark is double that of all retired quarterbacks. In addition there are four quarterbacks right at 20% that could move into the over 20% group with 30+ touchdowns this season. Here are the quarterbacks that have had 30+ passing  touchdowns in a season.

Player From To Tm 30+ Seasons Years Play Seasons / Yrs
Drew Brees 2008 2018 NOR 10 18 55.6%
Andrew Luck 2014 2018 IND 3 6 50.0%
Patrick Mahomes 2018 2018 KAN 1 2 50.0%
Aaron Rodgers 2009 2016 GNB 6 14 42.9%
Russell Wilson 2015 2018 SEA 3 7 42.9%
Philip Rivers 2008 2018 LAC 6 15 40.0%
Tom Brady 2007 2017 NWE 7 19 36.8%
Carson Wentz 2017 2017 PHI 1 3 33.3%
Jared Goff 2018 2018 LAR 1 3 33.3%
Matt Ryan 2012 2018 ATL 3 11 27.3%
Ben Roethlisberger 2007 2018 PIT 3 15 20.0%
Blake Bortles 2015 2015 LAR – Sec 1 5 20.0%
Derek Carr 2015 2015 OAK 1 5 20.0%
Eli Manning 2010 2015 NYG 3 15 20.0%
Matthew Stafford 2011 2015 DET 2 10 20.0%
Kirk Cousins 2018 2018 MIN 1 7 14.3%
Andy Dalton 2013 2013 CIN 1 8 12.5%
Cam Newton 2015 2015 CAR 1 8 12.5%
Ryan Fitzpatrick 2015 2015 MIA – Sec 1 14 7.1%

2019 Active Streaks and Career Records

Today I look at players that are either on an active streak of accomplishing a statistical record or are in a position to advance up the top ten of career leaders in 2019.

Passer Rating

In the history of the NFL there are only eleven quarterbacks that have a streak of 2+ seasons of 100+ passer rating.

Drew Brees – Saints

Brees has an active streak of four seasons with a 100+ passer rating. He is tie for second in this streak but only his is active. Aaron Rodgers has the record at six seasons from 2009 to 2014.

Honorable Mention: Jared Goff, Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz are on an active streak of two seasons at 100+.

Brees is third in career passer rating (97.6) with Aaron Rodgers at first (103.1)

Passing Yards

In NFL history there are only eleven quarterbacks that have had a streak of 3+ seasons of 4000+ passing yards. Some of those eleven have repeated and are only counted once. The repeaters are Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.

Matt Ryan – Falcons

Ryan has an active streak of eight seasons with 4000+ passing yards. One more and he passes Peyton Manning and has sole possession of second place. The leader is Drew Brees who has a non-active streak of 12 seasons,

Brees is the only quarterback to have a streak of 5000+ passing yards with three seasons from 2011 to 2013.  In fact he is the only quarterback ever that has multiple seasons of 5000+ yards with five seasons.

Honorable Mention: The following quarterbacks have an active streak of 4000+ passing yard seasons – Phillip Rivers (6), Kirk Cousins  (4), Tom Brady (2), Andrew Luck (2) and Ben Roethlisberger (2). Also  worth noting is Patrick Mahomes just had a 5000+ yard passing season.

Tom Brady – Patriots

Brady has 70,514 career passing yards. and is in fourth place.  He needs 1,430 yards to pass Brett Favre and Peyton Manning to claim second place. First place is held by Drew Brees (74,437).

Passer Completion Percentage

Drew Brees – Saints

Brees has an active streak of two seasons with a 70% or better completion percentage. He is the only quarterback to ever accomplish that.

If we look at streaks of a 65% completion percentage, Brees is on an active streak of six seasons. One more season and he ties Peyton Manning for the longest streak of 65% seasons.

Honorable Mention: Mathew Stafford has an active streak of four seasons of 65% completion percentage. One more and he moves into a tie for fourth place. Tom Brady has an active streak of three seasons of 65%,

Matt Ryan – Falcons

Ryan is fifth in career completion percentage (65.3%). If Ryan duplicates his performance last year which had a 69.4% completion percentage he should pass Kurt Warner and move into fourth place.

Game Winning Drives

Drew Brees – Saints

Brees needs seven game winning drives(GWD)  to pass Peyton Manning (54) and claim first place in career GWDs. That is the number he had in 2018 which was a career high and tied for second most in a season.

Tom Brady – Patriots

Brady needs four game winning drives to pass Dan Marino (47) and claim third in career GWDs. The last time he had that many was in 2013 with five.

Ben Roethlisberger – Steelers

Roethlisberger is sixth in career game winning drives. He needs 2 more to pass Brett Favre (43) and move into sole possession of fifth.

Eli Manning – Giants

Manning is in ninth place in game winning drives. He needs two more to pass Johnny Unitas and four to pass John Elway and take sole possession of seventh. Over his career Manning has averaged 2.5 GWD a year with a high of five his 2011 Super Bowl season.

Matt Ryan – Falcons

Ryan is tenth in career game winning drives. Over his eleven year career he has averaged 3.3 a season. Ryan needs three to pass Johnny Unitas and move to ninth.

Passing Touchdowns

In the history of the NFL there have been only six quarterbacks that had a streak of 3+ seasons of 30+ passing touchdowns each season.  Drew Brees leads the list with a nine season streak. The other five are Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Dan Marino and Aaron Rodgers. Two quarterbacks have an active streak for passing touchdowns of 30+.

Andrew Luck – Colts

Luck has an active streak of two seasons of 30+ passing touchdowns a season.

Russell Wilson – Seahawks

Wilson has the other active streak of two seasons of 30+ passing touchdowns a season.

Drew Brees – Saints

Brees is second in career passing touchdowns and needs 20 to pass Peyton Manning and claim the number one spot.

Aaron Rodgers – Packers

Rodgers is 10th in career passing touchdowns and needs just 5 to pass Fran Tarkenton and claim the ninth spot.

Receiving Touchdowns

There have only been ten players that have had a streak of 4+ seasons each having 10+ receiving touchdowns.

Davante Adams – Packers

Adams has an active streak of three seasons of 10+ receiving touchdowns. Over the last ten years only six players had a streak of three. No one has a streak of more than three in that time-frame. The all time record is Colts Receiver Marvin Harrison with eight seasons from 1999 to 2006.

Honorable Mention: DeAndre Hopkins has an active streak of two seasons. Atlanta receiver 2018 rookie Calvin Ridley could be starting a streak with 10 receiving touchdowns in 2018.

Receiving Yards

Julio Jones – Falcons

Jones has an active streak of five seasons with 1400+ receiving yards. That is the NFL record. No active player has two consecutive seasons of 1400+ yards. There were six receivers in 2018 with that many yards.

Rushing Touchdowns

In NFL history there have been 23 players that had a streak of 4+ seasons with 8+ rushing touchdowns each season.

Melvin Gordon – Chargers

Gordon has an active streak of three seasons with 8+ rushing touchdowns in a season. His last three seasons of his four season career Gordon has been in the top ten in the league in rushing touchdowns. The streak leader of all time was also a Charger – Ladainian Tomlinson has nine seasons from his nine years on the Chargers.

Honorable Mention: Todd Gurley, Jordan Howard and Alvin Kamara all are on an active streak of two seasons.

The 2018 Rookies that could be starting a streak are Saquon Barkley, Phillip Lindsay and Nick Chubb with 11 , 9 and 8 respectively.

Adrian Peterson – Redskins

Peterson is fifth in career rushing touchdowns tied with Jim Brown. He needs five to pass Walter Payton and move into fourth place.

Rushing Yards

In NFL history there have been 66 players that have a streak of 3+ seasons of 1000+ rushing yards each season.  That number includes five players that had two such streaks – Frank Gore, Jamal Lewis, Jim Brown, Tony Dorsett and Walter Payton. Also included are three players that had a single career like long streak – Barry Sanders (10 years), Curtis Martin (10 years) and Emmitt Smith (11 years).

Todd Gurley – Rams

Gurley has an active streak of two seasons with 1000+ rushing yards. He has rushed for 1000+ yards three of his four season career. If he adds another season to his streak he will move from tied at 72 to tied at 40. Besides Gurley eight other players had a 1000+ rushing season last year. This includes two 2018 rookies of Saquon Barkley and Phillip Lindsay.

Frank Gore – Bills

Gore is fourth in career rushing yards. He needs 522 yards to pass Barry Sanders and take third place.

Adrian Peterson – Redskins

Peterson is eighth in career rushing yards. If he gets 784 yards he will pass Jerome Bettis, LaDainian Tomlinson and Curtis Martin to take fifth place. Peterson had 1,042 yards last year.

Yards From Scrimmage

A total of ten players in NFL history had a streak of 2000+ yards from scrimmage. None are active players. The leader is Marshall Faulk with four seasons. The last one to accomplish a streak was Tiki Barber with three seasons from 2004 to 2006. In 2018 there were two players that had 2000+ yards from scrimmage. Saquon Barkley of the Giants with 2,028 yards and Ezekiel Elliot of the Cowboys with 2,001 yards.

Frank Gore – Bills

Gore is fifth in career yards from scrimmage. He needs just 611 to pass Marshall Faulk and take fourth place.

Sacks

In the history of the NFL only 29 players have had a streak of 2+ seasons with 13+ sacks a season. Reggie White tops the list with a streak of four seasons which he did twice. Buffalo’s Bruce Smith made the list three times with two seasons for each streak. The Giant’s Lawrence Taylor and Dallas’s Damarcus Ware were the only others that made the list multiple times (twice) with each streak being two seasons. Only eight players have a streak of 3+ seasons.

Chandler Jones – Cardinals

Jones has an active streak of two seasons with 13+  sacks.

Ryan Kerrigan – Redskins

Kerrigan has an active streak of two seasons with 13+ sacks.

Interceptions

In the history of the NFL there are 90 players that had a streak of 3+ seasons with 5+ interception each season. There are no active streaks for this. The only player currently active that made the list is Marcus Peters on the Rams. Peters had the streak in 2015-2017 while playing on the Chiefs. There are six players that had five interceptions in 2018. They are shown here.

Tackles For Loss

J.J. Watt – Texans

Watt is fifth in career tackles for loss and needs 18 to pass DeMarcus Ware and  Jared Allen to claim the number three spot.

Calais Campbell – Jaguars

Campbell is eighth in career tackles for loss and needs eleven to pass John Abraham and Jason Taylor to claim the number six spot.

Passes Defended

Jonathan Joseph – Texans

Joseph is fifth in career passes defended. He needs three to pass Charles Woodson and Terence Newman to claim sole possession of the third spot.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – Redskins

Rodgers-Cromartie is ninth in career passes defended. He needs eight to pass Sheldon Brown, Dre’ Bly and Brian Dawkins to claim sole possession of the seventh spot.

 

Consecutive Regular Season Games Started

Brett Favre leads the list of players for most consecutive regular season starts with 297.

Philip Rivers – Chargers

Rivers is tie in eleventh place for consecutive regular season games started at 208. If he starts this whole season he will move up to fifth place passing other quarterbacks of Peyton  and Eli Manning.

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.

GL TLM ALM
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.

Defensive Points Per Play Allowed And Teams That About-Faced

Continuing the series today we look at the three most improved and three most declined teams in opponent points allowed per play. Since it is per play a ranking based solely on total points would be slightly different. This category appeared worthy of its own post as sometimes a team can bend but not break. Teams generally toughen up in the red zone and that can make a big difference. (This article looks at all points per play and not just red zone plays.)

The top three teams in terms of most improved from 2017 to 2018 in opponent points allowed per play are as follows.

1. Houston Texans

In 2017 the Texans had six games where the opponent scored 30+ points and three of those they scored 40+ points.  In 2018 that number dropped to only two games the opponent scored 30+ points and both were under 35. Their total points allowed in 2017 of 436 was the most in the league. In 2018 they allowed the seventh lowest total touchdowns and the third lowest rushing touchdowns.

Houston was the only team that had two players with 15+ tackles for loss. They were their defensive ends of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.

2. Denver Broncos

The Broncos were 22nd in opponent points scored per play in 2017 allowing a total of 382 points . The average was 347. They improved to 9th in 2018 allowing 349. The average in 2018 was 373.  The Broncos were 28th in 2017 in receiving touchdowns allowed with 29. They improved in 2018 to 15th with 26 allowed.

Cornerback Chris Harris got selected to his fourth Pro Bowl for his 2018 season. In spite of  suffering a broken leg in week 11 and missing the rest of the season, Harris still had 10 passes defended, 3 interceptions, 40 solo tackles and a sack. As reported by Pro Football Focus, Harris is one of only nine cornerbacks since 2006 who have seen at least 500 targets, yet logged more career interceptions than the number of touchdowns allowed in coverage. Over his eight year career with the Broncos Harris has 19 interceptions and has allowed only 16 touchdowns.

3. Cleveland Browns

In 2017 the Browns were 30th in opponent points scored per play with a total of 410 points. In 2018 they were 13th with a total points of 392.  In 2108 the Browns were tied for third in receiving touchdowns allowed with only 21. That was an improvement from 27th place in 2017 with 28 receiving touchdowns allowed. Cleveland had the worst red zone defense in 2017 allowing opponents to score a touchdown on 67.4% of their red zone trips, That improved to 20th in 2018 going down to 61.1%.

2019 round 2 draft pick cornerback Greedy Williams has only given up three touchdowns over his two year college career.

The bottom three teams in terms of most declined from 2017 to 2018 in terms of points allowed per play are as follows.

30. Los Angeles Rams

The Rams dropped from 11th in 2017 to 24th in 2018. They were 26th in 2018 in receiving touchdowns allowed with 31.  That was down from 11th place in 2017 when they only allowed 21 receiving touchdowns.

The Rams used three of their eight 2019 draft picks on secondary players. Second round pick safety Taylor Rapp had a opposing quarterback rating of 12 when targetted as reported by Pro Football Focus. Third round pick cornerback David Long, on 595 coverage snaps in his career, allowed a total of 18 receptions on 60 targets for 130 yards. Those 18 receptions resulted in only three first downs and one touchdown. Long’s three-cone and 20-yard shuttle times at the combine were the top among all players. Long is not your protypical size for a corner at 5’10 and 196 lbs and so he could be a steal in the third round. Seventh round pick safety Nick Scott was a running back as a freshman, cornerback as a sophomore and safety his last two years. He only started at safety his last year and he made three interceptions and one pass defended. On the mid-season Pro Football Focus review of Penn State they praised the stellar performance of Scott and fellow safety Garrett Taylor. They had only allowed a combined 9 receptions for 92 yards and Scott had an opposing QB rating of 50.8.

31. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals dropped from 10th to 28th in opponent points per play. The Bengals ranked 30th in total points allowed per game at 28.4. In 2017 they were 16th with 21.8 points allowed per game. The Bengals were 31st in defensive points per drive with a 2.56. The league average was 2.04.

The Bengals have hired a new head coach for the 2019 season. Marvin Lewis was the head coach for the last 16 years. He led the team to four division titles and seven playoff appearances. However he never led them to a playoff win.  The new coach, Zac Taylor, is in his first role as a head coach. He was a record setting quarterback at Nebraska and has held numerous NFL coaching positions including quarterback coach, wide receiver coach and interim offensive coordinator for the Dolphins They also have a first time defensive coordinator – Lou Anarumo. “At the end of the day, you have to start with stopping the run and being tough and stout up front. And then everything works from there,”- Lou Anarumo.

32. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons dropped from 7th to 26th in opponent points per play from 2017 to 2108. They were 29th in opponent receiving touchdowns with 33. The league average was 26.5. In red zone defense the went from an opponent touchdown scoring percentage of 43.6% in 2017 to 70.4% in 2018.

The Falcons were hit hard with injuries including safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, as well as linebacker Deion Jones. After a disappointing 2018 the Falcons released cornerback Robert Alford.

Keanu Neal played only one game in 2018. In  2016 free safety Neal made the NFL All-Rookie Team and the following year he made the Pro Bowl. Safety Ricardo Allen played only 3 games in 2018.  Allen had averaged 2 interceptions and 4 passes defended per 16 games over his four years as a starter. Linebacker Deion Jones only played six games in 2018. Over his three year career he has averaged three interceptions and 12 passes defended per 16 games.

In Conclusion

The data for all teams is available here – defensive Points Allowed Per Play.  A running total of the most changed teams and the 2018 outliers is available here – running totals.

Pass Defense and Teams That About-Faced

Continuing the series today we look at pass defense. I will take a slightly different approach on pass defense. I will list the top three and bottom three teams for 2018. This is then followed by the three most improved and declined from 2017 to 2018. These are all for pass defense only.

To rank the teams by pass defense I used three statistics:

  1. Opponent Passer Rating differential
  2. Opponent Yards Per Pass Attempt differential
  3. Defensive Quarterback Hits

The differentials are how the opponent fared in that statistic in the game against the team compared to their season average. So if a team had a quarterback rating for the season of 80 and had a game rating against a team of 70 their passer rating differential is -10. A negative differential is good for the defense. I summed those differentials on a per game basis for each team to get a total season differential.  For the team’s pass defense a large negative number is very good.

The quarterback hits were not available on a per game basis. So I simply used the sum of a team’s defensive quarterback hits for the season.

To get an aggregate defensive number I summed the team’s standard deviation from the average for each category. The differentials that were negative are better. On the quarterback hits the positive (deviations above the average) were better so I added the negative of the hits deviations.  In addition I only take half of the deviation value for quarterback hits. This is to give credit for a strong pass rush but to not overwhelm the other two statistics with the pass rush. I then ranked the teams with the largest negative sum ranking as number one. I then did the same for the 2017 season and got their rankings for that season.

Here are the outlying 10% of teams starting with the best and worst in 2018. This is followed by the most improved and declined from 2017 to 2018 all in pass defense only. I discuss a little about their ranking and then look as where the team stands looking forward into 2019. For looking forward I note any key departures and acquisitions.

Top Three Teams 2018

1. Baltimore Ravens

When playing the Ravens opposing quarterbacks in total performed at a -253.7 passer rating difference from how they averaged for the year. This was the second best defensive passer rating differential. Only three opposing quarterbacks performed above their team quarterback yearly rating.  Seven quarterbacks had a passer rating of 20+ points less than their average. Their opponent yards per attempt summed out to a -22.5 differential which was the best by -7.5 yards. Four teams had a greater than -3 yards per passing attempt from their yearly average. They held Phillip Rivers to 181 yards passing , zero passing touchdowns and had two interceptions and four sacks. They were the only team in 2018 to hold the Chargers to under 20 points.

The Ravens acquired free safety Earl Thomas in free agency. In his nine year career Thomas has averaged 4 interceptions and 9 passes defended per 16 games. In playing just 4 games last year due to injury Thomas still had 3 interceptions and 5 passes defended. That should more than offset the release of All-Pro safety Eric Weddle.

Their linebacker corp took a big hit in free agency with the loss of Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith and C.J. Mosley.

2. Chicago Bears

The Bears had the top negative passer rating differential by opposing quarterbacks with a – 291.2. In week 14 they held the Rams to 6 points with zero touchdowns. They were the only team in the regular season to keep the Rams under 20 points. They sacked Jared Goff three times and picked him off four times. Goff had a quarterback rating of 19 in the game with a completion percentage of 45%.  Even if you eliminate the -81 quarterback rating differential from the Ram’s game, the Bears would still have the second best defensive quarterback rating differential. The Bears led the league in the number of games with 4+ defensive sacks with eight.

The Bears kept a strong defense headed by linebacker Khalil Mack, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, free safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Kyle Fuller in place for 2019,

They did lose free safety Adrian Amos is free agency. However they picked up Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. In his five year career Clinton-Dix averaged three interceptions and six passes defended per 16 games. According to Pro Football Focus, Clinton-Dix has allowed a passer rating of just 52.9 on throws into his primary coverage since 2014, which is the best mark among all safeties in that time.

3. Buffalo Bills

The Bills were tie with the Ravens and the Bears for the lowest opponent yards per pass attempt with a 6.3 yards per attempt. Among genral NFL statistics, they were first in lowest opponent passing yards per game with 179.2 yards. The Bills were fourth in opponent 1st down passing percent with 31.9%. The Bills gave up the least amount of 20+ passing plays with 36 and also least of 40+ passing plays with 2. Opponent quarterbacks had the third lowest passer rating.

The Bills defense remained in tact thru free agency.  They did pick up a pair of cornerbacks with E.J. Gaines and Kevin Johnson. Gaines made the NFL All-Rookie team in 2014 with 14 passes defended and two interceptions. His highest graded season from PFF was in 2017 when he got an 80.6 which was 17th among cornerbacks, Gaines was injured last year and played only six games for the Browns. Johnson was a first round pick in 2015. He has had an injury plagued career and only played in one game in 2018 and six in 2016. Before injury in 2016 Johnson was PFF’s seventh highest graded corner for the year.

In the 2019 draft the Bills selected defensive tackle Ed Oliver in round one.  Oliver was All AAC First Team every year of his three college seasons. He was 2017 AAC Defensive Player of the Year and a Consensus All American in 2017 and 2018.  Ed Oliver made #1 on Chase Goodbread’s NFL.com’s “18 for ’18: College football’s most freakish athletes” and #2 on Bruce Feldman’s 2018 college football Freaks List. He made my list of the five toughest draft prospects at each position. Oliver had 13.5 sacks over his 3 year college career and 32 games. His 5.5 sacks in 2017 was a 24% team market share which is just shy of a 25% indicative of future NFL success.

Bottom Three Teams 2018

30. Detroit Lions

The Lions had the second to last opponent quarterback rating differential (+172.6) and defensive quarterback hits (68). The league averages on those were -23 opponent quarterback rating and 88 defensive quarterback hits. The Lions had only four games where the opponent quarterback rating was below their team rating for the season. Only three players had double digit quarterback hits and none of them had more than 14.

Looking forwards the Lions signed defensive end Trey Flowers as a free agent from the Patriots. Flowers led the Patriots the last two years in quarterback hits with 20 in 2018 and 25 in 2017.

Strong safety Tracy Walker was chosen in round three of the 2018 draft. His rookie year he played in 27% of the defensive snaps or 267 snaps. He had one interception and two passes defended. Walker made Pro Football Focus’s 2018 Clutch Team Second Team. Their clutch team are the top players that  played in at least 100 snaps during the fourth quarter of games that were within 7 points or less. Walker was the third highest graded NFL safety in that scenario. He was one of only three players on the Lions that earned a 75+ coverage grade from PFF.

31. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins had the worst opponent passing yards per attempt differential at + 21.9 yards. The league average differential was + 9.7 yards. They had only four games where the opponent had a lower yards per attempt than their yearly average and those were all – 1.0 yards or a smaller negative yardage. They had two games of a +3 yards differential. Their worst was a 42 to 23 loss to the Texans in which Deshaun Watson had an 80% completion ratio, threw for 239 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. The yards per passing attempt was 4.5 yards above their average.

Looking ahead to 2019 They lost defensive end Cameron Wake in free agency. Wake led the Dolphins in 2018 in quarterback hits and was second on the team in sacks. In 2017 he led the team in both sacks and hits and was fourth in the league in quarterback hits.

The Dolphins drafted defensive tackle Christian Wilkins with the 13th pick of the 2019 draft. Wilkins increased his sack count every year in college ending with 5.5 sacks his senior year. He was given a 91.0 pass rush grade for 2018 by Pro Football Focus which was fourth among defensive interior linemen and only 1.5 points below top rated Quinnen Williams. As reported by PFF he won 16.7% of his pass rushes which was third best among defensive interior linemen.  His PFF pass rush grade jumped from 67.8 in 2017 to 91.0 in 2018. Also worth noting is Wilkins batted down 15 passes during his career.

32. Oakland Raiders

The Raiders ranked last in quarterback hits with only 48. The next lowest team, the Lions, had 20 more hits. Oakland was also last in the league in sacks with only 13. The next lowest team had 30. The Raiders were second to last in opponent passing yards per attempt differential with + 19.9 yards.  They had worst game in the season for opponent yards per attempt differential with a + 7.4 yard differential against the Dolphins. In week three the Raiders lost 28 to 20 to Miami. The game had the second highest net passing yards per attempt of the season in the league with Ryan Tannehill passing for a net 13.28 yards per attempt.

The Raiders signed free agent safety LaMarcus Joyner in 2019. Though Joyner had a down year in 2018 the Raiders hope he repeats his 2017 season. That year he had three interceptions and nine passes defended in playing only 12 games.  He received a 91.2 grade in coverage from Pro Football Focus which was third among all safeties. He has averaged six passes defended per 16 games over his five year career.

In the 2019 draft the Raiders picked defensive end Clelin Ferrell and safety Jonathan Abram in the first round. Ferrell had 11.5 sacks last year in college which was sixth in the FBS. Jonathan Abram had three sacks, two interceptions and five passes defended in his senior year.  In round four of the 2019 draft they selected defensive end Maxx Crosby. In 2017 Crosby had 11 sacks which was good for sixth in the nation and a whopping 39% team market share of sacks. For each of the last two seasons Crosby has made the All-MAC First Team.

Three Most Improved Teams from 2017 to 2018

1. Cleveland Browns

In 2018 the Browns had a -158 opponent passer rating differential (5th), a -4.6 yards per attempt differential (8th) and 90 quarterback hits (15th). Their total 2018 ranking for pass defense was 8th. This was a dramatic increase from 2017 where they ranked 31st.  That season they were last in passer rating differential with a + 219.7. In 2017 they had only three games where an opposing quarterback had a lower rating than his team’s season rating.  Their worst game was a 31 to 7 loss to the Bengals in week 4.  Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had an 83% completion percentage and threw for 286 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions.  Dalton had a 142.9 passer rating in the game which was the seventh best in the entire 2017 NFL season.

The Browns turnaround was helped by their 2018 first round pick safety Denzel Ward.  In his rookie year Ward had three interceptions, 11 passes defensed, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. He made the 2018 NFL All-Rookie Team and was selected for the Pro Bowl. He was one of just three rookie defensive backs that had 10+ passes defensed and more than one interception.

The turnaround was also helped from improved play from their second year players. Their 2017 first round pick defensive end Myles Garrett practically doubled his rookie production. In 2018 Garrett had 29 quarterback hits, 13.5 sacks and three passes defended. He followed up a rookie year in which he made the All-Rookie Team with a trip to the 2018 Pro Bowl. Garrett was tie for fifth most quarterback hits in the league and had the sixth most sacks. He was one of only eight players that had 10+ sacks and 25+ quarterback hits.

Another second year player, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, also had an outstanding year. After tripling his snap counts from 300 to 930 in 2018 Ogunjobi responded with 15 quarterback hits and 5.5 sacks. Those numbers were five times his 2017 statistics. Another 2018 rookie stepped up in a big way. Linebacker and fifth round 2018 draft pick Genard Avery  had 14 quarterback hits and 4.5 sacks on 58% of the defensive snaps.

The Browns show no sign of letting up in 2019. They acquired defensive end Olivier Vernon in a 2019 trade and signed free agent defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.  Over his seven year career Vernon has averaged 20 quarterback hits and 8 sacks per 16 games. Looking over just the last three seasons those averages increase to 23 hits and nine sacks. This even though he has played injured over the last two seasons. Over his six year career Sheldon Richardson has averaged 4 sacks and 14 quarterback hits per 16 games. His last year in Minnesota he hit that average with 4.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hits.

In the 2019 draft  some Browns’ defensive selections of interest are cornerback Greedy Williams in round two, linebacker Sione Takitaki in round three and cornerback Donnie Lewis in round seven.  All three met market share targets indicative of success in the NFL. Williams had six interceptions in 2017 which was fourth in the FBS. Donnie Lewis leads all 2018 active FBS players in career passes defended with 49. His 21 passes defended in 2018 was fourth in the FBS.

2. New York Giants

In 2017 the Giants were tie with the Chiefs at 31st for defensive quarterback hits with 61. The league average was 88. They were 29th in defensive sacks with 27. Their overall defensive pass ranking here was 30th. In 2018 they have moved up to 18th.

In 2018 the Giants opponent passer rating differential was -111 for eighth best. Their 2017 differential was + 88.7 for 25th place. In 2017 they had five games with a 20+ passer rating differential and three of those were 44+ points. If you look at the top 17 games in 2018 by worst opponent passer differential the Giants are the only team on the list three times

Their 2017 opponent yards per attempt differential was +11 yards which ranked 26th. In 2018 it was +1.7 which was 18th. Their 2017 worst ranking in quarterback hits improved from 31st to 23rd with 81 hits.  Their sacks increased to 30 but that fell in the ranking to 31st.

Defensive end Olivier Vernon had a Pro Bowl year with 21 quarterback hits and seven sacks in only 11 games. The 2018 trade for Alec Ogletree saw him lead the team in interceptions with five and he had the second most team passes defended (8).  The 2018 free agent signing of safety Curtis Riley had Riley with a career high 5 passes defended and 4 interceptions. Rookie defensive end Lorenzo Carter contributed with 4 passes defended, 4 sacks and 10 quarterback hits on only 40% of the defensive snaps.

The 2019 season will see the results of losing safety Landon Collins in free agency and trading Olivier Vernon. The Giants had also traded defensive tackle Damon Harrison during the 2018 season. They signed safety Antoine Bethea as a free agent in 2019 . Bethea has averaged 3 interceptions and 7 passes defended per 16 games over the last two seasons. Also free agent linebacker Markus Golden was signed in 2019.  Over his four year career Golden has averaged seven sacks and 15 quarterback hits per sixteen games.

In the 2019 draft the Giants loaded up on defensive players. They drafted three cornerbacks,  two defensive tackles and two linebackers.

First round pick defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence was the heaviest player at the 2019 combine weighing in at 342 lbs. He had the second highest bench press reps of all players with 36. He is known for having a great work ethic. In his freshman year he recorded 6.5 sacks but that dropped to 2 and 1.5 his next two years. GM Dave Gettleman had this to say – “This kid can push the pocket and he can have an impact on the pass rush.”. Coach Pat Shurmur said – ” “Dexter, I was with (Vikings DT) Linval Joseph, who all of you know, in Minnesota and he sort of reminded me of him. He’s sneaky with the pass rush…”

In 2018 and 2017 first round pick cornerback Deandre Baker hit market share totals indicative of success in the NFL. He was a 2018 Consensus All American and the winner of the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award which is given to the most outstanding defensive back in college football.  “The last guy we traded up for we feel is the best cover corner in the draft, the kid from Georgia, Deandre Baker.” – Dave Gettleman.

In the third round they picked defensive end Oshane Ximines. Ximines hit market share totals indicative of success in the NFL each of his last two seasons. Oshane Ximines had a 52.3% sacks market share. He averaged 1 sack per game which was fifth in the FBS. He is second among 2018 active FBS players in career sacks with 33.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

In 2017 the Chiefs were tied for 31st in defensive quarterback hits with 61. The league average was 88. They were tied at 25th in sacks with 31. The Chiefs were third to last in opponent passing yards per attempt differential with a + 15.4. They had four games with over a +2 yards per pass attempt differential including one with a +5.7 yards. There biggest improvement came in 2018 with quarterback hits. In 2018 they were fifth with 102. That is closing in on double what they had in 2017. They were tied for first in sacks in 2018 with 52.

In 2017 linebacker Dee Ford had a back injury flare up. It required surgery and there were concerns that he would be able to walk properly. He wound up playing only six games in 2017.  Through perseverance and attention to his diet Ford was able to recover and played a full 16 games in 2018. He wound up having the best year of his five year career and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Ford ended the 2018 regular season with 29 quarterback hits, 13 sacks, seven forced fumbles and 77 pressures.

Defensive end Chris Jones watched the end of the 2017 season from the sidelines with an injury as the Chiefs lost to the Titans in the wild card rounds. He set a goal to make sure he had the fitness and the stamina to make himself a force in 2018. That is what he did. Jones had a career year in 2018 with 29 quarterback hits, 15.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, five passes defended and an interception.  His 25.5 sacks was third in the league.

Together Jones and Ford made Kansas the only team to have two players in the top ten for both quarterback hits and sacks.

Among the defensive backs, cornerback Steven Nelson had a big year. He led the team in passes defensed (11) and interceptions (4). It was a career high for him. He was one of only three players with a combination of that many. In 2017 Nelson had missed half the season due to a preseason injury and core muscle surgery.

Going into 2019 the Chiefs lost some of their key contributors in free agency which included cornerback Stephen Nelson and linebacker Justin Houston,  In his eight year career on the Chiefs Houston averaged 19 quarterback hits and 12 sacks per 16 games. His 2018 season saw 12 hits and 9 sacks.

They had some nice additions in free agency signing linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, defensive end Alex Okafor and safety Tyrann Mathieu.  Mathieu has averaged three interceptions and 10 passes defended per 16 games in his career. Pro Football Focus reports that Tyrann Mathieu is still yet to drop an interceptable pass. He is one of four safeties with at least 100 targets since 2014 to achieve this. Okafor has averaged 11 quarterback hits and 5 sacks per 16 games in his six year career. Last year he had 4 sacks and 9 hits. Attaochu has averaged 9 hits and 4 sacks per 16 games in his five year career. Last year he had 5 hits and 2 sacks in 11 games.

The Chiefs selected Safety Juan Thornhill in round two of the 2019 draft. Juan Thornhill had a 31.6% passes broken up market share with 12 from his 2017 season. Over the last two seasons Juan Thornhill has made the All-ACC team at safety (2018 First Team) and at cornerback (2017 Third Team). Thornhill came close to hitting market share thresholds of 6% solo tackle, 25% interception and 15% passes defended for each of the last three years. In 2016 and 2017 he made it but in 2018 missed only for passes defended with 11%. Among 2018 active FBS players Juan is tie for the most career interceptions with 13.

Three Most Declined Teams from 2017 to 2018

30. Cincinnati Bengals

In this ranking the Bengals dropped from 15th in 2017 to 26th in 2018. In 2018 the Bengals gave up the most passing yards with a 275.9 opponent passing yards per game. They gave up the third most passing plays of 20+ yards with 60.

The 2018 season saw the losses of some key players. After making the 2017 All-Rookie team in 2017, defensive end Carl Lawson tore his ACL in week 8 of the 2018 season and was out for the rest of the season. In 2017 Lawson was second on the team in quarterback hits (21) and sacks (8.5).  Cornerback Adam Jones played in only 26% of the 2017 defensive snaps but according to Pro Football Focus through 13 weeks, he allowed just 15 receptions from 30 targets.  He tallied one interception and four pass breakups, surrendering a passer rating of just 60.7 and an average of 0.81 yards per cover snap, which ranks 10th and 13th among 117 qualifying players at the position, respectively. Jones was placed on IR at the start of December 2017 and released in 2018. In 2017 defensive end Chris Smith played 35% of the defensive snaps and had 3 sacks and 9 quarterback hits. Smith was signed as a free agent by the Browns in March 2018.

In 2019 the Bengals released defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and signed free agent defensive end Kerry Wynn. Both had similar graded years by Pro Football Focus. In the 2019 draft the Bengals did not select a defensive player until linebacker Germaine Pratt in round three. Germaine Pratt was selected for the 2018 All-ACC First Team. Pratt played safety his first two seasons and has a career 4 interceptions and 9 passes defensed. His first season at linebacker as a junior Pratt had two interceptions with one returned for a touchdown. In addition Pratt had 22 total quarterback pressures in only 69 pass-rush snaps.

31. Seattle Seahawks

In this ranking the Seahawks were 7th in 2017 and fell to 19th in 2018. The once vaunted defense finished in the bottom half of the league in six out of ten NFL defensive passing statistics. There worst one was 24th place in giving up passing plays of 20+ yards with 58 for the season.

The 2018 season saw a loss of the longtime core defensive players on the Seahawks. In March of 2018  the Seahawks released cornerback Richard Sherman. They traded defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson during the draft.  After suffering a season ending neck injury in week 10 of the 2017 season, Defensive back Kam Chancellor retired in July 2018. Defensive end Michael Bennett was traded to the Eagles in March 2018. The Seahawks also released defensive end Cliff Avril in May 2018.

In his seven years on the Seahawks Richard Sherman averaged 15 passes defended and 5 interceptions per 16 games.  Before his injury in 2017 Kam Chancellor allowed just 12 catches on 25 targets as the primary coverage player. Only 28.0 percent of his targets had gone for first downs or touchdowns, and his coverage grade of 86.4 ranked 11th in the NFL among safeties, as reported by Pro Football Focus. In his one year on the Seahawks in 2017 defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson had 7 quarterback hits,  one sack, a forced fumble and one interception. In his five years on the Seahawks Michael Bennett averaged 26 quarterback hits and eight sacks per 16 games. In his five years on the Seahawks Cliff Avril averaged 21 quarterback hits and eight sacks per 16 games.

In 2019 the exodus continues with safety Earl Thomas signing as a free agent with Baltimore. In his nine year career on the Seahawks Thomas averaged 9 passes defended and 4 interceptions per 16 games. According to Pro Football Focus among the 70 NFL safeties with at least 2,000 snaps played in the last five years, Thomas ranks first in overall grade (93.6) and coverage grade (97.2).  Cornerback Justin Coleman signed as a free agent with the Lions. In his two seasons on the Seahawks Coleman averaged 2 interceptions and 10 passes defended per 16 games. According to Pro Football Focus he earned the fifth-highest slot coverage grade (81.8) and ranked seventh in first downs allowed per target (29.1%) .  The Seahawks traded defensive end Frank Clark to the Chiefs for a first round draft pick.  In 2018 Clark was the Seahawks leading player in quarterback hits (27) and sacks (13). In his four year career on the Seahawks, Clark averaged 19 quarterback hits and nine sacks per 16 games.

To help overcome the exodus the Seahawks did sign free agent defensive end Ezekiel Ansah in 2019. Ansah has averaged 22 quarterback hits and 10 sacks per 16 games over his six year career on the Lions.

In the 2019 draft the Seahawks picked up a pair of linebackers that are good in coverage. Ben-Burr Kirven was selected in the fifth round and Cody Barton in round three. In 2018 Kirven had an 18% interception team market share (2 interceptions) and an 11.5% passes defended team market share (6 passes defended). Those are good market share numbers for a linebacker. Pro Football Focus had Burr-Kirven ranked second behind LSU’s Devin White in coverage grade (91.2) in 2018. Cody Barton had a coverage grade of 86.6 at Utah last season, ranking 19th out of 518 qualifying linebackers. Barton had six passes defended and one interception in 2018. His passes defended team market share was 10% which was above average among linebackers that met a minimum 11.5% solo tackle team market share.

In round one they chose DE/DT L.J. Collier. Collier had 4+ sacks in each of his last three seasons finishing with 6 his senior year. In round four they selected cornerback Ugo Amadi . Amadi is slightly smaller than prototypical at 5’9″. He has had 6+ passes defended each of the last three seasons and 3+ interceptions each of the last two. Amadi was the winner of the 2018 Lombardi Award  presented to a college football player, regardless of position, based on performance, as well as leadership, character, and resiliency. He was also one of 14 semi-finalists for the  Jim Thorpe Award given to  best defensive back in college football. 

32.  New Orleans Saints

The Saints were ranked 8th according to this exercise for 2017 and dropped to 21st in 2018. Their 2017 opponent passer rating differential was third at -198.7. It was a + 17.7 in 2018. They had six games in 2017 that had an opponent passer rating of -32 and worse. In 2018 they had zero games of -30 differential and only three with a -20 differential or worse. Their quarterback hits improved in 2018 and went from below average in 2017 to above average in 2018. The Saints were fifth in the league in sacks in 2018 with 49 sacks. In 2018 NFL statistics the Saints were in the bottom quarter of the league in opponent completion %, yards per attempt, yards per game, 1st down %, 40+ yard plays and passer rating.

In 2018 the Saints were tie with the Chiefs at 25th in the league in passes defended with 54. The league average was 65. They were tie with the Falcons and Seahawks at 31st in interceptions with seven. The league average was 13. There were only three teams that ranked that low in both statistics. They were Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans.

The Saints had one of the youngest secondaries in 2018. Of their seven main players six had two or less years experience heading into the 2018 season. Three were 23 years old or less.

Going into 2019 the Saints released their one experienced player of the seven with the release of safety Kurt Coleman.  The Saints had signed free agent Patrick Robinson in 2018 but he had broken his ankle in week three and was out for the season. In his prior three seasons after leaving the Saints as a free agent Robinson averaged 2 interceptions and 13 passes defended per 16 games.

In the 2019 draft the Saints picked a pair of safeties with Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the fourth round and Saquan Hampton  in the sixth. Gardner had 9 interceptions and 12 passes defended over his three years in college. In 2018 Saquan Hampton had great team market share numbers for his 44 solo tackles (10%), three interceptions (33%) and 13 passes defended (24.5%). Those team market share values are indicative of success in the NFL.

In Conclusion

The data for all the teams can be downloaded here – pass defense. The data is sorted by decreasing change in rank from 2017 to 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rush Defense and Teams That About-Faced

Offensive Line Pass Protection And Teams That About-Faced

Next in the series on team statistics and teams to watch I look at offensive line pass protection statistics. For this I used the sacks and quarterback hits stats at nfl.com. To account for both sacks and hits giving each equal weight I used a formula of:

Sum Sacks + Hits = Sacks + (Hits / Average(Hits/Sacks))

As in the series we will look at the three teams most improved in this statistic from 2017 to 2018 and the three teams most declined. At the end of the article I will give the running total table of the 3 best and worst teams for each statistic we have looked at. I also added a running total table of simply the best and worst teams for each statistic. So starting with the three most improved team.

1. Indianapolis Colts

2017 – Rank: 30, Sacks + Adjusted Hits: 102
2018 – Rank: 3, Sacks + Adjusted Hits: 51

The Colts went from the bottom three teams in 2017 to the top three teams in 2018. Their franchise quarterback did not play in 2017 due to injury. He had been getting pummeled. Since starting for the Colts as a rookie in 2012, the Colts have ranked 31, 30, 29, 31 and 31 in quarterback hits. They have had over 100 quarterback hits every season.  In 2016 they had their worst of the five year stretch with 128 quarterback hits when the league average was 87. They finally took drastic action.

Coming off the 2017 season the Colts already had two of their first round picks playing on the line – center Ryan Kelly and left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Both players have overall played well.

They claimed right guard Mark Glowinski in December 2017 after he was waived by the Seahawks.  Glowinski was a fourth round pick by the Seahawks in the 2015 draft.  His draft profile on nfl.com talks of a gym rat with great competitiveness and toughness. Since coming to the Colts Glowinski was on track in November 2018 to have a career high pass blocking grade by Pro Football Focus.

In the 2018 draft the Colts selected guard Quenton Nelson with the sixth overall pick. Going into the 2018 draft Nelson was regarded as a generational talent and a “gold jacket” prospect.  He had five total quarterback pressure in his senior college year in 2018. That was tied for second fewest among draft prospect guards. His senior year Nelson was a unanimous All American. In his rookie NFL year in 2018 Nelson made the NFL 2018 All rookie team, the Pro Bowl and was a First Team All Pro selection.

In round two they stayed with the  offensive line and selected right tackle Braden Smith. In his senior year in college Smith made the AP, ESPN, CBS and Athlon All American teams. In Smith’s senior year as a guard in 2017, he allowed three sacks, no hits and three hurries on 445 pass-blocking snaps. Smith was penalized only once over his last two college seasons. In his NFL rookie year Smith made the 2018 NFL All Rookie Team.

The O-Line is solid now for the Colts. In spite of that they did draft offensive tackle Jackson Barton in the seventh round. Barton made All Conference Pac-12 First Team in 2018. Barton has started every game for the last two seasons at left tackle. Barton uses his arm length effectively to redirect targets. According to his draft profile at nfl.com he delivers blocks with some initial pop, shows good upper body power and has a finishers demeanor. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the Bartons (Jackson & Cody Barton) are very conscious about everything they do and praised them for having phenomenal work ethics.

The Colts have built a home grown offensive line from their own day one and day two draft picks. Our second most improved team went a different route.  The Browns built a line composed of more free agents, late drafted or undrafted players and a potential bust that they took a flier on.

2. Cleveland Browns

2017 – Rank: 32, Sacks + Adjusted Hits: 103
2018 – Rank: 10, Sacks + Adjusted Hits: 68

The Browns offensive line really improved in the second half of the season. They allowed 61 quarterback hits thru the first 8 weeks and then finished the season with a total of only 71 hits which was sixth best in the league.  They gave up 33 sacks the first 8 weeks and then allowed only five sacks the last 8 weeks. They didn’t allow a sack in five of team’s final seven games. They had the fewest sacks allowed in the NFL during weeks 10-17.

The Browns were working on nailing down the left tackle position after Joe Thomas announced his retirement in March 2018.

As an aside it is interesting to note that Joe Thomas holds the NFL unofficial record in consecutive snaps with 10,363.  He became a starter from his first game of his rookie season in 2007 and hadn’t missed a snap in his career until a torn tricep in October 2017 ended his season. Once  the Browns were up big in a game. Joe’s replacement was sent into the game and came into the huddle to remove Joe, and Joe told him to get lost. Joe continued to play. In 2017 Joe Thomas played in only seven games due to the injury.

The Browns started the season with undrafted free agent rookie Desmond Harrison starting at left tackle. He started eight games and though he did surprisingly well for an UDFA rookie, he did struggle in pass protection and allowed 4 sacks.   Harrison was replaced due to illness by tackle Greg Robinson in week 9 and Robinson stayed as the starter. As reported by Pro Football Focus Greg Robinson had the best year of his five year career at pass protection in 2018 which ranked 56th among tackles. Robinson allowed zero sacks in 2018. Robinson was the number two overall pick in the 2014 draft by the Rams. The Browns is his third team in five years.

Right tackle Chris Hubbard was signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent following the 2013 draft. In 2017 he started 10 games for the Steelers, had 780 snaps and allowed 4 sacks. He signed with the Browns in March 2018.  In 2018 he started 16 games for the Browns at right tackle and played all offensive snaps. Hubbard allowed 8.5 sacks in 2018.

The strength of their line is the interior offensive line with guards Bitonio and Zeitler and center Tretter.

Center J.C. Tretter was a fourth round draft pick by the Packers in the 2013 draft. He signed as a free agent by the Browns in March 2017. In 2018 Tretter played on all 1,091 offensive snaps and allowed just three sacks. In his senior year in college as a left tackle in 2012 Tretter was credited by his coaches with 120 knockdowns, 13 touchdown-resulting blocks and zero sacks allowed . He was a unanimous All-Ivy League First Team selection.

Left guard Joel Bitonio was selected by the Browns in the second round of the 2014 draft.  He made the 2014 NFL All Rookie Team.  In 2018 he made the Pro Bowl and was a Second Team All Pro selection. In 2018 he played on all 1,091 offensive snaps and allowed just one sack. Among guards with 250+ snaps Bitonio is third in pressure rate allowed allowing a pressure on just 2.3% of his passing snaps as reported by Pro Football Focus.

Right Guard Kevin Zeitler was a first round pick by the Bengals in the 2012 draft.  In March 2017 Zeitler signed with the Browns making him the highest paid guard in the NFL. In 2018 Zeitler played on all 1,091 offensive snaps and allowed only two sacks. Among guards with 250+ snaps Zeitler is first in pressure rate allowed allowing a pressure on just 1.7% of his passing snaps. In 2019 Zeitler was traded to the Giants in trades that included Jabrill Peppers in exchange for Odell Beckham and Olivier Vernon.

Credit also has to be given to quarterback Baker Mayfield. His ability to move around, avoid pressure and a quick release helps to make the offensive line statistics better. Mayfield has the ability to avoid sacks and quarterback hits. Pro Football Focus had Mayfield’s quarterback rating under pressure as the best among qualified quarterbacks each of his last three seasons. “When we get in bad positions, he helps us out a lot,” left tackle Greg Robinson said . “We appreciate it because some guys can’t get out of the pocket. They just have to stay there, so you have to block longer.”

Who will replace guard Kevin Zeitler is one of the big questions to be worked out this preseason. The likely successor is their second round draft pick from 2018, tackle Austin Corbett.  Corbett was a three year captain at Nevada. He was a former walk-on that wound up starting in 48 consecutive games. Corbett was one of 10 semi-finalists for the Burlsworth Trophy which is given to the most outstanding football player in America who began his career as a walk-on. He is a competitive, hard-working and plays with a uncharacteristic violence.

While our top two most improved offensive lines had some draft round one and two picks, our third most improved line presents another portrait.  Their offensive line has only day three draft picks and one undrafted free agent.

3. New England Patriots

2017 – Rank: 16, Sacks + Adjusted Hits: 69
2018 – Rank: 2, Sacks + Adjusted Hits: 50

While the 2017 Patriots’s offensive line was not bad (ranked 16th in hits & sacks) it showed signs of needing  improvement. Through the first four weeks of 2017 the line allowed the eighth most hits in the NFL (20) . Through the first half of the year they allowed 21 sacks. that was on track to rank 22nd in the final 2017 sacks allowed. They allowed 6.6 hits per game in the playoffs. That rate would match the 26th ranked team rate in the regular season. Their Super Bowl dream ended with a strip sack.

Going into 2018 they lose their sole high draft pick on the offensive line, left tackle Nate Solder, in free agency. First round draft  pick tackle Isaiah Wynn suffered a torn Achilles and was out for his rookie season.

The left tackle spot was manned by Trent Brown.  Brown was a seventh round draft pick by the 49ers in 2015. He started 28 games at right tackle. When Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller was asked which blocker gives him the most trouble he replied Trent Brown. In a later interview Von Miller said “”He’s the best right tackle in the National Football League! And he may even be a top-five tackle, period, in the National Football League.” After being placed on IR by the 49ers at the end of 2017, Brown was traded to the Patriots in 2018. He started all 16 games at left tackle.  Brown allowed 3.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hits and 39 total pressures in 97% of the offensive snaps. He signed as a free agent with the Raiders in 2019 making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL.

Right tackle Marcus Cannon was a Patriots fifth round pick in 2011.  He started 13 games in 2018 and allowed just two sacks on 835 snaps. At 6’6″ and 335 lbs Cannon is arguably the biggest player on the Patriots. Cannon has a strong work ethic. He worked his way up from starting 6 or less games his first three years to starting 15 in 2016 and getting selected to the AP and PFF All Pro Second Team that year.  He started at right tackle on two winning Super Bowl teams. Pro Football Focus gave Cannon the third-highest-graded Super Bowl performance (89.8) by an offensive lineman in the PFF era (since 2006) in their 2017 Super Bowl victory over the Falcons.

Left guard Joe Thuney was a  two star prospect coming out of high school and ranked as the 129th offensive tackle for the class of 2011. He went to NC State where in his senior year he was selected to the AP All American Second Team and the USA Today All American First team. Thuney was selected by the Patriots in round three of the 2016 draft. He made the 2016 NFL All Rookie Team. His strong work ethic and coachability eventually led to Thuney being the first player ever to start in a Super Bowl each of his first three years. In the last Super Bowl Thuney played every offensive snap for the team and was able to contain the Defensive player of the year Aaron Donald. In the 2018 regular season Thuney played every offensive snap and allowed zero sacks.

Right guard Shaq Mason was a fourth round pick by the Patriots in the 2015 draft. Mason played in 85% of the offensive snaps in 2018 and allowed zero sacks. He started in 11 post season games since drafted, including three Super Bowls, and has given up zero sacks in all of them. Shaq made the 2018 Pro Football Focus All-Pro First Team and was selected as their best guard in 2018. Mason has a very strong work ethic and the benefits of that show in his on-field performance.

Center David Andrews was named as one of six finalists for the Rimington Trophy in his senior year. The Rimington Trophy is awarded to the nation’s best center in college football. The Patriots signed Andrews as an undrafted free agent following the 2015 draft.  Andrews started week one of his rookie year due to injury to the starter. However Andrews performed well and remained the starter to the current day. He is one of only six undrafted free agents since 2015 that started 8+ games their rookie year and were still starters in 2018. Andrews started in a total of nine post-season games, including three Super Bowls, and surrendered zero sacks in those games. In 2018 Andrews played in 99% of the offensive snaps and allowed only one sack. Over his 4 year career and 66 starts Andrews has allowed only 4.5 sacks.

Credit for the line also has to be given to offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. He has been an offensive line coach for the Patriots for 18 seasons. He has worked with first rounders. late round draft picks, free agents and waived players. many of whom went on to be highly paid offensive linemen. Scarnecchia works to get the line to work as one unit. “Dante’s greatest strength is his ability to get the entire line — and that sometimes includes tight ends, fullbacks, running backs, and occasionally the quarterbacks — to think together, to see things consistently in the same manner, so we can all operate as a team’’ Belichick said.

Credit also goes to quarterback Tom Brady who had the seventh fastest time to throw in the league in 2018.

In 2018 the Patriots allowed the lowest pressure rate in the NFL (17.3 percent) and just 21 sacks, the third lowest total in the NFL.  In the Patriots’ three playoff games, the offensive line only allowed one sack and seven QB hits.

With the loss of Trent Cannon in free agency the unofficial depth chart shows 2018 first round draft pick tackle Isaiah Wynn as starting left tackle.  Wynn was out his rookie season due to a torn Achilles. In college Wynn played left tackle his final year and made All Sec First Team.  At the team awards Wynn was awarded one of the team captains, one of two offensive “Up Front Award” for play in the trenches, and the Frank Sinkwich Award for toughness. Before his senior year Wynn started two years at guard.

In the 2019 draft the Patriots selected offensive  tackle Yodny Cajuste in the third round. Cajuste made All Big 12 First Team and was selected one of three Big 12 Offensive Linemen of the Year. He made my list of five toughest draft prospects at each position. Cajuste is a tough aggressive lineman that plays with power. He had the fourth best bench press (32) among offensive linemen. Cajuste was a Big 12 Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2018 along with Risner and Samia. As reported by Pro Football Focus, Cajuste allowed only 11 pressures on 414 pass-blocking attempts last year.

Another one from my list of five toughest players by position, tight end Andrew Beck, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Patriots. Beck is recognized as a good blocking tight end. He will be competing against 2017 seventh round pick Ryan Izzo for a blocking tight end role.

The three teams that most declined in pass protection as measured by sacks and quarterback hits are as follows.

30. Dallas Cowboys

2017 – Rank : 13, Sacks + Adjusted Hits: 65
2018 – Rank: 31, Sacks + Adjusted Hits: 101

In 2018 the Cowboys gave up the second most sacks (56) and tied for the 26th most quarterback hits (107). You have to go back to 1986 to have a season where the Cowboys gave up more sacks (60). Steve Pelluer and Danny White were the quarterbacks.

Trying to determine the a cause or trend for the sacks is difficult. “What you do is evaluate each play and you see who ultimately was responsible for the sack,” head coach Jason Garrett. “Sometimes it’s a combination of factors within a play, but I think you evaluate it play by play and try to notice any sort of trend.” “A combination of factors, I think, is the trend,” Garrett.

Are the receivers not getting open? Is Dak Prescott taking too long to throw Are there breakdowns on the offensive line? Probably some combination of all those. The sum of sacks attributed to individual linemen totals to 22.  The sacks allowed attributed to linemen shown in the following table.

Player Position Games Played Games Started Snap % Sacks Allowed
Joe Looney C 16 16 100.0% 1
La’el Collins RT 16 16 99.9% 5
Zack Martin RG 14 14 81.5% 3
Tyron Smith LT 13 13 78.9% 0
Connor Williams LG 13 10 63.9% 4.5
Xavier Su’a-Filo LG 8 8 45.9% 6
Cameron Fleming LT 14 3 21.6% 1.5
Adam Redmond G/C 10 0 8.9% 1

 

Quarterback Dak Prescott had the 25th ranked time to throw from snap to throw among 32 starting quarterbacks. He had an average of 2.82 seconds.  This even though he is not pushing the ball further downfield.  His average pass attempt in yards was ranked 21st at 7.6 yards.  Jason Lisk of TheBigLead did a study that looked at quarterbacks that changed teams and teams that changed quarterbacks. He found that sack rate was one of the most consistent things when a quarterback changes teams. It is one of the least consistent things when a team changes quarterbacks. He drew the conclusion that quarterbacks play a larger role in sacks than most people think.

The Cowboys drafted center/guard Connor McGovern in round three of the draft. In 2017 McGovern played starting center for all 13 games and in 2018 he was starting guard for 12 games and one game at center. He is a three year starter having started nine games as a true freshman at guard in 2016. In November 2018, Mel Kiper Jr. listed McGovern as the best offensive guard in the 2019 class. McGovern will probably compete with Connor Williams for the left guard position.

31. Oakland Raiders

2017 – Rank: 2, Sacks + Adjusted Hits: 45
2018 – Rank: 24, Sacks + Adjusted Hits: 90

Whereas the Cowboys have a solid offensive line and the reasons for their plummet is hard to discern, the Raiders are a different story.

After making the Pro Bowl in both 2016 and 2017, left tackle Donald Penn was placed on injured reserve in December 2017 for foot surgery. The Raiders drafted tackle Kolton Miller in the first round of the 2018 draft to play left tackle. In 2018 Penn was moved to right tackle to start four games before a groin injury ended his season. Before the 2018 draft the Raiders released right tackle Marshall Newhouse and drafted tackle Brandon Parker in the third round.

In 2018 rookie left tackle Kolton Miller played in 96.7% of the offensive snaps and allowed 13 sacks. Rookie right tackle Brandon Parker played in 74.9% of the offensive snaps and allowed 8.5 sacks. The full offensive line for the 2018 season is shown in the following table. Players with strike-through are no longer with the team in 2019.

Player Position Games Played Games Started Snap % Sacks Allowed
Rodney Hudson C 16 16 100.0% 1.0
Kolton Miller LT 16 16 96.7% 13.0
Gabe Jackson RG 13 13 82.1% 3.5
Brandon Parker RT 15 12 74.9% 8.5
Kelechi Osemele LG 11 11 70.5% 4.0
Jon Feliciano G 13 4 21.8% 0.0
Donald Penn T 4 4 18.0% 3.0
Denzelle Good T 4 3 18.0% 0.0
Chaz Green G 4 1 5.7% 3.0
T.J. Clemmings T 4 0 5.6% 1.0
Justin Murray T 2 0 4.8% 2.0
Ian Silberman G 2 0 2.9% 1.0
David Sharpe T 8 0 1.7% 0.0
      Totals 502.6% 40.0

Going into 2019 the Raiders traded two time Pro Bowler left guard Kelechi Osemele to the Jets for an exchange of late round draft picks. The Raiders signed free agent tackle Trent Brown from the Patriots making him the highest paid offensive lineman in the league. Head coach Jon Gruden announced that Brown would play right tackle with Kolton Miller remaining at left tackle. In the draft the Raiders selected tight end Foster Moreau in the fourth round. Moreau is good at blocking and was often left in for pass protection. He is on my list of the five toughest draft prospects at each position.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars

2017 – Rank: 6, Sacks + Adjusted Hits: 56
2018 – Rank: 29, Sacks + Adjusted Hits:  100

In 2018 the Jaguars had the third most offensive quarterback sacks (53) and quarterback hits (111).  In 2018 they were hit hard on the offensive line by injuries.

Their offensive line in 2018 was the same for center and the right side as it was in 2017. Left guard Patrick Omamheh was replaced by free agent signing Andrew Norwell. When Norwell signed in the spring of 2018 it made him the highest paid guard in the league at that time. In 2017 the Jaguars started rookie second round pick Cam Robinson at left tackle. He started 15 games, played in 79% of the offensive snaps that year and allowed only two sacks.

In the second week of the 2018 season Robinson suffered a torn ACL and was lost for the season. Andre Norwell suffered an ankle injury in week 11 and was lost for the season. After starting left tackle Josh Wells  suffered a groin injury in week five, the Jaguars signed Ereck Flowers. Flowers was named the  starting left tackle in week 11 and for the rest of the season. The Jaguars started 12 offensive linemen in 2018 including four at left tackle and three at right tackle. The 2018 offensive line and sacks allowed are shown in the following table. Players no longer with the team in 2019 have strike-through.

 

Player Position Games Played Games Started Snap % Sacks Allowed
A.J. Cann RG 15 15 89.8% 6.5
Jermey Parnell RT 13 13 83.6% 4.5
Andrew Norwell LG 11 11 69.8% 2.0
Tyler Shatley C 16 7 52.2% 2.0
Brandon Linder C 9 9 48.9% 1.0
Ereck Flowers LT 8 7 43.2% 1.0
Josh Wells T 7 5 29.4% 0.0
Patrick Omameh LG 7 5 28.4% 3.0
Josh Walker LT 5 4 28.2% 2.0
Chris Reed RG 9 1 17.1% 3.0
Cam Robinson LT 2 2 11.4% 0.0
Corey Robinson RT 4 1 0.0% 1.5
      Totals 501.9% 26.5

 

The Jaguars drafted tackle Jawaan Taylor in the second round of the 2019 draft. Taylor could probably start day one at right tackle.He is regarded as one of the top offensive tackles coming out of the draft.

The Jaguars signed undrafted free agent guard Bunchy Stallings. Stallings was SEC All Conference First Team in 2018. He was selected as an All American by the Associate Press and by the Athletic. Stallings was responsible for only one-half quarterback sack all year in 2018.

The Jaguars signed free agent quarterback Nick Foles and released Blake Bortles in 2019. Bortles is the more mobile of the two having a rushing yards per attempt of 6.3 over the last five seasons compared to Foles’s 1.8 yards per attempt. However when it come to sacks the edge is with Foles.  Foles sack % index over the last five seasons is 118% and eighth best for that time-frame.  A 100% is considered average with higher being better as defined at Pro-Football-Reference.com. Bortles has a below average rating of 95% which is 42nd out of 60 quarterbacks that played in 2018.

The Jaguars drafted Washington State quarterback Garner Minshew in round six of the 2019 draft. In 2018 Minshew threw for 4,779 yards and 38 TDs on 662 attempts and was only sacked 13 times. The year prior at Washington State Luke Falk threw for 3,593 yards on on 534 attempts and was sacked 39 times. Minshew made my list of the five toughest draft prospects at each position.

In Conclusion

The data for sacks and hits on all teams is available here – Offense HIts and Sacks .  It is sorted by the computed sacks plus adjusted hits for 2018. The teams that had the biggest change from 2017 to 2018 are highlighted.  The first group of columns is 2018 and the second group is 2017. At the last column is the change in rank for the team.

Here is a file containing running total of the teams that shows the teams that changed the most from 2017 to 2018. Then the next table is simply the 2018 top three teams and bottom three teams in each category.  The file is running totals.

 

Rushing Yards Per Attempt And Teams That About Faced

June 22, 2019: Slight update on the data in the attached file to carry yards per attempt out to more decimal places. This had no effect on the three most improved or decline teams chosen. The only effect was occasionally a slight adjustment to their 2017 or 2018 rank.

This article is continuing the series on team statistics looking back and forward. Today I look at rushing yards per attempt and the three teams that changed the most for the better and the three for the worst.  Rushing yards per attempt I believe gives the best rushing statistic of how a team or a back are doing in the run game.  You just have to eliminate the backs that did not rush for a significant amount of yards. Again these are not the best and worst at yards per attempt, but rather the teams that changed the most from 2017 to 2018 for better and for worst. Here we start with the three most improved teams in rankings for yards per attempt.

1. Cincinnati Bengals

2017 – Rank:  29, Yds/Att: 3.62
2018 – Rank: 8, Yds/Att: 4.69

In 2018 running back Joe Mixon had 1,168 yards rushing at 4.93 yards per attempt. That was the ninth best yds/att among backs that started at least eight games. He averaged 83.4 yards per game which was third among starting backs. No back averaged more yards per game with a higher yards per attempt average. Mixon was drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft. He was the fourth back chosen. He averaged 3.52 yards per attempt his rookie season which was 20th among rookie backs that year with over 10 attempts. In his rookie year Mixon fumbled five times but in 2018 he cut that to zero fumbles. His improvement in year two has been amazing. His 296 receiving yards in 2018 was fifth among the nine backs with 1000+ rushing yards. The four backs ahead of him were all first round top 10 draft picks. Mixon was pick 48 and appears to have been a good pick.

The Bengals picked center Billy Price in round one of the 2018 draft. Though they are tied for the lowest number of negative plays when rushing in the center of the field, all other rushing stats for their team are lowest when running to the center. They are fourth best on power rushes to the right (80%) and 11th best on power runs to the left (75%). Per nfl.com stats a power run is the percentage of rushes on 3rd or 4th down with 2 or fewer yards to go that achieved a first down or TD.

Looking into 2019 the Bengals should be even better in the run game. They invested in their offensive line during the draft. They drafted tackle Jonah Williams in round one.  According to the New York Post – He (Williams) treats everything — treatment, weight-lifting, film study, practices and games — like it’s the most important activity he will do. Then in round four they chose guard Michael Jordan of Ohio State. In his freshman year Jordan started at guard and made Freshman All American. He was the first true freshman to start on Ohio State’s offensive line in 23 years, or since Orlando Pace did so in 1994.  They signed undrafted free agent guard O’Shea Dugas of LA Tech.  Dugas is another true freshman four year starter. He started 43 out of 49 games he played. This Shrine Game report from NFL Draft Blitz says about Dugas “…excels as a run blocker, but he has held up well in pass protection. He is a big guy with great strength. He sustains those blocks well and his hand placement has been good.”.

Then the Bengals drafted two running backs. They selected Trayveon Williams of Texas A&M in the sixth round.  Williams led all draft prospects in rushing plays of 10+ yards. He is one of only two draft prospects to have 2000+ yards from scrimmage in 2018. He is on my list of the five toughest running backs in this year’s draft class. Also in round six they drafted running back Rodney Anderson. Anderson had 21 career touchdowns in just 217 touches.

In addition they drafted tight end Drew Sample in round two.  Sample is recognized as a good blocking tight end. He also made my list as one of the top five toughest tight ends in the year’s class. He has a tenacious lunch-pail demeanor. Here is a clip of Drew blocking that reminds me of a scene in the movie The Blind Side.

2. Los Angeles Chargers

2017 – Rank: 26, Yds/Att: 3.81
2018 – Rank:  7,  Yds/Att: 4.69

The Chargers top two running backs both averaged over 5 yards a carry.  Melvin Gordon had a career high 5.1 yards per attempt. Austin Ekeler has averaged 5.5 and 5.2 in his rookie and second year. In 2018 only 10 backs had 500+ rushing yards and averaged 5+ yards per carry (See the table below). The Chargers are the only team that had two running backs on that list. Ekeler was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017.

Rookie and seventh round draft pick Justin Jackson had a decent 4.12 yards/carry and 206 yards. That was 12th best among rookie backs with 100+ rushing yards. In college Justin Jackson and Myles Gaskin were the only two backs that over the last five years had 1000+ rushing yards and averaged  4.5+ yards/carry for each of four seasons.

On the offensive line they have Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung. Okung made the Pro Bowl in 2017. Russell was  selection 6 in the 2010 draft. On rushes to the left side the Chargers are number one in rushes of 10+ yards with 34 in 2018. On the right side they have success on Power runs with a 100% success rate. They are one of only four teams to have 100% success on power runs in a specific direction.

The Chargers went mostly defense in the draft and UDFAs. They did pick up OT Trey Pipkins in round three. He is looked on as a developmental prospect but he did dominate at a lower level of competition. On nfl.com they say as one of his positives – Finisher who keeps grinding on opponents until he hears the whistle.

The Chargers did not do much in the offseason to improve their run game. However at seventh in yards per carry they did not need to. Also the rest of the division did not draft high picks in run stopping.

3.  Seattle Seahawks

2017 – Rank: 21, Yds/Att: 3.98
2018 – Rank: 5, Yds/Att: 4.79

Running back Chris Carson has been a pleasant surprise as he was a seventh round pick in the 2017 draft. He is their leading rusher with 1,151 yards at 4.7 yards per attempt.  He led the NFL in 2018 in broken tackles on rushes with 58. Carson was one of only nine backs to have 1000+ yards rushing in 2018.

Rookie running back Rashad Penny had 419 yards at 4.9 yards per attempt. He had the eighth best yards per attempt among the 40 rookie running backs. He did not start and only got 17% of the offensive team snaps. But when he was in he touched the ball 88% of the time.

Mike Davis was the another running back and had 514 yards with a 4.6 average. He has signed with the Bears in free agency.

Quarterback Russel Wilson had the sixth most rushing yards among quarterbacks with 376 yards and a 5.6 yard average. Looking over the last five seasons Wilson comes in sixth among active quarterbacks in in average rushing yards per game at 33 yards. He has a 5.76 yard per attempt average over that time-frame.

Their offensive line features 2008 first round selection left tackle Duane Brown. When running to the left the Seahawks had the fourth most 1st downs with 48.  Power runs to that side came in ninth in the league with a 76% success rate.  Averaging the various run stats over each of left, middle and right the Seahawks came in first in 10+ yard runs, second in power runs and third in 1st down runs. The only category they did not excel in was negative runs of which they came in 14th.

In the draft the Seahawks picked guard Phil Haynes in round six. According to this review on BigBlueView Haynes is a mauler in the run game. This is what coach Pete Carroll  said about Haynes after the draft  – “He’s going to be 340 pounds. He’s a really strong, really physical guy. He likes to finish blocks and knock guys down. He’s got an attitude about him.” Haynes made my list of the top five toughest draft prospects at each position.

Also in the sixth round of the draft the Seahawks selected running back Travis Homer. In his three year college career Homer averaged 6.0 yards per attempt with his low season being 5.9 yards. His career average ranks tied at 11th with Devin Singletary in career average for active players. In two combine drills considered important for running back explosiveness Homer came in second and first. He had a 39.5 (2nd) in the vertical jump and a 10’10” (1st) in the broad jump. He also did good in the forty with a 4.48 (5th) and a 7.07 the 3 cone (6th).

The three most declined teams in yards per rush attempt are as follows.

30. Chicago Bears

2017 – Rank:  11, Yds/Att: 4.24
2018 – Rank: 27, Yds/Att: 4.14

The Bear’s yards per attempt did not decrease that much between 2017 and 2018. However by that small decrease they were passed by as the league average increased from 4.07 in 2017 to 4.41 in 2018.

Jordan Howard was their lead rusher with 935 yards and an average 3.7 yards per carry. Howard’ s yards per carry has decreased each year from his rookie year in 2016 with 5.2 to his 3.7 in 2018.  In March 2019, Howard was traded to the Eagles for a 2020 sixth round pick.

Second year running back Tarik Cohen rushed for  444 yards and a 4.5 yard per attempt average. In his senior year in college Cohen was 23rd in the nation in career rushing yards per attempt with a career 6.5 average.  That average was fifth in the FCS.  His nfl.com draft profile in 2017 was quite impressive.  Nicknamed “The Human Joystick” for his ability to make seemingly impossible cuts. Cohen was third at his combine in the forty yard dash with a 4.42.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was the third leading rusher on the Bears with 421 yards and a 6.2 yard average.  Trubisky was the fifth leading quarterback in rushing yards.

The Bears were 27th in negative runs. They did come in 8th in power runs and 10th in 1st down runs.

Looking into 2019 the Bears drafted running back David Montgomery of Iowa State in the third round. Montgomery is known for fantastic contact balance, getting yards after contact and fighting for every extra yard.  His career 4.7 yards per attempt was 52nd among active FBS career leaders. His 2018 4.7 yards per attempt was 58th among players with 1000+ yards.

Seventh round pick Kerrith Whyte had 866 yards and a 65. yards per attempt in 2108. At his Pro Day Whyte made running back targets in seven of his eight drills. His results and what place they would have been at the combine are 4.37 forty (1st), 21 reps bench press (10th), 42″ vertical jump (1st), 11′ broad jump (1st), 4.37 20-yard shuttle (13th) and 7.2 3-cone (10th).

The Bears signed undrafted free agent offensive tackle Joe Lowery of Ohio University. Lowery came in tie for second in Pro Football Focus‘s top-five offensive tackles in the 2019 NFL Draft by run-blocking grade.  He made 2018 Mac All Conference First Team and 2017 All Conference second team.

The Bears signed free agent running back Mike Davis from the Seahawks. Davis had 514 rushing yards in 2018 with a 4.6 yard average. He has increased his yards per attempt each year since having only 1.7 in his 2015 rookie season.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars

2017 – Rank: 9, Yards/Att: 4.29
2018 – Rank: 26, Yds/Att: 4.14

Second year player Leonard Fournette had 439 rushing yards with a 3.3 yards per attempt average.  He played in only 8 games due to a hamstring injury and a one game suspension. His rookie year he rushed for 1,040 yards at a 3.9 yard average. in his last two years in college Fournette had 6.5 yards per attempt both years and averaged 120+ yards per game.

T.J.Yeldon had 414 rushing yards with a 4.0 yards per attempt. The Jaguars lost Yeldon in free agency signing with the Bills in 2019..  Quarterback Blake Bortles was their third leading rusher with 365 yards and a 6.29 yards per attempt average. Bortles was released by the Jaguars after they signed Nick Foles. Carlos Hyde was their third leading running back with 189 rushing yards and a 3.3 yard average. The Jaguars released Hyde in 2019 after giving up a fifth round pick to get him in October 2018.

The run game was good in short yardage situations and ranked 9th in power runs average across all field positions. Their worst ranking was 21st for 1st downs rushing. Their percent of rushing plays that made 1st down was 22% which was 25th in the league.

In 2019 the Jaguars drafted Offensive Tackle Jawaan Taylor in the second round. Taylor made Pro Football Focus’s list of the top-five offensive tackles in the 2019 NFL Draft by run-blocking grade coming in at number four. They signed undrafted free agent guard Bunchy Stallings after the draft. Stallings was SEC All Conference First Team in 2018. He was selected as an All American by the Associate Press and by the Athletic. Stallings totaled 170 blocks at the point of attack and had 55 knockdown blocks. Stallings is said to be a mauler in the run game and helped contribute to running back Benny Snell breaking 1,000 yards rushing each of the last three seasons. Stallings was selected to the ESPN 2018 mid-season All-America team and they had this to say – “He has been a road-grader for the Wildcats. ”

They drafted running back Ryquell Armstead in round five. At the combine among running backs Armstead was second in the forty (4.45), sixth in the bench press (22),  fifth in the 3-cone (7.02) and sixth in the 20 yard shuttle (4.29). Armstead was one of only nineteen draft prospects that rushed for 1000+ yards and 5+ yards per carry. In that list he was sixth in rushing touchdowns (13) and eighth in yards per game (110) . His draft profile at nfl.com describes a physical, competitive and fearless runner who will drive through contact to break tackles or finish falling forward.

32. Philadelphia Eagles

2017 – Rank: 4, Yds/Att: 4.47
2018 – Rank: 30, Yds/Att: 3.94

The Eagles had a hodgepodge of bargain basement running backs in 2018.  Looking at the 87 NFL running backs that rushed for 100+ yards in 2018 ranked by yards per attempt the Eagle backs came in at  51st (Josh Adams), 54th (Wendell Smallwood), 59th (Jay Ajayi) and 66th (Corey Clement).

Their lead rusher was Josh Adams with 511 rushing yards and a 4.3 yard average. Adams was 11th among 18 rookie running backs with 100+ yards in yards per attempt. Adams was signed in 2018 as an undrafted free agent.  The next lead rusher was Wendell Smallwood. Third year back Smallwood had 364 yards at a 4.2 yard average.  His 4.03 yards per attempt average over his three year career ranked 34th among 37 active backs who played over those three years and had 300+ rushing yards. Smallwood was selected in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. Following Smallwood was Corey Clement with 259 yards and a 3.8 average. Clements’s 4.08 average over his two year career ranked 41st among 69 backs that played over those two years. Clement was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017. Next was Jay Ajayi with 184 yards and a 4.1 yard average. In his two years in Philly Ajayi  has averaged 5.1 yards per attempt for 592 yards.  That would be third among backs that rushed for those two years. However his two year average is dragged down to 4.18 and 37th by a lower 3.4 yard average in his first 7 games of 2017 in Miami. The backs are rounded out by Darren Sproles who rushed for 120 yards at a 4.1 average, Sproles was injured for most of the 2018 season.  Of the 2018 backs Sproles is considering retiring and Jay Ajayi has yet to sign.  Smallwood, Clement and Adams are all signed through the 2019 season.

The Philadelphia run game averages across the offensive line positions of left, middle and right come out as follows. They were 18th in rushing first downs, 16th in negative plays, 21st in 10+ yard rushes and 21st in power runs. They were significantly better running to the middle of the line.  Here is a table of their rankings for run routes.

1st Down Negative 10+ Power Avg
Left 18 29 21 18 21.5
Middle 9 24 5 27 16.3
Right 30 1 31 15 19.3

In 2019 the Eagles traded a 2020 sixth round pick to the Bears to get running back Jordan Howard. Howard has dropped in yards per attempt each year of his career. He had 5.2 his rookie year in 2016, followed by 4.1 and a 3.7 in 2018. Howard is on the final year of his rookie contract and becomes a free agent in 2020.

In the draft the Eagles selected Pittsburgh running back Miles Sanders in round two. It is interesting to note the commonality between Sanders and Saquon Barkley‘s last years’ numbers for yards and yards per attempt. Not that Sanders is equivalent to Barkley but he did share a similar rushing profile. Of course Barkley had that profile for three seasons while Sanders had to sit and watch.

Here are the plays of 10+ yards for both players. For Barkley I show his two years and an average of the years as they were quite different.

Barkley And Sanders Big Plays
10+ 20+ 30+ 40+ 50+ 60+ 70+ 80+ 90+
Rank Name Team Yr Pos G Yards Yards Yards Yards Yards Yards Yards Yards Yards
8 Saquon Barkley Penn State SO RB 14 46 19 7 5 4 2 2 1 0
49 Saquon Barkley Penn State JR RB 13 29 14 11 6 5 4 2 2 1
28.5 Barkley Average 37.5 16.5 9 5.5 4.5 3 2 1.5 0.5
19 Miles Sanders Penn State JR RB 13 37 10 6 4 1 1 1 0 0

Provided by NFCBeast.com
Generated 5/15/2019.

 

Pro Football Focus does a nice comparison article of the two and discusses their different running styles.  A summary clip is

“Sanders is a punishing runner who gets yards between the tackles and will seemingly always get positive yards. Barkley is a home-run threat who is shiftier in space and out of the backfield.”

Since the two are now division rivals the comparisons of these two backs will go on for many years. It should make for interesting games.

The Eagles signed guard Nate Herbig as an undrafted free agent following the draft. Herbig is a big powerful guard. He weighed in at 335 lbs at the combine which was tie for second heaviest among o-linemen. He bench pressed 29 reps which was tie for sixth among o-linemen. He has good strength and power for power runs.

In Conclusion

Here s the data for all the teams Yards Per Rush Att Update. The first two tables are sorted by change in rank from year to year in descending order. Under those tables is the 2018 season sorted by rank.

Here is a running total of teams ranked in the series showing the top three (1-3) and the bottom three (30-32) for each category.

Running Total Of Team Changing The Most
  Yds/pass att Pts /Play Yds/Rush Att
Browns 1
Giants 2 3
Bears 2 30
Texans 3
Redskins 30 30
Jaguars 31 31 31
Lions 32 32
Colts 1
Bengals 1
Chargers 2
Seahawks 3
Eagles 32

Provided by NFCBeast.com
Generated 5/25/2019.

Points Per Play and Teams That About-Faced

This is the second post in a series where I look at the most improved and most declined teams for a team statistic. The first post was Passing Yards Per Attempt  and today I look at Points per Play. Points per play is the team’s offensive points scored divided by the offensive plays run.

The average points per play in 2017 was 0.3201 with a high of 0.4380 by the Rams and a low of 0.2220 by the Giants. In 2018 the league average rose to 0.3494 with a high of 0.5351 by the Chiefs and a low of 0.2219 by the Jaguars. To put the 2018 numbers in perspective it would take on average 13 plays for the Chiefs to score seven points and 32 plays for the Jaguars.

It should come as no surprise that 8 of the top 10 teams in points per play made the playoffs in 2018.  The two that did not were the Falcons and Steelers. The teams outside the top ten that made the playoffs and their rank in points per play were Texans (11), Eagles (17), Cowboys (22) and Ravens (23).

Here are the top three teams most improved in points per play in 2018. As in our first article we look at both 2018 and then the 2019 season. For 2019  I look at players that have shown a history that indicates they could significantly affect points per play.

1. Indianapolis Colts

2017 – Rank: 28, Value: 0.2545
2018 – Rank: 6, Value:  0.3972

Tight end Eric Ebron scored the most points by a tight end in 2018 with 13 receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown.  He was tie for sixth in the league with two other players for the most points scored among all players. Ebron was a significant part of the increase in points per play as he went from an average of 3 touchdowns over his first four years to 14 in 2018.

Running back Marlon Mack scored 9 rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown and made two 2-point conversions. He was the tenth running back in points scored and one of only three in the top ten that were twenty-two years or younger. He is going into his third year in 2019 after being selected in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. Mack is the latest draft selection (Round 4-143) to be in the top ten running backs in scoring. mack is another reason for the jump in points per play as he went from 24 points scored his rookie season to 64 points scored in 2018.

Quarterback Andrew Luck had the second most passing touchdowns (39) in 2018 and the sixth best TD% (6.1%). TD% is the % TDs when attempting to pass.  He did not play in 2017 due to injury. In his place quarterback Jacoby Brissett had the 26th ranked TD% (2.8%) and the 24th number of passing touchdowns (13).

Receiver TY Hilton made the top 100 of offensive players that had the most points scored. He was tie for number 56 with 6 receiving touchdowns. There are 18 active wide receivers that have played for the last 7 seasons. Of those 18 players only 4 have had 4+ receiving touchdowns in each year. TY Hilton is one of the four along with Antonio Brown, A.J. Greene and Demaryius Thomas.

The Colts drafted receiver Parris Campbell of Ohio State in the second round. In 2018 Campbell was number one in the Big Ten in receiving touchdowns (12) and tie for eighth overall. They signed undrafted free agent receiver Penny Hart of Georgia State.  Hart was third in the Sun Belt Conference for receiving touchdowns in 2015 and 2017 with 8 touchdowns each year.

2. Chicago Bears

2017 – Rank: 29, Value: 0.2463
2018 – Rank: 10, Value: 0.3702

The Bears were the only team to have four players in the top fifty offensive players for points scored. Their top two scorers were their running backs. Jordan Howard had 9 touchdowns and Tarik Cohen had 8. Chicago and New Orleans were the only two teams that had two running backs in the top 25 running backs for scoring. Nine of the top 25 running backs for scoring were chosen in round 4 or later in the draft including both of Chicago’s backs.

Second round draft choice, rookie Anthony Miller was the second highest scoring rookie receiver in the league and the sixth overall rookie in scoring. At 5’11” and 190 lbs Miller shows that smaller receivers can not only make it in the NFL but also flourish.

Tight end Trey Burton had a career high 6 touchdowns in 2018 and one 2-point conversion.  He was the fourth highest scoring tight end in the league. He signed as a free agent from the Eagles in March of 2018.

The Bears traded running back Jordan Howard to the Eagles in March 2019. The Bears drafted receiver Riley Ridley from Georgia in round four. Ridley is reported to excel at contested catches and had nine touchdown receptions in 2018. His six receptions in the red zone were all touchdowns with a long of 12 yards. They drafted running back David Montgomery of Iowa State in the third round. Montgomery had 13 rushing touchdowns in 2018 all on rushes in the red zone.  Twenty four percent of his 55 red zone attempts made a touchdown.

3. New York Giants

2017 – Rank: 32, Value: 0.2220
2018 – Rank: 16, Value: 0.3486

Rookie running back Saquon Barkley scored the third most points (92) among offensive players.  He scored the most points by a rookie beating the second place rookie by 32 points. He had 11 rushing touchdowns, 4 receiving touchdowns and one 2-point conversion. Receiver Odell Beckham made the top 100 players by points scored. He was tied for 56th place with six receiving touchdowns.

The Giants traded Odell Beckham in 2019. Beckham had injuries the last two seasons that limited the games he played in. Before that in his first three years Beckham had 10+ receiving touchdowns in each of his three years form 2014 thru 2016. Antonio Brown was the only other receiver to accomplish that in that time-frame.

The Giants have not added a touchdown threat to replace Beckham. Sterling Shepard had 8 touchdowns in his rookie year in 2016. However he has since not come close to that number. Corey Coleman was number one in the nation his last year in college (2015) in receiving touchdowns with 20. He has yet to be such a touchdown threat in his three year NFL career.

Undrafted free agent Reggie White Jr. of Monmouth  has the frame of a receiver at 6’2″ and 208 lbs. . He had an impressive 31 career touchdowns with 11 in his senior year. At his Monmouth Pro Day he met 5 of the 6 combine event targets for a wide receiver. His 20 yard shuttle time (4.07) would have tied for third among receivers at the combine. His 3-code time (6.81) would have been fourth. His nfl.com draft profile said  – “He’s a springy leaper with a wide catch radius who snares balls outside his frame or goes up and over cornerbacks to bring it in.”.

The three most declined teams with respect to points per play are as follows.

30. Washington Redskins

2017 – Rank: 12, Value: 0.3360
2018 – Rank: 28, Value: 0.2802

Washington had only one player in the top 100 offensive players for points scored. That was running back Adrian Peterson who was tied at number 34 with 8 touchdowns. He had seven rushing and one receiving.

Before he was injured quarterback Alex Smith had the 2nd lowest TD% among quarterbacks with 8+ starts with a 3% in 10 games.

In his 2017 season in Minnesota Case Keenum had a 4.6% TD% which was 11th best in the league. Dwayne Haskins led the nation in passing touchdowns with 50.  He averaged 3.6 touchdowns per game which was top in the nation. The next quarterback was Will Grier who averaged 3.4 touchdowns per game. However Haskin’s red zone touchdown conversion rate of 32.5% was not as good as a number of other quarterbacks. He was beat out in the red zone conversion by Trace McSorley, Justice Hansen, Kyler Murray, Will Grier and Tyree Jackson (in order).

The Redskins 2015 first round draft pick Josh Doctson has yet to show the production he had in college. In his final year in college Doctson was fifth in the nation in receiving touchdowns with 14. In his three year NFL career he has yet to break a 60% catch percentage.

Tight ends Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed had impressive touchdown numbers in 2013 and 2015 respectively. However since those years they have not come close to matching that production.

Undrafted free agent Steven Sims Jr. had over 42% team market share of receiving touchdowns in 2016 and 2017.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars

2017 – Rank: 13, Value: 0.3349
2018: Rank: 32, Value: 0.2219

The Jaguars had three players in the top 100 offensive scorers. The lowest ranked player was running back  Leonard Fournette at tied at 56 with six touchdowns.  The second year back was down from his rookie season of 10 touchdowns.  Also tie at 47 was second year receiver Dede Westbrook. Westbrook had five receiving touchdowns and one punt return touchdown. They are followed by running back TJ Yeldon who is tied at 77 with five touchdowns which were four receiving and one rushing.  Quarterback Blake Bortles was 27th among starting quarterbacks in TD% with 3.2%.

The Jaguars traded for quarterback Nick Foles and release Blake Bortles in 2019. Over the last five seasons Foles averaged a 3.5 TD % and the league average for starting quarterbacks was 4.5%. In that time-frame during the regular season Foles has 35 touchdown passes over 28 starts. Running back TJ Yeldon departed the Jaguars in free agency in 2019.

For 2019 the Jaguars the Jaguars signed undrafted free agent receiver Tyree Brady. Brady is one of only thirteen players that had 8+ receiving touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. His team market share of receiving touchdowns was 32% and 45%.

32. Detroit Lions

2017 – Rank: 6, Value: 0.3714
2018 – Rank: 27, Value: 0.3062

You have to go back to 2014 to get a lower TD% for Matthew Stafford than his 3.8% in 2018. The team in 2018 had three players in the top 100 offensive scorers. The first is running back LeGarrette Blount who comes in tied at 77th with five rushing touchdowns. He has had quite a drop-off since his career high 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016 with the Patriots. Also tied at 77th is receiver Kenny Golladay with five receiving touchdowns for the second year player.

Sixth round draft pick, receiver Travis Fulgham, had a receiving touchdown in each of his nine last games. He is a big receiver at 6’3″ and 215 lbs. Five of his seven red zone receptions were a touchdown for a 71% conversion rate.

Undrafted free agent signing tight end Donald Parham had 13 receiving touchdowns his senior year. That accounted for 46% of his team’s receiving touchdowns. Parham has a 36″ vertical jump which would have been tied for third among tight ends at last year’s combine. That jump combined with a 6’8″ height and being a former basketball player makes for a nice red zone target.

In Conclusion

Two of the three most improved teams in points per play, the Bears and Giants, were also among the top three most improved teams in yards per passing attempt. The three most declined teams in points per play were also the three most declined in yards per passing attempt.

The data for all teams is Points Per Play. It has the 2017 season sorted by highest to lowest points per play. Beneath that is the same for the 2018 season. That is followed by the teams ranking for each year sorted by the difference in rank form 2017 to 2018.