NFL Stat Check
Looking inside the numbers
By Adam Hoff
Sometimes a quick glance at the statistical leaders can tell an interesting story. Noting that Donovan McNabb leads the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns isn’t terribly surprising, but how many people knew that Marvin Harrison was leading the league in receiving yards? Just yesterday I acquired him in a trade in one of my fantasy football leagues because the other owner feared he was “washed up.”
With sports like baseball and basketball, you never really lose sight of raw stats, but in football, sometimes the numbers fade to the background. Analysis tends to center on wins and losses and teams stats (which are certainly important), while fantasy football participants (usually the first group of people to zero in on the stats) usually focus on stats skewed toward touchdowns, since TD’s are the backbone of most fantasy scoring systems.
Here are a couple of interesting stats that provide some key information regarding the first five weeks of the NFL season:
Yards Per Carry. A quick glance at the rushing leaders shows Frank Gore and Steven Jackson leading the league with 465 yards, following by Willis McGahee (439), Chester Taylor (421), and Thomas Jones (389). What those stats don’t tell you is that Gore is the only member of that group averaging better than 4.1 yards per carry. Looking further down the list we can see that Fred Taylor (4.0), Rudi Johnson (4.1), Edgerrin James (3.1), LaDainian Tomlinson (3.8), Larry Johnson (3.7), Willie Parker (3.8), Jamal Lewis (3.5), and Ronnie Brown (3.3) are all struggling in the YPC department. Therefore, it seems to make sense to go to an extra layer and see which running backs have been the most effective this season, based on average rush. Among players with at least 50 carries, the leaders are:
1. Brian Westbrook,
2. Tatum Bell,
3. Deuce McAllister,
4. Frank Gore,
5. (tie) Tiki Barber, NYG – 4.6. Barber has had a quiet year thus far, but it has been mostly circumstantial.
5. (tie) Joseph Addai,
The next players to take a look at are the backs with less than 50 carries, to see if perhaps they should be getting more touches on Sundays. Here are the top five in yards per carry, with a minimum of 20 carries. (Note: Michael Vick leads the league with a ridiculous 8.8 average on his 38 carries, but as a quarterback, it makes no sense to analyze him in this fashion.)
2. Michael Turner,
3. Maurice Jones-Drew,
4. Brandon Jacobs, NYG – 5.4. The good news for Jacobs is that he looks like an elite every-down back, the bad news is that the guy ahead of him on the depth chart is on the preceding list. As long as Barber is playing at a high level, if will be tough for Jacobs to get a ton of carries.
5. DeAngelo Williams,
Fewest Quarterback Sacks. If you watch much NFL football, you know how critical quarterback protection is. Whether teams use extra blockers, short drops, or simply run the ball all game, keeping the quarterback off of the turf is always a primary goal. That said, some teams are doing a better job of it than others. Daunte Culpepper was sacked 21 times in four games before being pulled as the starter. Sack King David Carr has gone down 15 times in four games. Jon Kitna has been sacked 19 times (five games), Charlie Frye 16 (five games), and Carson Palmer 15 (four games). For each of those teams and quarterbacks, that is too many sacks. Perhaps they need to look to the following four offenses for guidance, as each starting QB has taken five sacks or fewer so far this season:
Rex Grossman, Chicago – 4 sacks in five games. I’ve heard about a million reasons why the Bears have been so good this year, but nobody seems to be talking about the pass protection Grossman is getting. He’s thrown 152 passes and ranks second in the league in yards per attempt (8.2, behind only McNabb), which indicates that a lot of his passes are down the field, yet he’s only been sacked four times all season. That is amazing.
It is probably not a surprise to find that that the combined records of those four teams is 15-3. Throw in the next two guys on the list, Drew Brees (6 sacks in five games) and Peyton Manning (7 sacks in five games) and that number goes to 24-4. The lesson: keep the quarterback off of the deck at all costs.
(By the way, pass attempts per sack looks like this: Rex Grossman 38.0, Tom Brady 32.4, Brett Favre 29.0, Drew Brees 28.3, and Peyton Manning 24.4. I guess that means we can stop blaming Favre’s struggles on his offensive line.)
Yards After the Catch/First Down Percentage. Two intriguing stats for measuring receiving ability are yards after the catch and percentage of catches the result in first downs. Both can indicate the value of a weapon in the passing game, but often point to very different types of players. Check out the two lists:
Yards After the Catch (minimum 20 catches):
2. Brian Westbrook,
3. Kevin Jones,
4. Greg Jennings,
First Down Percentage (minimum 20 catches):
1. Reggie Wayne,
2. Braylon Edwards, Cleveland – .850. Edwards has been making great strides this season and his ability to make catches for first downs is a great sign.
4. Marvin Harrison,
5. Marques Colston,
Keep on eye on some of these stats on Sunday and see if they make a difference. Watch some of the elite teams protect their quarterback, see what coaches do about their running games, and observe where quarterbacks go for big plays and first downs. Sometimes the stats tell a pretty big story.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com.