National Football League
October 11, 2011
Draft King Analysis
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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After five weeks of play, only two teams remain unbeaten in the NFL: the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. For Green Bay, there has been no Super Bowl hangover -- they remain proficient in scoring, posting a league-best 34.6 points per game average through week five. Detroit is not far behind, with the Lions finally healthy on offense (in particular QB Matthew Stafford, RB Jahvid Best, and WR Calvin Johnson) and averaging 31.8 points per game, fourth-best in the NFL as of this point.
As explained on here in detail yesterday, the NFL's crackdown on dangerous hits by defensive players on wide receivers has been a major catalyst in the expansion and explosion of the passing game across the NFL. The running game is still important, but it could be argued that its importance is not where it once was: neither Green Bay (with a 99 rushing yard per game average) nor Detroit (averaging 95.8 rushing yards per game) is posting triple-digit rushing yard per game averages.
This is not to say that the running game is not important: the threat of a breakaway run is still key, as evidenced by how teams have, by and large, have concentrated on stopping Titans RB Chris Johnson. He is averaging just over three yards per carry and has had only one rushing TD through five games of play, but the Titans passing game has taken advantage of the situation, posting 272.4 yards per game. Tennessee is 3-2 but is dead last (66.6 yards per game) in rushing, which speaks volumes about the state of the modern NFL.
I write this not to be repetitive from yesterday, but to reinforce just how vital the passing game has become in the NFL. Look at the teams leading the NFL in passing yards per game in 2011:
2011 NFL passing yards per game
1. New England (4-1): 366.6
2. New Orleans (4-1): 336.6
3. Dallas (2-2): 331
4. Green Bay (5-0): 329.6
5. Carolina (1-4): 311.6
Dallas blew a huge lead against Detroit; without that they would be 3-1. As for Carolina, yes they are 1-4, but this is a team coming off a 2-14 season that still has considerable work to do to improve on defense (more on that below), with a rookie QB in Cam Newton who has exceeded the expectations of even his most ardent supporters through his first five games as an NFL starter.
Compare that with the leaders in rushing, and yes Michael Vick skews the numbers for the Eagles, but rushing yards all count the same.
2011 NFL rushing yards per game
1. Philadelphia (1-4): 165.6
2. Oakland (3-2): 161.8
3. Minnesota (1-4): 160
4. Buffalo (4-1): 138.2
5. Houston (3-2): 132.8
It's no coincidence that Minnesota averages more rushing yards (160) than passing yards (155.8) per game and is 1-4, with its only win coming at home against Arizona. As for Oakland, Buffalo, and Houston, all three teams are in the top ten in the NFL in points scored per game (Buffalo #3, Oakland #8, and Houston #9), which ultimately is a far more important stat for a team than yardage.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is points allowed per game, with the teams giving up the most, not surprisingly, in general being in tough positions.
Points allowed per game, 2011 NFL season
|Scott Pioli is the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs. (Icon SMI)|
1. Kansas City (2-3): 30
2. Denver (1-4): 28
3. Indianapolis (0-5): 27.2
4. Oakland (3-2): 26.6
T5. Carolina (1-4): 26.4
T5. Philadelphia (1-4): 26.4
It's remarkable in many ways that the Chiefs are 2-3 considering that they are giving up on average at least two more points per game than any other team in the NFL. Plus, KC head coach Todd Haley and general manager Scott Pioli are reportedly at odds, which is not an ideal situation to say the least.
As for the rest, Denver is facing the adjustment associated with shifting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. Indianapolis is winless and its defense has been asked to do more on the field with Peyton Manning not there to lead the offense on long drives. Oakland is #29 against the pass and #22 against the run, combining to give up a staggering 422.4 yards per game, and is in contention only because of the high-octane offense that Hue Jackson developed there first as the Raiders offensive coordinator and now as the team's head coach.
Carolina was horrid last year at 2-14, and the fact that they've played every opponent close speaks volumes about the instant impact that QB Cam Newton has had there; the Panthers haven't lost any game by more than seven. As for Philadelphia, the influence of the late Jim Johnson (the team's longtime defensive coordinator) has dissipated over time, to the point to where they have declined noticeably, which is mind-boggling considering that they traded for CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and signed CB Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency. But, in Philly's case, it's been weakness against the run (#30 with 140.2 rushing yards per game given up) that has done them in thus far on defense.
The lesson is a no-brainer: if you're going to give up points in bunches in the NFL, you'd better have an offense that can score early and often. And, even then, it might not be enough, especially if you are someone like Eagles head coach Andy Reid with a track record of poor use of timeouts and odd playcalling decisions in key situations.