Yardbarker's Sam Robinson and Michael Nania go deep inside NFL games each week, focusing on key numbers and roster issues.
DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average): A method of evaluating teams, units or players in a comparative fashion. It takes every play during the NFL season and compares each to a league-average baseline based on situation.
EPA (Estimated Points Added): The measure of a play’s impact on the score of the game. It represents the difference between a team's "expected points value" (the net point value a team can expect given a particular combination of down, distance and field position) before and after a play.
Net Yards Per Pass Attempt: Passing yards per attempt adjusted for sack yardage.
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Inside Colts numbers: The offense is excellent in the red zone, scoring a touchdown on 63.2 percent of trips (eighth best). Jacoby Brissett has thrown 14 touchdown passes in the red zone without an interception, most in the league.
Inside Colts roster: Marlon Mack’s fractured hand stalls a season that had the third-year back on pace for 1,379 yards – which would have been the most in franchise history for a player not named Edgerrin James or Eric Dickerson. The Colts, however, should be prepared to handle this considering they have 2018 fourth- and fifth-round picks Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins – a receiving-rushing duo – in line to split up the work. How this tandem and Johnathan Williams fare may influence how the Colts proceed regarding a Mack extension, which can be discussed next year.
Inside Texans numbers: The offensive line must do a better job protecting Deshaun Watson, who has taken the sixth-highest pressure rate (38.4 percent) among qualified quarterbacks. Watson has done a lot to mitigate the heat, ranking sixth in passer rating under pressure (85.8; league average is 65.7).
Inside Texans roster: Houston enters this pivotal game with the NFL’s No. 25 DVOA pass defense, which features a shorthanded secondary. Safeties Justin Reid and Mike Adams have yet to practice this week due to concussions, and rookie cornerback Lonnie Johnson joined them on the mend with an ankle injury. The Texans may benefit from longtime nemesis T.Y. Hilton’s absence, with the Colts’ top weapon shaping up as a game-time decision after three missed contests. Houston waiver claim Vernon Hargreaves is set to debut for his new team as well in this replacement-laden matchup.
Inside Broncos numbers: Vic Fangio's defense is excellent in crucial situations, ranking seventh on third down (34.9 percent conversion rate). The pass defense has allowed a conversion on just 16.7 percent of red-zone passing plays, second best behind only the great Patriots defense.
Inside Broncos roster: In Week 11 against Minnesota, Denver blew a fourth fourth-quarter lead this season, but Shelby Harris continued to make his extension case. The powerful defensive end sacked Kirk Cousins three times, the most impressive of which came on one of the harder hits a quarterback can take nowadays. (It forced a fumble.) Harris and Derek Wolfe are due for free agency at year’s end, and although Wolfe is a holdover from Super Bowl 50, the 28-year-old Harris is a year younger and has a better recent track record. He may reside higher among the Broncos’ offseason priorities.
Inside Bills numbers: Josh Allen has gone a career-best six consecutive games without an interception. He should have a good chance to keep that streak going against a Broncos defense ranked 30th in takeaway rate (7.3 percent).
Inside Bills roster: A weird revenge game will take place in Buffalo, with Isaiah McKenzie facing his former team and doing so with a much bigger role. The Broncos waived the 5-foot-7 wideout last season due to his ball-security issues on returns, but the Bills have plugged the gadget-type player in as their No. 3 receiver.
Inside Giants numbers: Daniel Jones, who ranks second in turnovers per game (1.9), must take better care of the football. The Giants need to help him accomplish that with stronger protection, as Jones has taken the league's second-highest pressure rate (42.9 percent).
Inside Giants roster: Jones is on pace to be sacked 51 times – which would be the most a Giant has been dropped in 30 years. Although the rookie has not exhibited great pocket presence, the Giants’ offensive line rebuild hasn’t solved their years-long problems at tackle. Both Nate Solder and Mike Remmers are 30-something stopgaps for a rebuilding team, and while Solder’s contract stands to keep him at left tackle next season, the Giants will eye right-side help.
Inside Bears numbers: Chicago's offense, ranked 28th in points per drive (1.41), has been sabotaged by Mitchell Trubisky's awful play. Trubisky ranks last in net yards per attempt with a mark of 4.7, the worst mark versus the league average by a Bears quarterback since Bobby Douglass in 1971.
Inside Bears roster: Chicago’s loss in the “Double-Doink Game” ignited one of the most public kicker searches in years, but the Bears have seen their attempted solution miss four of his past seven field goals. This included a potential winning 41-yarder against the Chargers. The Bears have chosen to stand by Eddy Pineiro, a 2019 Raiders cut who has only missed one extra point this season. But with Trubisky’s struggles giving Chicago little margin for error, Pineiro’s job may be on the line Sunday.
Inside Steelers numbers: The defense is excellent, owning the highest takeaway rate (20.8 percent) and ranking fourth in net yards per pass attempt (5.8) and fifth in yards per rush attempt (3.7). For the defense to take the next step, it must jump from average to elite on third down (currently 14th best) and in the red zone (16th best).
Inside Steelers roster: Mason Rudolph ranks 31st of 32 qualified passers in Total QBR, putting Pittsburgh in a tough spot. The Steelers’ rebuilt defense is leading a low-ceiling team; the franchise will need a 38-year-old Ben Roethlisberger to be close to his pre-injury level next season. With that being dicey, and the Steelers having traded their 2020 first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick, the team may need veteran insurance for next season. Either way, Rudolph’s issues amplify the importance of the Steelers’ 2021 draft – when the team could face a high-stakes Round 1 quarterback decision.
Inside Bengals numbers: Rookie QB Ryan Finley was atrocious in his first two NFL starts, posting a 52.8 passer rating. It's the worst passer rating posted by a quarterback over his first two career starts (minimum 60 pass attempts) since Ryan Lindley in 2012 (37.4)
Inside Bengals roster: Whether Cincinnati lands Chase Young or the 2020 draft’s top quarterback prospect, it will need to deviate from its cautious free-agency approach to help kick-start this rebuild. Its offensive line, largely responsible for a woeful rushing attack and lower-end pass-protection work, needs help everywhere. Simply subbing in injured would-be left tackle Jonah Williams, along with maybe a Day 2 draft choice, probably will not be enough. With 2018 first-round center Billy Price again struggling, the Bengals need to pursue veteran help to aid its next quarterback’s chances.
Inside Dolphins numbers: Miami has become a decent red-zone team, ranking 13th offensively (60.9 percent) and 16th defensively (56.8 percent). They need to dominate in this facet against Cleveland, which ranks 21st offensively and 25th defensively in red-zone touchdown rate.
Inside Dolphins roster: Miami’s gamble backfired terribly on Mark Walton, an ex-Bengals third-round running back cut after a fourth 2019 arrest. Miami this season traded RB Kenyan Drake; new starter Kalen Ballage’s per-carry average dropped to 1.9 yards after his nine-tote, nine-yard Week 11 showing. So add running back to the lengthy list of offseason needs. It will take a backseat to some higher-profile positional deficiencies, but Miami needs better options next year.
Inside Browns numbers: The Browns must find a way to replace the production of suspended defensive end Myles Garrett, who is tied for fourth in the league in sacks (10.0) and 13th in pressures (49). The Dolphins have allowed the league's third-highest sack rate (10.4 percent).
Inside Browns roster: The last time Cleveland assembled a defensive game plan without Garrett was during its 0-16 2017 season. This Browns’ defense ranks sixth against the pass, but its line may have just one of its starters – defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson – available Sunday. Trade acquisition Olivier Vernon, who has just three sacks in eight games despite defenses keying on Garrett, has yet to resume practicing after a knee injury that kept him out of the past two games. If the ex-Dolphin sits, second-year man Chad Thomas (three sacks) and 2018 signing Chris Smith (zero) will start at defensive end.
Inside Bucs numbers: Jameis Winston has already tied his career-high with a league-leading 18 interceptions, and sits at the top of the NFL in turnovers (22). With his overall efficiency also down (career-worst 47.7 QBR), the Buccaneers may need to consider moving on from Winston.
Inside Bucs roster: Tampa Bay has pieced together one of the weirder defensive seasons in recent memory, pairing DVOA’s No. 30 pass defense and its No. 1 rush defense (by a wide margin). A significant reason for the latter rating: the play of mammoth nose tackle Vita Vea. The 2018 first-round pick leads the Bucs’ defensive front, ranking as a top-15 Pro Football Focus interior defender. Vea has posted seven quarterback hits in his second season. While the Bucs still rank last in scoring defense, they have identified a long-term building block.
Inside Falcons numbers: Atlanta's previously horrendous defense has suddenly become dominant, allowing 12 points over its past two games, both on the road against winning teams. This marks the first time since 1977 that the Falcons have allowed fewer than 10 points in back-to-back road games.
Inside Falcons roster: The defense-fueled Atlanta mini-resurgence could put owner Arthur Blank to an interesting decision. Considered a certain Black Monday casualty, head coach Dan Quinn overseeing a Falcons defense that recently contributed work to rival the franchise’s famed 1977 Grits Blitz defense – small sample size, but still – has the team on the right track. But regardless of who’s currently calling the plays, Quinn has produced three bottom-tier defenses (2015, ’18 and ’19). If the Falcons get to 6-10 or 7-9, will this belated production be enough to save Quinn’s job?
Inside Panthers numbers: Kyle Allen has become a liability, tossing nine interceptions and averaging 4.8 net yards per attempt over his past four games. The Saints have the seventh-lowest opposing passer rating (84.4).
Inside Panthers roster: Second-year owner David Tepper refusal to take Ron Rivera- or Marty Hurney-related questions this week, while issuing a stern warning against sustained mediocrity, looks like an ominous sign for the coach-GM duo. One year remains on Rivera’s contract, and despite helping the Panthers to four playoff berths and winning two Coach of the Year awards, the ninth-year Carolina HC has seen his team’s midseason momentum stall for a second straight year. With Hurney being rehired before Tepper took over, these final six weeks will be critical for the franchise’s future.
Inside Saints numbers: Michael Thomas is averaging a league-high 114.1 receiving yards per game, putting him on track for the eighth-best season mark in NFL history (minimum 14 games). He currently owns a catch rate of 82.5 percent, which would be the best by a wide receiver averaging 100-plus yards per game (since targets were first tracked in 1992).
Inside Saints roster: New Orleans has benefited from an unusual free-agent signing. Demario Davis had already signed his second NFL contract, been traded and was 29 by the time he inked an $8 million-per-year Saints deal in 2018. But the former Jets and Browns linebacker is again anchoring the Saints’ defensive second level, this year rating as a top-10 Pro Football Focus off-ball ‘backer and leading New Orleans with 69 tackles (seven for loss). The 30-year-old outside linebacker has been a big part of why the Saints possess a top-five DVOA defense.
Inside Seahawks numbers: Russell Wilson leads the NFL in passer rating (114.9) and total QBR (78.0). His MVP bid will be tested coming out of the bye week, as each of Seattle's next three games are against teams ranked in the top half of defensive EPA, starting with the 13th-ranked Eagles.
Inside Seahawks roster: Despite losing their top three tight ends, the Seahawks continue to generate production from the spot. Seattle placed Ed Dickson and Will Dissly on IR and traded Nick Vannett to Pittsburgh; former New England castoff Jacob Hollister has stepped in as an auxiliary target for Wilson. Hollister had eight receptions for 92 yards in two Patriots seasons; the ex-UDFA acquired via trade has 12 catches for 99 yards and three touchdowns in his past two Seahawks games. Even when the 32-year-old Dickson comes off IR, Hollister still figures to be a key part of the offense.
Inside Eagles numbers: Philadelphia's passing attack has been far less explosive than expected, ranking 24th in net yards per attempt (5.8). Carson Wentz ranks just 22nd in passer rating on throws over 20 yards downfield (73.1), due much in part to the six drops by his receivers on those throws (second most).
Inside Eagles roster: When healthy, Philadelphia probably has a top-two offensive line. But just as future Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters returned to the lineup, Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson suffered a concussion. The Eagles’ run game ground to a halt when Johnson left in Week 11 against New England. With another top-tier team coming to Philadelphia, first-round pick Andre Dillard – Peters’ heir apparent who filled in for the left tackle during his latest absence – will be called upon to switch sides. He did not play a game at right tackle in four seasons at Washington State.
Inside Lions numbers: After a hot start, Detroit's pass defense has become a sieve, ranking 27th in net yards per attempt (7.2). The Lions have allowed 4.7 passing plays of 20 yards or more per game, tied for the second most in the league.
Inside Lions roster: Even though Matthew Stafford’s 136-start streak is over, the quarterback whose value has long been questioned showed his viability as an upper-echelon starter this season. Stafford’s No. 6 Total QBR ranking is the highest placement of his career, and the 31-year-old passer had the Lions on the brink of beating multiple Super Bowl-contending teams. Now having some longer-term security in Stafford, the Lions should strongly consider sitting their injured centerpiece the rest of the way.
Inside Redskins numbers: Dwayne Haskins has a 24.8 passer rating under pressure, worst among the 36 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks. Fellow Buckeye Terry McLaurin, who has averaged 10.1 yards per target, must get more than his current average of 6.2 targets per game.
Inside Redskins roster: As a nightmare season winds down, Washington may face an issue retaining one of its best players. The team and fifth-year guard Brandon Scherff broke off extension talks early in the offseason, and given the seller’s market that’s formed for offensive linemen in recent years, Scherff is positioned to make a run at joining Brandon Brooks and Zack Martin in the $14 million-per-year guard club. With all offensive line positions being grouped together under the franchise tag, no guard has been tagged since 2011. Will the Pro Bowl blocker want to stay in one of the NFL’s worst situations?
Inside Raiders numbers: Oakland's offensive line has kept Derek Carr safe, as he has been pressured on a league-low 26.4 percent of dropbacks. He has taken full advantage, posting a 104.1 passer rating when throwing from a clean pocket. (League average is 102.9.)
Inside Raiders roster: Oakland made three first-round picks this year but has seen plenty from its post-Round 1 contingent. Promoted to the starting lineup after October’s Gareon Conley trade, second-rounder Trayvon Mullen has become a top-30 Pro Football Focus cornerback. Fourth-round defensive end Maxx Crosby’s four sacks Sunday matched the second-most a rookie has ever recorded in a game, and fifth-rounder Hunter Renfrow is already a better slot option than Seth Roberts was. The Antonio Brown misfire notwithstanding, this has been a good year for the Jon Gruden-Mike Mayock duo.
Inside Jets numbers: The offensive line stinks. RB Le'Veon Bell ranks last in yards before contact per attempt (1.1), and QB Sam Darnold has been pressured on the highest percentage of dropbacks (43.3 percent) in the league.
Inside Jets roster: Wide receiver will remain a need when the Jets’ offseason commences, but one of their 2019 additions has shown promise as a potential long-term target. Coming off an injury-plagued contract year in Washington, Jamison Crowder has been Darnold’s most reliable receiver. The fifth-year slot receiver’s averaged 69.7 yards per game in Darnold’s seven starts, eclipsing each of his years with Kirk Cousins. While seven games serves as a small sample size, only Brandon Marshall averaged more yards per game for a full season as a Jet this decade.
Inside Jaguars numbers: They have scored a touchdown on 34.5 percent of red-zone trips, worst in the league. Jacksonville could have a golden opportunity to break that slump against Tennessee's 27th-ranked red-zone defense (57.6 percent).
Inside Jaguars roster: This season will force Jags management into a sobering offseason analysis, but they did catch one break that will benefit future Jacksonville teams. The Raiders and Giants passed on defensive end Josh Allen, and the Kentucky product has kept the Sacksonville nickname apt with eight in 10 games. Those eight sacks lead Nick Bosa, who has been given far more hype, among rookies and put Allen in striking distance of Jevon Kearse’s all-time rookie record of 14.5.
Inside Titans numbers: Although its defense has struggled in the red zone, the offense leads the NFL in red-zone touchdown rate (72 percent). Ryan Tannehill has launched nine touchdown passes on just 17 red-zone attempts.
Inside Titans roster: Tennessee received historically bad production from its starting edge rushers last season, with the since-retired tandem of Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan combining for two sacks. The Titans have identified a quality successor in 2018 second-round pick Harold Landry, who exits Tennessee’s bye week with seven. Additionally, Landry’s 47 tackles trail only Joey Bosa, who has played an extra game, among edge defenders. Landry’s 10 tackles for loss also double his rookie-year total.
Inside Cowboys numbers: Dallas' league-leading 52.1 percent conversion rate on third down has helped power the offense to second in points per drive (2.66). Dak Prescott is outstanding on third down, averaging 9.8 yards per attempt (second to only Patrick Mahomes).
Inside Cowboys roster: With the Patriots’ offensive line more vulnerable than in previous years, the Cowboys’ trade acquisitions may pose a problem. Michael Bennett, who recently feuded with New England staffers, has more than delivered on Dallas’ minuscule midseason investment. The versatile veteran with an aversion to adult-sized shoulder pads has accumulated three sacks and seven QB hits in three Cowboys games. For the price of sixth- and seventh-round picks, the former going to the Dolphins for Robert Quinn, the Cowboys have bought an incredibly cost-effective 11.5 sacks and 22 QB hits.
Inside Patriots numbers: New England's offense is surprisingly average, ranking 16th in points per drive (1.99). The main reason is a stagnant run game, as the Patriots rank 30th in yards per rush attempt (3.3) and 31st in rush offense EPA.
Inside Patriots roster: Isaiah Wynn will have a third chance to become the Patriots’ left tackle, and the outcome of that effort will help determine how formidable a threat the defending Super Bowl champs are in January. New England activated its 2018 first-round pick this week and looks set to start him against Dallas, but Achilles and turf toe injuries have forced him to miss 24 games and play just 82 career snaps. While he was playing well to start this season and will be an upgrade on journeyman Marshall Newhouse, the Pats are less insured than usual at this high-profile spot.
Inside Packers numbers: The Packers rank second in red-zone touchdown rate (68.6 percent), on the strength of a powerful run game that has picked up a conversion on a league-leading 43.6 percent of red-zone plays. RB Aaron Jones is 16th in red-zone rush attempts (22), but he leads the league in red-zone rushing touchdowns (11).
Inside Packers roster: In 2001, Green Bay gave Ahman Green a five-year extension. The Packers have not devoted notable money to the running back position since. Jones will put the franchise to the test, having compiled 943 scrimmage yards and an NFL-high 14 touchdowns. The fifth-round pick looks like the type of back Aaron Rodgers has lacked since Ryan Grant’s late-2000s stay. The Packers did not give Grant a second contract, but with Jones on pace to threaten Green’s Packers-record 20 TDs, he will be in position to push for an eight-figure-per-year deal in 2020.
Inside 49ers numbers: San Francisco's defense has cooled, allowing 23.7 points over its past three games after yielding only 10 points per game over its first seven. However, the Niners remains the league's best red-zone defense (40.9 percent).
Inside 49ers roster: Injuries hampered Dee Ford during his Chiefs years, and they are interfering with his otherwise solid 49ers debut. After a knee malady limited him during the preseason and lowered his regular-season snap counts, Ford is on the mend again with a hamstring ailment – one likely to keep him out Sunday. The sixth-year edge defender has not played more than 26 snaps in a game since Week 1 but has six sacks. With his five-year, $85 million contract containing no post-2019 guarantees, Ford may need to show he can stay healthy down the stretch to stick with the 49ers next season.
Inside Ravens numbers: The Ravens lead the NFL in points per drive (3.03). They have done it on the strength of a historically dominant run game, leading the league in attempts (358), yards (2,038), yards per attempt (5.7), touchdowns (16) and EPA.
Inside Ravens roster: Obscured by Lamar Jackson’s brilliance, Matt Judon has become a constant pressure threat to help Baltimore’s revitalized pass defense. While QB hits have only been tracked since 2006, Judon is on pace to smash the Ravens record. The Division II-to-NFL success story has hit passers 23 times this season, including 10 times in the past three games, and has produced six sacks. Elvis Dumervil’s 27 QB hits represent the franchise standard; Judon burying that mark will keep him in line for a big raise from either the Ravens or someone else come March.
Inside Rams numbers: The Rams may have a run defense good enough to stop the Ravens, as they rank second in yards per attempt (3.3) and fifth in EPA. Over its two games since the bye week, Los Angeles has yielded 2.3 yards per attempt and zero touchdowns across 51 rushes.
Inside Rams roster: Los Angeles’ ground success came behind an overhauled offensive line; left tackle Andrew Whitworth was the only player still at his Week 1 spot. Sean McVay shifted Austin Blythe – a former center who’d been the Rams’ right guard for two seasons – to center and inserted third-round rookie Bobby Evans into the lineup at right tackle. Austin Corbett morphed from Browns second-round bust to effective left guard. McVay seeing his new group bulldoze the Bears may well lead to the Rams keeping their young line intact, even when right tackle Rob Havenstein returns from injury.