I've posted a few stat-oriented blog posts here that have initiated decent discussion, and since it doesn't seem like there is a really regular geek presence on the sidebar, I thought I'd do a little roundup of how the computers see the Broncos and their next opponent. If I get a decent response, maybe I'll do it regularly, so please comment if you like it. This shouldn't be seen as the be all and end all of anything, just a different little bit of a different perspective. This week, the Broncos seem to rate around 20th in the NFL. Their opponents, despite being 1-1, rate in the top 10 by many measures on the back of their impressive victory over the Ravens.First, let's do some ground rules.
(1) Predictive stats are better than explanatory ones. The scoreboard is plenty good for telling me how well the Broncos played against the Bengals. We need more to figure out how well they'll do vs. the Titans.
(2) Parsing credit individually is way too hard, so this will focus on team stats. If the team stats lead to something interesting about an individual (like the Broncos' horrendous defense against 3rd receivers last year exposing Nate Jones' hilarious ineptitude) I'll make a mention of that.
(3) Efficiency is more important than production. Anybody can get to 100 yards rushing if you hand it off enough.
I'll be looking at stats from advancednflstats.com which calculates the effect of each play on the number of points a team might be expected to score at any point (EPA) and the chances of winning the game at that point (WPA). I'll also be looking at Football Outsider's advanced metrics (DVOA), which compare each team's outcomes to the league average given any situation. This is a very complicated method.
By traditional metrics, the Broncos have been below average on offense. Their 3.4 yards per rush attempt is good for 23rd in the league, but is a big improvement over last year, especially given the increased number of attempts. The 6.4 net yards per pass (NY/A, 21st in the league) is a slight drop-off from last year, but I would expect that to improve with the health of the receiving corps.
Overall, the Broncos rate 22nd in EPA, and 23rd in VOA (8.0% below average). The rushing resurgence under Fox may be somewhat overstated, as the Broncos rate 23rd in both passing (1.9% above average!) and running in VOA (12.7% below average). The fact that a supposedly above average passing number ranks so low is a result of the awful pass offense of Jacksonville and Kansas City, who are both more than 70% below average. The Broncos offense is then fairly balanced in its mediocrity, which is close to what I saw with my eyes.
Given the horrendous performance of last year, just getting out of the cellar might be considered an achievement for this Broncos defense. That appears to have happened so far. The Raiders and Bengals have averaged 6.2 NY/PA (14th in the league) and 4.4 YPC (19th). That's not too bad! We're not talking about the 2007 Patriots offense, but baby steps anyhow.
The defense grades out particularly well under EPA/WPA analysis. It is 13th in EPA (.01, 0 is average, negative numbers are good) and 5th in WPA (-.32). This reflects the excellent 3rd down and high leverage performances in the first two games. I'm not sure that's sustainable, but it is a welcome start.
By FO's numbers, the defense has been a bit more of a mixed bag. The 22nd overall rating (12.6% below average) is comprised of being rated 24th against the pass and 21st against the run.
Advanced NFL Stats does not have overall power rankings out yet. Under FO's efficiency number, the Broncos rate 23rd (15.6% below average). Remember though, Football Outsiders does not do opponent adjustments until week 4, which means San Diego is probably being unduly punished for their whipping at the hands of the Patriots, while the Bills and Lions have an inflated rating due to demolishing the horrendous Chiefs.
The Tennessee Titans
Unlike the Broncos, the Titans have impressed computers with their two games, and contrary to what everybody expected, they have done it by throwing the ball down the field. Their 8.0 NY/A rates 7th in the NFL, compared to their anemic 2.8 YPC, rating 29th. Altogether, the offense rates 7th in the NFL in VOA and 15th in EPA. Of course, the offense is largely based on Matt Hasselback playing out of his gourd, since he was atrocious last year. They also had the good fortune of facing the 32nd and 29th ranked teams in terms of sacks last year the last two weeks. Elvis Dumervil (pray he is healthy) and Von Miller will be crucial in this game, because Hasselback can throw accurately when kept clean, but will throw interceptions when pressured.
The Titans' defense grades out well against both the run and the pass. It is 7th in EPA and 3rd in VOA (3rd in VOA vs. the pass and 10th in VOA vs. the run). However, the relatively lower VOA vs. the running game, along with rating 18th in success rate, indicates that the Broncos may have some success staying ahead of the sticks. If they don't they better score, because with enough chances either Kenny Britt or Chris Johnson will hit a home run.
The keys to the game for the Broncos are going to be pressuring Hasselback (yes this is always a key, but particularly so here), preventing the big play on defense, and simply playing better on offense. The performances from the Raiders and Bengals games aren't going to cut it: the Broncos need to either move the chains with more regularity or find a couple more big plays. Oh, and score more points than the Titans.