One of the most important characteristics of stats is they become increasingly more accurate as the sample size increases. This doesn't mean that stats after four games are irrelevant for every team. On the contrary, most teams don't change all that much unless there are significant injuries or players coming back from injuries or suspensions.
In other words, unless there is a personnel change, most offenses and defenses simply dance around the mean for the next 12 games. A couple of teams that have bucked the trend are Carolina and San Francisco. These teams started out a combined 3-5 and were near the bottom of many efficiency indicators. Since then, they have gone 8-0 and are now firmly in the top 10 (in some cases the top 5) of most efficiency indicators.
What hasn't changed? Denver's offense has "cooled off" and is still scoring 39.4 PPG on offense alone, 12.1 PPG more than 2nd-placed Green Bay. New Orleans, Indianapolis, Dallas and Seattle still have some of the better offenses in the NFL. Kansas City, Seattle, Carolina, New England and Cincinnati all have been very good on defense.
As I said before, stats become increasingly more accurate as the amount of data also increases, and the only factor in sports that makes a significant enough change during the season is the addition or subtraction of key personnel.
Here is where Denver stands in the NFL before they begin the second half of their 2013 regular season. You can check out my article on Denver after the first four games here.
I won't go into as great of detail as I did in my first article, but I did uncover a useful method for two stats that will make them more accurate.
Denver is still number one in almost every statistical category out there. Here are the one's I use on a regular basis:
- Points Per Possession - net offensive points per offensive possessions (end of half/game drives don't count)
- Points Per Play % - a percentage of the net offensive points to total offensive plays run (no kneel downs)
- Points Per Yard % - a percentage of net offensive points to total offensive yards gained
- Negative Plays - a weighted percentage of sacks, TFLs, QB hits to total offensive plays run
- Yards Per Attempt (Passing) - net passing yards per passing attempt (sacks and rushing attempts included)
- Quarterback Rating (I created my own) - percentage of completed passes, TDs, TOs, YPA and negative plays
- 3rd and 4th down conversion rate - combined success on third and fourth downs
- QBR Team Efficiency - rating that involves TDs, TOs, 3rd/4th down conversion, negative plays and yards/play
Denver ranks first in all but one category (negative plays allowed) for the whole season. Currently, Nick Foles has the highest QBR in the NFL after playing about 4 games, but Manning has the highest QBR for quarterbacks who have played every game this season.
Here is a chart that shows Denver's score in these stats as well as the distance between them and second place and how many teams after the second-ranked team fit in the margin.
|Stat||1st Rnk Tm||2nd Rnk Tm||Margin||Tms/ Margin|
|Neg Plays*||SD (5.97)||DEN (6.35)||* * *||* * *|
San Diego leads the NFL in negative plays allowed. This stat includes sacks, tackles for loss (sacks not included) and QB hits (according to ESPN). This is calculated as a percentage.
Other than that, Denver has the best offense in the NFL by far. The biggest thing to note is Denver does everything on offense at a high level. According to the four efficiency ratings for the entire offense above (Pts per Poss/Play/Yard and Team QBR), Denver is miles ahead of the second-ranked team in that stat. That gap is the biggest reason why Denver has been able to turn the ball over 4 times in consecutive weeks and averaged 35.5 PPG.
One of the problems I had with my plays per touchdown stat is it would calculate it as a ratio. The problem is the number would not decrease for a good offense as quickly as it would increase for a good defense. Obviously, in this case, good offenses need fewer plays to score a touchdown and good defenses try to force teams to require a high number of plays to score a touchdown.
To fix this, which allows for a negative score, I simply switched the numerator (plays) with the denominator (points). As a result, the numbers are more accurate and allow us to calculate a non-positive net offensive point total for a game.
For this stat, Denver's score of 53.11 indicates Denver's net offensive point total accounts for 53.11% of the total plays Denver has run, not counting kneel downs.
Again, the net offensive point total is the total points scored by the offense minus the points the offense has allowed opposing defenses to score (pick-6's, fumble returns for a TD and safeties).
The same concept is used for yards. Denver's score of 8.01 indicates Denver net offensive point total accounts for 8.01% of the total yards gained by the offense.
The biggest reason why Denver's offense appears to be "better" according to the Points/Play stat than the Pts/Yard stat is because teams generally start each drive around the 30 yard line, give or take 10 yards. The big variable is how many plays each team needs to score 7 points, on average. While Denver still needs to gain about the same amount of yards as most teams, Denver doesn't need nearly the same amount of plays as every other team. This is what makes Denver's offense so efficient.
Through eight games, Denver has had 13 drives that needed 5 or fewer plays to score a touchdown (12) or field goal (1), according to Pro-Football-Reference. Four of the 12 touchdown drives were 80 yards. Denver has had a total of 17 scoring drives of at least 80 yards (all TDs). Denver also has 26 scoring drives that required less than 3 minutes of game clock, exactly half of its total scoring drives (52). Here is Denver's scoring drive chart.
Denver has played some poor defensive teams, there is no doubt about it. JAC, NYG, PHI, WAS and OAK all rank in the bottom half of my Team QBR for defense. However, the numbers Denver has put up are excellent on a historical level. This is without 2-4 starting offensive lineman in their original position for the entire season. Credit Manning, Clarke, Ramirez, Welker, J. Thomas and Moreno for making huge improvements to this offense from last season.
The only weakness for the offense is one everyone is well aware of at this point in time - turnovers. While two of them have come on special teams, the 15 offensive TOs is still more than the total number of turnovers by 22 other teams. Denver currently is tied with 4 other teams with 17 turnovers, 3rd most in the NFL. That number doesn't include safeties, which are essentially a turnover as well.
While fans may be excited about the prospects of their respective team's defense getting pressure on Manning and forcing him into awkward situations, Denver has only had a negative play on 6.7 of its snaps. This is an excellent number despite all the injuries. The media has made a big deal about the past 3 games against JAC, IND and WAS, where there was a good amount of pressure and Manning didn't look perfect. Still, this offense has played at a higher level than every other team, even if its only 75% of what Denver is capable of on a weekly basis.
The defense is much more difficult to gauge because Miller has played only 2 games while looking pretty rusty in his first game back against IND. Woodyard missed about 3 games, leaving early against DAL and then staying out against JAC and IND. Here are Denver's totals in the 8 stats used above for the offense through eight games:
Denver is all over place. Denver has allowed a lot of points, many off of turnovers and big plays. Denver has scored quickly and often which also gives more possessions to the other team. However, Denver has been excellent against the run and at times has been very good at getting pressure on the QB.
The defense has simply lacked consistency over the course of the whole season. These rankings also take into account the 31 points in garbage time where Denver has already "won" the game. While the media has consistently mocked the Denver defense, they seem to forget that Denver held PHI to 13 points midway through the 4th quarter, 3 points less than the vaunted KC defense had held them at the same point in the game. In every game except the DAL and IND games, Denver has played good defense, in spurts.
Granted, Denver hasn't faced many offensive juggernauts, but neither has KC's defense. The biggest reason to be excited about Denver's defense (if healthy) is because of its performance against WAS. No, WAS doesn't have the greatest offense in the NFL, despite scoring 38 points the week before the Denver game (7 were by the defense).
Denver's defense allowed 14 points, but also scored 7 of their own, for a net points allowed total of 7. Denver's defensive team QBR for that game was -9.65. To put that in perspective, it was the 6th worst performance by an offense in 266 performances on the season (there have been 133 games so far). Is Denver going to do that every week? That is doubtful. Denver had played some bad offenses, and yet, the only other performances under the league median were against the NYG, JAC and BAL. Two of them occurred when Woodyard was healthy, while the 3rd occurred against quite possibly the worst offensive team in NFL history.
It is evident that Denver has very little depth at the MLB and OLB positions and that Miller and Woodyard are clearly the catalyst to the defense. Since it was only 1 game against WAS, it is difficult to draw any conclusions from that alone. However, there is evidence that this defense is much better than suggested by the media, and with a healthy group of linebackers, appears poised to play like it did last year - as a top 5 defense.
In a practical sense, teams will not have as many big plays. With a top pass rusher in the NFL, offenses will have less time to throw the deep passes. Those passes will also be less accurate. Miller also led all linebackers in the NFL last season against the run, which will only improve a unit that has been excellent against the run.
One of the biggest problems with Denver's defense was also the scheme Del Rio had adopted. The Broncos are much better suited to play man-coverage instead of zone, which can be tricky with new defenders who don't know their role and are missing the leader of the defense to make all the calls. With Woodyard back, the communication on defense will be much greater and will allow DBs like DRC and Harris to play to their strengths.
Looking Ahead - San Diego
Denver's offense is actually straight forward - don't turn the ball over. This means three things.
- Manning needs to be smarter with the football. Some of the INTs have not been his fault, but some have been very bad. He needs to get back to "taking what the defense gives him."
- The RBs need to hold onto the ball.
- Use tight ends to help the tackles. The running game actually benefits from the extra set of blockers.
For the defense, it is another game to "prove" they are "back".
- SD has been excellent at avoiding negative plays (1st in the NFL), so Denver will need to stay disciplined and not get anxious if they can't get to Rivers right away. He has been the most accurate passer in the NFL this season, so the defense needs to apply pressure to the receivers, just like other teams would to Denver's offense.
- Denver also needs to avoid making mistakes on 3rd down, whether a blown coverage, penalty or something simple like a screen pass or run off of a draw play in long yardage situations. San Diego is 3rd in the NFL at converting 3rd/4th downs (48.48%).
- Rivers is having a very good year, despite struggling a bit against WAS. He is 2nd in the NFL in YPA (7.82) and is 4th in the NFL in QBR (107.5) for quarterbacks that have played the whole season.
This isn't a trap game. This is a road game against a divisional opponent and may be more difficult than people realize. Should Denver have success against SD on offense and defense? Sure. This is still a dangerous football team that can play at a very high level.
If I could use one word that I hope best describes Denver, that word would be focused. Hopefully they are ready for the second half of the season.