For every week until the end of the season, I will be ranking the NFL teams from 1-32, power rankings style. They will be arranged into four blocks.
Each week, I will write about four teams, one from each block. It's nice and square. Every team gets written about twice until the season is over.
The biggest problem with traditional power rankings is they take too much in account of every week. Each game is exacerbated. Every loss is the end of the world. Every win is another stitch in a dream season. Part of it just goes along with football in general. These games happen only once a week. There are only sixteen of them. Exaggeration is just part of it. I'm going to try and remove that by looking at the big picture instead of bumping up and down based on one loss or one win. The rankings below are simply adjustments made based on what I thought heading into the season; in the future, they will be adjusted based on an entire body of work and trends, not because of a single HUGE win or one BAD loss.
32.) Cleveland Browns--Record: 0-7. Point Differential: -77. DVOA: -33.1% (32). Last Week: 32.
31.) Chicago Bears--Record: 1-6. Point Differential: -58. DVOA: -6.6% (22). Last Week: 31.
30.) San Francisco 49ers--Record: 1-6. Point Differential: -75. DVOA: -21.4% (29). Last Week: 30.
29.) New York Jets--Record: 2-5. Point Differential: -61. DVOA: -32.7% (31). Last Week: 29.
28.) Jacksonville Jaguars--Record: 2-4. Point Differential: -43. DVOA: -12.2% (26). Last Week: 26. (Doesn't Include TNF)
27.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers--Record: 3-3. Point Differential: -31. DVOA: -8.4% (23). Last Week: 27.
26.) New Orleans Saints--Record: 2-4. Point Differential: -19. DVOA: -4.8% (21). Last Week: 25.
25.) Miami Dolphins--Record: 3-4. Point Differential: -19. DVOA: 1.7% (16). Last Week: 28.
Jay Ajayi is for real. He has been like those skull melting GIFs that get tweeted to Killer Mike and El-P every time they drop a new RTJ single.
Against Pittsburgh's 22nd run defense DVOA, Ajayi had only 204 yards on 25 carries, 8.16 yards a carry, 2 touchdowns and a long run of 62 yards. Against the Bills' 16th ranked run defense DVOA last week, he had 214 yards on 29 carries, 7.37 yards a carry, 1 touchdown, and a long run of 53. By rushing in back to back 200 yard games, he joined Earl Campbell, Ricky Williams, and O.J. Simpson as the only players to do so. He has a DVOA of 37.5%, which is better than every ranked quarterback other than Tom Brady. His DYAR, which measures total value, is second in the league at 156, even though he has just 85 carries. I repeat: He is second in the league in DYAR with only 85 carries. His yards by direction is LOL-worthy. He is averaging 16 Y/C at the left end, 5.08 over LT, 5.24 up the middle, 10 over RT, and 19 on the right edge. Jay Ajayi has had the best two weeks ever. They should give CPR to and resuscitate that VH1 show just to talk about Ajayi.
These last two weeks haven't been some breakout because of a brand new lease on life. All that happened is he started to get carries instead of the recently retired Arian Foster (RIP, Arian I love you so much). Ajayi's rush attempts in every game this year were 0, 5, 7, 6, 13 and then BAM, 25 and 29. It took him five weeks to get the chance to start pillaging and burning down defenses. Now that he's getting carries, he's torched everything and turned it all into smoldering charred rubble.
Let's start this journey together with his 62 yard touchdown run against the Steelers. Gaze ye eyes upon thee. It's the perfect encapsulation of why the last two weeks have gone the way that they have. Ajayi takes the hand-off and hits the hole. There's no stuttering. No thinking. He lives purely in the moment and becomes nothing other than a sack of skin carrying his legs forward. The hole opens and he goes.
Miami's offensive line has been incredible, too. Here two offensive linemen get to the second level and stick on their blocks to allow Ajayi to run wild and free. Then once he goes, does he go. Here Ajayi outruns four tackles. He breaks one. He outruns the corner, a linebacker, obliterates an arm tackle, and LOLs at the safety's pursuit angle.
With Ajayi, it's not just about the big plays. He is a consistent and efficient runner. He trails only Ezekiel Elliot in success rate, 59% to Elliot's 55%. The biggest reason why is his acceleration and strength. Again, once he gets the ball, he goes. His legs never stop moving. When he takes on tackles, he is the hammer and uses his strength and momentum to rumble forward. Ajayi is always moving and always picking up the extra yards.
Here, the Dolphins are running an outside zone play to the right with the tight end sealing the backside. Ajayi stutters once to the left and shifts back to the middle. The linebacker shifts inside and swims past Mike Pouncey's block. He hits Ajayi head on. Ajayi puts the linebacker on his back, runs through his grasp, and leaps for extra yards, kind of like a Dolphin, to pick up four yards after contact. Ajayi hits the hole with impact and falls forward every time.
That consistent effort leads to extra batches of yards. These plays over time leads to plays like this, where the constant turning and churning of legs morphs two yard runs into fat gains.
This is another outside zone play, a Dolphins' staple run play, on first and ten. Mike Pouncey gets beat across his face by the nose tackle Corbin Bryant (#97). Ajayi stretches the run searching for a hole. When he sees the corner crash the outside of the play, he cuts inside. He slithers through a crack. When he does this, he meets half of Bryant. He laughs off his tackle, drops low, stays upright, and bounces the run outside. It's a beautiful display of balance.
Then he gets those legs moving again. He runs through the linebacker's tackle and then through Kyle Williams' tackle as he comes from behind from the backside. As Ajayi gets close to the sideline, he carries the cornerback out of bounds, refusing to go down. On this play, he turns a two yard run into eleven yards, breaking three tackles with a combination of vision, balance, speed, power, and drive. Good backs take what the offensive line gives them, accept it, and move on to the next play. Special players take what the offensive line gives them and turn it into so much more.
This isn't a player who survives on athleticism alone. He's smart and has x-ray vision. Although it's only his second year in the league, Ajayi is already a nuanced runner.
The Dolphins are running power to the right. Right tackle Ja'Wan James is blocking down on the defensive end and drives him out of the hole. Right guard Jermon Bushrod and center Mike Pouncey block down as well and seal off the backside. Laremy Tunsil then comes around and off of James's block. It's a perfect pull. Tunsil comes tight around the block, instead of fat and lazy, and he isn't perturbed by the slot receiver's block on the safety that comes across his face. His eyes never leave the linebacker. He's low and quick while still maintaining control, and when he gets there, he packs a punch. He knocks the linebacker into next week and continues to drive him backwards.
The nuance comes in how Ajayi sets this run up. He shuffles laterally before the hand-off to give Tunsil time to pull. He doesn't try to outrun Tunsil. He follows him and waits for him to make his block. When Tunsil is on the linebacker, Ajayi is on his back. He follows him to the point of impact. Then, once all the yards are soaked up, he cuts back inside to the open field and falls forward for a few more, of course.
On this play, he uses his vision to get more than what is on the table. Miami is running a counter play to the left. The backside cuts things off well. Tunsil does a great job getting to the second level; in general, the rookie is one of the best second level blockers I've seen this year. Pouncey covers the nose tackle, continues his block as the nose tackle runs backwards, and smothers him into the grass. Branden Albert drives the defensive end inside all on his own. The pullers all do their job. Together, the entire offensive line creates a parted Red Sea.
Ajayi has a huge hole here, but the vision is remarkable. He runs vertical to the safety, cuts behind Tunsil, gets horizontal, and runs diagonally across the defense through the secondary. He sees things no one else sees. Along the way, he carries four defenders with him for a first down and more.
Of course, it is not all because of Ajayi. The Dolphins' offensive line has been so good on the ground this season. They are third in adjusted line yards with 4.43 and are among the best in the league at blocking at every part of the line except for the middle, where they rank 21st in adjusted line yards. James and Albert are one of the best exterior run blocking duos in the league. They can make one-on-one blocks and drive defensive ends. Mike Pouncey is undersized and can get driven back in one-on-one blocks, but he is so quick and good at reaching outside shoulders and blocking linebackers. Laremy Tunsil is this year's best rookie offensive lineman and one of the best guards in the game already. Tunsil's gas mask bong was the best thing to happen to the Dolphins last offseason. Bushrod is as average as they come, but he gets the job done.
They move the line of scrimmage vertically on outside zone plays, which is something you rarely see consistently. Laremy Tunsil has a great deuce with Brandon Albert. He punches the defensive tackle and combines his force with with Albert to take him down. He does all of this with his eyes on the second level. Without effort, he gets to the linebacker's inside shoulder and seals him off from the running back. Ja'wan James makes an awesome one-on-one block. He gets his head on the inside shoulder, turns the defensive end, and uses his body to shield him from the ball. He drives him back. Once he starts to lose him at the end of the run, he dips like a spaceship and cuts him down. Bushrod gets in the way, which is good enough. Except for Jermon Bushrod, Miami's entire offensive line is quick, strong, fluid, and seamlessly transfers from the first to the second level. A sentence like that is exactly what you want when you are an outside zone running team.
The run game is based on two things--the yards the offensive line creates and how much extra the running back is able to churn after those yards. Right now, the Dolphins' offensive line is blocking the outside zone better than any team I have seen this year, and Ajayi is taking those 4.43 yards and turning it into so much more.
Yeah, so back to earlier...Ajayi and this Dolphins' run game is for real.
24.) Los Angeles Rams--Record: 3-4. Point Differential: -34. DVOA: -10.5% (25). Last Week: 24.
23.) Carolina Panthers--Record: 1-5. Point Differential: -15. DVOA: -9.3% (24). Last Week: 23.
22.) Tennessee Titans--Record: 3-4. Point Differential: -15. DVOA: -4.3% (20). Last Week: 20. (Doesn't Include TNF)
21.) Baltimore Ravens--Record: 3-4. Point Differential: -6. DVOA: -3.1% (19) Last Week: 17.
The Ravens are screwed. They are 3-4 after winning their first three and losing their next four. The core of the problem is they just finished the easy part of the schedule. In their first seven games, the DVOA of their opponents was 8.1%. This is 30th in the league. The best team they played was Buffalo, which has a DVOA of 14.1%; at the time they played the Ravens, Buffalo had yet to mold their creative run game and hadn't fired their offensive coordinator to make their defense better. Everyone else the Ravens have played has been average or terrible; Oakland, Washington and New York (G) of the average variety, with Cleveland, Jacksonville, and New York (J) of the terrible quality.
In their games, Baltimore didn't show much or perform well. They won their first three games by one possession and then went to lose their next four by one possession. They couldn't capitalize on possible game-winning drives. 3-4 or 4-3, a coin toss, is about what you should expect in these games. They haven't been lucky or unlucky. They've just been below average against a soft schedule. Unless you are a delusional purple and black covered monster, Baltimore has shown no reason to believe them to be better than their record indicates.
The problem for Baltimore at 3-4 is that they are about to play one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. Their next games are against Pittsburgh, Cleveland, @ Dallas, Cincinnati, Miami, @ New England, Philadelphia, @ Pittsburgh, and @ Cincinnati. This is the third toughest schedule from here on out with a DVOA of 4.9%. For Baltimore to make the playoffs, it was going to take a 5-2 or 6-1 record in the first half of the year, and then they would need to wrap their legs and arms around a telephone pole until the hurricane subsided. They didn't do that. They blew it. They didn't play well. They didn't call and hit heads six times.
Additionally, the injuries are starting to pile up. They have fifteen players on IR. More importantly, their best players are injured. Marshal Yanda, Steve Smith, Ladarius Webb, Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, Terrance West and Ronnie Stanley are all out. That is seven starters and the majority of the talent on their roster.
They could maybe make up for it if the Flacco Meter was at #Elite, but it it isn't. This season, Joe Flacco is 31st in net yards an attempt. The team has pass blocked well. Flacco just hasn't hit his deep passes. The team has dinked and dunked their way to getting Mark Trestman fired. Flacco is 31st in DYAR, 30th in DVOA, 25th in QBR and has been one peg above Brock Osweiler this year.
Entering this season, I picked the Ravens along with the Bengals to win a wild card berth. My reasoning was they had a season from hell last year. They had bad luck--one possession record, turnover differential, adjusted games lost, and strength of schedule all went against them. It came with a talented roster, a great head coach, a fantastic general manager and a good quarterback. I thought things would edge back in the other direction. They have, but not as much as expected. Instead the Ravens lost their chance to have a successful season. They have been boring and below average. Like the new PUP album, the Dream Is Over.
20.) Indianapolis Colts--Record: 3-4. Point Differential: -6. DVOA: -13.2% (27). Last Week: 22.
19.) Detroit Lions--Record: 4-3. Point Differential: 0. DVOA: -16.2% (28). Last Week: 21.
18.) New York Giants--Record: 4-3. Point Differential: -8. DVOA: 4.0% (13). Last Week: 19.
17.) San Diego Chargers--Record: 3-4. Point Differential: +21. DVOA: 7.3% (11). Last Week: 18.
16.) Houston Texans--Record: 4-3. Point Differential: -37. DVOA: -25.4% (30). Last Week: 16.
15.) Cincinnati Bengals--Record: 3-4. Point Differential: -22. DVOA: 0.2% (18). Last Week: 15.
14.) Washington Redskins--Record: 4-3. Point Differential: -3. DVOA: 2.9% (15). Last Week: 14.
13.) Arizona Cardinals--Record: 3-3-1. Point Differential: +49. DVOA: 7.7% (10). Last Week: 13.
Hey, the Cardinals are back! Kind of. They have rebounded from 1-3 to win their last two, and they tied a third game to turn a lost season into a found one. Arizona's losses were magnified because of the opponents--a Bradyless New England team, a Bills team that had turned the corner before everyone knew they did, and the Rams, who continue to do Rams things like beat the best NFC West teams and lactate down their shirt the rest of the time. Additionally, of their losses, two were one possession games that were field goal kicks from away from being flipped into wins.
The problem for the Cardinals isn't their losses or their record or their team. It's their 37 year old quarterback, Carson Palmer. The two problems behind this problem are simple regression and Palmer's inability to throw the deep ball. Last year at age 36, he completed the most passes in his career since 2013, had his highest completion percentage since he was 28 years old, threw the most yards in his career (4,671), the most touchdowns (35), his lowest interception rate since his injury-shortened 2014 season when he played just six games, put up the highest DVOA and DYAR in his career while leading the league in both categories, and had the highest yards attempted (Y/A) and adjusted yards an attempt (AY/A) of his career. Peaks at age 36 rarely ever happen. When they do, they are usually outliers, not a newfound mark of success to carry into that fading redness in the West.
This season, Palmer is worse in every rate category or ranking. He's 24th in DVOA and DYAR. His QBR has dropped 30 points. His interception rate is 0.1% worse. His completion percentage has dropped by three percent. The big problem is he isn't throwing the ball down field well.
Last season, Palmer led the NFL in each one of these categories. This year, he is 17th, 23rd, and 7th in these categories. Thanks to data provided to Battle Red Blog from Pro Football Focus, we can narrow in on his deep passing issues and see where the changes are.
On passes that traveled 20+ yards last year, Palmer completed 32 of 85 for 1,074 yards. This comes out to 37.6%. This season, he is 9 of 32 for 255 yards. His yards per completion has dropped five yards from 33.56 to 28.3, and his completion percentage has fallen 9%.
In the sections left, center, and right, the dramatic change has occurred on deep sideline throws. In 2015, Palmer was ridiculous on these throws. On the left side, he was 8 of 25 for 252 yards and 2 TD to 2 INT. Now he's 4 of 13 for 109 yards with 2 interceptions and has seen his quarterback rating drop by 41 points.
On the deep right side, it's been a much more dramatic, opposite ends type of drop-off. He completed 12 out of 28 of his passes for 496 yards, 41.3 yards a completion, a touchdown-interception ratio of 5:0, and a quarterback rating of 129.5 in 2015. Only astrology and Palmer being born under some sign that creates a propensity for throwing to this part of the field like Ophiuchus can account for this extraterrestrial lizard people type of numbers. This season, Palmer is 2 of 11 for 51 yards, a 0:2 touchdown interception ratio, and a quarterback rating of 6.8. From 129.5 to 6.8, Palmer has fallen. The weird thing is that everywhere else except for 0-9 yard throws to the middle of the field, his numbers have been about the same. It's the deep sideline throws that have careened Palmer's 2016 season.
The biggest reason for his drop-off is that Palmer has been awful under pressure, even though the pass blocking has been about the same. The Cardinals are 16th in adjusted sack rate, compared to 2015 when they were 5th. The pressure Palmer has faced isn't much different. Football Outsiders had them 23rd in pressure rate last year and 26th this year. Pro Football Focus has Palmer under pressure 7% more frequently, and he has been blitzed 3% more often. His yards per attempt without pressure is the exact same at 8.3 yards and his completion percentage has only dropped from 67% to 65%. Without pressure, he's been the same player.
Under pressure, Palmer has swung from 9.1 yards an attempt to 4.9, his completion percentage from 58.2% to 49.3%, and his quarterback rating has plummeted from 95.9 to 63.4. Additionally, last year Palmer terrorized teams when they brought extra defenders. He threw for 9.1 yards an attempt and had 11 touchdowns to only 6 interceptions. This season against blitzes, he's thrown four touchdowns, but his completion percentage is 56.8%, and he's averaging 6.7 yards an attempt.
Although the pass blocking has been about the same this year, Palmer has been worse. He hasn't been able to repeat last year's all time great deep passing season. He has seen his numbers drop against pressure while being unable to attack the blitz with the same success. He's 37 and has lost that majestic deep ball dropping ability that puts pits in defenders' stomachs and leaves the crowd gawking. Bruce Arians is going to have to respond to this. Arizona is going to have to run more screens and quick passes. They have to turn this into David Johnson's offense and let him bounce all over the field like an inflatable castle. If they do this, the Cardinals can get by without Palmer being a deep field demon. They are going to have to stop doing what they have done the last three years and become a different team.
12.) Oakland Raiders--Record: 5-2. Point Differential: +6. DVOA: 0.6% (17). Last Week: 12.
11.) Buffalo Bills--Record: 4-3. Point Differential: +56. DVOA: 14.1% (9). Last Week: 11.
10.) Philadelphia Eagles--Record: 4-2. Point Differential: +68. DVOA: 30.2% (1). Last Week: 10.
9.) Atlanta Falcons--Record: 4-3. Point Differential: +30. DVOA: 18.2% (7). Last Week: 9.
8.) Kansas City Chiefs--Record: 4-2. Point Differential: +13. DVOA: 4.1% (12). Last Week: 8.
7.) Green Bay Packers--Record: 4-2. Point Differential: +17. DVOA: 17.8% (8). Last Week: 7.
So many words have been poured over Aaron Rodgers' fall from grace. What was wrong with the consensus #1 quarterback in the NFL?
Together the collective NFL nerd subconsciousness came up with any and every reason for this downfall. The route combinations are not creative enough, so Green Bay's limited receivers that can't beat man coverage struggle to get open. Jordy Nelson isn't fully back and is still hampered by his ACL tear from last year. As a result, Rodgers doesn't trust his receivers to get open and when they do, his timing is off because he sees them too late. Rodgers is improvising TOO much, spending the majority of his time holding onto the ball and trying to craft everything out of nothing. Eddy Lacy is still the Jared Lorenzen of running backs and is now on IR. Because of this, Rodgers is now having to turn the pass game into the run game.
These are all valid reasons the Green Bay Packers' offense has struggled six games into the season, even going back to the Broncos' game last year. The amount of time and effort sniffing out these reasons was worth getting to the bottom of it all. However, I don't think any of it matters.
One of the things about writing about football is that we are all stupid. The coaches and players know more than we ever will. All we try to do is flip the curtain back a bit, teach, entertain and spread some knowledge. But now a lot of this is turning into third party consulting. Sometimes this is warranted, but this isn't one of those cases. This is Aaron Rodgers we are talking about. One of the best quarterbacks in the league. He knows more than anyone does about what is wrong and what to correct. This is lazy Google Blogspot writing. It's so old, white, not with it, graduated with a Masters in journalism in 1972 writing. It's Aaron Rogers, man. He's been the best for so long and can do things no one else can do. Everyone really just should relax and try not to overcomplicate some out of whackness that should reach equilibrium. With him at quarterback, the Packers will eventually get this all figured out.
Of the eight contenders, Green Bay is the one who has yet to really hit their stride. Every other team here has had dominant games and scoreboard-cracking performances. All the Packers have had is a great first half against the Lions' worst pass defense in the NFL. This also makes the Packers the scariest team of the bunch, just lurking around, waiting. Their defense is one of the best in the league with a DVOA of -13.3%. Really, they are a Rodgers hot streak away from catapulting their way up the division, especially since the Vikings' offensive line is decimated and they have an injury-prone quarterback hanging back there. All of the points in the second paragraph are valid for the problems in Green Bay now. The thing is that there is a future looming. There's no way I see a team with a 32 year old quarterback with this skill level having to face these demons all year.
The Packers are going to improve. When they do, everything is going to be so much better.
6.) Denver Broncos--Record: 4-2. Point Differential: +32. DVOA: 12.0% (9) Last Week: 6.
5.) Dallas Cowboys--Record: 5-1. Point Differential: +52. DVOA: 19.3% (5). Last Week: 5.
4.) Pittsburgh Steelers--Record: 4-3. Point Differential: +20. DVOA: 3.4% (14) Last Week: 4.
3.) Minnesota Vikings--Record: 5-1. Point Differential: +45. DVOA: 20.2% (4). Last Week: 3.
2.) Seattle Seahawks--Record: 4-1-1. Point Differential: +27. DVOA: 21.9% (2). Last Week: 2.
1.) New England Patriots--Record: 6-1. Point Differential: +69. DVOA: 18.3% (7). Last Week: 1.
Lions vs Texans coverage