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.
Super Bowl contender
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.
My 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: 0-2. Point Differential: -24. DVOA: -39% (32). Last Week 32.
31.) Los Angeles Rams--Record: 1-1. Point Differential: -22. DVOA: -18% (28). Last Week 31.
30.) Jacksonville Jaguars: 0-2. Point Differential: -28. DVOA: -36.3% (31). Last Week 20.
29.) Chicago Bears: 0-2. Point Differential: -24. DVOA: -23.6% (21). Last Week 25.
28.) Tennessee Titans: 1-1. Point Differential: -8. DVOA: -3.1% (18). Last Week 30.
27.) Buffalo Bills: 0-2. Point Differential: -12. DVOA: -16% (26). Last Week 26.
When Rex Ryan became head coach, the Buffalo Bills' magnetic poles switched in a doomsday scenario that runs on the History Channel at 3 am. They went from having a quarterback-destroying defense and abysmal offense to a team led by a quarterback who went from Tywho? to Tygod in a season, along with a defense that handicapped its own front seven. If the Bills' defense stayed at even a top ten level last season, they would have been a Super Bowl contender. Instead, they went from 2nd in defensive DVOA to 24th. Their defining moment was snuffing the Jets' postseason spot out like sand on an "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" campfire. Woooohoooo, I guess.
The obvious reason why the defense morphed from a buzz saw to a pillow fight was the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4. Under Jim Schwartz's 4-3 defense, I fell in love with this defensive line. They each had a role that maximized their strengths. Marcell Dareus took on double teams and opened up lanes for the linebackers and the rest of the defensive line; he could use pure strength to rush the passer. Kyle Williams was able to attack a single gap and get in and all over the backfield. Mario Williams was one of the best all around defensive ends in the NFL, sacking the quarterback 14 times and averaging 0.8 yards a run tackle. Lastly, Jerry Hughes ran really fast around slower right tackles in one-on-one matchups and was an awesome looper in T-E stunts.
The 3-4 moved Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes to stand up at outside linebacker. It put Dareus at nose tackle and scooted Kyle Williams over to defensive end--where he only played 6 games due to injury. Jerry Hughes was the only player who had any success in his new role. Everyone else became worse versions of their 2014 self.
These four had 53 less defeats (defined as stops a first on third or fourth down, turnover, or tackle at or behind line of scrimmage), 61 less stops (prevented a successful play), 26.5 less sacks, 4 less hits, and 13 less hurries. In every category, they were worse. It's even more remarkable when you look at the snap counts. Without Kyle Williams, Buffalo played 26 more snaps. Ryan didn't rotate his defensive linemen and still got less production out of of them.
Rather than atone to their mistakes and switch to a defense that maximizes their strength, Rex Ryan went further in. He brought in his brother Rob in to help coach and continue the 3-4 defense. The Bills didn't re-sign Nigel Bradham and they cut Mario Williams. They used the draft to find players better suited for what Rex Ryan wanted to do rather then maximize what he had.
In the draft, the Bills used their first three picks on the front seven. They selected edge rusher Shaq Lawson, inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, and defensive end Adolphus Washington. They have gotten 39 snaps out of these three players. Lawson is on the PUP List after having shoulder surgery and can come back Week 7. Ragland tore his ACL in training camp and will be out for the season. Washington is the sole owner of those 39 snaps, which comes out to 27.3% of the team's total defensive snaps. When he's been on the field, he's been pushed around and hasn't made much of an impact.
Although the young talent hasn't arrived, the front seven looks better suited for this defense now. Kyle Williams is noticeably healthier and is again prowling across the line of scrimmage from the "3" technique and making plays on the ball. Starting outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, unlike Mario, is an actual outside linebacker, and both Browns are fine at reading the play from the 3-4 inside linebacker position. The one wildcard is that Dareus will be coming back Week 5 to play nose tackle (strongside '1" in this defense) after being suspended four games for failing a drug test. He should make life easier for the linebackers, and the Ryans have gone to nickel packages more often, which can create better pass rush opportunities than what they had last year.
That's what the eyes say. Yet the Bills rush defense is 22nd in rush DVOA (-4.6%). That's what happens when you give up three rushing touchdowns in a game. That makes them look worse than what they have been.
This defense has still been bad. The difference is that it's because of the secondary, not the front seven this year. In 2015, Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore led the Bills' defense to a DVOA of -13.5% (5th) versus a team's #1 receiver and -12.9% (8th) versus a team's #2 receiver. This year, they are 30th and 23rd against these same types of receivers.
The scheme is largely to blame. The Bills' cornerbacks are left all alone on the outside by themselves because Buffalo has been playing a lot of Cover One Robber. Their strong safety (Aaron Williams) will play the center intermediate part of the field. The free safety (Corey Graham) takes on the deep middle and helps out with whatever comes his way. Darby and Gilmore both have had problems staying in front of receivers, attacking the release point, and turning their head for the ball. Without help against teams stacked at receiver like the Jets, it's hard to entirely blame them. The Bills have trusted these two completely and have been burned for it.
The stranger thing is the Bills' defense isn't what you expect. They are rushing four a lot. Williams and a motley crew of Leger Douzable, Jerel Worthy, and Washington are rushing the interior, with Hughes and Alexander rushing from the outside. The interior rushers aren't getting much. They are getting sucked into double teams. Hughes and Alexander are fast, and have done some things, but if tackles get their hands on them, it's game over.
Last season, Buffalo rushed 3, 4 and 5 defenders at about the same rate, but blitzed six more more 12.9% of the time, third most in the NFL. I haven't hit the big time and don't have ESPN stats and numbers at my beckon, but my eyes tell me that this year it's been more three and four man rushes. The linemen aren't beating their blocks.
Defensively, the Bills are in transition. They are playing more conservatively than in years prior. They haven't been able to use their young players and their most expensive one. They are putting more pressure on last year's great cornerback duo. It all hasn't worked, and it may never work with this head coaching staff. The pressure was on Ryan to make the playoffs this season. 12% of the teams make the playoffs after staring the season 0-2. There's no reason to think they will be in that 12% this season. More than likely, the Ryan brothers will be kicked out, forced to take nature walks together, slam Busch Lights, and listen to Molly Hatchet elsewhere.
26.) San Francisco 49ers: 1-1. Point Differential: +9. DVOA: 10.9% (10). Last Week 28.
25.) Miami Dolphins: 0-2. Point Differential: -9. DVOA: -16.5% (27). Last Week 23.
24.) Philadelphia Eagles: 2-0. Point Differential: +34. DVOA: 35.5% (1). Last Week 29.
23.) Atlanta Falcons: 1-1. Point Differential: 0. DVOA: -.7% (16). Last Week 27.
22.) Washington Redskins: 0-2. Point Differential: -26. DVOA: -15.7% (24). Last Week 19.
Kirk Cousins bet on himself this offseason. Instead of taking a good contract extension, he wanted the bad franchise tag, opting to maximize his potential earnings by having great back-to-back seasons. Like Washington, I also wanted to wait and see Cousins produce a second season before handing over the $20 million a year he was desiring.
There were two reasons for this. The first was his interception rate. Before 2015, Cousins threw 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. His interception rate was 4.6%. The NFL average during this time was 2.63%. Then, in his breakout year, this rate was cut more than in half to 2.0%. It was an outlier up to this point in his career. I still didn't trust Cousins' ability to not turn over the football. This season, his number sits at 3.4%. Cousins has thrown 3 interceptions to just 1 touchdown in 89 attempts. It takes more than two games for this to stabilize, but so far his interception rate is back on its way up.
Additionally, Cousins and the offense was mediocre until the second half last year. Cousins didn't have a great stretch until then. From Weeks 10-17 the Redskins; offense had a DVOA of 13.1%, which was fifth in the league, and Cousins threw just two interceptions according to the 2016 Football Outsiders Almanac. During this run, Washington flipped their record from 3-4 to 9-7. If the Redskins paid Cousins, it would have been for eight games of great performance against shoddy teams.
The second reason is the Redskins went 9-7 and won an AFC South bad division. Their wins came against NFC East teams, the Rams, Buccaneers, Saints, Bears, and Bills. They made the playoffs because they beat four under .500 teams and went 4-2 against the NFC East. After winning the division, their projected average opponent was 1.5% (9th) this year. With games against the AFC North, NFC North, Panthers and Cardinals, along with being in a better division with the Cowboys improving their quarterback play by default and the Giants upgrading their defense, Cousins will no longer be able to survive by beating crappy teams.
In the two games to start 2016, Cousins has been mediocre and hasn't performed like the top five quarterback he was during that hot streak last season. He's in the middle of everyone in DYAR and DVOA. His QBR is 61.6, 29th in the league. He's thrown for a lot of yards and thrown a lot passes, yet with DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon, and first round pick Josh Doctson, Washington's passing offense has been average.
I'm seeing two big problems with Cousins. The first is that he's throwing a lot of passes high. His receivers have made some great catches by stopping and leaping to come down with passes he's leaving up there. The second is that he has missed a couple of wide open throws. The Cowboys game from last week was littered with players streaking down field on corners and fades wide open, only for Cousins to underthrow them. The deep pass to Docston where he sat underneath the pass, with no one around him, is a perfect example. If Cousins throws it to a spot just a little bit further down field, it's a touchdown. Instead, Doctson was tackled in the red zone. Cousins then killed the drive with an end zone pick.
This Sunday is as much of a must-win as you can have in Week Three. If the Redskins lose, they will be 0-3 and down three games to the New York Giants. If they win, they have a chance to make a run against Cleveland, Baltimore and Philadelphia. If that happens, their season will come down to their gruesome second half schedule. If they lose this week, they won't get that chance.
21.) New Orleans Saints: 0-2. Point Differential: -4. DVOA: -3.9% (19). Last Week 21.
20.) Indianapolis Colts: 0-2. Point Differential: -18. DVOA: -15.1% (22). Last Week 17.
19.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1-1. Point Differential: -26. DVOA: 25.4% (30). Last Week 14.
18.) San Diego Chargers: 1-1. Point Differential: +18. DVOA: 17.5% (7). Last Week 24.
17.) New York Jets: 1-1. Point Differential: +5. DVOA: -7.9% (20). Last Week 18.
16.) Dallas Cowboys: 1-1. Point Differential: +3. DVOA: 4.2% (14). Last Week 16.
15.) Oakland Raiders: 1-1. Point Differential: -6. DVOA: -8.9% (21). Last Week 12.
The Oakland Raiders were the darlings of the preseason. As they should have been. They put their cap space to use by adding a final piece, Kelechi Osemele, to an offensive line that is becoming one of the best in the league. Their defense was 15th in DVOA last season, but the rest of Oakland's cap space went to upgrading it. They signed outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, cornerback Sean Smith, and safety Reggie Nelson. Plus, their first three draft picks were on the defensive side of the ball in safety Karl Joseph, defensive linemen Jihad Ward, and outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun.
It was the type of offseason you expect from a team that pulled off the perfect rebuild. The Raiders patiently waited until they could cut and remove the bloated contracts that kept them from being able to effectively run their team. Dead money came off the table. They lost games and were rewarded high draft picks. They hit the jackpot in the 2014 NFL Draft by taking Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson. The team needed a few more pieces to compete and make the leap from fun to playoff contender. These offseason signings and selecting 14th in the 2016 NFL Draft were expected to be exactly that.
So far, the Raiders have made zero sense. They are first in offensive DVOA and last in defensive DVOA. They are third in points scored (63) and 31st in points allowed (69). Derek Carr is the biggest reason for the offensive improvement. He has been the best quarterback in the league these first two games. He outdueled Drew Brees in New Orleans. His DVOA is 36.2%, second to only Matt Ryan, and his DYAR is best in the league at 272. He's completed more than 70% of his passes, thrown four touchdowns against zero interceptions, and is averaging 7.4 yards an attempt. To top all of that off, the Raiders are leading the NFL in rushing DVOA too.
Defensively, the Raiders have the worst pass defense in the NFL. Even with all the injuries to the Colts' secondary and the lack of talent in Atlanta, Oakland has managed to be even worse. Their pass defense DVOA is a ridiculous 64.5%, more than 9% worse than Indy and 11% worse than Atlanta. Seven touchdowns have been thrown on them. Teams are throwing for 10.4 net yards an attempt. They have allowed 808 yards and are giving up 50.4 yards a drive. No matter what measure of success you look at--adjusted line yards, run defense, sack rate, DVOA against tight ends, whatever--the Raiders have been abysmal. It's not like they are injured, either. They just have not done anything well.
The bad news is that they won't be playing against two quarterbacks who have been incredible to start the season; they will just be playing really good quarterbacks. They won't be seeing Drew Brees or Matt Ryan for another four years, if ever again. They get to play Marcus Mariota and Tennessee, then Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers, Alex Smith, Blake Bortles, Jameis Winston, and Trevor Siemian (the worst quarterback they will face this season) until their bye in Week 10. There is no letting up in 2016 for this defense.
It's scab-eating crazy to expect for things to continue in these directions. The Raiders won't finish with the best offense and worst defense. There's no way. Things should settle down. The Raiders should drift down closer to tenth in offense and up to around 20th in defense. Smith and Nelson shouldn't keep playing this bad. A pass rush with Khalil Mack isn't going to flail around and average just a sack a game. If regression happens in both directions the Raiders can still compete for a playoff spot. If it doesn't, and they stay in the bottom of the league in defense, than Oakland will be fun, but not good, and they will have to wait another year for their playoff aspirations to enter the concrete covered world of reality.
14.) Minnesota Vikings: 2-0. Point Differential: +12. DVOA: -5.1% (12). Last Week 22.
13.) Baltimore Ravens: 2-0. Point Differential: +11. DVOA: 22% (5). Last Week 13.
12.) Detroit Lions: 1-1. Point Differential: +3. DVOA: 19.9% (6). Last Week 10.
11.) Houston Texans: 2-0. Point Differential: +16. DVOA: -15.8% (25). Last Week 11. (Not Including TNF)
10.) Denver Broncos: 2-0. Point Differential: +15. DVOA: 14.2% (9). Last Week 15.
9.) New York Giants: 2-0. Point Differential: +4. DVOA: -7.9% (20). Last Week 9.
8.) Kansas City Chiefs: 1-1. Point Differential: -1. DVOA: 8% (11). Last Week 8.
7.) Green Bay Packers: 1-1. Point Differential: +1. DVOA: 0.6% (15). Last Week 7.
6.) Cincinnati Bengals: 1-0. Point Differential: -7. DVOA: 4.9% (13). Last Week 5.
5.) Carolina Panthers: 1-1. Point Differential: +18. DVOA: 27.6% (3). Last Week 6.
4.) Arizona Cardinals: 1-1. Point Differential: +31. DVOA: 28.2% (2). Last Week 4.
3.) New England Patriots: 2-0. Point Differential: +9. DVOA: -15.7 (23)%. Last Week 3. (Not Including TNF)
2.) Seattle Seahawks: 1-1. Point Differential: -4. DVOA: 17.4% (8). Last Week 1.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret. The Seahawks' offensive line has never been good. For the last four seasons, Russell Wilson has been clawed, gouged, pounded, and smashed by defenders. When Marshawn Lynch was here, he broke tackles and turned nothing into one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL before Thomas Rawls did the same thing last season until he broke his ankle. All three of these players have transcended Seattle's offensive line since Wilson came into the league. Now that Seattle's offense has been stifled to start 2016, the offensive line is suddenly a huge "Josh Norman only covers one side of the field" type of issue.
Wilson has excelled in chaos. He's spent the majority of his pass attempts swirling out of tackles, slithering out of the pocket, and finding the open man downfield. He's needed to do that because he's always under pressure. In 2012, 27.5% (37th) of his drop backs were under duress. This rate was 36.6% (39th) in 2013, 39.1% (37th) in 2014, and 31.7% (34th) in 2015. The Seahawks have never finished higher than 20th in adjusted sack rate during this span. Wilson has been sacked an average of 41.25 times a season and he's been knocked down (sacks+QB hits) 375 times in his career. If he wasn't great at what he does, he would be in a full body cast by now.
Regardless of the pressure, Wilson has been able to not only survive, but thrive. He's survived because of his innate ability to get out of the pocket at the perfect time and break tackles. Last season was the lowest he's been ranked at breaking tackles, when he broke 21 and tied for third. Wilson has broken 74 tackles in his career; 54, or 73%, have come behind the line of scrimmage. He's thrived because when he gets out of the pocket he make plays through the air. He's been top five in passing DVOA while under pressure every year of his career. When the pressure wasn't there, he's been second and first in the league in passing DVOA the last two seasons. Messy pocket or clean pocket, Wilson has been incredible.
|Year||Pass DVOA||Pass DYAR||Rush DVOA||Rush DYAR|
|2012||19.7% (6th)||872 (8th)||22.3% (10th)||147 (2nd)|
|2013||16.6% (6th)||770 (9th)||23.3% (11th)||134 (2nd)|
|2014||5.5% (4th)||503 (13th)||43.7% (4th)||269 (1st)|
|2015||24.3% (3rd)||1190 (3rd)||17.4% (3rd)||123 (3rd)|
Wilson's performance under pressure and the entire team's ability to break tackles is why they have been able to get away with Garry Gilliam and other late round picks or undrafted free agents on the offensive line. From 2013 to 2015, the Seahawks as a team broke 93, 126, and 138 tackles, ranking 1st, 1st, and 3rd. During this time, Lynch broke 26, 59 (1st), 88 (1st), and 24 tackles on 124 touches last season. Every season since 2012, the Seahawks have finished top ten in rushing DVOA as a result of this.
Because of Seattle's ability to have a top five offense with a cheaply constructed basement offensive line, they have been able to keep the core of their team together. They were able to resign Wilson, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, and Earl Thomas. They continue to glue together an all-time great defense because of the lack of resources devoted to their offensive line. With the salary cap, not every position or position group is going to be perfect. There are going to be holes you have to live with because your strengths mask your weakness. These maligned and leprous offensive lines are part of Seattle's identity directly and indirectly.
Although they have won 47 regular season games since 2012 with a team constructed like this, worries are starting to fetter because of the offensive line's performance these last two games. Seattle has scored one touchdown, scored 15 total points, and has 658 total yards up to this point in the season. Their line is composed of Bradley Sowell (LT), Mark Glowinski (LG), Justin Britt (C), J'Marcus Webb (RG) and Gary Gilliam (RT). There are reasons for concern. There a few new problems plaguing Seattle that haven't been there before.
Regarding just the offensive line, the problem is they have not only been bad; they have been stupid. Often they'll double a defensive tackle to let someone else rush freely. They'll stick and not peel off to pick up the stunt. The lineman heading up to the second level won't help enough on the first level, leaving his teammate shoving 1/4 of a defender. The offense has left tight ends one-on-one against defensive ends like Mario Williams and Robert Quinn, and they have been using multiple tight end sets that crowd the line of scrimmage to invite the pass rush. In the past, they've missed blocks because of talent, but at least they made the right blocks.
The backs haven't been much of a help so far, either. The athleticism is there. Both Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls have been bursts of sinew. They have made cuts and gone, broken tackles, and bounced runs outside. The issue is the vision isn't there. Both backs have been guilty of cutting too early, missing the hole and running into the pile instead of being patient and setting up their blocks. This has been more of an issue for Rawls than Michael, who missed the second half of last season. Michael has a DVOA of 9.1% (14th). Rawls's is -46.7% (41st). This is entirely different than the halcyon days of Lynch, and Rawls is playing nowhere near as well as he did last year. The skill hasn't been there like it was before.
Lastly, Russell Wilson is hurt. After Suh hit him, he's been dealing with an ankle injury. The mobility isn't there. Rather than see the rush, pull a rabbit out of a python, and escape the pocket, he's tossing the ball out into the flat or throwing it away. He's been incapable of making the plays he's made his entire career with his ankle wrapped up like Cash's concrete cast. Right now he can't improvise, get out in space and let his receivers sneak away from defensive backs. All three of these things spoiled Seattle's performance these last six impotent quarters.
Seattle has gotten off to slow starts before. Last year, they were 0-2 before winning 10 games and making the playoffs. In 2013, they were 1-1 at this point of the season before winning the division and almost winning a second Super Bowl. They'll be fine. The defense is still one of the best in the NFL and has yet to give up a touchdown. The offense should be fine once Wilson gets healthy and Rawls gets used to playing football again.
1.) Pittsburgh Steelers: 2-0. Point Differential: +30. DVOA: 27.1% (4). Last Week 2.
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