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: 0-3. Point Differential: -30. DVOA: -38.2% (32). Last Week 32.
31.) Chicago Bears--Record: 0-3. Point Differential: -38. DVOA: -30.3% (31). Last Week 29.
30.) Jacksonville Jaguars--Record: 0-3. Point Differential: -30. DVOA: -22.9% (28). Last Week 30.
29.) Tennessee Titans--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: -15. DVOA: -9.2% (20). Last Week 28.
Entering the 2016 season, the Tennessee Titans' offense was a meme. Exotic smash mouth was placed in quotes: "Exotic Smashmouth". The phrase was gutted and splayed across the internet. Back when we imagined what new football was like, the entire country laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed at whatever this meant in the postmodern pass heavy times we live in.
But now that real actual football has started, I kind of like what Tennessee is doing.
"Exotic Smashmouth" is best described as running a lot, in multiple directions, from a variety of formations, in a platter of different ways. The Titans are primarily running inside zone plays. In addition to this, they will use outside zone, power, dive, with a dash of counter mixed in. These plays will be run from three tight end sets, multi-member backfields, and the occasional spread set. It gives DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry a variety of different angles to take on defenses and different parts of the field to attack.
Most teams in the NFL plod and pound up the middle to try and pick up four yards on first down, convert short yardage situations, and yank the safeties in to help with the pass game. The Titans don't do that. They run the ball everywhere with success.
|ATT||12 (5)||11 (T-6)||36 (21)||8 (T-19)||4 (T-26)|
|Y/C||8.25 (4)||4 (T-17)||4.94 (3)||4.63 (8)||6.5 (3)|
|ALY||5.19 (8)||4.51 (14)||3.6 (19)||4.75 (5)||3.68 (17)|
|1st D||5 (T-3)||4 (2)||6 (22)||2 (T-7)||2 (T-13)|
The Titans are blocking well everywhere according to adjusted line yards (ALY). They rank in the top ten in yards per carry over every position of the offensive line except for left tackle. When we combine these numbers to reflect inside and outside runs, the numbers are more startling. They have run the ball 36 times for 178 yards and 4.94 yards per carry up the middle. Everywhere else, they've run the ball about an equal number of times with 35 carries. On these runs they've gotten 206 yards, 5.8 Y/C and a total of 13 first downs.
If you scoff at traditional rushing numbers and are all about efficiency and total value (in other words, you're all about that DVOA and DYAR lyfe), the numbers aren't as strong at first glance. The Titans have a rush DVOA of -10.0% (18). But DeMarco Murray has a DVOA of 11.6% (8), a DYAR of 35 (10) and looks so much more at home running vertically instead of horizontally like he did in Philadelphia. Derrick Henry has a DVOA of 0.7% (18) and a DYAR of 11 (19).
The man dragging all of this down is Marcus Mariota. He has a DVOA of -64.1% (29) and a DYAR of -17 (30). He's run the ball 8 times for 52 yards and fumbled twice. Quarterbacks are usually supposed to be more efficient runners because they pick their spots. In this offense, Mariota is asked to carry the ball more often and it hasn't worked out. When the Titans are handing off the ball to their backs, the run game has been smattering defenses from all over the field.
The run game has done some fun, cool things to succeed even without any sort of passing game. Against Oakland, Tennessee ran an option zone read play. Pre-snap, Mariota puts the pitch man in a jet sweep motion. Mariota is reading defensive end Khalil Mack (#52). If he crashes inside, Mariota will keep and run the option. If he sits and reads, Henry will get a carry up the middle. In this case, Mack crashes inside and Mariota runs the option with Harry Douglas. Man, this receiving corps is bad. Once Mariota gets wide, he will read the unblocked corner to decide if he will continue running up field or pitch it to Douglas.
The offensive line blocks it just like any other zone read play. Everyone is blocking down on one-on-one blocks and completely ignoring the read man.
The problem on this play is Mariota never gets to read one defender. The wide receiver doesn't seal the safety. Instead, he takes on two defenders and makes a nifty pitch that is dropped.
On this inside zone play, an inside run that tries to create as many double teams as possible, we get a "Trey" with the two tight ends (double between tackle and tight end) on the left side, and a "Duece" (double with tackle and guard) between LT Taylor Lewan and LG Quinton Spain. Ben Jones has a one v. one block against the nose tackle. And the right side of the line has a "Duece" between RG Josh Kline and RT Jack Conklin.
The entire first level is driven back nicely to create the first few yards of the run. The left side double between Spain and Lewan is perfect. They drive the defensive end off the ball together perfectly. The second level blocks are responsible for the next set of yards. Lewan continues driving the end. Spain sticks the linebacker. Henry is handed five easy yards.
The Titans wouldn't have success running the ball if it wasn't for all the all gimmicks. The cute things create confusion that allow them to run more basic plays without eight men in the box and every defender on their toes. It acts as their passing game in a way.
After all those years of fat contracts, high draft picks, and sunk costs, the Titans' offensive line is actually playing really well. Taylor Lewan has made the leap as a run blocker and is sticking at the second level. The difference between Ben Jones, who's better than he was in Houston, and Andy Gallick is astronomical. The same can be said for Jack Conklin, who's survived so far, and last year's right tackles, Jeremiah Poutasi and Jamon Meredith. They may have actually improved with Chance Warmack sitting out.
It still isn't without flaws, though. The Titans run a lot of multi tight end sets, but they don't have the horses for it. Jace Amaro, Anthony Fasano, and former Texan Phillip Supernaw all see playing time. They just aren't good blockers. All of them have problems trying to take on defensive ends, which sours runs. The other problem is just Tennessee Titans things. Every year they have problems with blocking assignments. They are plagued by pullers who run past past defenders and second level blocks that go to the wrong linebacker.
These are problems for a really good rushing attack. They are minor in the entire scope of the team. The boil protruding out of this team is its passing attack. When you have a number two overall pick as your quarterback and someone who is an incredible and talented passer of the football, you should want to emphasize his strengths and build the team around him. The Titans are using an offense you would expect from a team with Case Keenum, Blaine Gabbert, or some other sadboy quarterback.
So far this year, despite better blocking, Mariota has lacked luster. His passing DVOA is -11.1% (23) and his DYAR is 1 (23rd). He's averaging 6.8 yards an attempt (21) and 10.8 yards a reception (25). He's completing 62.6% of his passes to go along with 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
This season, he's been locking on a predetermined read and throwing into a lot of double coverage. Rarely is he scanning the field and finding the open man. As a result, he's leaving yards and first downs on the field. Additionally, his ball placement isn't there like it was last year. He's throwing behind receivers and hitting them high, which has led to tip-ups that give defenses the opportunity to intercept passes. He looks to have regressed and isn't showing the level of competence he did last year.
How much of this is him being cold from the lack of touches or the scheme? I don't know. What I do know is his lack of success can be directly contributed to the receiving talent he has. I mean, the team is using 35 year old Andre Johnson as their deep threat. He's having to hop on his grocery store scooter to try and catch up to deep passes, only for the battery to die while the ball is in the air. I mean, DeMarco Murray has been their best receiver.
The scheme hasn't helped either. The Titans have been running a lot of isolation routes where the individual receiver is supposed to beat man coverage. The Titans' receivers just can't do this. Tennessee isn't running route combos to open things up; they are leaving their receivers isolated and deserted. It isn't working.
This is troublesome. Especially since they run a lot of quick passes that's supposed to take advantage of Mariota's rapid release. Again, this is leading to errant throws in double coverage. When they do take shots deep, the Titans will run play action and keep seven in to block. This leads to three men going out for routes against a seven defender deep secondary. For all these miserable reasons, Tennessee's passing game has been a mess.
Here's a perfect example. The Raiders are in a nickel package. Tennessee has two receivers and a tight end going out for routes against Cover One. No one can get open against man coverage. Although there isn't pressure, Mariota has nowhere to go with the ball. He dumps off to Murray. D.J. Hayden is sitting underneath on the tight end's out route. When the ball is released, he sprints and sticks Murray.
The passing attack is putrid, but finally, after all of these years, the Titans have a great rushing attack. I still have faith in Mariota being a good quarterback, but the receiving talent and scheme is hampering him. If the Titans can bring in some players who can actually attack and beat man coverage, something may come out of this going big and strong and run the ball thing. If they don't, the Titans will just be another bad team whose games end sooner rather than later.
28.) Los Angeles Rams--Record: 2-1. Point Differential: -17. DVOA: -16.3% (27). Last Week 31.
27.) San Francisco 49ers--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: -10. DVOA: 15.4% (26). Last Week 26.
26.) Miami Dolphins--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: -3. DVOA: -5.4% (19). Last Week 25. (Not including TNF)
25.) New Orleans Saints--Record: 0-3. Point Differential: -17. DVOA: -11.6% (23). Last Week 21.
24.) Buffalo Bills--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: +3. DVOA: -3.3% (17). Last Week 27.
23.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: -26. DVOA: 12.9% (24). Last Week 24.
22.) Washington Redskins--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: -24. DVOA: -9.7% (21). Last Week 22.
21.) Indianapolis Colts--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: -14. DVOA: -13.8% (25). Last Week 20.
20.) San Diego Chargers--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: +14. DVOA: 10.4% (10). Last Week 18.
19.) New York Jets--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: -16. DVOA: -26.1% (29). Last Week 17.
Last weekend was the pinnacle Ryan Fizpatrick game. He played the worst game ever according to DYAR. He finished with -326. He had a Pro Football Focus rating of 21.4 if you are into that sort of thing; that is also is the worst of all time. He completed THE BLANDA by throwing six interceptions, something that hasn't been done since Peyton Manning did it in 2007.
The picks were hysterical. But it wasn't just the picks. He littered incompletions all over the field. He underthew, overtherew, threw behind, and threw below in his own rendition of Green Eggs and Ham. He missed in every direction everywhere. He completed just 20 out of 44 passes for a completion percentage of 45.4%. This game led to him plummeting to down to 32nd, 30th and 29th in DVOA, DYAR, and QBR.
This happened after a brilliant Week Two performance against the Bills. He flicked deep passes all over the field against Buffalo. He threw for 374 yards, had a quarterback rating of 116.5, and set up three Matt Forte touchdowns.
See, this is what happens with Ryan Fitzpatrick. He will rope you in and be aesthetically fun to watch as he dives for first downs in leftover crusted sweatpants. Around every corner, however, is a backbreaking pick like he threw in a Week One loss to Cincinnati. A performance like he had last week, or like the one he had in Week 17 against Buffalo that kept the Jets out of the playoffs last year, is always lurking underneath that bulldog beard. A team is never going to be anything more than on the the precipice of playoffs. The tadpole never matures into the frog with him at quarterback.
In 2016, it's not all on Fitzpatrick. The Jets' defense isn't without its issues. Despite having the best 3-4 defensive line in the NFL, they are down in the basement of the league in DVOA. The reason why is their pass defense has been abysmal. They are 6th in run defense and 31st in pass defense, even though they have 9 sacks and a sack rate that's 5th in the league. The issue is that they are worst in the league at covering a team's second wide receiver and 28th at covering other receivers. Last year, they ranked 14th and 1st at covering these same players.
The reason why is they went from Antonio Cromartie, who played well despite being really old, to Buster Skrine, who was 62nd in adjusted success rate last year. The Jets' blitz a lot to terrorize quarterbacks. This puts them in a lot of man coverage situations and puts pressure on their outside corners. So far, Skrine hasn't played well in his extended role.
Fitzpatrick and the pass defense have been the Jets' ailments the first three weeks. But their biggest problem is the upcoming schedule. They get Seattle at home this week, then play Pittsburgh, Arizona and Baltimore before things get easier against Cleveland, Miami and St. Louis. After that, it's primarily divisional games to end the season.
With head coach Todd Bowles's track record and their defensive line. I assume the passing defense will improve. The problem is it needs to happen now. If it doesn't, they may never even get to fulfill their destiny of Fitzpatrick flushing away the season in spectacular Week 17 fashion.
18.) Atlanta Falcons--Record: 2-1. Point Differential: +13. DVOA: 11.1% (9). Last Week 23.
17.) Detroit Lions--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: -4. DVOA: -1.3% (16). Last Week 12.
16.) Houston Texans--Record: 2-1. Point Differential: -11. DVOA: -26.5% (30). Last Week 11.
15.) Dallas Cowboys--Record: 2-1. Point Differential: +17. DVOA: 13.1% (8). Last Week 16.
Heading into the season, the focal point of this Dallas team was Ezekiel Elliott and how he, combined with Dallas' otherworldly offensive line, would decimate defenses and take the Cowboys back to their 2014 heights. Then Tony Romo cracked some bones in his back, and then Dak Prescott filled in and has played really well. The Cowboys are 2-1. The talk has moved onto what the Cowboys are going to do once Romo is healthy.
In the backseat of all that is Elliott, who's progressing every week. In Week One, he had 20 carries for 51 yards (2.55 Y/C) against a Giants defense that is 7th in run defense DVOA. Against weaker run defenses Washington and Chicago, Elliott's numbers bumped to 83 yards on 21 carries (3.95 Y/C) and 30 carries for 140 yards (4.67 Y/C). The Cowboys have been feeding him and feeding him and feeding him to help with his maturation and get him as many looks and touches as possible. It's worked.
Elliott is at his best when he's running straight ahead, or making a small cut and getting up field. He's not elusive. He doesn't make people miss. What he's great at is taking all the yards the offensive line gives him and using his speed to run through tackles to rack up bonus points.
The Cowboys do run power, counter, and tosses, but this is primarily a zone team. They use inside zone to craft as many double teams as possible and go with the flow on outside zone. In this example Dallas is running outside zone against Washington. Tyron Smith (LT) and La'el Collins (LG) are responsible for the left defensive end (#94) and the weakside linebacker. Travis Frederick (C) and Zach Martin (RG) have an Ace to the backside backer. And Doug Free (RT) and Jason Witten are sealing off the backside to prevent them from chasing on the play and to open up a possible cut back.
Zone steps are made. One horizontal, almost 180 degree step, followed by a 45 degree step. This gains horizontal ground and creates the angle needed to get to the outside shoulder--the aiming point on this play. Doug Free is a good example of it. He's running almost horizontally so he can cut off Chris Baker (#92).
Left defensive end Preston Smith (#94) stunts inside to the B gap. Smith punches his outside shoulder to move him into Collins and then heads up to the linebacker. Collins has nice depth and is in a good place to get to that outside shoulder. Frederick is a master of both time and space. He takes a great step and is way ahead of schedule to get to the linebacker. So he stops to offer help and times his course to the second level.
Everything is perfect by the time Elliot gets the ball.
Elliot's aiming point is outside the left tackle. He will head in that direction and read the gaps inside and over to look for the hole or cutback. Smith has made contact with linebacker. So has Frederick, except he's blocking the backside defensive tackle not the linebacker because Chris Baker (#92) rolled over the trash. Collins still has his head outside, but Smith is still fighting laterally toward the sideline.
Will Compton (#51), like Preston Smith, is fighting outside. Tyron Smith counters by getting his hands lower, onto his core, and driving his side. Elliot sees Compton's fight and heads up field. He doesn't really cut here. He more turns and starts sprinting up field.
Smith shoves Compton out of the play. There's a great hole here in the B gap.
Preston Smith extends his arm and wraps it around Elliot's chest. This is what I mean by Elliot running through tackles. Once he gets going he's low and strong and fast and it takes much more than this to bring him down.
At this point of the run he's picked up all the yards made available to him by the offensive line. He spins through the arm tackle, takes a hit from Mason Foster, and falls forward.
This is a great first down run for nine yards. The blocking is perfect. Elliot gets everything he can and uses his power to pick up a few more.
This has been how the Cowboys' offense has worked so far. They give the ball to Elliot on first down. He takes what the line gives him and tacks on a bit more. On first down he has 41 carries (3) for 183 yards (3), which comes out to 4.16 Y/C (13), and he leads the league in first downs with 6. Additionally, his success rate is 59% which is best in the league. How they performed on first down has created easier first downs and a nice life for rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.
There is still more to be desired here however. The runs Elliot has made can be made by a variety of running backs in the league. What the Cowboys offense is trying to reincarnate is the year 2014. Demarco Murray took great blocking and made it even better by making perfect cuts and breaking tackles to pick up extra yards and break enormous gains. Elliot isn't doing that. He needs to start winning the one on one matchups at the second level and the open field instead of going down.
As I said earlier, Elliot runs past and through tackles He doesn't evade tackles though. On this screen pass against Chicago he has the entire field open except for the safety. He is tackled out of bounds. These are the sort of plays and types of situations he was taken as the number four overall pick for. He needs to make this defender miss and pick up what seemed like an unattainable first down. He hasn't shown the ability to miss open field tackles.
Additionally, he still has problems with patience, how to set up his blocks, and when to cutback in the outside zone. When watching great zone backs you are forced to go back and rewind play after play to try and figure out how the running back saw what he did to create the runs he made. It's a different type of vision. They see the world differently than everyone else. Elliot hasn't shown this yet. However, his cuts are crisp and tight and perfect. The athleticism is here for him to be a great zone back.
On this play Dallas is running outside zone to the right against Chicago's base 3-4. Pay attention to how tight Elliot's cut is. He flows until he sees the hole and comes directly off the offensive lineman's back. It's beautiful. It's perfect. And of course he runs through a shoulder plow.
As the season continues he will get better at understanding where the holes are and how to manipulate defenses. The basic level of play is here. He constantly gets the 4-7 yards needed to be successful. What he's lacking are the homerun, highlight reel, number four overall pick type of runs. It's going to be scary when he begins cutting to the backside of runs and starts breaking 30+ gains instead of the same successful and banal 4-7.
Prescott has been awesome and has saved the Cowboys' season. After going through something similar last year and swallowing Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore, they have a real quarterback with Prescott. He's done much more than keep things warm, he's created a controversy. But at the same time, Elliot and the offensive line are the key to this offense. As Elliot continues to progress so will everything else.
14.) Oakland Raiders--Record: 2-1. Point Differential: -1. DVOA: 9.3% (11). Last Week 15.
13.) Baltimore Ravens--Record: 3-0. Point Differential: +13. DVOA: 16.2% (6). Last Week 13.
12.) New York Giants--Record: 2-1. Point Differential: +2. DVOA: -4.7% (18). Last Week 9.
11.) Philadelphia Eagles--Record: 3-0. Point Differential: +65. DVOA: 46.5% (1). Last Week 24.
10.) Arizona Cardinals--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: +16. DVOA: 3.9% (15). Last Week 4.
9.) Cincinnati Bengals--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: -19. DVOA: 4.6% (13). Last Week 6. (Not including TNF)
8.) Carolina Panthers--Record: 1-2. Point Differential: +6. DVOA: 4.2% (14). Last Week 5.
After going 15-1 the Carolina Panthers have lost three of their last four games. The vaccine has arrived on how to beat this team. Last week Carolina went up 10-0 and then the Vikings scored 22 straight points. Minnesota extinguished the Panthers just like how the Broncos did. Get a great outside pass rush and force Newton into mistakes.
Carolina's tackles, Michael Oher and Mike Remmers, are lifted up by this offense. They use multiple heavy sets that use tight ends and backs to chip and slow down the pass rush. They are competent without help, but with help they are able to lock down the outside. The problem is that whenever Carolina plays from behind they send out four to five receivers out for passes. This leads to Oher and Remmers, all alone, naked and afraid.
This is fine against most teams, but not against the ones that employ Von Miller, Demarcus Ware, Brian Robison, Danielle Hunter, and Everson Griffen. Against Denver he was sacked 6 times in the Superbowl and three times in week one. Last week he was sacked eight times. In 2016 the Panthers' offense has an adjusted sack rate of 10%, 32nd in the NFL. And in these three losses he's turned the ball over six times--three fumbles and three interceptions.
This problem is compounded by their scheme. Carolina uses a deep shotgun spread passing game that takes advantage of Newton's catapult. It takes time for plays to develop. This opens the windows for the rush to crawl in. The Panthers use fakes, play action, screens, and camouflage, to manipulate defenses and take the pass rush out of the rhythm. All of this works when the clock isn't an issue and they run the ball. But when they are forced to throw every time they can't use these same strategies with success. And what they don't do is use quick passes and route combinations to limit the rush.
This sack on 2nd and 7 is an encapsulation of this. Newton is in the shotgun and Carolina is sending everyone down field. Nobody is able to beat man coverage against Minnesota's excellent secondary. So Newton holds and holds and holds onto the ball. Brian Robison rips outside, out of the play, but loops back around to sack Newton from behind. On the following play Newton throws an interception.
None of this new though. This isn't a three game sample. Since the Panthers have become a perennial playoff team they have lost games like this. In losses since 2013, Cam Newton has been sacked 62 times in 15 games. This is a sack rate of 5.3%. In wins he's been sacked 67 times in 35 games, a sack rate of 1.2%. That's a dramtic difference.
Where the sacks are coming from are different too. In losses he's been sacked by Junior Galette, Everson Griffen, and Mario Williams five times, three and a half times by Connor Barwin and three times by Cameron Jordan. These are all edge rushers who have gotten after him. In wins he's been sacked three times by Lavonte David and Danny Lansanah. Both are inside linebackers. Seven players have sacked him twice. Four of these players are edge rushers, two linebackers, and one defensive tackle. In losses exterior rushes have traumatized Newton.
This pass rush, like last weekend, leads to turnovers. In wins Newton has 70 passing touchdowns to 22 interceptions. In losses he has 15 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. A difference is expected, but not something as enormous as this.
Even though there's a formula out to beat Carolina only three teams in their conference can pull it off: Minnesota, Seattle, and Arizona. They are the only teams who can get an exterior pass rush to force Newton into mistakes and have the secondary to stick on man coverage, jump passes, and create turnovers. Not a team in their division can do this. And although the Panthers have started 1-2, they are still the favorite to win the NFC South. However, if they lose this week, they will be three games back of Atlanta if you include head to head and divisional record, and they, and not the Broncos may become the regression team of 2016.
7.) Denver Broncos--Record: 3-0. Point Differential: +27. DVOA: 15.1% (7) Last Week 10.
6.) Minnesota Vikings--Record: 3-0. Point Differential: +24. DVOA: -22.4% (4). Last Week 14.
5.) Kansas City Chiefs--Record: 2-1. Point Differential: +20. DVOA: 32.3% (2). Last Week 8.
4.) Green Bay Packers--Record: 2-1. Point Differential: +8. DVOA: 18.6% (5). Last Week 7.
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers--Record: 2-1. Point Differential: -1. DVOA: -9.8% (22). Last Week 1.
2.) Seattle Seahawks--Record: 2-1. Point Differential: +15. DVOA: 30.6% (3). Last Week 2.
1.) New England Patriots--Record: 3-0. Point Differential: +36. DVOA: 8.5 (12)%. Last Week 3
Titans vs Texans coverage