Week 6 NFL preview
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Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears
This game will most likely come down to which quarterback is better, because neither team will do much on the ground. The Seahawks rank second in the league behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers in Football Outsiders' run defense DVOA metrics, and the Bears rank fourth. On offense, Chicago is 23rd in Adjusted Line Yards (a stat that breaks down responsibility for the success or failure of running plays based on yardage, opponent, and situation), and Seattle is 29th. One wild card in this equation is the ability of Bears running back Matt Forte to make gains in the screen game -- he currently ranks first overall in receiving DVOA among running backs. Last time the Seahawks played before their bye week, they gave up serious gains in the screen game to St. Louis Rams running backs Steven Jackson and Kenneth Darby. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler ranks first in the league in average yards after catch with 7.21 per pass.
Miami Dolphins at Green Bay Packers
Green Bay's passing offense is tied for second with several other NFL teams with nine touchdowns through the air (the Chargers and Colts lead the league with 11), but Aaron Rodgers should hold off on expecting much to happen for him in the red zone. Through Week 5, Miami's pass defense ranks first in red zone DVOA (-144.8% -- keep in mind that defensive DVOA is better when it's negative, since the idea is to take away points and the opportunity to score them), while Green Bay ranks seventh in red zone passing offense. That particular disadvantage weighs more heavily for the Dolphins, though. The Packers are the NFL's third-best red zone defense against the pass, and the Dolphins rank 12th.
San Diego Chargers at St. Louis Rams
The 2010 Chargers may very well have the worst special teams units in NFL history. That's not hyperbole -- in our special teams metrics, which estimate how many value points above or below average teams amass in all five special teams categories (field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kick returns, punts, punt returns), the Chargers currently have the worst single-season DVOA at -16.1%. The previous "winner", the 2000 Buffalo Bills (-12.9%), found its Achilles' heel to be kick return coverage, while the 2010 Chargers have managed to bomb out spectacularly in punt and kick coverage. The Rams rank 29th in special teams value this year, but they're actually positive on the punt coverage and punt return side of things. For San Diego, this is how a team ranked third in Offensive DVOA and third in Defensive DVOA, and with a +34 point differential, can be 2-3 after five games.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
Each of these teams carries an interesting surprise into this contest. The Ravens, famed for their defense above all, have been surprisingly vulnerable to the run, currently ranking 16th in Defensive Adjusted Line Yards and giving up 4.13 RB yards per carry. And the Patriots, who were having trouble fitting Randy Moss into their 2010 offense even before they traded him to the Minnesota Vikings, are actually slightly more efficient with their aerial attack than they were last season. In 2010, Tom Brady leads the league in passing DVOA, where he ranked second in 2009. Who's been the difference-maker so far? It's hard to ignore rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, who currently ranks sixth in DYAR (FO's cumulative efficiency stat) and fifth in DVOA at his position despite the fact that he hasn't even scored a touchdown. The Ravens are most vulnerable against tight ends per DVOA, so expect Brady to know that and use Hernandez and fellow rookie Rob Gronkowski with that in mind.
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When looking closer at the issues with the Saints' offense, it's pretty clear that the absence of Reggie Bush has seriously affected head coach Sean Payton's ability to employ effective formation diversity. Bush was that rare offensive "X-factor" that allowed Payton to bridge the gap between backfield and the receiver sets. Bush could be set in motion on fake sweeps, would affect pre-snap reads by splitting out wide, and added to the running game in different ways. That may be the main issue plaguing New Orleans right now -- last year's under-the-radar Saints rushing attack has been muted. The Saints currently rank 25th in power (productive short-yardage runs), 21st in percentage of runs of zero or negative yardage, and only the Bucs, Lions, and Broncos have a lower RB yards average.
Detroit Lions at New York Giants
We like what we saw last week when the Lions bucked their former label of the "best 0-4 team in the NFL" and beat the Rams, but the Giants provide a far tougher task. Most 2010 impressions of New York's defense were based on the sackfest they gave Jay Cutler, but the G-Men have a solid defense in all aspects. They have the league's best Pass Defense DVOA, they're the best team in traditional total defense and pass defense metrics, and they have tied for the league low in plays of 20 yards of more allowed with seven (the Vikings have that same number). There won't be any free plays with Calvin Johnson in the end zone as there were against St. Louis last week. If the Lions want to get things going through the air, they're going to have to earn it.
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
Much more talk will be given to the Ravens-Pats and Cowboys-Vikings games, but this may be the most interesting matchup of the week, especially if Michael Vick is healthy enough to face his former team. These teams are very well-matched on general offense and defense DVOA fronts, so we need to get forensic to look for specific advantages. Two pop out: First, the Eagles have the best red zone offense in the NFL, and the Falcons are 23rd in red zone defensive DVOA. It's important to note that Philly's defense is dead last in red zone defensive DVOA as well, so Atlanta might be able to take advantage there as well. Second, the Eagles rank 30th in offensive Adjusted Sack Rate (sacks plus intentional grounding penalties per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent), and the Falcons rank 12th on the defensive side. This should be especially troubling for the Eagles given the injury issues on their line, and the fact that Atlanta defensive end John Abraham abused Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas last week. If Kevin Kolb is the starter, Andy Reid may want to up Kolb's insurance premiums.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
In the first game of their 2007 season, the Browns sent quarterback Charlie Frye out to face a ravenous Steelers defense in Mike Tomlin's first game as Pittsburgh's head coach. Frye completed four of 10 passes and took five sacks before he was pulled for what became, for a brief moment, the Pro Bowl version of Derek Anderson. With Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme hurt, it may be rookie Colt McCoy's turn in the bucket, and circumstances could lead to a Frye-style walloping. McCoy was a heady quarterback at Texas, but he's never faced a pass rush like Pittsburgh's -- not even when Ndamukong Suh beat him to smithereens in the Big 12 Championship game. Pittsburgh's quarterback situation is far more envious -- Ben Roethlisberger comes back to the NFL against a Browns defense that has been absolutely destroyed by the passing game and is 31st against No. 1 receivers.
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
A month ago, the question of which team in this game had the most momentum would be easily answered; the Texans were running all over the Colts, and the Chiefs were still figuring a few things out. But now that Houston has lost two of their last three games and almost got knocked over by the Oakland Raiders as well, it's time to take a closer look at what Kansas City's doing. They currently rank second in our overall efficiency metrics, and that young defense should be a major concern to quarterback Matt Schaub. Watch what cornerback Brandon Flowers did in KC's close loss to the Colts last Sunday, and store his name away in your memory banks -- he's the next great one at his position. You want an upset special? This could be it.
Oakland Raiders at San Francisco 49ers
This may be the oddest stat in this entire article: The Raiders have the worst Defensive DVOA in the NFL against No. 1 receivers. It's a weird thing for two reasons -- Nnamdi Asomugha is in charge of covering those receivers for the team, and the longtime lockdown cornerback is moving from left to right more this year to offset teams trying to get favorable matchups by moving their top guys away from him. They're also the worst defense against tight ends, so it's safe to say that if the 49ers can't take advantage of those two factors with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis on their roster, the entire coaching staff should be fired, and Alex Smith sent to the Edmonton Eskimos.
New York Jets at Denver Broncos
Have the Broncos finally met the Kryptonite for their powerful passing game in that dominant Jets defense? After watching Antonio Cromartie shut Randy Moss down last Monday night, it would appear to be so. But for Denver, the real concern should be New York's run game. The Jets have the NFL's best run-blocking line per Adjusted Line Yards, and the Denver front seven ranks 25th in Defensive ALY. That alone could decide this game.
Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings
Here are two teams with offensive issued that transcend their numbers -- at least in one instance. Right now, the Cowboys rank seventh in Offensive DVOA, and their numbers haven't been affected by their troublesome offense line or the inability of the coaching staff to call run plays more consistently. On the other hand, the Vikings rank 28th in Offensive DVOA, and it's very easy to point the finger. They're 10th when running the ball ... and 29th in the passing game. This, folks, is not what the team signed up for. And before we discuss the absence of Sidney Rice, remember that when Favre was at his best in Green Bay, he never had a receiver with Rice's talent -- and certainly never one with the talent of Randy Moss. The more you drill down on this one, the more obvious the problem becomes.
Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins
It's been business as usual for the Colts on offense: second on Offensive DVOA, fourth in the passing game, 13th when they run the ball. But if this Indy team hopes to get back to the Super Bowl, they may have follow the example of the 2006 team that won it all despite fielding the worst run defense of the modern era. Currently, only the Buffalo Bills have a worse run defense DVOA than the Colts, and that's going to be a problem if Ryan Torain can get going. Clear strategy for the Redskins will be to keep Peyton Manning off the field and make enough dynamic plays to avoid having that strategy still bite them in the end.
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars
In a league full of under-reported stories, the Titans' defense may be the most impressive of all. They currently rank fourth in DVOA, are tremendous against the pass, and are tearing up opposing offensive lines with top rankings in Adjusted Line Yards and Adjusted Sack Rate. Tough sledding for a Jags team with a struggling starter in David Garrard, and it won't help tight end Marcedes Lewis that the Titans have the second-best defense against those who play his position.