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The Most Meaningful NFL Stats Through Two Weeks of Action

With just a couple of Sundays in the books, every football factoid could be important … or just a small-sample-size mirage. Here are the ones that seem most likely to matter down the stretch.

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

The time between weeks 2 and 3 is a beautiful part of the NFL season. We’ve seen enough football to start picking up on trends and performances that could define the year, but not enough to rule out some of those observations as small-sample-size impostors. Last year at this time, we were pretty sure that Patrick Mahomes was real and that Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t—but we didn’t know for sure. This year is no different, and we’re already seeing some wild stats with potentially predictive qualities. So through two weeks, here are the numbers that seem the most meaningful:

The Air Raid Is in Full Force in Arizona

22.23 seconds: The time the Cardinals take between plays, the second-lowest in the league, according to Football Outsiders. This blazing-fast pace is due in part to the fact that the Cardinals go no-huddle on 54 percent of their plays, per Establish the Run’s Pat Thorman. That’s by far the highest in the league, blowing past the second-place Falcons at just 18 percent.

64 percent: The proportion of plays the Cardinals have run out of 10 personnel (four wide receivers, one running back, and no tight end), according to Sharp Football Stats. The NFL average this year is 4 percent. Last year, it was 2 percent. The Cardinals are running an offense unlike any other in the league.

Zero: The number of eight-man boxes David Johnson has faced in 2019, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Offenses can largely dictate how many defenders they run into based on their personnel groupings and formations, and the Cardinals’ Air Raid approach is giving Johnson room to feast. Here’s what it tends to look like:

40: The number of air yards Johnson has recorded in 2019. He had just 63 in all of 2018 after recording 558 in his stellar 2016 season. He’s also run 15 snaps from the slot this season, according to Pro Football Focus, after having 16 such snaps in all of last year. Kliff Kingsbury is making the most of his dynamic running back, like on this play against the Lions, where he sent Johnson down the field for a touchdown:

Four: The number of 40-plus-yard receptions Larry Fitzgerald has had this season. Fitz had zero such receptions from 2016 to 2018. Thank goodness he didn’t retire before Kliff came to town.

The Seahawks Are Opening Up Their Offense … Maybe

2.26 seconds: The average time Russell Wilson has taken to throw this season, according to Next Gen NFL Stats. That’s the quickest time in the NFL, which is a wild turnaround for a quarterback who took 3.02 seconds to get the ball out in 2018, the third-slowest time among qualified passers. In 2017, he was second slowest.

This stat is mostly the result of Week 2, when the Seahawks leaned on a quick-hitting passing attack to beat the Steelers. Wilson got the ball out in an average of 1.89 seconds in that game. But if this strategy turns out to be a long-term shift for the Seahawks, it could be a shot of adrenaline for that offense. When Wilson gets the ball out quickly, he destroys teams:

56 percent: The proportion of second-and-long plays in which the Seahawks have called a run. That’s tied (with the Vikings and Jets) for the highest mark in the league. I guess some tendencies still haven’t changed.

That approach on long second downs is partially why the Seahawks have faced the second-longest third downs in the league through two weeks. And in the first 15 plays of each game this year, the Seahawks offense has been less efficient than the Dolphins:

The Cowboys’ Modern Offense Is Everything That Was Promised

43.1 percent: The proportion of Dak Prescott’s dropbacks that have utilized play-action, according to PFF. That’s the second-highest mark for any starting QB, behind only Lamar Jackson (43.9 percent). It’s also a big jump from last season, when Prescott ran play-action on 24.9 percent of his dropbacks—which was roughly middle of the pack.

Second: Where the Cowboys rank in pre-snap motion, per PFF’s Mike Renner. New play-caller Kellen Moore promised a modern offense, and he’s delivering.

84.6 percent: The percentage of plays where Prescott has avoided pressure, according to PFF. That’s the best mark in the league, and from those plays, Prescott has accrued 599 passing yards and seven touchdowns with zero interceptions. Last season, he was kept clean on 63 percent of his dropbacks, which was the sixth-lowest rate out of the 30 NFL passers who dropped back at least 356 times.

All of this—the play-action passes, pre-snap motion, and excellent protection—has worked together to give the Cowboys one of the most efficient offenses in the league. Sure, they’ve played subpar competition in the Giants and Redskins so far (and they get the 0-2 Dolphins this Sunday), but these concepts are simply fundamentally sound. On this play against the Redskins in Week 2, the Cowboys combined all three of those elements, sucking in Washington’s linebackers to isolate Devin Smith on a corner while giving Prescott plenty of time to launch a deep throw. The result was this touchdown:

Plus 13.2 percentage points: The difference between Prescott’s actual completion rate (82.3 percent) and his expected completion rate (69.1 percent), according to Next Gen Stats. This stat factors in “receiver separation from the nearest defender, where the receiver is on the field, the separation the passer had at time of throw from the nearest pass rusher, and more,” meaning Dak’s completion percentage is through the roof not only because he’s been getting easy throws. That wildly high differential could mean that Prescott will regress to the mean soon, but it’s also a good indication that the fourth-year passer has been sharp this season.

93.1: Prescott’s QBR through two games, according to ESPN. That’s the highest in the league. Prescott also owns the top QB PFF grade (92.4). Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes have been the two most exciting quarterbacks so far in 2019, but Prescott has been the best. Moore’s offense is getting the absolute most of the young quarterback. Oh, and don’t forget that Prescott is in a contract year.

The Yellow Flags Are Flying

2.77: The average number of offensive holding penalties per game last season. The NFL has never averaged more than three holding penalties per game this century. That figure is also the highest average since 2015 (also 2.77).

4.31: The average number of offensive holding penalties per game this season. The NFL emphasized keeping a closer eye on offensive holding to the league’s referees this offseason, and now we’ve entered completely uncharted territory with regard to how often holds are being called.

7.9: The average number of penalties of any kind per team, per game this season. That would shatter the all-time record of 7.6 penalties per game set in 1947. Last year’s average was 6.7, meaning each NFL game is seeing more than two more flags on average per game this season.

We here at The Ringer tried to warn the NFL that this would happen. In emphasizing offensive holding penalties, the league opened a can of worms—and it’s having a massive impact already.

The Ravens Aren’t As Run-Heavy As We Thought

63.5 percent: The proportion of plays in which the Ravens have passed in neutral situations. That’s 7.6 percentage points more than expected (based on the downs and distances they’ve faced), which is the 11th-highest differential this season. The Ravens were expected to employ a historically run-heavy offense this season, but so far they’re actually a bit more pass-heavy than the average team. That’s been a welcome surprise for Baltimore, as pass plays are generally more efficient than running plays—especially when Lamar Jackson is throwing the ball as well as any quarterback in the league.

Cracks in the Rams Offensive Line Are Starting to Show

36: The number of pressures allowed by the Rams offensive line, as charted by PFF. That’s the highest in the league, seven more than Carolina and Cincinnati, who are tied for second most. This offseason, the Rams declined to re-sign center John Sullivan and let Rodger Saffold go to the Titans in free agency. Right guard Austin Blythe suffered an ankle injury on Sunday against the Saints and is listed as day to day. The Rams currently rank 30th in pass blocking by PFF.

6.0 percent: Jared Goff’s deep-ball percentage, according to PFF. That’s the second-lowest in the league behind only … Joe Flacco. The reasoning for this low number isn’t hard to figure out: Worse protection in the pocket means less time to set up deep opportunities. Goff has been under pressure on 43.8 percent of his dropbacks, the fourth-highest mark in the league. That’s well up from 32.0 percent last year, which was 26th among qualifying passers.

Goff’s completion percentage (62.7 percent) is also 6.7 percentage points lower than expected (69.4), according to Next Gen Stats. He’s 27th in ESPN’s QBR. This all fits with a long-standing trend of Goff being far better—even compared to other QBs—when he’s kept clean versus when he’s under pressure. If the Rams can’t protect him, it could mean trouble.

5.60: The Rams’ adjusted line yards, according to Football Outsiders. That’s the second-highest mark in the league behind the Giants (6.11). So at least L.A. can rest assured that the team’s run-blocking is still elite.

New Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell Is Making His Mark in Detroit

22.7 percent: The proportion of passes in which Matthew Stafford has thrown the ball at least 20 yards downfield, according to PFF. That’s tops in the league for starting quarterbacks, and marks a massive uptick from last season, in which the big-armed QB threw it deep on just 9.9 percent of passes—30th out of 35 qualified passers.

Stafford’s play-action percentage is also up (from 18.9 percent to 25.3 percent), and he currently has the highest QBR (71.5), touchdown percentage (6.7), yards per game (315.0), and adjusted net yards per attempt (7.90) of his career. Not a bad start!

Where Is the Broncos’ Pass Rush?

17 percent: The percentage of plays in which the Broncos’ pass rush beats a blocker within 2.5 seconds. That’s the lowest rate in the league. Somehow a Vic Fangio–installed defense with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb has been held to zero sacks and a league-low two quarterback hits.

Overall, the Broncos are just 24th in defensive DVOA. That number has not been adjusted for opponent yet, which somehow makes it even less impressive considering the Broncos have played the Raiders (25th in offensive DVOA in 2018) and Bears (20th).

The Dolphins Are in the Running to Be the Worst Team in NFL History

Negative-114.7 percent: The Dolphins’ DVOA through two games, the worst of any team since at least 1986. Miami ranks last in both offensive and defensive DVOA on the season, and the next-worst team in total DVOA is the Bengals at negative-68.7 percent.

Negative-736: What the Dolphins’ point differential will be if they keep this pace over a full 16-game season. The worst point differential in NFL history is negative-287, recorded by the 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs in just 14 games. And as Reddit user Maad-Dog points out, the Dolphins are on pace to break the single-season record for negative point differential by a baseball team. That number is negative-723, set by the Cleveland Spiders in 1899. Eighteen-ninety-nine!

Cleveland went 20-134 that season after the owner of the Spiders traded all of the team’s good players to the St. Louis Browns, which he also owned. The Spiders folded that offseason.

3.8 percent: The chance the Dolphins go winless, according to Football Outsiders. OK, we could go on here, but you get it: Miami is really, really bad. Instead of continuing, I’ll just leave you with this:

Patrick Mahomes Is Still on Fire

6,568: The number of passing yards Mahomes is on pace to reach in 2019. His 821 yards is the fifth most for a quarterback through his first two games of a season, including AFL passers. The all-time single-season yards record is 5,477, set by Peyton Manning in 2013, so Mahomes could set a new mark even if he cools off.

56: The number of touchdowns Mahomes is on pace to pass for in 2019. This would also be a record, though don’t hold your breath: He threw more TDs in his first two games last year.

We could go on with this one, too, but you get it: Mahomes is really, really good.