32 PFF stats to know for NFL Week 1
With Week 1 of the 2016 NFL season upon us, Director of Analytics Nathan Jahnke digs through the Pro Football Focus database to bring you 32 unique pieces off PFF data you need to know for the upcoming matchups.
Carolina Panthers @ Denver Broncos
1. Panthers DT Kawann Short was held to just one pressure in Super Bowl 50.
Over the course of the season, Short was averaging 4.3 pressures per game, which is very good for a defensive tackle. Come Super Bowl Sunday, however, he didn’t have his usual impact in the passing game. This was partially because the Broncos’ pair of guards at the time—Evan Mathis and Louis Vasquez—didn’t allow a pressure, but neither player is back with Denver for the rematch. Against less-experienced players, Short could shine and be a much bigger factor than he was in February.
2. Both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were among the top 20 WRs in yards per route run last season, with 2.16 and 2.04, respectively.
While the quarterback situation in Denver has changed a lot in the past several months, one of the best wide receiver pairings in the league has not. While Josh Norman got the best of Demaryius Thomas in the Super Bowl, the Panthers will field a much different secondary on Thursday. The best chance Denver has in winning this game is if their star receivers get the best of Carolina’s rookie cornerbacks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons
3. This preseason, rookie Vernon Hargreaves III was thrown at eight times, allowed one catch for 2 yards, caught two interceptions, and recorded one pass defense.
While we’ve only seen him in preseason action thus far, you can’t get off to a much better NFL start than Hargreaves has to date. In his first regular-season game, however, he will be facing his toughest test of the season in Julio Jones. In Atlanta’s two games against Tampa Bay last year, Jones had 20 catches for 255 yards and a touchdown. The Buccaneers changed up their cornerbacks this offseason with Hargreaves (via the draft) and Brent Grimes (from Miami). On Sunday, we’ll see if the investments outside pay off.
4. Falcons edge rusher Vic Beasley recorded a pass-rushing productivity of 11.0 when rushing from the left side last season, compared to 6.9 when rushing from the right.
With veteran Dwight Freeney—who has typically rushed from the right side—now in Atlanta, Beasley can play at a position where he’s best at when rushing the passer. Against Tampa Bay, the Falcons will face a pair of offensive tackles in Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson who each recorded below-average pass-blocking efficiency marks last season. Atlanta didn’t have a very successful pass-rush last year, but with changes in the offseason, this game could be the start of a stronger Falcons’ pass-rush.
Minnesota Vikings @ Tennessee Titans
5. The Vikings had 14 players with 250 or more snaps on defense in 2015—all 14 are back in 2016.
This includes the Vikings’ entire starting defense, their nickel cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, and the top backup defensive end and defensive tackles in the D-line rotation. This is good news, as the Titans’ offense is a team with several changes. They have two new running backs, three of their top four wide receivers are new to the roster, as well as two new offensive linemen. The experience the Vikings’ defense has playing together should give them a big edge over a Tennessee offense that has fewer elite players and less experience together.
6. Titans ILB Wesley Woodyard recorded the best run-stop percentage for inside/middle linebackers last season.
While Woodyard was a rotational linebacker, he was consistently making plays in the run game while also not missing many tackles. With Zach Brown in Buffalo, Woodyard should see more playing time, which should help Tennessee as they face Adrian Peterson. After Teddy Bridgewater’s injury, Minnesota will be focused on the run more than usual. This makes it more important for Tennessee to be able to stop it, and Woodyard can play a big role in that.
Cleveland Browns @ Philadelphia Eagles
7. Browns rookie OLB Joe Schobert recorded seven run stops this preseason, tied for the most among 3-4 OLBs.
The Browns have seen somewhat of a youth movement this offseason, which includes players like fourth-round rookie Joe Schobert earning the starting job. In Week 1, the Browns are facing off against the Eagles with Carson Wentz. While Cleveland has a lot of new parts on defense, if the team is able to stop the run with players like Schobert, that will force Philadelphia to win with Wentz, who only saw an unimpressive 38 snaps in the preseason.
8. The Eagles earned the highest team pass-rush grade of the preseason.
While this was in part due to strong play from backups, it was also due to players like Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Vinny Curry, who should all typically be on the field in pass-rushing situations. The Eagles’ return to a 4-3 defense is supposed to help the pass-rush, and they might be able to get the best of the Browns on Sunday in this regard. While Cleveland LT Joe Thomas is still an excellent player, the Browns lost their starting center and right tackle in free agency, and the guards had down years in 2015. With a rookie quarterback, the Eagles need their defense to dominate the game, and this pass-rush just might be able to.
Cincinnati Bengals @ New York Jets
9. When A.J. Green was targeted last year, the Bengals recorded an NFL passer rating of 121.2, the best mark for all WRs with at least 100 targets.
Since the day A.J. Green was drafted, he has been a critical part of the Bengals’ offense. Now more than ever, though, his play will be key, with Marvin Jones in Detroit and Tyler Eifert unlikely to be ready to play against the Jets. Green will likely see a lot of coverage from Jets CB Darrelle Revis, a player he last faced in Week 5 of the 2014 season, when Revis was still a Patriot. Against Revis in that meeting, Green caught three of five passes thrown his way for 64 yards. Green needs to have a big day in order for the Cincinnati offense to get rolling.
10. Jets C Nick Mangold has not allowed a sack in his last 916 pass blocks, the most for any linemen.
Mangold has been the most successful center of the PFF era, and even at 32, he is one of the better offensive linemen on the Jets’ roster. While 2015 was the worst pass-blocking season of Mangold’s career, he never allowed a sack, and hasn’t since Week 5 of the 2014 season. That will be tested this week against the Bengals with DT Geno Atkins. Atkins notched 14 sacks last year, the second-most for an interior pass-rusher, and while most of his sacks came against guards, four of them were against centers. This week more than others, it will be more difficult for Mangold to keep the streak alive, but if he can help contain Atkins, that will be a major advantage for the rest of the Jets’ offense.
Oakland Raiders @ New Orleans Saints
11. Eight times last year, a team had the ball on the 1-yard line against the Raiders and ran; only once did they score a touchdown.
Typically a touchdown is scored on 53.4 percent of these plays, so the fact that Oakland stopped opponents so frequently is very impressive. In Week 1, the Raiders face the New Orleans Saints, who scored eight rushing touchdowns on 13 such attempts last year, tied for the third-most rushing touchdowns. Raiders second-round rookie Jihad Ward graded well against the run in the preseason, and free-agent addition Bruce Irvin should also help. If the Oakland defense can force field goals rather than touchdowns in the Saints’ red-zone appearances, that should go a long way in working towards a victory.
12. Saints LT Terron Armstead recorded the second-best pass-blocking efficiency among OTs last season.
Armstead has emerged as one of the top young left tackles in the NFL after doing a great job protecting Drew Brees. He allowed just three sacks, two hits, and 15 hurries on 561 pass blocks last season. One player he could be seeing a decent amount of on Sunday, however, is Khalil Mack. Typically, Mack has played the majority of his snaps on the defense’s left side, but in the preseason, it’s been a pretty even split of left and right. Even if Mack goes back to staying on the left side, Raiders newcomer Bruce Irvin will likely be facing Armstead, instead. This will be a classic battle of strength versus strength that will likely be a major factor in the game’s outcome.
San Diego Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs
13. Chargers WR Keenan Allen averaged 90.6 receiving yards per game before injury last season.
In 2013, Allen had an excellent rookie year, but over time, has been shadowed by other great young wide receivers in the league. Missing half of 2015 didn’t help, but now he is back and ready to re-enter the conversation of the best wideouts in the game today. This week will be an opportunity for Allen to make headlines, as the Chiefs lost multiple players in their secondary this offseason, including CB Sean Smith. Allen should shine against this inexperienced Kansas City group.
14. Last year, the Chiefs were the only team with more interceptions than touchdowns allowed when playing cover-1.
The league as a whole allowed 229 touchdowns compared to just 95 interceptions when playing cover-1 last season. No team used cover-1 as their defensive scheme on more pass attempts than Kansas City, however, who did so on 320 passing plays, allowing just six touchdowns compared to nine interceptions. That is especially relevant this week when the Chiefs face San Diego and Philip Rivers. Last year, Rivers produced 12 touchdowns when facing cover-1, tied for the most among NFL QBs. In two games last season against the Chiefs, however, he failed to score a touchdown against cover-1, despite 30 attempts, and Kansas City won both meetings. If Rivers can have more of his usual success against cover-1 without having to face Sean Smith, San Diego will have a better chance to win.
Buffalo Bills @ Baltimore Ravens
15. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor recorded 12 touchdowns on deep passes (20+ yards in air) last season, tied for second-most among NFL QBs.
Those 12 touchdowns are all passes where Taylor threw the ball at least 20 yards or more in the air and it resulted in a score. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Taylor throw another deep touchdown on Sunday, as he is going up against his former team, the Ravens. Last year, Baltimore allowed 13 deep touchdowns, the most for any NFL team. The secondary should improve this year with Eric Weddle at safety, but shouldn’t be so much improved that it will prevent Buffalo from having some highlight passing plays.
16. The Ravens allowed a runner to rush for 10+ yards on just 8.1 percent of rushing attempts last year, the second-best rate in the league.
While these are no longer the days of Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata, the Ravens were still a very good team against the run in 2015, thanks to the likes of Brandon Williams and C.J. Mosley. The return of Terrell Suggs will also help in preventing teams from breaking long runs against Baltimore. They will get tested more this week than usual, thanks to Bills RB LeSean McCoy. McCoy was able to break runs for 10 or more yards on 13.6 percent of his carries last season, the best rate for players with at least 175 carries.
Chicago Bears @ Houston Texans
17. The Bears added free-agent ILBs Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan this offseason; the pair each recorded top-five run-stop percentages last season at their position.
The new pair of Bears linebackers will be a huge help against the run, and they’ll need it against Houston, who also made a big splash in free agency with RB Lamar Miller. Chicago has worked hard these last two offseasons to transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, and at this point, the transition is complete, thanks to players like these two LBs.
18. Texans OLBs recorded 15 sacks when rushing from the right side last season, second-most only to the Broncos.
While J.J. Watt gets most of the attention in Houston, the Texans have other strong pass rushers on the roster, too. Whitney Mercilus had nine of those 15 sacks, the most for a single 3-4 outside linebacker rushing from the right side. The Texans will be going up against Chicago in their season opener, a team that looks good in terms of interior O-line, but has more questionable play from their tackles. Both Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie were among the top 20 tackles in pressures allowed last season, with over 40 each. Tackles are the weak point of the Chicago offense, and Houston is in position to attack there.
Green Bay Packers @ Jacksonville Jaguars
19. New Packers C J.C. Tretter recorded the best pass-blocking efficiency among NFL centers in 2015.
Keep in mind that this came on just 186 pass blocks in games where Tretter played at center. During that time, however, he allowed no sacks or hits, and just two hurries. New starting LG Lane Taylor had a pass-blocking efficiency of 93.4, which was 15th-worst for guards with at least 50 pass blocks. They will be facing a big test in Malik Jackson, who was a top-10 interior rusher last season.
20. Jaguars RB T.J. Yeldon forced 34 missed tackles on carries last season, ninth-most for running backs; Chris Ivory forced 47, the fourth-most.
Yeldon and Ivory should form one of the best one-two punches in the league, and face a Packers team against whom they should be able to attack the middle of the field. Green Bay’s Letroy Guion is moving back to nose tackle, while the third and fourth players on the Packers’ D-line depth chart are rookies. At inside linebacker, Green Bay is likely starting 2015 fourth-round pick Jake Ryan, as well as 2016 fourth-round pick Blake Martinez. The Packers’ inexperience in the middle against two good Jaguars backs could help Jacksonville control the tempo in the game.
Miami Dolphins @ Seattle Seahawks
21. The Dolphins recorded 82 tackles for a loss against the run last year, tied for the most among NFL defenses.
The addition of Ndamukong Suh had huge effects against the run game last year, which led to more big plays out of the run defense. In general, it will be more difficult for Miami to have the same impact without Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby, but it will be especially difficult this week against the Seahawks. Thomas Rawls is expected to start, and he was only tackled for a loss on 6.3 percent of his carries last year, third-best for backs with at least 75 carries. He will share time with Christine Michael, who was tackled for a loss on just 8 percent of his carries, the seventh-best mark. If the Dolphins continue to make big plays despite the revamped defensive line and against two Seattle solid runners, it could be a sign of great things to come.
22. The Seahawks recorded a passer rating of 142.8 when targeting Doug Baldwin, 130.4 when targeting Tyler Lockett, and 126.1 when targeting Jermaine Kearse last season.
These ranked first, second, and fourth, respectively, among NFL receivers, meaning Seattle has been very effective when throwing to any of their top three targets. They will be going up against former Seahawks CB Byron Maxwell and new Dolphins starter Tony Lippett. The trio of receivers should be able to take advantage of the matchup and put up big numbers in the season opener.
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys
23. Against the Cowboys last season, new Giants DE Olivier Vernon recorded one sack, three hits, two hurries, and two run stops.
The Cowboys have arguably the best offensive line in football, so to counteract this, the Giants invested heavily in their defensive line. One of their additions was Vernon from the Dolphins, who in Week 11 last year, recorded a monster game against Dallas. It was LT Tyron Smith’s worst game of the season, and the worst pass-blocking game of his career. If Vernon can have a repeat outing, it would take away from the Cowboys’ biggest strength.
24. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott recorded the best adjusted completion percentage of the preseason, at 89.4.
During the preseason, Prescott completed 39 of 50 passes; three of his incompletions were dropped passes, along with one batted pass, one spike, and one time where he was hit while throwing. While Tony Romo is out, the Cowboys will need Prescott to continue his accurate passing in order for Dallas to be contenders. They will especially need it against a Giants’ team who has an improved pass-rush and secondary.
Detroit Lions @ Indianapolis Colts
25. The Lions brought pressure on 54.2 percent of their stunts in 2015, the best rate in the league
Whenever the Lions have one of their defensive linemen loop behind one or more of their own D-lineman (so the first linemen can attack a new gap), they found more success than any other team. Against the Colts, they should be able to find even more success, as Indianapolis allowed pressure on 50.6 percent of the stunts they faced last season. The Colts will be without one of their best offensive linemen, Jack Mewhort, in this game, so they may be even more susceptible to the strategy. Against Andrew Luck in his first game back, the Lions need to get as much pressure as they can.
26. Colts C Ryan Kelly and RG Denzelle Good earned the best run-blocking grades on the team this preseason.
This is a promising sign for the Colts, as they were an average run-blocking team last year, and their three worst linemen in run-blocking in 2015 are not on the current 53-man roster. They are facing a Detroit team that is average in run defense, so being able to improve on last year despite having young linemen starting will be necessary to get a good rushing attack going. With this being Andrew Luck’s first game back after missing most of last year, that would be a big help for the team.
New England Patriots @ Arizona Cardinals
27. Patriots WR Julian Edelman averaged 2.07 yards per route run last season when lining up in the slot.
This was the second-best mark for wide receivers who spent half of their routes run in the slot. When Edelman lines up in the slot on Sunday night, most of the time he will be facing Tyrann Mathieu. In 2015, Mathieu had the highest grade for all slot cornerbacks, so typically this would be a huge matchup of strength versus strength. Mathieu missed the end of last season due to injury, though, and it’s his first game back, while Edelman will be without Tom Brady. If both players can play at their best despite the reason to doubt them, it will be one of the best matchups of the weekend.
28. CB Patrick Peterson allowed 0.55 yards per coverage snap last year, the best rate for NFL cornerbacks.
A cornerback hasn’t led the league in that category two years in a row since Nnamdi Asomugha from 2007 to 2009, but Patrick Peterson has a chance to after this year. He should be off to a good start in Week 1, because the Patriots are more likely to attack the middle of the field with their run game and throw to Gronkowski, rather than throwing to whichever outside receiver Peterson is covering. It wouldn’t be surprising if Peterson allows single-digit yards Sunday night.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Washington Redskins
29. In 2015, James Harrison recorded the highest pass-rushing productivity mark among 3-4 OLBs with at least 100 rushes on the right side.
Despite James Harrison being the oldest defensive player in the league, he is still Pittsburgh’s best defensive player, and one of the best pass-rushers who constantly goes up against left tackles. The Steelers will need him more than usual this week, as he will face Washington’s best offensive lineman, Trent Williams. Williams allowed just 19 pressures last year, despite playing over 500 pass-blocking snaps. If Harrison and the Steelers can’t get pressure on Kirk Cousins, the Pittsburgh secondary will be at a disadvantage.
30. Redskins TE Jordan Reed led all tight ends in yards per route run last season, at 2.45.
In 2015, Reed had his best year yet, which brought him to the group of elite receiving tight ends. The position group could be even better in 2016, with Vernon Davis as well as the return of Niles Paul. While Washington is an underdog against the Steelers, one area they can take advantage is with their tight ends. In 2015, the Steelers allowed 999 yards to tight ends, eighth-most in the league.
Los Angeles Rams @ San Francisco 49ers
31. Rams DT Aaron Donald recorded the second-best pass-rushing productivity mark among defensive tackles last season; new teammate Dominique Easley was No. 1.
If both players can keep up the same level of play in 2016, they’ll be an unstoppable force throughout the season. On Monday, they will be facing an O-line in transition, with new left guard Zane Beadles (who allowed 41 pressures last year, the fifth-most for guards), center Daniel Kilgore, and Anthony Davis (who just recently moved to right guard). It will be a tough week for the three San Francisco interior linemen to learn to play together.
32. 49ers RB Carlos Hyde forced 0.28 missed tackles per carry last season, the best rate among NFL RBs.
While Hyde missed much of the season due to injury, he is back now, and in Week 1 faces one of his most difficult tests of the season. While the Rams’ defensive line is mostly known for its pass-rushing, they have also been very good at not missing tackles. Last year, they averaged just 0.12 missed tackles per run play as a team, seventh-best in the league. Something will have to give this week.