Palazzolo’s Pitch: Blueprints

Steve Palazzolo tells the world how to shut down Peyton Manning and the Broncos and revisits a 'grades vs. metrics' discussion.

| 4 years ago

Palazzolo’s Pitch: Blueprints

Pitch-WK08Grades vs. Metrics

There’s a lot of info here at PFF. With thousands of player grades and tens of thousands of stats, it’s pretty easy to dive into the site and find yourself surfing for hours. It’s also easy to get hung up on one or two numbers while missing the bigger picture.

While many of our stats do a good job of backing up our player grades, they all have their limitations. It’s a subject I discussed at length at the start of the season, and one that should be remembered. The player grades will always trump the stats because they account for everything that happens on a play, not just the result. So far this season, the New York Jets starting cornerbacks are a prime example of grades and metrics not meeting eye to eye.

Jets Cornerbacks

While the Jets have surprised many analysts with their 4-3 start and fearsome defensive line, there may be some luck involved in the back end of the defense. It should be noted that Rex Ryan’s defense has been as aggressive as ever this season, often putting the majority of the defense on the line of scrimmage on 3rd-and-long just daring the offense to beat him deep. Obviously the pressure is on the cornerbacks in this situation as they have limited safety help. Still, starters Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner have been beat fairly often, and the coverage numbers don’t exactly back that up.

Name Comp Att Yds Yds/Att QB Rating Grade
Antonio Cromartie 23 45 399 8.87 103.8 -12.3
Dee Milliner 12 30 163 5.43 80.3 -5.5

Starting with Cromartie, his numbers aren’t great, but they certainly don’t look like they belong to the lowest-graded coverage cornerback in the league. So while he’s given up some big receptions, surrendering only 51.1 percent completions is well above average. As for Milliner, his coverage numbers look great on the surface, but his -5.5 coverage grade is well below the league average. So where is the disconnect between the numbers and the grades, and how is Cromartie graded at a league-worst -12.3?

Let’s start with the penalties. Cromartie has four on the season all of which have been pass interference calls. None of these plays will show up in the coverage stats, but they’re all accounted for in the grading. The next area is missed tackles, particularly those that occur in “help” coverage rather than the cornerback having primary responsibility. All five of Cromartie’s missed tackles have come in his primary coverage so they’re all reflected in the stats (though teammates’ ability to clean up after missed tackles affects these stats greatly), while Milliner’s only missed tackle came in help coverage so the resulting yards won’t show up in his stats.

The biggest area where both cornerbacks have benefited, however, is from offensive errors. Whether poor throws or dropped passes, both Cromartie and Milliner have been quite lucky at times when their coverage has not been up to par, but the offense has been unable to capitalize. Week 2 against the New England Patriots is a prime example as Cromartie was torched on two deep routes but QB Tom Brady missed on his throws, while Milliner was beaten on a double move by WR Aaron Dobson, but the rookie wide receiver dropped the pass on what should have been an 84-yard touchdown. Again, while those plays don’t show up in the stats, the poor coverage is always noted in the grades, and Cromartie and Milliner have both benefited statistically from poor offensive execution, often times due to pressure from their defensive line.


Any time a perceived elite team falters, analysis pops up with “blueprints” on how future opponents can duplicate that success. Perhaps the best example was at the end of 2007 when the New York Giants defeated the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl and everyone explained the Giants’ blueprint for success: “All you have to do is create pressure with your front four and get in quarterback Tom Brady’s face and get physical with their wide receivers and you can shut down their offense.” Oh. That sounds easy. All teams need to do is employ four elite pass rushers capable of creating pressure without a blitz while the back-7 covers one of the best wide receiving groups in the history. Easy enough.

This week’s blueprint centers on the Denver Broncos picking up their first loss against the Indianapolis Colts. QB Peyton Manning has played as well as he’s ever played in his Hall of Fame career though it certainly helps that he has his best group of targets since entering the league. The Colts didn’t completely shut him down, but they had some early success keeping the Broncos’ offense off balance.

So what did they do differently? As was mentioned throughout the broadcast, they challenged the Broncos receivers and pressed them at the line and while playing sound man coverage, generally in front of two deep safeties. But was this game plan unique?

Not really. We chart press coverage for cornerbacks and as the graphic below shows, the Dallas Cowboys actually played press against Denver more than the Colts did – and they gave up 51 points. Granted, the Cowboys also mixed in some traditional cover-2 looks after re-routing receivers, but they played their fair share of man coverage.


Press Coverage vs. Broncos

| Infographics

So what was the difference? First, it helps when CB Vontae Davis posts an incredible +7.5 coverage grade that included three defensed passes (one was negated) and close coverage on a number of Manning’s passes. The big difference, however, was the Colts’ pass rush. They pressured Manning a season-high 37% of the time.


Peyton Manning Under Pressure

| Infographics

So the blueprint is established. Simply find a cornerback to play elite coverage on the back end while pressuring the league’s quickest trigger man, and you too can hold the Broncos to a season-low 33 points.

DeCastro’s Best Game

After being selected in the first round of the 2012 draft, Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro has started to live up to the hype this season and he’s coming off his best game as a pro. He missed the majority of last season due to injury, appearing is just over two games at the tail end of the year. So far in 2013, he’s grading at +8.3 overall, good for fifth among guards. He came out of Stanford with a reputation as a road grader and Sunday’s +3.6 run blocking effort was a great example of what the Steelers were expecting when they took him in the first round. He had his way with Baltimore Ravens DE Arthur Jones for much of the game and even though he surrendered two pressures, including a sack, it was DeCastro’s best effort of his young career. Take a look at him (right guard) moving Jones out of the hole to create room for Le’Veon Bell’s 7-yard gain:


News and Notes

Around the Site This Week

–  A nice breakdown of our Time to Throw stat from Rick Drummond.

–  Nathan Jahnke’s 32 Observations looks at players who are making improvements this season.

–  How do you stop Tony Gonzalez? Sam Monson takes a look.

–  Your Secret Superstars for Week 7 from Gordon McGuinness.

–  Nobody covers special teams quite like PFF, Thomas Maney names the Week’s best.

–  Your Week 8 previews.


Follow Steve on Twitter.

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Rodrell Green

    Maybe you should make simpler grades on players individual performance and not his team contribution.

  • lewk

    While it’s definitely easy to find yourself “surfing for hours” as a premium member, I feel like that is in part due to the things not being as efficient as could be. For example, if I want to know everything there is about a certain running back, I have to go to a half a dozen different pages to get the whole story. I have to go to his team information to see how many snaps he gets running/receiving/blocking, visit another team page to see what direction he’s running in, then go to each signature stat individually and either adjust the filters or wade through a list of names to see how he’s doing there. Why don’t I get a lot more of that information by simply searching for the player?

    I also think it’d be incredibly helpful to see snap by snap grades. In addition to helping explain some less-than-clear grades (like how a defensive lineman with no coverage snaps or batted passes has a non-zero coverage grade), but also help to refine grades and make them most accurate.

    I don’t mean to come off too harshly here, as I’ve definitely found enjoyment out of my subscription, and there’s always the chance that I’m new and just missing stuff, but some of this stuff can be really frustrating.

    • LightsOut85

      I don’t think this is harsh at all. If we’re paying for something we should have a say in it. I can’t even seem to get any questions answered (I miss when there was a forum, or even a “contact us” option….twitter’s not enough space for detailed questions (and even there they don’t get answered)).

      Just in general I’d say I’d like things that are mentioned in articles to be available in the premium stats, like: yards thrown for under pressure (so yards/attempt can be calculated), or 3rd/4th down pass-rushing, etc. Or, why do we get drops-by-field-position for WR/TE but not the QBs throwing them?

      • LightsOut85

        Actually, now that I think about it there’s a good handful of things I’m surprised aren’t listed, including but not limited to: First downs (rec/rush/passing), games (like I mentioned earlier), QB rushing stats (especially with the prevalence of mobile QBs). It would save a lot of time not having to go to other site & copy/paste their data, making sure the names line up, etc etc.

  • Luca

    I second lewk. I would love snap by snap grades. I would also love situational grades. For example, CB grades and snap counts for Zone or Man. D-Line grades and snap counts depending on technique. Etcetera.

    It would also be great to have the signature stats on the team page.

    Moreover I would love to have special team snap counts, so that I can see who plays in certain units for several teams. And it would be great to have punt en kick data split out in return and coverage grades.

  • Luca

    BTW, it would also be nice to have a rookie filter for positional grades, so that you can compare rookies. Moreover it would be nice to have a grade per snap column, so that you can compare players with uneven snap counts.

    • LightsOut85

      It’d be nice to have a LOT of things, lol (there’s some simple things that are missing). The grades are already normalized by snap — on a per-game basis. So a “number of games played” would definitely be handy.