Smarter Stats: Thanksgiving Edition

 

Green Bay Packers (10-0) at Detroit Lions (7-3)

The Lions will need to get off to a fast start to keep up with the Packers, and that includes the need to get things going on first down. Fortunately, they have a serious advantage in that department — they rank fifth in the NFL in Offensive DVOA (Football Outsiders' per-play efficiency metric) on first down, while the Packers' defense ranks 28th in first-down defensive DVOA. Detroit's defense is most vulnerable on second-and-short (3 yards or less), ranking 30th in the NFL. Where you don't want to be dealing with the Lions' defense is on third-and-short, where Detroit ranks first overall.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Green Bay's offense for opponents is the fact that it's almost unstoppable on third-and-long; its DVOA (182.2 percent) in that situation is far beyond that of any other offense — the New Orleans Saints rank second at 170.4 percent. Aaron Rodgers has converted 23 of his 34 passing attempts on third-and-3-7 (135 for 176). Rodgers is also the league's best in close games (completing over 76 percent of his passes when the score is within three points either way), which just adds to the ridiculous number of situations in which he tops the NFL's quarterback list.

One more thing about Rodgers — if you're going to blitz him, you'd better get home. In blitz situations this season, he's carrying a 140.3 passer rating, completing 61 of 89 passes for 1,138 yards, nine touchdowns, one interception, and seven sacks.

Through each of the last two seasons, the Lions have led the NFL in percentage of shotgun snaps, and they're up to 72 percent this season. However, they may want to even that out a bit — it could be based on small sample size to a degree, but Detroit ranks 24th in Offensive DVOA out of the shotgun, and 12th when its quarterback is under center.

For a deep receiver, Jordy Nelson certainly has an impressive catch rate — he ranks first among non-running backs at 75.5 percent (40 catches on 53 targets). Not bad for a guy who's averaging 18.9 yards per reception.

Miami Dolphins (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (6-4)

Dallas rookie running back DeMarco Murray is proving that he's more than the straight-line runner some thought he might be based on his college tape. He currently ranks sixth among non-quarterbacks in percentage of first downs on carries at 26.4 percent (33 of 125). Murray is also among the most productive fourth-quarter rushers, with a 6.5 yards per carry average on 27 carries, and he leads the NFL with 6.1 yards per carry on carries 11-20 of any given game.

How drastic has the Dolphins' three-game turnaround, in which they've looked as good as any team in the AFC, been? They got through their first seven games at 0-7 and ranked 27th in overall DVOA, 21st in Offensive DVOA, 28th in Defensive DVOA, and 16th in Special Teams DVOA. They're now 17th overall, 18th in Offensive DVOA, 15th in Defensive DVOA, and 18th on special teams. Another reason for that three-game development is the play of quarterback Matt Moore — he's 51 of 72 (a 70.8 completion percentage) for 613 yards, and 8.5 yards per attempt average, six touchdowns, and one interception over that time.

San Francisco 49ers (9-1) at Baltimore Ravens (7-3)

If you want to make gains against the San Francisco front seven, you'd best get a good headstart — according to Football Outsiders' metrics, the 49ers are the worst defense in the league at tackling runners behind the line of scrimmage (doing so just 12 percent of the time), but they're the best team in shutting down second-level yards (5-10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage), and second-best behind the Ravens in preventing open-field yards (11 yards and more beyond the line of scrimmage). So, don't expect either team to break off huge runs in this game, and take it to heart that the 49ers have the league's best duo of inside linebackers in Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman.

The Ravens may want to try and get some shotgun sets going in this game — they're pretty good out of that set (10th in Offensive DVOA out of shotgun as opposed to 22nd under center), while the 49ers drop from second in Defensive DVOA against quarterbacks under center to 17th against shotgun QBs.

One way in which Alex Smith has improved this season is in his ability to handle blitzes — he's 49 of 80 for 664 yards, seven touchdowns, just one interception, and eight sacks.

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