A game of statistical inches

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 03, 2006



Football is routinely described as a game of inches. The same can be said of our gridiron analysis. Often, there is little to separate one team from another.
 
Super Bowl XL is a perfect case in point. Pittsburgh was clearly better on defense in the regular season. Seattle was clearly better on offense. The "Big Picture" chart here sums it all up pretty nicely. (This chart also appears in our overall Super Bowl XL breakdown).
 
 
SEATTLE
PITTSBURGH
Category
Total
Rank
Total
Rank
Total offense
369.7 YPG
2
321.8 YPG
16
Scoring offense
28.2 PPG
1
24.3 PPG
9
Rush offense
153.6 YPG
3
138.9 YPG
5
Pass offense
216.1 YPG
13
182.9 YPG
24
Offense (per play)
      5.8       
t-1
5.4
t-8
Total defense
316.8
17
284.0
4
Scoring defense
16.9 PPG
7
16.1 PPG
3
Rush defense
94.4 YPG
5
86.0 YPG
3
Pass defense
222.4 YPG
25
198.0
16
Defense (per play)
4.9
t-10
4.6
t-2
 
However, those absolute numbers don't always tell the whole story, especially when the cumulative rankings for two teams make them appear relatively even. It's in these instances that we have to consider the quality of each and every opponent the two teams faced to determine if one team pumped up its rankings against weak competition or to see if one team was hamstrung by a particularly difficult series of opponents.
 
We encountered a similar situation last year entering Super Bowl XXXIX. New England clearly had a better offense than Philly, but their defenses were virtually even. Both surrendered 260 points over the course of the 2004 regular season. So we dug deep into our pantry of statistical pigskin snacks to determine which team truly had the better defense.
 
This year, with Seattle and Pittsburgh so tight statistically, we have pulled out the same bag of tricks, except this time we're looking at both the offenses and the defenses of each Super Bowl XL combatant.
 
These charts look at each team Pittsburgh and Seattle has faced this season. They rank the offenses and defenses of each opponent and they give us a glimpse into how each Super Bowl team fared relative to the quality of the offenses and defenses they faced each week.
 
It's another statistical dead heat, but again with a slight nod to Seattle: The gap between the Pittsburgh defense and Seattle defense is not as great as the gap between the Seattle offense and the Pittsburgh offense – even when we take into consideration the quality of competition.
 
Pittsburgh defense vs. opposing offenses   
Opponent, score
Opp. Off. PPG
 Rank
Pts. vs. Pitt
Difference
Tennessee, 34-7
18.7
21
7
-11.7
Houston, 27-7
16.2
27
7
-9.2
NE, 20-23
23.7
10
23
-0.7
San Diego, 24-22
26.1
5
22
-4.1
Jax, 17-23
22.6
12
23
+0.4
Cincinnati, 27-13
26.3
4
13
-13.3
Baltimore, 20-19
16.6
25
19
+2.4
Green Bay, 10-19
18.6
22
19
+0.4
Cleveland, 34-21
14.5
32
21
+6.5
Baltimore, 13-16
16.6
25
16
-0.6
Indy, 7-26
27.4
2
26
-1.4
Cincinnati, 31-38
26.3
4
38
-11.7
Chicago, 21-9
16.2
26
9
-7.2
Minnesota, 18-3
19.1
19
3
-16.1
Cleveland, 41-0
14.5
32
0
-14.5
Detroit, 35-21
15.9
28
21
+5.1
Cincinnati, 31-17
26.3
4
17
-9.3
Indy, 21-18
27.4
2
18
-9.4
Denver, 34-17
24.7
7
17
-7.7
AVERAGES
20.9
16.2
16.3
-4.6
 
So here's what we know about the Pittsburgh defense. It faced seven Top 10 offenses in 2005. It also faced seven Bottom 10 offenses. Over the course of the season, it was all a wash, and Pittsburgh faced a middle-of-the-pack average offense, one that ranked 16th in the NFL.
  • These offenses scored 20.9 PPG in 2005.
  • These offenses scored 16.3 PPG vs. Pittsburgh.
  • Pittsburgh held these offenses 4.6 points per game below their scoring average.
Seattle defense vs. opposing offenses   
Opponent, score
Opp. Off. PPG
 Rank
Pts. vs. Sea
Difference
Jax, 14-26
22.6
12
26
+3.4
Atlanta, 21-18
21.9
14
18
-3.9
Arizona, 37-12
19.4
18
12
-7.4
Washington, 17-20
22.4
13
20
-2.4
St. Louis, 37-31
22.7
11
31
+8.3
Houston, 42-10
16.2
27
10
-6.2
Dallas, 13-10
20.3
15
10
-10.3
Arizona, 33-19
19.4
17
19
-0.4
St. Louis, 31-16
22.7
11
16
-6.7
San Fran, 27-25
14.9
30
25
+10.1
NY Giants, 24-21
26.4
3
21
-5.4
Philly, 42-0
19.4
18
0
-19.4
San Fran, 41-3
14.9
30
3
-11.9
Tennessee, 28-24
18.7
21
24
+5.3
Indy, 28-13
27.4
2
13
-14.4
Green Bay, 17-23
18.6
22
23
+4.4
Washington, 20-10
22.4
13
10
-12.4
Carolina, 34-14
24.4
8
14
-10.4
AVERAGES
20.8
15.8
16.4
-4.4
 
Here's what we know about the Seattle defense. It faced just three Top 10 offenses in 2005. It faced just three Bottom 10 offenses. So, over the course of the season, it faced that same average offense that Pittsburgh did, one that likewise ranked 16th in the NFL.
  • These offenses scored 20.8 PPG in 2005.
  • These offenses scored 16.4 PPG vs. Seattle.
  • Seattle held these offenses 4.4 points per game below their scoring average.
Advantage: Pittsburgh, by 0.2 PPG.
 
Pittsburgh offense vs. opposing defenses 
Opponent
Opp. Def. PPG
Rank
Pts. by Pitt
Difference
Tennessee, 34-7
26.3
29
34
+7.7
Houston, 27-7
26.9
32
27
+0.1
NE, 20-23
21.1
17
20
-1.1
San Diego, 24-22
19.5
13
24
+4.5
Jax, 17-23
16.8
6
17
+0.2
Cincinnati, 27-13
21.9
22
27
+5.1
Baltimore, 20-19
18.7
10
20
+1.3
Green Bay, 10-19
21.5
19
10
-11.5
Cleveland, 34-21
18.8
11
34
+15.2
Baltimore, 13-16
18.7
10
13
-5.7
Indy, 7-26
15.4
2
7
-8.4
Cincinnati, 31-38
21.9
22
31
+9.1
Chicago, 21-9
12.6
1
21
+8..4
Minnesota, 18-3
21.5
20
18
-3.5
Cleveland, 41-0
18.8
11
41
+22.2
Detroit, 35-21
21.6
21
35
+13.4
Cincinnati, 31-17
21.9
22
31
+9.1
Indy, 21-18
15.4
2
21
+5.6
Denver, 34-17
16.1
3
34
+17.9
AVERAGES
19.8
14.4
25.0
+5.2
 
Here's what we know about the Pittsburgh offense. It faced seven Top 10 defenses in 2005. It faced just two Bottom 10 offenses. So, over the course of the season, the average defense Pittsburgh went up against ranked 14th in the NFL.
  • These defenses allowed 19.8 PPG in 2005.
  • These defenses allowed 25.0 PPG to Pittsburgh.
  • Pittsburgh scored 5.2 PPG more than these defenses normally allowed.
Seattle offense vs. opposing defenses   
Opponent, score
Opp. Def. PPG
 Rank
Pts. by Sea
Difference
Jax, 14-26
16.6
6
14
-2.4
Atlanta, 21-18
21.3
18
21
-0.3
Arizona, 37-12
24.2
26
37
+12.8
Washington, 17-20
18.3
9
17
-1.3
St. Louis, 37-31
26.8
31
37
+10.2
Houston, 42-10
26.9
32
42
+15.1
Dallas, 13-10
19.2
12
13
-6.2
Arizona, 33-19
24.2
26
33
+8.8
St. Louis, 31-16
26.8
31
31
+4.2
San Fran, 27-25
26.8
30
27
+0.2
NY Giants, 24-21
22.2
23
24
+1.8
Philly, 42-0
24.2
27
42
+17.8
San Fran, 41-3
26.8
30
41
+14.2
Tennessee, 28-24
26.3
29
28
+1.7
Indy, 28-13
15.4
2
28
+12.6
Green Bay, 17-23
21.5
19
17
-4.5
Washington, 20-10
18.3
9
20
+1.7
Carolina, 34-14
16.2
5
34
+17.8
AVERAGES
22.3
20.3
28.1
+5.8
 
Here's what we know about the Seattle offense. It faced five Top 10 defenses in 2005. It faced 10 Bottom 10 offenses. So, over the course of the season, the average defense Seattle faced ranked 20th in the NFL.
  • These defenses surrendered 22.3 PPG in 2005.
  • These defenses surrendered 28.1 PPG to Seattle.
  • Seattle scored 5.8 PPG more than these defenses normally allowed.
Advantage: Seattle, by 0.6 PPG.
 

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