Hog Report: Record-setting seasons not possible without grunt work

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 28, 2011



By Erik Frenz (Twitter: @ErikFrenz)
Cold, Hard Football Facts Head Butcher of Hog Meat

The 2011 season has been to the NFL what Rubber Soul was to your parents in 1965 -- a broken record, but an instant classic that never ceases to entertain.

It's been a record-setting season in the NFL, but as usual, the praise goes to those that hold the records, while the players that do the grunt work go largely unnoticed.

Never fear, the Hog Report is here.

Drew Brees' record a team effort


At least one person is willing to give credit where it's due. After setting the single-season record for passing yards on Monday night against the Falcons, Drew Brees made it a point to thank his teammates and to deflect the praise to them all.

It turns out he wasn't just blowing smoke, and he can thank the Offensive Hogs for a large part of his success. They let up just 5.71 percent NPP this season, lowest in the league. Their 24 sacks is tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for the second-lowest total in the NFL, and Brees' interception percentage of just 2.1 rank him seventh among 34 qualifying quarterbacks.

Brees has been a statistical juggernaut for years, and is one of only two players in NFL history to post six consecutive seasons over 4,000 yards passing. The other, of course, is Peyton Manning, and the way Brees is playing right now, he'll get his seventh next season.

National media pundits have taken to the airwaves to voice their displeasure with New Orleans' late-game attempt to get Brees the record. Looking at it closer, though, the Saints were giving the Falcons a chance to make the stop. At that point, New Orleans had already run the ball for its game total of 164 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries (7.1 YPA), and the Falcons had already nabbed two interceptions off Brees while also sacking him once. Although the game was well in hand for the Saints, Atlanta's best chance to stop them was clearly in the passing game.

Tim Tebow serves up Christmas feast fit for a king


The Buffalo Bills Defensive Hogs haven't been one of the league's most intimidating groups this season, and rank 20th or worse in every indicator in the index. One thing the Bills have done well, though, is grab interceptions. They rank fourth in the league with 20 picks through Week 16, but their NPP% is hurt by their lack of sacks (24 ranks 31st in the league).

It figured to be another day at the office for Tim Tebow, who has been superb with ball control this season, but much like mass, Tebow Time only takes place on Sundays. The Mile High Messiah threw four interceptions and was sacked three times on Christmas Eve.

Because of this performance alone, the Bills moved up six spots in the DHI and the Broncos moved down two spots in the OHI.

Happy birthday, Tebow.

The Broncos have ranked fairly low in offensive NPP all year, but Tebow had brought some consistency in that regard after being sacked 13 times in his first two starts. Over the past three weeks, though, he's regressed somewhat in that sense, with 17 combined NPP (12 sacks, five interceptions) in those games.

Now, we are left to wonder which Tebow is the real Tebow?

Tebow can't be written off so quickly, but he's clearly shown that he's capable of having some dreadful performances, now with two awful showings against the Lions and Bills. The Tebow hype has calmed notably, and rightfully so. With just 22 games and 13 starts under his belt, it should never have been so crazy in the first place. There are growing pains with every quarterback, and Tebow is proving to be a mortal man. We should have a much better idea of where he stands when there's a full season's worth of tape on him.

Simply put, Tebow isn't the kind of quarterback that can play from behind. The defense needs to keep the game close, and he needs to do everything he can not to allow the game to get out of hand as it did against Buffalo. Even the Broncos' rushing attack, which ranks second in total yards and fifth in yards per carry, can't mask Tebow's deficiencies entirely.

Patriots ride Offensive Hogs to big comeback win


For 30 minutes on Sunday, the Dolphins dominated the battle at the line of scrimmage against New England's offense. Of course, that was 30 minutes too few, as New England's ability to keep their quarterback clean was a large part of their ability to mount a comeback from down 17 points.

Patriots O-Hogs YPA NPP 3rd down
First half 3.67 3/21 (14.3%) 3/8 (37.5%)
Second half 4.56 1/29 (3.4%) 5/9 (55.6%)

It's a testament to a group that has ranked in the top five all season long, but this wasn't even the same group that got them there. New England continued to shuffle offensive linemen as injuries mounted, with Logan Mankins coming out for an injury and not returning.

New England was able to make a few key adjustments that allowed Brady to have more time and find his receivers, but they were also able to get things going on the ground.

Over the past  three weeks, the Patriots have proven to be a resilient team capable of mounting comebacks and making the plays they need to make when they absolutely need them. Whether or not that will translate into the team's first postseason success story in the past seven years remains to be seen, but it's worth noting that they can't (and shouldn't) be counted out of any game they play.

Cam can


In breaking both Steve Grogan's rookie record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback and Peyton Manning's rookie record for passing yards, Cam Newton flipped the script on us all, proving the doubters wrong even in a lockout-shortened offseason that was supposed to prevent him from getting a true grasp on the playbook.

As a result, the Carolina Panthers' O-Hogs have also flipped the script on last season, and though they will finish with a losing record, their O-Hogs have been winners this season. In just 12 months, they have improved from the second-worst unit in the league to the second-best.

Panthers O-Hogs YPA (rank) NPP % (rank) 3rd down % (rank)
2010 4.31 (12) 13.3 (31) 30.4 (30)
2011 5.35 (1) 9.47 (18) 41.67 (9)

As usual, the improvement is a team effort, but it's hard not to look at the arrival of Newton as the impetus for their great improvement. Panthers quarterbacks were sacked 50 times and intercepted 21 times in 2010. This season, those totals are way down, with just 33 sacks and 16 interceptions. The reduced sacks are a tribute to Newton's ability to evade pressure and also his scrambling tendencies.

But we have learned he's not just a scrambling quarterback, having completed 60 percent of his passes, an unusually high number for most "scrambling" quarterbacks. 

Not only that, but Newton (as well as Jonathan Stewart and a revitalized DeAngelo Williams) have helped bring Carolina's running game back. The Panthers have been one of the league's best rushing teams over the past few years, ranking second in YPA in 2008 and third in YPA in 2009. Carolina's offensive line is loaded with stalwarts like Jordan Gross, Ryan Kalil, Jeff Otah and others. That's a pretty solid foundation for any offense, much less an offense that ranks among the league's best in rushing. Now, with the explosive playmaking potential of Williams, Newton and Stewart -- all of whom average over five YPA -- the Panthers can safely begin building their arsenal of weapons in the passing game.

And if they're able to do that, the Panthers could be next year's Detroit Lions. 

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