Hog Report: will Ravens, 49ers D-Hogs dominate again in 2012?
By Shawn Maher
Cold, Hard Football Facts Hog Chaser
Welcome to the Hog Report.
Following the mission of the Cold, Hard Football Facts, we are here to quantify the seemingly abstract world of offensive and defensive linemen.
These guys are the heart and soul of any NFL team, yet the football world never had a way to truly rank and classify the performance of a team’s trench-warfare specialists.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts Offensive and Defensive Hog Index make it all possible.
Without a quantifiable system in place, how could we ever know who truly won the battle of the brawn?
The hogs are overlooked even when they are at their best: moving hundreds of pounds of men to the yawns of the unappreciative masses.
Sure, Merrill Hodge and his mind-bogglingly gigantic tie knot want to preach a weekly sermon about why he and his neck adornment believe it is of the utmost importance to win the battle at the line of scrimmage.
But how could he claim a true victor on anything other than subjective evidence?
Sure, the guy a few seats down from you at your favorite watering hole has been hollering about why his team has the best run-blocking unit in the league since you wiped the foam of the first sip off your lip. How is he going to back that up?
How do we expect you to believe us that we can walk into a sports bar and confidently make predictions that will earn round upon free round on the next visit?
Easy. By wielding the sword of Quality Stats, unsheathed from the stone of Cold, Hard Football Facts.
The Quality Stats provided by CHFF are not only time tested and proven; they simplify the sweet science of the greatest game in the world. Offensive blocking schemes are dense and complex, while defensive assignments depend on whether it’s a penetrating one-gap assignment or a block-eating two-gap scheme.
In the world of Quality Stats, we dwell on results. The great Bill Parcells famously stated, “You are what your record says you are.” And so, we at CHFF facts boil it down to the essentials: the facts, results and stats that matter. We separate the wheat from the chaff, or render the bacon from the fat, as the case may be.
Every week we will break down the winners and losers from the previous week's action, while previewing the biggest and most intriguing matchups of Hog Index all-stars.
CHFF Hog Indices: synonymous with success
Reflecting the importance of their real-life counterparts, the CHFF Hog Indices are among the most solid predictors known to the football-obsessive universe in understanding a team’s performance. The Defensive Hog Index (DHI) and Offensive Hog Index (OHI) are synonymous with on-field results.
The DHI in particular has proven an incredible indicator of postseason success.
The most telling factor in today’s passing-oriented league is pressure on the quarterback, and the correlation between a suffocating pass rush, the DHI and Super Bowl appearances is uncanny.
We introduced the DHI in 2007. Annd here's how the five champions since then finished in both the DHI and at what we call Negative Pass Play Percentage (NPP%), which measures a team's ability to force opponents into sacks or INTs and is a key component of the DHI.
2007 Giants - No. 1 on DHI, No. 2 in NPP%
2008 Steelers - No. 1 on DHI, No. 1 in NPP%
2009 Saints - No. 15 on DHI, No. 6 in NPP%
2010 Packers - No. 10 on DHI, No. 1 in NPP%
2011 Giants - No. 13 on DHI, No. 3 in NPP%
In fact, NPP% is routinely indicative of the most successful teams in the league. Last season, Baltimore and San Francisco, finished 1-2 atop the DHI. Those two teams finished a combined 25-7, each earned No. 2 playoff seeds, and were a missed field goal and overtime period, respectively, from facing off in the Super Bowl.
How are those two teams looking to follow up such suffocating seasons? For all the time both the hogs spent stampeding the backfield in 2011, they arrive with their share of questions in 2012.
San Francisco 49ers: Is their DHI success sustainable?
Last season, Jim Harbaugh transformed an underachieving group into one of the most feared units in the game. With DE Justin Smith shedding his long-standing underachiever status in a move to a 3-4 defense and rookie Aldon Smith and his 14 sacks emerging as a pass-rushing prodigy, the 49ers finished as top hogs in NPP.
Can they continue their reign of terror into 2012?
While their preseason rankings are less than stellar, ranking in the bottom of the league, Harbaugh is known for playing his cards close to the vest. Many outstanding units regress to the mean, but with a full returning cast the 49ers’ preseason performance must be taken with a grain of salt.
If Harbaugh’s offense, armed with a fortified group of receivers and a third-overall ranking in the preseason OHI, can create a more potent offense, the chances look good.
With the pressure on opposing offenses to score more points, look for the 49ers’ defensive front to take advantage of opposing offensives feeling the pressure to score more often.
Baltimore Ravens: Will Courtney Upshaw take over Terrell Suggs’ pass-rushing role?
The 2011 Ravens drew comparisons to another elite Baltimore unit: the 2000 Ravens fielded a bruising defense so formidable that it carried the team to a Super Bowl championship.
That 2000 team surrendered just 165 points, the fewest of any team in the Live Ball Era (1978-present).
The 2011 team surrendered 266 points. Not nearly as dominant as 2000, but still good enough for No. 3 scoring defense in the NFL.
The big difference for the 2011 Ravens was Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs.
But Suggs tore an Achilles tendon during the offseason. So the pressure is on rookie Courtney Upshaw to fill the void. Although drafted due to his apparent pro-ready play, Upshaw still must become accustomed to working in space after playing as a pure DE in Alabama’s defense.
Baltimore's explosive offense has stolen the show during this preseason (30.3 PPG). So the spotlight has not shined brightly on Upshaw’s slow transition to the hybrid linebacker/defensive end role that Suggs -- and Peter Boulware before him -- occupied.
Of course, no one can be expected to step in right away and match Suggs’ 14 sacks, Upshaw and the rest of Baltimore’s D-Hogs have been less than stellar this preseason. Their performance has to be worrisome for a team used to seeing an inconsistent Joe Flacco running the offense. The Ravens need some sort of combination of Upshaw, Albert McClellan and Sergio Kindle to create pressure on opposing offenses.
Because you should never take any analysis at face value, examine the data yourself and draw your own conclusions. You can find the final 2011 Defensive Hog Index here and the final 2011 Offensive Hog Index here. They will be updated each week throughout the 2012 season.
And we will break it all down for you right here in The Hog Report.
Click here for our up to date Preseason Hog Rankings.