The Hangover: Tuesday edition

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 12, 2009



On the heels of a weekend in which home favorites stumbled to one win in four games, this video is dedicated to the entirely unpredictable NFL playoffs of the past four years.
 
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Pittsburgh 35, San Diego 24 – Smash-mouth Steelers
The Steelers – not to mention legions of passionate Steelers fans – pride themselves on the smash-mouth old-school football that has defined the organization for decades.
 
But it's not just an image. No less an authority than the Cold, Hard Football Facts themselves tell us that no team in history has played smash-mouth football more often ... and more successfully ... than the Steelers.
 
The win over San Diego was just the latest example, as running back Willie Parker ripped the Chargers defense for 146 yards and 2 TDs on 27 carries (a healthy 5.4 YPA). It was the first 100-yard postseason performance of Parker's career (and his first playoff game since Super Bowl XL against Seattle), while Pittsburgh controlled the clock for 36 minutes, 30 seconds.
 
According to our pal and yours, pro football researcher Coach T.J. Troup, the Pittsburgh organization has produced more 100-yard rushing performances, and has won more often when they do produce a 100-yard rusher, than any team in NFL history.
 
Pittsburgh ball carriers have rushed or 100 yards or more 234 times in franchise history, starting way back with future Supreme Court justice Byron "Whizzer" White's 116-yard effort against the Brooklyn Football Dodgers in 1938.
 
But here's the most compelling part: the Steelers win more often than any other team in history when they get a 100-yard outing from one of their ball carriers.
 
In seven of the 234 100-yard games, Pittsburgh has actually had two 100-yard rushers. So that's 227 individual games in which they've had at least one 100-yard rusher.
 
Pittsburgh's record in those games is 187-39-1 (.826).
 
The Raiders have the second best mark, with a record of 104-24 (.813) when they produce a 100-yard effort on the ground.
 
It's one way of saying that the Steelers play their beloved smash-mouth football more often than any other team. And when they do play it, they're more successful than any other team.
 
What happens when the Steelers fail to produce a 100-yard effort? In those other games, Pittsburgh is a mere 321-449-19 (.419).
 
Arizona 33, Carolina 13 – Best Actor honors
Paul Giamatti won best actor honors at the Golden Globes Sunday night for his historically accurate portrayal of President John Adams. 
 
We would have handed the award to Jake Delhomme Saturday night for his historically accurate portrayal of Brett Favre. Delhomme's five picks in a single playoff game fell short of the record six that Favre threw against St. Louis back in the 2001 playoffs.
 
But the remake is never as good as the original, is it?
 
Considering the piss-poor quality of the Arizona defense – and we mean no insult to piss everywhere – Delhomme's was one of the truly awful falls from gridiron grace since the Original Gunslinger himself.
 
As we noted last week, Delhomme entered Saturday's game with a 5-2 postseason mark, a postseason record average of 8.55 yards per attempt and the third best postseason passer rating in history, behind only Bart Starr and Joe Montana. He had thrown just five INTs total in his previous seven playoff games (three of the five in one game, also a loss).
 
Then Delhomme went out and laid an egg so large that even Baby Huey's mother recoiled at its size.
 
Of course, the Real Statistical Story of the 2008 playoffs remains the Arizona defense, which couldn't stop anybody's passing game – but is now more lock-tight than our stuck-up bitchy girlfriends in 10th grade.
 
The Cardinals surrendered a dreadful 36 TD passes this year – far more than any other team, even Detroit – while nabbing just 13 interceptions. Their Defensive Passer Rating of 96.9 ranked a mere 30th. Their regular-season performance should have spelled postseason death.
 
But in two postseason games, Arizona has held Rookie of the Year Matt Ryan and Big-Game Gunslinger Delhomme to the following performance:
  • 43 of 74 (58.1%) for 404 yards, 5.5 YPA, 3 TD, 7 INT and a 47.4 passer rating.
It's easily Arizona's best consecutive pass-defense performances of the year. It also reminds us of another stunning defensive turnaround in recent years: the one provided by the Super Bowl champion 2006 Colts.
 
Indy entered the playoffs that year surrendering a dismal 5.33 yards per attempt on the ground – it was the single worst run defense since the 1961 expansion Vikings, and the sixth worst in all of NFL history.
 
But in the wildcard round, the Colts limited a very good Chiefs ground game to just 44 yards on 17 attempts, and then limited Baltimore to 83 yards on 20 carries in the divisional round.
 
It was Indy's best back-to-back performances against the run all year and the sudden and rejuvenated defensive turnaround – as is the case with the 2008 Cardinals – could not have come at a better time.
 
Philadelphia 23, N.Y. Giants 11  – Eagles do it on pass D, too
So far, so good: if the Eagles beat Arizona Sunday, our pre-season NFL champion will have reached the Super Bowl.
 
You would think the Eagles, No. 2 in our Defensive Hog Index, have ridden their front seven into the NFC title game.
 
But they have not.
 
In fact, Philly's defensive front has performed well below the standards it set in the regular season.
 
The Eagles forced negative pass plays (sacks, INTs) on 11 percent of dropbacks this year. Here in the playoffs, that rate has dropped to just 6.5 percent: Philly has produced just four negative pass plays (3 INT, a mere 1 sack) in 65 dropbacks.
 
Both playoff opponents (Vikings, Giants), meanwhile, have run the ball fairly successfully against an Eagles defense that surrendered just 3.51 yards per attempt on the ground during the regular season. The Vikings and Giants have combined for 286 yards on 66 attempts – a solid 4.3 yards per attempt.
 
Nope.
 
The Eagles have won two games here in the postseason for the same reasons the Cardinals have won two games here in the postseason: their opponents have been unable to pass the ball.
 
Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson and New York's Eli Manning hardly presented a Murderer's Row of prolific postseason passers that the Eagles had to shut down. So Philly has certainly benefitted from the quality of the opposing passers they've faced. But they still need to go out and do it.
 
In two games, the Eagles held these quarterbacks to a combined:
  •  30 of 64 (46.9%) for 333 yards, 5.2 YPA, 0 TD, 3 INT and a 43.3 passer rating.
Arizona's prolific Kurt Warner will provide a far more formidable challenge for the Philly defense. And it looks like the NFC title game will come down to one single factor: who wins the battle of the two best postseason pass defenses.
 
Baltimore 13, Tennessee 10 – The dreaded "game manager"
The Ravens victory was a classic example of a game in which the better team did not win – just the most opportunistic.
 
The Titans won by every major statistical indicator, as evidenced by their massive 391-211 advantage in total offense. But the Titans coughed up the ball three times in Baltimore territory and missed a field goal. We're not rocket scientists around here, but we'd venture to say that those four plays cost the Titans dearly in a three-point loss.
 
But we're not into excuse-making for teams that wilt in key situations in big-time games.
 
Instead, it's better to celebrate the Ravens.

In particular, don't underestimate the workmanlike job of Baltimore rookie QB Joe Flacco. Yes, he's been more game manager than anything. But as the Cold, Hard Football Facts have often noted, we laugh anytime a "pundit" uses the term "game manger" derisively. As far as we can tell, game managers win a lot.
 
Flacco has done the one thing every quarterback, young or old, must do to win football games: he has not thrown interceptions ... zero in 45 attempts. (His lone TD pass of the postseason, meanwhile, was a brilliant 48-yard toss to Derrick Mason on a 3rd and 13 play against the Titans.)
 
Flacco's opponents, meanwhile, in both cases far more experienced quarterbacks, have made critical mistakes that cost their teams victory.
  • Miami's Chad Pennington, a nine-year veteran, through four INTs in Baltimore's wildcard win.
  • Tennesseee's Kerry Collins, a 14-year NFL veteran, threw a critical pick at the Baltimore 9 yard line that would have handed the Titans a 14-7 lead in a game they lost, 13-10.
You might have noticed a trend here in the 2008 playoffs, and a confirmation of the Cold, Hard Football Facts: teams that don't make mistakes in the passing game, and teams that play better pass defense, win.
 
And Baltimore has certainly won with its pass defense, too. It's two opposing quarterbacks, Pennington and Collins, have produced the following stat line:
  • 51 of 80 (63.4%) for 533 yards, 6.66 YPA, 1 TD, 4 INTs and a 66.3 passer rating.
It's not up to Baltimore's lofty standards of the regular season, when they led the league with a 60.6 Defensive Passer Rating. But it's good enough to win when your own passing game makes zero mistakes.

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