Your team's statistical wire hangers: AFC edition
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 22, 2009
The draft is just days away and by now you've read all the "expert" reports on draft, and this is what you've learned so far:
Nobody knows which player is going where. Nobody knows what kind of back-room deals are going to be made that will re-shape the big board and instantly throw those mock drafts into chaos before they've even had a chance to fail on their own. And, most importantly (and this is the dirty little not-so-secret of all the energy wasted on draft analysis), nobody knows which players are going to succeed in the NFL and which players are going to fail.
So all the speculation to date has been, almost quite literally, for nothing.
As you know, we only tepidly play the speculation game, treating it with the same general disdain we have for weight-loss programs or non-alcoholic beer. Instead, we prefer to weigh the concrete evidence first and then drink it in with the lusty passion of a Viking raiding party.
And, in the relatively baseless realm of draft analysis, there's only our way and the wrong way.
Our way is to look at each team's statistical needs and statistical weak links from the previous year – their statistical wire hangers, as we're calling them this year. A statistical wire hanger is the one part of your team likely to snap in a critical situation, much like Joan Crawford snapped in a closet full of wire hangers in the classic Hollywood rip-job "Mommie Dearest." The fewer statistical wire hangers your team has, the less likely your team is going to snap in a critical situation and the more likely it will be successful.
So, putting aside all the pre-draft hype and speculation, there's really only one thing that matters: is your team working to eliminate its statistical wire hangers from the previous season? If not, your team is wasting its time.
We find a team's statistical wire hangers below by highlighting each team's performance across the board last year in our Quality Stats. It makes it very easy to figure out not what a team MIGHT do during the draft this weekend, but what it SHOULD do. And at the end of the day, that's all that really matters.
We think Aerosmith had Baltimore's 2008 season in mind when it penned this song many moons ago.
show video here
It was the same old song and dance for an organization that, year after year, is stellar on defense and infuriating on offense. The 2008 Ravens were no exception. They ranked:
- 3rd in Bendability but 7th in Scoreability
- 3rd in Defensive Hog Index but 23rd in Offensive Hog Index
- 1st in Defensive Passer Rating but 18th in Passing Yards per Attempt
Is there a disparity in here, or is it just us?
The Ravens even ranked No. 1 in our Big Play Index and No. 2 in our Relativity Index. This was a pretty good team, in other words. But not a balanced team. And unbalanced teams are remembered about as fondly as unbalanced Hollywood starlets. The Ravens lost to Pittsburgh in the AFC title game after mustering just 198 yards of offense, their otherwise successful season more or less forgotten just a few months later.
The good news, of course, is that the Ravens have a bright young quarterback in place – for the first time in the history of the franchise in Baltimore – in the form of Joe Flacco. And management seems clued into the problem. They've already picked up free agents like center Matt Birk, who will help bolster Baltimore's statistical wire hanger in the form of its Offensive Hogs, and tight end L.J. Smith.
They're all steps in the right direction. So we have only six words of advice for Baltimore management as they enter the draft: Offensive linemen. Offensive linemen. Offensive linemen.
We'd also advise them that you ain't see nothin' 'til you're down on a muffin ... but that's a story for another day.
The 2008 Bills were 7-9 in the standings and, it seems, 7-9 statistically, too – pretty much average or just below every in every Quality Stat.
In one respect it means the Bills don't have far to go to become winners. But it also makes it difficult for management to identify and then act upon its most-likely-to-snap statistical wire hangers.
The bad news is that the Bills sent LT Jason Peters to Philly, which will harm an already substandard offensive line. The good news is that they picked up one of the Eagles' No. 1 picks this year (28th overall), along with their fourth-round pick in the trade. The Bills also get a sixth-round pick from Philly in the 2010 draft, too.
So, armed with two No. 1 picks, they can do some damage in this year's draft. The team is already targeting offensive linemen in free agency (Geoff Hangartner, Seth McKinney) but could still use an anchor at left tackle.
A weak passing game (24th in Passing YPA) is the other major issue for the Bills. But Trent Edwards showed signs of life last year (85.4 passer rating), while the team acquired some insurance in the off-season in the form of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started 12 games last year (and played mostly poorly) for the Bengals. So it's unlikely the team would pull the trigger on a quarterback, even as its passing game remains the team's greatest statistical wire hanger.
That leaves a stud on the offensive line and a big-time playmaking talent on either offense or defense to boost a club that was 24th in our Big Play Index last year.
The Bengals were the worst passing team in football last year – 32nd with a dreadful 4.27 Passing Yards per Attempt.
The Bengals also lost star WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, while Chad Ocho Cinco remains more disillusioned than the fiancé of the Craigslist Killer (who lived about a mile from the CHFF cardboard-box world headquarters).
Of course, there are signs of hope in Cincy. Most of those hopes rest in the return of oft-injured quarterback Carson Palmer, while the Bengals actually went 4-3-1 over the second half of the season (including wins in their final three games) when they easily could have packed it in. The acquisition of WR Laveranues Coles from the Jets should help temper the loss of Houshmanwhatzit and give Palmer a proven target.
So the Bengals won't address their dreadful passing game in the draft. That's good, because there are many other needs, as a look at Cincy's across-the-board Quality Stats make so obvious.
It begins with the Offensive Hogs, who ranked 31st in the NFL last year. In fact, the Bengals need a whole lotta help here. They averaged just 3.62 YPA on the ground (30th) in 2008 and suffered a negative pass play on 11.7 percent of dropbacks (29th).
They need to run the ball better, and they need to keep defenders out of Palmer's face. It begins with a wholesale restructuring of the offensive line in the draft this weekend.
The Browns seem to have all the pieces in place for a stellar passing attack: a stud at wide receiver (Braylon Edwards), a stud at tight end (Kellen Winslow Jr.) and what seem like not one but two bright young quarterbacks with loads of potential (Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn).
Instead, the 2008 Browns had one of the worst passing attacks in football last year, led by a rotating carousel of snap takers that even included Ken Dorsey, he of the 0 TD passes, 7 INTs and 26.4 passer rating in 2008 Dorseys.
The fear is that this poor performance in the passing game will cause the Browns to do what NFL teams so often do: laser in on the passing game at the expense of other problems. Texas Tech's thrilling wideout Michael Crabtree, for example, has been the name mentioned repeatedly out of Cleveland.
But the Browns have young pieces in place in the passing game. They just need to pull it all together and then need to concentrate on other issues in the draft: namely, improving groups of Hogs who were piss poor on each side of the ball last year.
Coach Eric Mangini showed a desire (that we applauded) to address his needs in the trenches when he was with the Jets. And that would be the smart move again here in Cleveland.
The statistical wire hangers in Denver are so obvious that even we want to pull a Joan Crawford every time we look at their stat line from 2008.
The offense may change dramatically with the departure of high-powered Jay Cutler and the arrival of low-wattage Kyle Orton. But not all those changes may be bad. Remember, Cutler's Broncos ranked No. 28 last year in Scoreability, our measure of offensive efficiency. Orton's Bears ranked No. 1.
Clearly, the differences in the quality of each team's defense played a role in those results. But the bottom line is that one quarterback had opportunities upon which he did not deliver. The other took great advantage of his opportunities.
So Broncos fans need not worry about their offense this year. There are simply too many gaping wholes on defense to ignore, in the form a unit that ranked 31st in both Defensive Passer Rating and Defensive Hog Index – two key indicators of success.
The only practical response to this crisis is to devote every single draft pick to defense. In most cases, this would be considered an over-reaction. In the case of the Broncos, it's the only move that makes sense.
The good news is that the Texans finally had a quality NFL offense in 2008, one that would be good enough to win a Super Bowl for many teams.
The bad news is that the defense, filled with loads of young and seemingly talented former high draft picks, utterly failed to live up to expectations last year. In fact, Houston has a serious, serious organizational problem when it comes to drafting defensive studs.
Since 2004, Houston has devoted first-round picks to cornerback Dunta Robinson, linebacker Jason Babin, defensive tackle Travis Johnson, defensive end (and No. 1 overall pick) Mario Williams and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. They also used the No. 33 overall pick on DeMeco Ryans in the 2006 draft, who went on to earn Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Yet for all those high draft-day resources devoted to defense in recent years, the 2008 Texans ranked no better than 23rd in any one of our defensive Quality Stats.
A defense that bad makes it difficult to achieve even the lowly goals of the Houston organization, such as finishing above .500 for the first time in franchise history.
The Texans have made a number of off-season moves to improve this situation, acquiring linebacker Cato June and nose tackle Shaun Cody. But the team remains in desperate need of playmakers, especially in the secondary.
So look for the Texans to roll the dice again with defense. The team could move the ball last year. But the organization will not improve until it hits a few home runs with these defensive picks and then (and this is the important part) find a way to mold what seems like a formidable defense on paper into a formidable defense on the field.
Can we say that the Colts ranked 25th on our Defensive Hog Index last year and that they obviously need help in this area in the draft?
Can we suggest that an inability to get off the field on third-down (31st in the NFL last year) was a huge problem for the team and that they need a game-breaking defensive stud to change the balance of power?
Can we say that Peyton Manning's mama wears Army boots?
Or will these statements be seen as another example of the obvious "bias" against the Colts that plagues CHFF?
If the answer to this final question is "yes," we suggest that angry Colts fans vent their anger on the CHFF Forum or, at Ground Zero of CHFF hatred, the message boards at IndyStar.com.
Otherwise, let's just agree they still have those same problems on defense that have plagued them for years and suggest that Bill Polian and new coach Jim Caldwell actually do something about it on Saturday.
The Jaguars made one of the biggest – literally – moves of the off-season when they grabbed former Pro Bowl left tackle Tra Thomas from Philly.
That move certainly addresses one of Jacksonville's greatest statistical wire hangers from 2008: a substandard offensive line (20th on our Offensive Hog Index) – a particular problem for an organization that has embraced traditional smash-mouth football.
They also grabbed future Hall of Fame receiver Torry Holt from St. Louis, who should help improve a team that struggled in the passing game and struggled to make Big Plays.
But they have yet to address their most troubling statistical wire hangers from 2008: a pathetic pass defense (28th in Defensive Passer Rating).
So look for a heavy dose of pass rushers and potential shut-down corners in the draft.
Who knew the loss of Jared Allen would have such a profound impact on the fortunes of the Kansas City defense last year?
- The Chiefs ranked a rock-solid fifth in our Defensive Hog Index with Allen its anchor in 2007.
- The Chiefs ranked an helpless and pathetic 32nd in our Defensive Hog Index without Allen its anchor in 2008.
And that last-place-with-a-bullet ranking only tells part of the story. For many parts of the year, the Chiefs were dead last in each of the three individual indicators that comprise the Defensive Hog Index, before settling in at a cozy 31-32-31. It was a rare gem of patheticness to be so bad on the defensive front in so many ways.
So using the draft to solidify that terrible unit is job No. 1 for Kansas City's new brain trust of GM Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Haley. (Sorry, folks, LB pick-ups Monty Beisel and Zach Thomas are not the answer.)
Some stud Defensive Hogs who can both stuff the run and put pressure on the quarterback will also improve the team's very poor ability to play pass defense (25th in Defensive Passer Rating).
Then the team can began searching for answers to an offense that was eviscerated during the Herm Edwards Era.
Few (if any) teams in history improved as dramatically as the Dolphins did last year: 1-15 laughingstock in 2007 to 11-5 division champs in 2008.
Amazing job by Bill Parcells and his staff.
Parcells made wholesale changes in almost every area of team last year, under the logical assumption that there was nowhere to go but up. It had to be quite liberating from a personnel point of view, actually.
But now comes the hard part after the personnel triage of 2008: performing the delicate plastic surgery of pigskin with a team that will have a lot to live up to in 2009.
Interestingly, the Dolphins may have to go back into the Offensive Hog well on draft day, much like they did last year when they smartly made anchor LT Jake Long the No. 1 overall pick. The Dolphins were a mere 16th on our Offensive Hog Index – one of their great statistical wire hangers from 2008 – and especially poor on third downs.
Another earth mover in the trenches will aid that performance, and allow the Miami offense to improve its efficiency on offense, as measured by our Scoreability Index.
The Patriots have swung and missed on so many draft picks in recent years that we thought Bob Gibson circa 1968 was throwing the selections at them.
As one reader, Matt Price, noted in a recent email, 31 of the team's 76 draft picks in the Bill Belichick Era failed to even make the team – a failure rate of 40.8 percent.
The result is a team that has declined rapidly in the performance of its pass defense – easily New England's great statistical wire hanger from 2008.
How bad has the decline been?
- The Super Bowl champion 2003 Patriots posted an incredibly stingy 56.2 Defensive Passer Rating, one of the toughest pass defenses of the Live Ball Era.
- The missed-the-playoffs 2008 Patriots posted a incredibly porous 89.8 Defensive Passer Rating, one of the worst pass defenses of the season.
The Patriots will score plenty of points in 2009. The return of Tom Brady, assuming he stays healthy, not to mention the acquisition of productive players like WR Joey Galloway and RB Fred Taylor, should result in a club that can put 500 points in the board again this year.
But they won't return to championship form as long as the pass defense struggles in the regular season and collapses in critical moments of the postseason, like it has for several years now.
The rebuilding process begins with some smart draft picks in the defensive backfield on Saturday.
The Jets have an interesting problem – they were poor stopping the pass last year, and poor attempting to pass, despite the fact that Gunslinger Brett Favre was handed the reins of the offense.
The process for new coach Rex Ryan begins with finding a quarterback. The Jets don't seem content to hand things over to Kellen Clemens, and the word is that they have their eyes on USC's Mark Sanchez. It would be a good move. At the very least, the Jets are a perfect team to take a quarterback high in the draft – that is, a team that's already competitive in so many ways and just need that missing piece of the puzzle (a missing piece that some foolish Jets fans thought they had found last year in Favre). The organization has also been searching for a franchise quarterback since, oh, about the end of the Joe Namath Era. Richard Todd and Chad Pennington have never quite fit the bill.
The Jets have made some moves in the secondary here in the off-season, but nothing major. So whether they take a quarterback or not with their first pick, they absolutely must devote picks to improving their pass defense.
Oakland's once-vaunted long-ball passing game has been utterly demolished since the team's appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII back in 2002.
Year after year since then, they struggle to move the ball through the air, and last year was no exception. The Raiders ranked 29th in Passing Yards per Attempt and former No. 1 overall pick QB JaMarcus Russell has shown few signs of life.
He completed just 53.8 percent of his passes last year for 13 TDs and a 77.1 passer rating – though it was encouraging to see that he'd thrown just 8 picks.
Plus, with Jeff Garcia, a proven NFL commodity, now in the fold as a back-up, new coach Tom Cable should have Russell on short leash if the passing attack goes in the tank for what would be the seventh consecutive season.
So that means that Oakland's draft-day resources should go toward two other key areas: improving what was, collectively, the worst pairing of Offensive and Defensive Hogs (26th in each category) possessed by any NFL team this year.
If the Raiders can find studs in these areas – and they've made some off-season moves in this direction already – then they'll find a lot of their other woes, such as those in the passing game, suddenly improve.
When you're the Super Bowl champs, there's only one way to go: down.
However, the Steelers find themselves in an interesting position: they're the best team in football, but they have a glaring statistical wire hanger there in their closet of success. Their offensive line was among the worst in football, as evidenced by their No. 28 ranking in our Offensive Hog Index.
In fact, it's a mini-miracle that the Steelers won the Super Bowl, given the constant pressure that QB Ben Roethlisberger faced all season and the fact that the team could barely run the football (3.68 YPA, 29th). This poor offensive line was also something of a black eye for a team and a fandom that has prided itself for so many years on its traditional smash-mouth-style football.
So clearly, the Steelers must remake their offensive line. It's the one and only priority the team has in the draft.
If they hit with their picks? Watch out NFL. Imagine a Steelers team so tough defensively like it was last year, but that can actually run block effectively while giving Big Ben time in the pocket to pick out his targets.
A reinvigorated offensive line could make the Steelers prime Super Bowl contenders for years to come.
The perpetually underachieving Chargers at least had an excuse last season: they couldn't stop anyone on defense, especially through the air, where they ranked 24th in Defensive Passer Rating.
It was a stunning change of fortunes.
The 2007 Chargers posted the best pass defense in football, with a 70.0 Defensive Passer Rating. The 2008 Chargers surrendered a 90.3 Defensive Passer Rating.
The difference was felt in the bottom line: the 2007 Chargers went 11-5 and played in the AFC title game. The 2008 Chargers went 8-8, made the playoffs only through the miracle of stupidity that is the current playoff system, and were bounced in the divisional round.
The return of pass-rusher extraordinaire Shawne Merriman should go a long way toward improving the performance of the team's pass defense. But his absence last year doesn't explain such a dramatic drop in the team's ability to defend the pass.
Given the team's proficiency on offense, and the loss of contributors such as DE Igor Olshansky, stud defenders seem the only way to go here in the 2009 draft. Look for a bold move in the offensive backfield, too, as LT comes back this year with a re-negotiated deal and with declining production on his resume.
The Titans are a classic example of a team that snapped when its statistical wire hanger was exposed to the nation in a critical situation.
The Titans were a dominant force in the NFL in 2008 and among the best in football at everything except passing the ball (17th in Passing Yards per Attempt).
But when push came to shove, they simply could not get the ball in the end zone against the Ravens in the divisional playoffs (three turnovers killed them) and lost a game in which their great defese surrendered just 211 yards of offense and 13 points.
The 275 net passing yards they produced in that game look good – especially considering the quality of the Baltimore defense Tennessee faced. But it took 43 dropbacks to gain those 275 yards – that's an uninspiring 6.4 YPA.
However, the Titans seem content with their QB situation, willing to hand the ball to 36-year-old warhorse Kerry Collins once again in 2009, with former top pick Vince Young his back-up once again.
That means the Titans are a rare team in the eyes of the Cold, Hard Football Facts: a team that should seriously consider devoting valuable high-draft resources to wide receivers. One way or the other, they need a gamebreaking talent in the passing game. If they find one, they'll be a formidable team once again – a team with few if any statistical wire hangers.
The other challenge, of course, is finding a way to replace building-block defensive stud Albert Haynesworth, who was grabbed by Washington in the free-agent market.
Forearm Shiver: the CHFF Blog
- Wise Guys: Broncos, Patriots, 49ers Top Expected Win Totals In 2013
- Hockey Announcer Gone Wild: You Want To Party (Maybe) With This Guy
- Best Pass Defense Ever: Ronde Barber And The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Reese Witherspoon Arrest Video: Hot, Bothered And Handcuffed
- Sam Adams In A Can, Just In Time For Summer Drinking Season
- 'Cheeseheads' Reality Show Destined To Suck
- The 5.0 Club: Best Rushing Teams in NFL History
- Sieves: The Worst Run Defenses In NFL History
- 2013 NFL Schedule: The Year Of The Denver Broncos
- Boston, Sports, Patriotism And Terror
- Monsters of the Midway: We Need The Chicago Bears More Than Ever
- The 100 Stingiest Defenses In Football History
- NFL Crown Rule: Will It Dethrone Rushing King Adrian Peterson?
- Big Tease: 2012 New England Patriots And NFL's History Of Offensive Failures
- Epic Fail: The Wide Receiver Draft Class Of 2012
Must See Videos