The Best 2010 NFL Defense: A Deeper Statistical Analysis Than Yards Per Game, Part 2

PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 23: LaMarr Woodley #56 and Brett Keisel #99 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrate after sacking Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets during the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

One of the fallacies that bugs me in the NFL is the definition of the top offense and defense in the NFL.  Generally, the majority of NFL fans and analysts go by yards per game.  Defensively speaking, if your team gives up the least yards per game you are crowned the best defense in the league.  It gives a simplistic view of offense and defense, but it is incredibly inaccurate and completely ignores millions of dependent variables like time of possession, points, yards per play, etc. Therefore, I decided I wanted to take a deeper look into NFL defenses and find the best one based on more than just yards per game.  I will try to take into account those many dependent variables, but remember this is not perfect science (what is really?).  This is just one man's statistical review of the issue.  I guarantee you though, it is a better representation of a defense as a whole than yards per game.

In case you missed it, see Part 1 here.

All of my numbers have been collected from Pro-Football-Reference (and a few other sources listed elsewhere).

Moving forward, there is more to defenses than just yards allowed.  A good defense can get after the QB and pile up sacks and turnovers.  Several categories I think that quantify a good defense would be sacks, QB pressures (stat from ProFootballFocus premium membership), turnovers forced, and touchdowns given up on defense.  For the purpose of being consistent and fair, I will do percentages rather than total numbers (i.e. a team that sees more pass plays is more likely to get more sacks).  Therefore, the Sk% column would be the percentage of sacks the defense gets per opponent drop back.

Team TD TD% TD% Rk TOs TO% TO% Rk Sk Sk% Sk% Rk QB Pr QB Pr Rk
Bears 28 2.8 6 35 3.49 4 34 5.5 21 149 23
Steelers 20 2.0 1 35 3.59 3 48 7.5 6 197 4
Saints 26 2.7 5 25 2.64 18 33 6.3 12 144 25
Packers 22 2.3 2 32 3.3 6 47 8.2 3 173 15
Panthers 39 3.7 20 29 2.74 13 31 5.6 19 155 19
Chargers 32 3.4 14 23 2.45 21 47 8.8 2 150 22
Rams 28 2.8 7 26 2.56 20 43 7 8 183 10
Titans 30 2.6 3 25 2.19 24 40 6 15 182 11
Ravens 27 2.7 4 27 2.68 16 27 4.3 32 155 20
Chiefs 34 3.3 10 23 2.24 23 39 6.3 11 196 5
Redskins 38 3.6 19 27 2.57 19 29 4.8 29 153 21
Cardinals 41 3.8 22 30 2.75 12 33 5.8 17 120 31
Patriots 35 3.3 11 38 3.6 2 36 5.6 18 184 9
Colts 36 3.6 20 21 2.08 26 30 5.3 24 160 17
Falcons 32 3.3 12 31 3.24 7 31 5.2 25 189 8
Bengals 36 3.8 23 26 2.72 14 27 5 27 126 29
Lions 41 4.1 24 29 2.89 10 44 7.8 5 174 14
Dolphins 30 3 8 19 1.92 29 39 7.2 7 149 24
Buccaneers 35 3.5 15 28 2.83 11 26 4.8 30 123 30
Giants 35 3.6 17 39 4 1 46 7.9 4 158 18
Jets 35 3.6 16 30 3.06 9 40 7 9 137 27
49ers 34 3.3 13 22 2.13 25 36 6.1 13 206 3
Vikings 35 3.6 18 26 2.66 17 31 5.5 20 195 6
Browns 33 3.2 9 28 2.69 15 29 5.4 22 162 16
Broncos 52 4.9 30 18 1.7 32 23 4.4 31 113 32
Seahawks 44 4.1 25 22 2.05 27 37 5.9 16 218 1
Jaguars 47 5 32 18 1.9 30 26 4.9 28 131 28
Eagles 43 4.3 26 34 3.41 5 39 6.8 10 211 2
Bills 46 4.3 28 22 2.05 28 27 5.4 23 137 26
Texans 49 4.9 31 18 1.78 31 30 5.2 26 180 12
Cowboys 44 4.5 29 30 3.07 8 35 6.1 14 189 7
Raiders 43 4.3 27 24 2.42 22 47 9.1 1 175 13
Avg Team 36 3.6  -- 26.9 2.66  -- 35.3 6.1  -- 164.8 --

 

It is interesting to see how bad the Ravens pass rush is, because I was not expecting that with the type of year Terrell Suggs is having.  The Steelers, on the other hand, remain green in everyone of their rankings so far.  Their lowest ranking being the pass yards per game (12th).  In these four rankings, the Steelers again have the best average ranking of 3.75.  They are followed by the Packers at 7, the Patriots at 10.5, the Giants at 11.75, and the Rams at 11.25.  In dead last again, is the Broncos with an average rank of 30.

At this point, I think we can separate out a few teams into the final discussion.  I think the teams still left in the debate would be the Steelers, Chargers, Ravens, Jets, Bears, and Packers.  You could slide in the Patriots, Giants, and Eagles if you would like, but I do not think their defenses are well-rounded enough.

Finally, since the Steelers pass defense was the biggest "concern" (at least according to pass yards per game, let's break into the pass numbers even more.  Let's take a look at QB Rating, AY/A, NY/A, and ANY/A.  I explained what these numbers meant in a previous stat post, but in case you missed it let me explain.  AY/A is Adjsuted Yards per Attempt, which adjusts Y/A by adding weight for touchdowns and taking away for interceptions.  The equation is (Pass Yards + 20 * TDs - 45 * INTs) / Attempts, where the 20 and -45 are constants determined by a ton of statistical analysis.  NY/A is Net Yards Gained per Pass Attempt, which adjusts the number based on yards lost by sacks.  The equation is (Passing Yards - Sack Yards) / (Pass Attempts + Sacks).  Lastly, ANY/A, or Adjusted Net Yards Gained per Pass Attempt, is just a combination of the two.  I like these numbers better for ranking a defense because it combines several statistics into one category, which are easier to use.

Team QB Rate QB Rate Rk AY/A AY/A Rk NY/A NY/A Rk ANY/A ANY/A Rk
Packers 67.2 1 5.1 1 5.4 3 4.1 1
Steelers 73.1 2 5.2 2 5.3 1 4.3 2
Bears 74.4 3 5.4 3 5.8 6 4.7 4
Chargers 76.2 4 5.7 4 5.3 2 4.6 3
Ravens 76.4 5 5.7 5 5.8 7 5.1 5
Jets 77.1 6 6.4 16 5.6 4 5.5 13
Buccaneers 77.6 7 5.7 6 5.9 10 5.2 6
Chiefs 78.1 8 6.2 11 5.7 5 5.4 9
Rams 80.4 9 6.4 13 5.8 8 5.5 14
Giants 80.7 10 6.4 15 5.8 9 5.4 10
Eagles 80.8 11 6.2 10 6 13 5.3 8
Panthers 81 12 6.1 9 6.1 16 5.4 11
Patriots 81.2 13 6.1 8 6.4 23 5.4 12
Falcons 82.2 14 5.9 7 6.1 15 5.2 7
Saints 83.2 15 6.5 17 5.9 11 5.6 15
Cardinals 83.5 16 6.7 20 6.5 26 5.9 21
Browns 84.8 17 6.7 19 6.6 27 6 23
Dolphins 85 18 7 24 6.2 21 6.1 25
Bengals 85.2 19 6.5 18 6.4 24 5.9 20
Raiders 85.6 20 7.1 26 5.9 12 5.9 18
Titans 86.4 21 6.4 14 6.1 17 5.6 16
Vikings 86.4 22 6.4 12 6 14 5.7 17
Lions 89.2 23 7 23 6.2 20 5.9 19
Redskins 89.6 24 7.3 28 6.9 29 6.6 29
Seahawks 89.7 25 7.4 29 6.4 25 6.5 28
49ers 90 26 6.8 21 6.3 22 6 22
Colts 91.7 27 6.8 22 6.1 18 6.1 24
Bills 92.6 28 7 25 6.1 19 6.3 26
Cowboys 92.8 29 7.2 27 6.8 28 6.4 27
Broncos 93 30 8 30 7.2 30 7.3 30
Jaguars 98.5 31 8.2 31 7.5 32 7.5 32
Texans 100.5 32 8.4 32 7.4 31 7.5 31
Avg Team 82.2  -- 6.5 --
6.2 --
5.7 --

 

This post is getting rather long, so I won't harp too much on this table.  These numbers do a good job debunking the Steelers having a bad pass defense.  Call it hiding a two bad corners with a solid pass rush if you want, but it is still damn good. The Steelers are committed to maintaining a solid pass rush, as they displayed in the 2010 NFL draft.  It should be interesting to see the effort they put into signing Ike Taylor vs. LaMarr Woodley, two very important players to this defense.

Since all of these categories are pretty similar, I averaged them for the final table to prevent them from having an overpowering weight in the final ranking (P Stats Rk).  Also, since I mentioned yards per game were worthless, I removed them from the rankings all together.  I kept all of the categories I believe quantify a good defense.

Team Pts/G Rk P Y/A Rk R Y/A Rk TD% Rk TO% Rk Sk% Rk QB Pr Rk P Stats Rk Rk Avg
Steelers 1 1 1 1 3 6 4 1.75 2.31
Packers 2 6 28 2 6 3 15 1.5 7.94
Bears 4 8 5 6 4 21 23 4 9.38
Chargers 10 2 6 14 21 2 22 3.25 10.03
Jets 6 5 3 16 9 9 27 9.75 10.59
Ravens 3 3 7 4 16 32 20 5.5 11.31
Giants 17 10 14 17 1 4 18 11 11.5
Chiefs 11 7 18 10 23 11 5 8.25 11.66
Patriots 8 22 13 11 2 18 9 14 12.13
Rams 12 12 22 7 20 8 10 11 12.75
Eagles 21 18 15 26 5 10 2 10.5 13.44
Titans 15 15 8 3 24 15 11 17 13.5
Saints 7 11 17 5 18 12 25 14.5 13.69
Falcons 5 17 25 12 7 25 8 10.75 13.72
Vikings 18 9 9 18 17 20 6 16.25 14.16
49ers 16 23 2 13 25 13 3 22.75 14.72
Dolphins 13 19 4 8 29 7 24 22 15.75
Panthers 26 14 10 21 13 19 19 12 16.75
Browns 14 25 12 9 15 22 16 21.5 16.81
Buccaneers 9 4 29 15 11 30 30 7.25 16.91
Lions 19 26 23 24 10 5 14 21.25 17.78
Raiders 20 20 24 27 22 1 13 19 18.25
Seahawks 25 24 16 25 27 16 1 26.75 20.09
Cowboys 31 29 19 29 8 14 7 27.75 20.59
Colts 23 13 27 20 26 24 17 22.75 21.59
Bengals 24 21 20 23 14 27 29 20.25 22.28
Cardinals 30 27 21 22 12 17 31 20.75 22.59
Redskins 22 28 26 19 19 29 21 27.5 23.94
Texans 29 31 11 31 31 26 12 31.5 25.31
Bills 28 16 32 28 28 23 26 24.5 25.69
Jaguars 27 32 30 32 30 28 28 31.5 29.81
Broncos 32 30 31 30 32 31 32 30 31

 

It is no surprise to me that the Steelers come out far and away the best defense of 2010 in this analysis.  It should not be a surprise to anyone who watched them play this year.  On the field you could see the tenacity of the defense that is categorized by these numbers.  In all of the categories I selected the Steelers finished in the top 6, whereas the other top defenses had at least one category that fell at or below average.

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