Lot of pushback in my Scouting Notebook take on Jamaal Charles having lost a step. That doesn’t mean he’s a dog. There are other things to running than blinding speed. But his apparent loss of speed is a factor in projecting rest of season value.
This gets us to one of the more interesting stats I’ve come across. Sports Wunderkind (@DavisMattek), who I’ll be podcasting with this week, alerted me to work that Shawn Siegele (@FF_Contrarian) did with ProFootballFocus stats to come up with a way to actually quantify running vision. It may actually be quantifying run blocking, I understand. But that’s the inescapable problem we have in this team game. It’s very hard to determine true skill level with 22 players influencing every on-field outcome.
What we’re doing here is flipping the now commonly cited Yards After Contact stat on it’s head. You subtract that from rushing average and you get “vision yards,” which are yards before contact. We’d all rather our back avoid contact rather than trying to run through it, right?
Here are the 2013 leaders in “vision” (minimum 25% of snaps and 50 carries): Andre Ellington (3.2 vision yards/yards before contact per attempt), Donald Brown (2.8), Charles (2.5), Arian Foster (2.4), Reggie Bush (2.4), LeSean McCoy (2.4), DeMarco Murray (2.3), Lamar Miller (2.3), C.J. Spiller (2.3), Ryan Mathews (2.2), Knowshon Moreno (2.2), Matt Forte (2.2), Frank Gore (2.1), Alfred Morris (2.1), Stevan Ridley (2.1).
But are we really grading running vision or are we grading run blocking? Let’s crosscheck this list with the grades that ProFootballFocus gives run blocking on every play to see which of the backs above have below average lines, according to PFF. Ellington (Cardinals blockers are 26th) and Miller (Dolphins 18th). That’s it. The Colts are 14th and Patriots 15th, so Brown and Ridley are close to getting most of the credit for their vision success. And of course we don’t have many carries with Ellington and one really big run (but those count and that's the point here). Both Ellington and Miller have issues with their coaches believing in them. I always like betting on the player though and hoping the coaches come around. And these would be pretty small wagers. I understand I said to forget about Miller in the Scouting Notebook. But when the facts change, I change my mind.
What about worst vision? Of course, our boy who I’m proud to say we were at least among the first to really go after (prior to the trade even), Trent Richardson (0.8). Then we get Willis McGahee (0.8), Maurice Jones-Drew (0.9), Bernard Pierce (0.9), Le’Veon Bell (1.2), Adrian Peterson (1.2), Steven Jackson (1.3), Doug Martin (1.4), Rashard Mendenhall (1.4), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (1.4), Daniel Thomas (1.4), Montee Ball (1.5).
Again we need to cross check to see if these players are being penalized for having very poor run blocking. Most of the blame then goes to Richardson (Colts 14th), Peterson (Vikings 11th, don’t shoot the messenger and I’m not saying AP is a dog but when the numbers speak, I listen) and Ball (Broncos 12th).
Now let’s really annoy one-twelfth of the readers by noting that Peterson is 28 years old with nearly 2,000 carries and currently is averaging the lowest yards per carry of his career. This is evidence, far from conclusive I stipulate, that perhaps this is the beginning of the end for the great AP.
However, to be fair, Peterson is second this year in yards gained on runs of 15 or more yards (breakaway yards) with 324 (Alfred Morris has 328). So he can obviously still hit the long ball. That’s 1.67 breakaway yards per carry. Last year, Peterson averaged 3.4. So he’s been almost exactly half as explosive as in 2012. Look, kids, the circus eventually leaves town for everybody. It’s only a question of when. And I agree that even a declining Peterson can still be a valuable fantasy asset.
Charles had 2.2 breakaway yards per attempt prior to his ACL injury. This year, it’s 1.15. That is damning, I’m sorry to say.
Here’s your matchup decider for this very important Week 12.
Best passing defenses (bad matchups for your quarterbacks and pass catchers, including running backs): Panthers (12.5 points passing points allowed to QBs per game, at Miami in Week 12), Seahawks (12.7, bye), Titans (13.3, at Oakland), Saints (13.2, at Atlanta), Chiefs (14.6, San Diego), 49ers (15.4, at Washington), Bengals (16.0, bye), Dolphins (16.1, Carolina), Steelers (16.8, at Cleveland), Giants (18.1, Dallas).
Worst passing defense (great matchups for your relevant skill players): Vikings (26.2, at Green Bay), Cowboys (25.3, at Giants), Flacons (23.9, New Orleans), Jaguars (22.9, at Houston), Lions (23.4, Tampa Bay), Redskins (20.5, San Francisco), Jets (22.9, at Baltimore), Raiders (22.6, Tennessee), Packers (22.4, Minnesota), Broncos (22.2, at New England), Eagles (21.9, bye).
Best rushing defenses: Panthers (10.3, at Miami), Cardinals (10.5, Indianapolis), Ravens (10.9, Jets), Jets (10.9, at Baltimore), Bengals (12.4, bye), Lions (12.5, Tampa Bay), Buccaneers (13.1, at Detroit), Seahawks (13.5, bye), Raiders (14.0, Tennessee), Giants (14.0, Dallas).
Worst rushing defenses: Jaguars (22.9, at Houston), Titans (20.7, at Oakland), Redskins (20.5, San Francisco), Steelers (20.3, at Cleveland), Bears (20.0, at St. Louis), Cowboys (19.3, at Giants), Dolphins (19.3, Carolina), Falcons (18.1, New Orleans), Rams (18.1, Chicago), Vikings (17.8, Packers).
I also think we’re at the point of a season were the team coming off the loss is a lot weaker. Losses now generally cause teams to lose focus rather than increasing it. The opposite is true in the early going. So the Ravens pretty much have given up on making the playoffs now and may go the Falcons’ route, though this is always less likely in home games. The Packers, of course, could be a lot worse this week on defense if there is a sense that Aaron Rodgers won’t be back in time to get them into the playoffs. Atlanta can pretty much give up any number you can reasonably name to the Saints. The Redskins and 49ers seem to cancel each other out but I think the Redskins have mentally packed it in so I’d go out of my way to play 49ers this week. Cleveland is a lot weaker and the Steelers suddenly stronger. This is largely coaching dependent. But it’s at least a headwind (playing your players now against at team coming off the win) or a tailwind (facing last week’s loser).