By Shawn Maher
Cold, Hard Football Facts Hog Reporter
At the close of the first week of real football, there is hardly a shortage of storylines. The Hog Report is frothing at the mouth after the first taste.
More importantly, however, meaningful data has emerged regarding who has a stable of hogs that can plow their way into the postseason. Other units look ready to be slaughtered this season, eventually lining the aisles in the butcher’s section.
Without further ado, the best and the worst of the big uglies in Week 1 of the 2012 season.
3 Prime Cuts
1. Houston Texans D-Hogs Take Over the Game
The Texans, the in-house favorite to win the Super Bowl, asserted their dominance against the Miami Dolphins to open the season. Defensive end J.J. Watt returned from a dislocated elbow suffered during camp, but showed no ill effects.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has called Watt a future Hall of Famer, and Watt’s performance did little to dissuade such a Rex-Ryan-esque opinion. Watt ended the contest with 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for a loss, 2 quarterback hits and 3 tipped passes.
It looks like he spent good use of his down time by learning Miami’s snap count by watching Hard Knocks.
Not only does Watt create separation with his cartoonishly-long arms, when he throws them in the air the Texans pad their Negative Pass Play percentage (NPP%).
They ended up causing an interception or sack on 15.38% of Miami’s dropbacks. Two of Watt’s tipped passes led to interceptions that the Texans turned into points.
In fact, the Texans d-hog-created turnovers that turned the tide of the game. With the game tied 3-3 in the second quarter, the Texans caused turnovers on three straight Dolphins possessions. Those takeaways turned into 17 points. The Dolphins’ four total turnovers all led to Houston scores.
There are only three recent performances that could compare, but none as impressive as the Texans in Week 1.
- Against the Steelers last season’s finale, Colt McCoy threw 3 INTs that led to touchdown drives, albeit not consecutively.
- In last season’s Week 11, the Lions picked off Cam Newton twice in the Panthers’ last two possessions. The first led to a touchdown that put Carolina down two scores, and the second led to a Detroit victory formation.
- Facing the Seahawks in 2009, Matt Stafford completed passes to the wrong team on three consecutive possessions, but those only led to field goals.
The Texans d-hogs won the game by creating turnovers from keeping Ryan Tannehill under constant duress.
2. The Buccaneers D-Hogs Sink the Panthers’ Rushing Attack
The Panthers arrived at the Tampa Bay pirate ship with last season’s best run-blocking offensive line, which created 5.43 YPA for their talented backfield. Greg Schiano brought an inspired d-hog crew with him to man the ship, and the Buccaneers’ defensive front sparked brighter than the lightning that delayed the game. They were led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy’s 1 sack, 2 tackles for a loss and 2 quarterback hits.
The Panthers’ pathetic 0.77 YPA was the lowest allowed on opening day since 1967. The other two units that have allowed an opening-day YPA lower than 1.0 in that time frame put the Bucs in pretty good company.
- In 2009, the San Francisco d-hogs only allowed the Cardinals to rush for 0.84 YPA.
- The next season, the suffocating Chicago defensive front only gave up 0.95 YPA to Detroit.
In addition to their run defense, Tampa Bay caused an outstanding 13.89 NPP%, which is almost enough to make Schiano actually crack a smile.
3. New York Jets’ O-Hogs Shut Down Buffalo’s Off-Season All-Stars
Throughout the offseason, the criticism mounted for the Jets' offensive unit. The biggest scapegoat, right tackle Wayne Hunter, ended up punching a one-way ticket to St. Louis. His back-up, Austin Howard, ended up shutting down the most-hyped offseason acquisition in the league outside of Peyton Manning: Mario Williams.
Williams made the excuse that Howard was a little too handsy around his face. For a $100 million man, that is still no explanation for the measly 3.7 NPP% that the Jets allowed the Bills to generate. The Jets had an astronomical 71.43% conversion rate on 3rd down, compared to the 34.74% in 2011.
The offensive line is demonstrating a much better ability to create positive-yardage plays by not allowing the sacks and negative-yardage plays that create difficult to convert 3rd-and-longs. Will they be able to sustain their success against a struggling Steelers unit?
The Slaughterhouse 3
1. The Steelers’ Hogs Need More than James Harrison
The Steelers arrived in Denver with the intention of overwhelming a rusty Peyton Manning and joining the mile high club by scoring off negative pass plays.
They matched up against a Denver offensive line that is largely the same as last year’s 23rd-overall group whose abysmal 12.05 NPP% was 4th worst in the league.
The Steelers’ zone blitz was just not effective against Denver, and much of the blame was placed on the absence of Harrison at outside linebacker.
Looking at Pittsburgh’s improved performance without Harrison in 2011, Dick LeBeau might want to evaluate the performance of his entire defensive front.
|2011 All Season||4.00||8.14||38.91|
|2011 w/o Harrison||3.19||9.41||34.12|
|2012 Week 1||3.48||7.14||55.56|
2. Saints’ Aaron Kromer Fails to Tend to his O-Hogs
The coaching staff of New Orleans has been playing musical chairs since Roger Goodell brought the Ginger Hammer down on the Saints organization. Interim coach Joe Vitt handled oversight on the defensive side of the ball and coached the linebackers, while head coach Sean Payton managed the offensive game plan.
After the suspensions, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has taken on all of those duties in addition to his job coaching the offensive line. Kromer’s o-hogs certainly deserved a share of Drew Brees' historic 2011 season, looking like a well-coached, impenetrable wall.
Brees became the first quarterback to twice throw for over 5,000 yards and broke Ken Anderson’s record for completion percentage in a season with a 71.2% rate. The Saints’ offensive line finished 1st overall in the 2011 Hog Index: ranked 1st with a 5.54 NPP%, 1st with 56.73% 3rd down conversion rate, and 4th with 4.94 YPA.
In this year’s opener, they blocked their way to a pedestrian 7.41 NPP% and 3.20 YPA. Even if the negative pass plays did not pile up, take into account their horrendous 18.18% conversion rate on 3rd downs. It shows that they were doing nothing to stay out of 3rd and long situations.
The poor protection also led to Brees failing to find a rhythm in New Orleans’ timing-based offense. His 46.1% completion rate was his worst since Week 16 in 2006, and he hurried many throws due to pressure.
3. Cleveland’s O-Line Belongs in the Hog Pound
This was supposed to be a Browns team on the uptick, with the additions of exciting new offensive weapons in rookies Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon. The Browns have high draft picks at both tackle spots in Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz and at center with Alex Mack.
Like much of the Browns debut, the silver lining began to tarnish and the new-season sheen quickly wore away. The Browns’ entire line struggled, and Schwartz’s first game could not have come against a more daunting set of pass rushers, whose hogs finished 1st in NPP% last season.
Unsurprisingly, the Browns unit allowed a league-worst 16.22 NPP% to kick off the season. What was surprising, however, was how badly Thomas struggled against the Eagles’ defensive ends in the Wide 9 technique. He repeatedly lunged at pass rushers, losing balance by not keeping himself anchored.
Thomas appeared to be wearing concrete cleats and his hand placement was atrocious. If the Browns want to give Weeden a chance to post a passer rating in the double digits this season, then the o-hogs are going to keep him upright.
Falcons vs Broncos: Week 2 Battle in the Trenches
Perhaps the most impressive performance in Week 1 was Matt Ryan’s passing clinic in Arrowhead Stadium. In order to complete 74.2% of his passes, Ryan needed an outstanding performance from his offensive line.
To complete 74.2% of his passes AND do it at 9.65 YPA show that his o-hogs gave Ryan a masterpiece. Left tackle Sam Baker is healthy and looks to have regained the form that made him a first-round draft pick.
This week, however, they do not get to square off against a team without their best pass rusher. Far from it, the Broncos feature Elvis Dumervil rushing off the edge. They will also have to account for sophomore stud Von Miller rushing off the edge, or from the linebacker position, or playing as a safety-linebacker hybrid position in their 3-3-5 formation.
The trio of Dumervil, Miller and rookie Derek Wolfe all will be bearing down on Matt Ryan. They will rush out of multiple fronts employed by defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to create mismatches. The Falcons allowed a minute 3.13 NPP% against the Chiefs, but the Broncos pass rush was able to rattle Ben Roethlisberger into a 13.13 NPP%.
Speaking of multiple looks, Atlanta has a hybrid defense of their own run by Del Rio’s mentor, Mike Nolan. Jon Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux and Sean Weatherspoon all had sacks in racking up a 13.89 NPP% against Kansas City.
Both offenses love to run the no-huddle, and that prevents the defensive units from rotating players and setting up complicated blitz schemes. This thrilling Monday night clash will boil down to who has the tougher group of swine. The Falcons have more experienced talent and a better history with NPP%, but it will be a grind to the finish.
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