By Shawn Maher

Cold, Hard Football Facts' Hog Whisperer (@ShawnBenMaher)

As the 2012 season approaches the halfway point, everything begins to come into focus. The chaff and the wheat are separated, as are the pretenders and the contenders.

And, as so often happens, the numbers do not lie. Standing out, once again, is a CHFF favorite. A team that dominates not only statistically, but physically. The Texans can, of course, beat you in a variety of ways. But like any great team, it all stems from the foundation.

Three Prime Cuts

Texans’ D-Hogs Shun the Glitz and Glitter

The Texans' D-HogsLike Jerrah Jones said, the Cowboys are all about glitz and glitter while the Texans are checkered tablecloths, boots and hats. But the Texans are tops in CHFF’s quality stats, while the Cowboys are a not-so-glitzy 19th.

That explains the Hog Report’s love of the Texans. Their boots were made for blockin’, and J.J. Watt has no problem knockin' the hat off an opposing quarterback. Just ask Aaron Rodgers.

The Texans’ hogs are ranked third in both the Offensive Hog Index and the Defensive Hog Index. In fact, their unrelenting defensive front has racked up an 11.48 NPP% and allowed a stingy 27.42% 3rd down conversion rate.  

The Hog Report talked about last week how important NPP% differential between offensive and defensive units when it comes to winning Super Bowls. The Houston o-hogs have only allowed a 2nd-ranked 5.53 NPP%, which gives them a 5.95 differential.

The Saints’ 4.32 differential was the highest of the past four world champions, which is a perfect reason to think the Texans will be crowned this season in New Orleans.

In their Week 7 showdown with Baltimore, Houston was facing the only other team in the AFC with only one loss. The way Texans thoroughly thrashed the Ravens showed that all one-loss teams are not equal, despite what Bill Parcells would say.

The Texans’ played above their already high standards, with a 12.77 defensive NPP% and a 5.13 offensive NPP%. Even more impressive is that happened as their super-freak with arms that can reach the stratosphere, Watt, was held without a sack. He did, however, tip yet another pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

More importantly, the Ravens' focus on stopping Watt led to the Texans racking up four sacks by three other hogs, with one for a safety. On the safety, the Texans lined up three players to the right, and only Watt and Whitney Mercilus to the left. The Ravens still slid their protection to Watt’s side and the Texans stampeded in for the safety.

Chicago D-Hogs Showing Shades of ‘85

The Bears have a large stable of d-hogs that would be worthy of the blue ribbon at the Illinois State Fair. Any team would love to have a group that contains Julius Peppers, Henry Melton, Israel Idonije, Corey Wootton, and Shea McClellin.

Even more importantly, a group like that is perfect for the defense that Lovie Smith runs. In perhaps the best illustration of how defensive NPP% leads to success, Smith’s Tampa 2 and Cover 3 coverages thrive on defensive fronts wreaking havoc so that his ball-hawking defensive backs can sit back and wait to capitalize on a hastily thrown ball.

Their league-leading NPP% is a jaw-dropping 13.16, and their defense has collected 14 sacks and 21 interceptions.

They are only the 57th professional football team of all time to rack up those numbers in their first six games and the first since the 2009 Eagles, who played with a similar philosophy. When looking at the bigger picture of what the Peppers-led hogs are doing, they compare similarly to the 1985 version of the franchise’s defense.

The Hog Report looked at the numbers for the 1985-86 Bears to the two modern day teams. We used a modified version of CHFF’s Bendability, in which Chicago’s current defense is first-overall, but we only accounted for passing yards and the six points that each passing touchdown received. The higher the number, the more inefficient that the defense rendered the opposing passing offense.

TeamPass AttPass YdsPass TDSacksINTNPP%Pass Bendability
2012 CHI24513686142113.1638.00
2009 PHI208114110122114.4119.02
1986 CHI22412044142415.9750.17
1985 CHI22213779122314.9625.50

As shown, the 1986 Bears were hands-down the best defense of the group. When taking into account the passing offenses of today, however, the present-day Bears fare very well against the 1985 group. In fact, they had a much better passing bendability than the 1985 champs

But the current Bears will need to lower their 12.56 offensive NPP% if they want to start planning a remix of the Super Bowl Shuffle.

The Titans Pave the Way for CJ2K

After running for 25 times for 141 yards during a Sept. 30 loss to the Texans, Chris Johnson said, “I’m going to be as good as my offensive line.” Of course, this could also be seen as an underhanded way to shift the blame for his more disappointing performances. But we like that logic, and Johnson's performance on Sunday can be attributed to his hogs.

Against the Bills on Sunday, the Titans’ o-hogs were good enough for 197 yards on 27 carries. They managed four rushing scores and averaged 7.30 YPA. They also protected Matt Hasselbeck’s old bones well, with a 5.71 NPP% and a 58.33% 3rd-down conversion rate.

In the previous week, the Titans gashed Pittsburgh for 94 yards on 22 carries, good for a 4.27 average. They also converted 56.25% of their 3rd downs.

The past two weeks have seen the o-hog Titans dramatically increase:

Week 7 OHI:

  • Overall: 4th-ranked
  • 9th-ranked 4.35 R/YPA
  • 9th-ranked 6.79 NPP%
  • 8th-ranked 43.62% 3rd-down conversion rate

Week 5 OHI:

  • Overall: 17th-ranked
  • 27th-ranked 3.52 R/YPA
  • 6th-ranked 6.57 NPP%
  • 20th-ranked 35.94% 3rd-down conversion rate

Of course, considering Tennessee’s o-line resurgence, it is important to note that Pittsburgh’s and Buffalo’s d-hogs are the 28th- and 29th-ranked d-hogs, respectively. Even worse, Bills’ rush defense is last in the league, giving up a mind-boggling 5.95 YPA.

At least next week the Titans face the Colts and their 26th-ranked d-hogs that are giving up 4.81 R/YPA.

Roasted Pork Butt: The Cardinals’ Hogs are Defensive Jekyll and Offensive Hyde

Calais Campbell and Sam Acho take down Christian PonderWhen the Cardinals’ opposition has the ball, they work like a brilliant doctor in the vein of Dr. Jekyll. They surgically dissect the opposing offensive hogs to achieve a fourth-ranked 11.95 NPP%. It is a commendable job and a highly under-appreciated group of d-hogs, led by Darnell Docket and the imposing Calais Campbell.

Unfortunately, when they receive the ball, their hogs’ identity suddenly transforms. They become the unruly counterpart, Mr. Hyde, that can do no good.

Starting left tackle in D’Anthony Batiste formerly had trouble sticking with a team, the Cardinals being his sixth in nine seasons. His performance justifies every team that ever moved on.

Rookie right tackle Bobby Massie has slow feet coupled with poor hand technique, and is not ready yet for the pro speed. He was forced into the lineup after starting left tackle Levi Brown was lost for the year.

Throw in the fact that left guard Daryn Colledge was signed from a quick-pass team, the Packers, to a Cardinals team with which he is a square peg in a slow-developing-pass-route round hole, and the result is the last-ranked group in the OHI.

Understandably, their NPP% is also dead last at an abominable 12.50.

Last week Arizona managed to lose to the Vikings. But how the Cardinals did it, however, was incredibly unimpressive.

The Arizona defense managed to limit Minnesota’s Christian Ponder to a line of 8-17 for 58 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs. He also took three sacks for 15 yards, which was almost 25% of his TOTAL passing yards. The rushing attack, featuring Adrian Peterson and his Wolverine-like healing powers, did manage 166 yards on 27 attempts, but only one rushing touchdown.

It has been almost two full years since a team passed for less than 60 yards and won.

Even less impressive in a loss is that the offense allowed a skyscraper-high 18.60 NPP%, but the defense caused an astronomical 25.00 NPP%. The defense allowed only 10% success on third down, while the offense converted a menial, but still more effective, 35.71%

To add the Cardinals’ polar-opposites is that a defensive offside penalty wiped out another Viking interception.

The difference between the two units is illustrated by the tale of two interceptions, with the offenses deep in their own territory. The Vikings pressured John Skelton into throwing an interception on their own 24, which was returned for a touchdown. Arizona pressured Christian Ponder into throwing an interception on his own 16, and the offense was unable to reach the end zone, settling for a field goal.

Surely Campbell and his 4th-ranked d-hogs will be pressuring GM Rod Graves into trading their whole offense for a new one before the trade deadline. In this case, it is a shame to not cast pearls to outstanding swine.

Trench Warfare Week 8: Can Tampa Bay’s Top-Ranked Run Defense Stop Adrian Peterson?

Gerald McCoy takes down Robert Griffin IIIThe Buccaneers’ d-hogs enter tomorrow night’s match-up allowing a minuscule 3.08 R/YPA. As we mentioned, AD Peterson rushed for 6.15 YPA against the 4th-ranked d-hog group in the league. He is currently averaging 4.8 YPA, which matches his career-best season average in 2008.

As they say, something’s gotta give.

On the other hand, can Ponder come back to life with a clean pocket, considering the Bucs’ d-hogs are only creating a 7.05 NPP%? Despite Ponder’s underwhelming stat line, the Vikings offensive line is doing their part. They are sporting a 7th-ranked 6.59 NPP%.

These are two young teams with some young hogs with something to prove. Tampa Bay’s defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is emerging as perhaps a better defensive tackle than his draft-classmate, a man named Suh, but needs to create a stronger interior pass rush.

On the other side, the Vikings’ rookie left tackle Matt Kalil is fast becoming one of the league’s premiere left tackles, but his run-blocking ability has been questioned. Against such a stout run defense, this is the arena in which to prove himself.

Tune in tomorrow. As bearded men in blue suits say, “It’s serious fun!”