3 Week 14 Storylines to Watch: Tough Tests for Top Quarterbacks
In Week 13, we saw Drew Brees throw zero touchdowns and three interceptions at home against the Detroit Lions – the first time he’s failed to toss a touchdown in a home game since 2009. We also saw the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Atlanta Falcons 29-28, thanks to a failed two-point conversion return by Eric Berry.
With the playoff picture beginning to take shape and races beginning to tighten, games and individual matchups become even more important this week.
We’ll look at two of the league's better quarterbacks squaring off against two of the best pass defenses, as well as a divisional showdown that will likely impact the AFC's playoff picture.
Here we go.
Tough Test For Kirk
With the Washington Redskins still in the hunt for a playoff spot with a record of 6-5-1, their divisional showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles is massively important. One of the key matchups will be Kirk Cousins against the Eagles' secondary.
After a rough start to 2016, Cousins has become one of the NFL's most productive quarterbacks. Ranking third in passing yards (3,811) and sixth in completion percentage (67.5%), he has been the catalyst for a Washington passing game that ranks third in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) on a per play basis when adjusted for strength of schedule.
Cousins himself tops the league in terms of Passing NEP and ranks fourth on a per-play basis.
Although the Eagles’ pass defense currently ranks third in our metrics when adjusted for strength of schedule, they have allowed an average of 310 yards passing over their last three games.
The quarterbacks they faced – Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Andy Dalton – have all been less efficient than Cousins according to our metrics, leaving the door open for a fourth consecutive strong showing against the Philadelphia defense.
The last time these teams met in Week 6, Washington ran the ball 31 times with Matt Jones collecting 135 yards and a touchdown. A Washington running back has hit 100 yards rushing just once since then, so expect Cousins to be heavily relied upon in a tough matchup.
AFC South Showdown
A three way tie at 6-6 between the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, and the Tennessee Titans is shaping up to be one of the most interesting divisional races as we come down the stretch. Depending on the outcome of the Titans-Denver Broncos game, the winner of the Texans-Colts tilt could be the sole owner of the AFC South by Monday morning.
When we look at team efficiency on both offense and defense for these squads, the contrast becomes absolutely striking:
|Team||Off. NEP/P||Rank||Def. NEP/P||Rank|
Brock Osweiler's 2016 performance has tested the definition of terrible. Only Case Keenum and Blake Bortles have been less efficient passers according to our metrics. The good news for Osweiler, though, is the Colts rank 22nd in sacks and 26th in interceptions.
Another intriguing facet of this game is the Texans’ pass rush against the Colts’ offensive line. According to Football Outsiders, Indianapolis ranks 30th in Adjusted Sack Rate. Conversely, the Texans rank 26th in sacks.
The loss of J.J. Watt has really hurt Houston’s pass rush, but if they can rally and take advantage of a weak pass-protection group, they could be the difference.
Although the Colts have the second-highest implied team total on the week (26.25) as 6.5-point home favorites, the factors discussed above may point to a slightly closer outcome.
Aaron Rodgers, On Fire
It’s been a strange season for Aaron Rodgers. He's the NFL’s all-time leader in Adjusted Yards per Attempt (8.43) and ranks 6th all-time in touchdown percentage (6.3%), so when he was completing less than 57% of throws after four games, we wondered what was wrong.
Since Week 7, things have changed:
Rodgers currently ranks 6th in Passing NEP and 8th on a per play basis among quarterbacks with 200 or more attempts. He’s also shown the ability to be an effective runner, ranking 6th in Rushing NEP among the same quarterback cohort.
On the other side, Seattle ranks seventh against the pass on a per play basis when adjusted for strength of schedule and fourth in overall defensive efficiency.
Since becoming the Packers' starting quarterback in 2008, Rodgers has only exhibited a slight drop-off in production when facing a top-10 ranked pass defense:
It’s also imperative to mention the loss of Earl Thomas and what that could mean for the Seahawks’ secondary.