Six Facts to Know Through Week 15

DeMarco Murray continues to be underused and underrated this season.

Whether or not you’re the type to blame Tony Romo doesn’t matter – I think we can all agree that the play calling for Dallas on Sunday was atrocious.

The Cowboys entered the locker room at halftime with a 26-3 lead, and a running game that couldn’t be stopped. DeMarco Murray, at that moment, had rushed 11 times for a whopping 93 yards in the first half. And with a huge lead, it only made sense for that type of production – or at least a heavier dose of the run game – to continue.

But not under Jason Garrett. Instead of trying to run some clock, Dallas avoided the ground attack, running the ball a grand total of eight times with a 23-point halftime lead. Over the first two quarters, Dallas controlled the clock for well over eight minutes per quarter. In the second half, those numbers moved in favor of the Pack.

Football fans know how the game ended.

If only Jason Garrett was aware of the first fact this week, perhaps he would’ve called a different second half. Perhaps.

DeMarco Murray leads the NFL in Rushing Net Expected Points.

Running back DeMarco Murray is having an incredibly underrated season, and not just from a raw statistics standpoint. His 5.5 yards per carry average and 8 touchdowns in 12 games is nice, but his Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) total – a metric that looks at how many points a player is adding to his team’s output – is best in the league among all running backs.

His 30.25 total (rushing totals are lower due to passing being more efficient) is over seven points higher than the second-place LeSean McCoy, and of all running backs since 2000, Murray’s total is close to being a top-20 one.

But no, let’s throw the ball instead, Jason.

Matt Cassel has a better Passing Net Expected Points total than Andy Dalton.

The Vikings will be facing off against the Bengals this weekend, and funny enough, the best quarterback on the field at Paul Brown Stadium may be Matt Cassel.

Now, even though the metrics pin Cassel as the better passer this season, you have to keep sample size and strength of opponent in mind. Dalton’s played his roller coaster-like game the entire season, while Cassel’s seen the field in seven contests, starting four of them. In games where he’s seen 25 or more attempts this year, Cassel’s faced Pittsburgh (16th according to our metrics against the pass), Carolina (3rd), Chicago (10th), Baltimore (15th) and Philadelphia (26th). And the Philadelphia game is what really catapulted his Passing NEP, as it nearly doubled from Week 14 to 15.

This is why we often filter data by grouping players with similar volume. Though I should note that Matt Cassel’s easily - easily - been the best Vikings’ passer this year.

Julian Edelman is second in wide receiver targets over the last four weeks.

Why Julian Edelman isn’t getting the love he deserves is unknown, but let me shed some light if you’re unaware: Julian Edelman is a WR1 in PPR leagues right now.

Edelman has been targeted just two fewer times than Browns stud receiver Josh Gordon over the last four weeks, seeing five more targets than Dez Bryant and Andre Johnson. As a result, he’s caught 37 passes for four touchdowns, including three 100-yard games.

If he’s somehow out there in some of your leagues, especially PPR ones, he should be owned and started.

Of the passers since 2000 with at least 500 drop backs, Eli Manning is on pace to capture the ninth-worst quarterback season.

As you know, our Passing NEP metric deals with efficiency. It takes the down and distances on a football field given a game situation, and calculates what should happen versus what does happen.

So far this year, Eli Manning has captured a -49.41 Passing NEP score, which, if extrapolated through the rest of the season, would become -56.47. Of course he could increase his NEP with a couple of solid plays, but at this time, he’s pacing towards the wrong side of history.

Since the year 2000, there have been just eight different quarterbacks with a -50.00 Passing NEP while dropping back to pass 500 or more times (185 quarterbacks through 2012 had 500 or more drop backs in a season). Eli’s already hit the volume mark, and he’s closing in on the efficiency one, too. When you’re in the conversation with David Carr, Chris Weinke and Tim Couch, you know things aren’t going well.

It’s kind of amazing that he’s won two Super Bowls, isn’t it?

San Diego has faced the second-fewest rush plays in the NFL this year.

Carolina has seen 303 running plays against them in 2013, while the Chargers, next on the list, have seen 323. Carolina’s low number seems obvious – they’re tough at stopping the run, and are often winning (ahead) games. San Diego, while they’re 7-7 and have an offense that forces other team’s to catch up, is a much more interesting case.

And it’s even more interesting when you consider their per play defensive rushing efficiency ranks 31st in the NFL, only ahead of Chicago. If not for volume, we’d be talking about San Diego being a fantastic team to target for fantasy running backs.

Greg Little has the worst Target NEP in the NFL.

It’s easy to make fun of Greg Little and his lack of ability to catch the football, but when the advanced metrics agree, you know there's something to it.

Little has the worst Target NEP in the league right now, coming in with a -29.80 score. To put this into perspective, the Browns have lost nearly 30 points this season when Greg Little is targeted. That’s over two points per game because he's on the field.

Now, because the majority of pass-catchers see positive gains in terms of NEP, this number is typically positive. In fact, out of every receiver who’s caught a pass this year, only 54 have a negative Target NEP – and that includes players who caught one for a minimal gain, too.

Essentially, Little’s number tell me a couple of things. First, his catch rate is low. Because we’re dealing with Target NEP, we’re looking at a player's contribution on all targets, not just receptions. Upon further investigation, yes – Greg Little’s 42.86% catch rate is third worst in the NFL among 20-plus reception wideouts.

Second, it tells me that, when Greg Little does indeed catch the ball, he’s still not contributing a whole lot for his team. Again, that’s confirmed when you look at his Reception NEP per Target (contribution on receptions only divided by volume), where he ranks only worse than the Jets Stephen Hill.

Greg Little may be the worst wide receiver in the NFL.