Each week The 33rd Team analyzes Sunday’s games by looking at more than just wins and losses. We look at specific statistics and game trends that impacted the outcomes of each game. Today, let’s look at the winners:
Cleveland Browns 26 – Chicago Bears 6
Browns Key Stat: 47 Total Yards Allowed
Sometimes it’s just that simple. The Browns rolled over, beat up, demolished, and threw out the Bears offense. Chicago managed a horrific -0.620 EPA/play as Myles Garrett & co. piled up 23 pressures and 9 sacks for only the 24th nine-sack game since 2010. Per PFF, no Browns defender allowed more than two catches while seven managed a forced incompletion. Chicago fans shouldn’t despair about rookie QB Justin Fields, as passers who struggled mightily in their first start include Fran Tarkenton, Terry Bradshaw, Bob Griese, Troy Aikman, and Matthew Stafford.
Arizona Cardinals 31 – Jacksonville Jaguars 19
Cardinals Key Stat: 5/7 on Passes 15+ Yards Downfield
The Cardinals were able to effectively pick up chunks in the passing game behind Murray’s superb 71% completion rate on passes of 15+ yards, gaining 150 yards with 113 through the air. Murray was pressured on a third of his five- and seven-step drops but maneuvered effectively and was able to get the ball out quickly, with no sacks and only a single QB hit on such plays. With six different players registering 2+ receptions, Arizona has a deep stable of offensive playmakers that will give many teams problems.
Tennessee Titans 25 – Indianapolis Colts 16
Titans Key Stat: 1 Punt
Despite some struggles with turnovers, the Titans clearly learned from an opening drive three-and-out and never punted again. Every following drive was at least seven plays or a touchdown. Even though this was an ugly divisional matchup from the analytics perspective, with neither team posting a positive EPA/play, the Titans went 7-13 on third and fourth down and consistently kept the chains moving. With the weather getting colder, this is a consistent strategy that can win games in December.
Minnesota Vikings 30 – Seattle Seahawks 17
Vikings Key Stat: 78.9% Completion Rate
He might have been missing a shoe at times, but Kirk Cousins executed the Vikings’ game plan to a T. With Alexander Mattison putting up 171 total yards on 32 touches and an average depth of target of only 5.7 yards, Cousins simply had to play an efficient, mistake-free game – which is exactly what he did. Sacked only once and avoiding any interceptions, Cousins finished off three of Minnesota’s six Red Zone drives with a touchdown. It may not be the explosive-passing you’d expect from the league’s second biggest cap hit at QB, but it was the efficient, mistake-free game that Minnesota needed.
Carolina Panthers 24 – Houston Texans 9
Panthers Key Stat: 2.3 YAC/Reception Allowed
In a Thursday night game that saw several key players go down, Carolina prevailed by forcing short underneath completions for a first-time starter in QB Davis Mills and preventing the speedy Texans wideouts from breaking free for big gains. With only four missed tackles the entire game, underappreciated defenders like Shaq Thompson, Donte Jackson, and Jermaine Carter didn’t miss a single tackle and allowed only 44 total yards after the catch. The strategy of forcing a rookie to beat you through the air seems obvious, but the execution by Carolina was extremely impressive.