Analysis

NFL Week 14 Defensive Efficiency Rankings

Another article, another opportunity to talk about #EastCoastBias. Of the ten teams with the best defenses on a per-play basis, six of them come from East division teams. (Ignore that the Cowboys aren’t actually on the East Coast, but the Bucs are also in there, so you can just count them if you want). Of the ten teams with the worst defenses, five of them come from West division teams.

Geography probably isn’t driving any of that, but it’s an interesting thing to note as we get to the part of the season where division matchups get more common. 

With schedules getting division-heavy, we’re going to start seeing a lot of matchups of two good defenses or two bad defenses. 

Last week the Bills faced the Patriots, and this week we get Jets-Bills and Bucs-49ers. Of course, the Tampa – San Francisco tilt is likely to look a lot more defense-heavy just because those offenses are not in the best shape of their lives. On the questionable-defense side, we get Raiders-Rams in a matchup of teams that were supposed to have much better seasons than this.

Defensive Efficiency Rankings Explained

This season, we’ve taken a weekly temperature on the efficiency of each offense and defense. This article will again check in on how each NFL defense ranks in EPA/Play. If you’re unfamiliar with EPA, it stands for Expected Points Added and is simply a way to measure whether or not a play brought a team closer to scoring.

For example, it’s easy to understand that a gain of five yards on fourth-and-4 is good, whereas a gain of five yards on fourth-and-6 is bad, and EPA can contextualize that in a way that net yards cannot. 

To put into context the worth of a big turnover, another example would be a quarterback throwing a pick-six on first-and-goal from the opponent’s 1-yard line. Conventional wisdom would say that was a 14-point swing – because we expected the offense to score a touchdown in that situation – and EPA would reflect roughly that. 

T-1. New England Patriots

EPA/Play = -0.14

Last Week = 1

T-1. San Francisco 49ers

EPA/Play = -0.14

Last Week = T-3

T-3. Dallas Cowboys

EPA/Play = -0.13

Last Week = 5

The Cowboys have scored 40+ points in three of their last five games, and yet their defense is their most impressive unit. Trevon Diggs was a somewhat flimsy Defensive Player of the Year candidate last season, with his interceptions masking poor coverage results play-to-play. This year, he’s sixth in Total Points among cornerbacks by allowing 20 fewer yards per game than last year. Micah Parsons has not been utilized as flexibly as last season, but his pass-rush performance has been excellent relative to the alignments from which he rushes.

T-3. Denver Broncos

EPA/Play = -0.13

Last Week = T-3

T-3. New York Jets

EPA/Play = -0.13

Last Week = 2

6. Philadelphia Eagles

EPA/Play = -0.11

Last Week = T-6

7. Washington Commanders

EPA/Play = -0.10

Last Week = T-6

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

EPA/Play = -0.09

Last Week = T-8

9. Buffalo Bills

EPA/Play = -0.08

Last Week = 10

The Buffalo defense is facing another year with key injuries late in the season, with Von Miller now out with an ACL injury. Miller had been generating pressure on quarterbacks at about the rate he was in Denver, but his tackling had fallen off a bit, so his overall impact isn’t what it once was. Greg Rousseau has emerged as a premier pass rusher this season, but he’s done so with Miller drawing attention and with less sack production. It’s also worth noting that the Bills are second-best in early down EPA/play, so they’re having somewhat anomalous struggles on money downs that might even out over the rest of the year.

10. Indianapolis Colts

EPA/Play = -0.07

Last Week = T-8

11. Baltimore Ravens

EPA/Play = -0.05

Last Week = T-12

T-12. Carolina Panthers

EPA/Play = -0.04

Last Week = 14

T-12. Cincinnati Bengals

EPA/Play = -0.04

Last Week = 11

The Bengals’ secondary is a bit thin without the underrated Chidobe Awuzie, who is out for the year with a knee injury. Current starters Eli Apple and Cam Taylor-Britt are each in the bottom quartile in terms of yards allowed per coverage snap in 2022. They’re fortunate to have the help of a solid pass rush. Trey Hendrickson continues to prove he was a good investment in the 2021 offseason, as he’s now in his third consecutive year generating pressure at least five percentage points more than average. 

T-14. Miami Dolphins

EPA/Play = -0.03

Last Week = T-15

T-14. New Orleans Saints

EPA/Play = -0.03

Last Week = T-15

T-14. Pittsburgh Steelers

EPA/Play = -0.03

Last Week = T-15

T-14. Tennessee Titans

EPA/Play = -0.03

Last Week = T-12

18. Seattle Seahawks

EPA/Play = -0.02

Last Week = T-19

T-19. Cleveland Browns

EPA/Play = -0.01

Last Week = T-28

Cleveland leapt up in these rankings thanks to multiple defensive touchdowns in a win against Houston. It’s not often you see a team put up 27 points without the offense getting in the end zone, but the Browns needed that boost with Deshaun Watson struggling in his first start of the season. Safety Grant Delpit has done an excellent job playing downhill in the run game, making 46 tackles on ballcarriers and ranking second among safeties in Total Points against the run. We’ve been talking about pass rushers already on this list, so we can’t get away without mentioning Myles Garrett, who is yet again one of the leaders in pass-rushing Total Points.

T-19. Green Bay Packers

EPA/Play = -0.01

Last Week = T-19

T-19. Minnesota Vikings

EPA/Play = -0.01

Last Week = 24

T-19. New York Giants

EPA/Play = -0.01

Last Week = T-22

T-23. Houston Texans

EPA/Play = 0.00

Last Week = T-26

T-23. Jacksonville Jaguars

EPA/Play = 0.00

Last Week = T-15

T-23. Kansas City Chiefs

EPA/Play = 0.00

Last Week = T-19

T-23. Los Angeles Rams

EPA/Play = 0.00

Last Week = T-22

27. Arizona Cardinals

EPA/Play = 0.01

Last Week = 25

T-28. Chicago Bears

EPA/Play = 0.02

Last Week = T-26

The Bears boast two of the better safeties in the NFL this year, with both Jaquan Brisker and Eddie Jackson ranking among the top 20 in the NFL by Total Points. Jackson is in the top 10 among DBs in tackles—even higher if you only count solo tackles—and has four interceptions so far, while Brisker has been given a dozen or so pass rush opportunities and made the best of them with three sacks. The departed Roquan Smith, meanwhile, ranks fourth among linebackers in Total Points this season.

T-28. Los Angeles Chargers

EPA/Play = 0.02

Last Week = T-28

30. Las Vegas Raiders

EPA/Play = 0.04

Last Week = 30

31. Atlanta Falcons

EPA/Play = 0.06

Last Week = 31

32. Detroit Lions

EPA/Play = 0.08

Last Week = 32

Alex Vidgerman contributed to this report.

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