Analysis

NFL Week 17 Defensive Efficiency Rankings

With the aid of frigid weather across the country, defenses held opposing offenses to the third-lowest-scoring week of the season in terms of points per game. Offenses were forced to call conservative plays to battle the elements, and defenses took full advantage by getting off the field.

However, the Rams, Cowboys and Packers—who all forced four turnovers and led the league in Week 16—played either in warmer climates or in domes. All of these games were high-scoring affairs and certainly had a high variance feel.

As we roll into the penultimate week of the regular season, we take a look at the team defensive efficiency rankings in terms of EPA per play.

Defensive Efficiency Rankings Explained

This season, we’ve taken a weekly temperature on the efficiency of each offense and defense. This article will once again check in on how each NFL offense 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. 

1. San Francisco 49ers

EPA/Play = -0.15

Last Week = T-1

2. New England Patriots

EPA/Play = -0.14

Last Week = T-1

3. New York Jets

EPA/Play = -0.11

Last Week = 4

4. Buffalo Bills

EPA/Play = -0.10

Last Week = T-8

The Bills’ defense did a great job in limiting the Bears’ run game to only 80 yards and a league-best -0.45 EPA per rush attempt. They also forced two turnovers and allowed only 5.3 yards per pass attempt, which resulted in only 13 points for the Bears at frigid Soldier Field. Going into a massive AFC showdown with the Bengals on Monday night, the Bills’ defense brings in the best red zone defense by a wide margin, allowing -0.24 EPA per play, which is 0.05 EPA lower than the next closest team. 

T-4. Dallas Cowboys

EPA/Play = -0.10

Last Week = T-5

T-4. Denver Broncos

EPA/Play = -0.10

Last Week = 3

7. Philadelphia Eagles

EPA/Play = -0.09

Last Week = T-5

T-8. Indianapolis Colts

EPA/Play = -0.08

Last Week = T-8

T-8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

EPA/Play = -0.08

Last Week = 10

T-8. Washington Commanders

EPA/Play = -0.08

Last Week = 7

11. Cincinnati Bengals

EPA/Play = -0.06

Last Week = T-11

T-12. Baltimore Ravens

EPA/Play = -0.05

Last Week = T-11

T-12. New Orleans Saints

EPA/Play = -0.05

Last Week = T-13

T-14. Cleveland Browns

EPA/Play = -0.04

Last Week = T-13

T-14. Kansas City Chiefs

EPA/Play = -0.04

Last Week = T-17

The Chiefs’ defense did an excellent job limiting the Seahawks’ offense to 5.4 yards per pass attempt and didn’t allow a touchdown until the fourth quarter. It also stood tall in key situations, turning over the Seahawks on downs three times as well as getting a timely interception in the middle of the fourth quarter while Seattle’s offense was driving. This was a needed performance for the Chiefs, as they allowed 28 points to the Broncos and 24 points to the Texans, two of the worst offenses in football, during the last two weeks. 

T-14. Pittsburgh Steelers

EPA/Play = -0.04

Last Week = T-13

After allowing a 14-play, 72-yard opening touchdown drive to the Raiders, the Steelers’ defense buckled down and allowed only three more points the rest of the game. In the second half specifically, the Raiders only got into Steelers’ territory once, which resulted in one of Derek Carr’s three interceptions, all of which came in the second half. 

The Steelers have been successful in early down defense this year, ranking seventh in EPA per play at -0.07. Their main issue has been getting off the field on late downs, as they rank 29th. The Steelers are hanging by a thread in the playoff race and will face their ultimate rival, the Ravens, on Sunday night.

T-17. Carolina Panthers

EPA/Play = -0.03

Last Week = T-13

T-17. Green Bay Packers

EPA/Play = -0.03

Last Week = T-17

T-17. Jacksonville Jaguars

EPA/Play = -0.03

Last Week = T-20

T-17. Tennessee Titans

EPA/Play = -0.03

Last Week = T-17

T-21. Houston Texans

EPA/Play = -0.02

Last Week = T-23

T-21. Los Angeles Rams

EPA/Play = -0.02

Last Week = T-23

The Rams’ defense took full advantage of a mediocre Broncos offense and recorded four interceptions on Christmas Day, with one being a pick-six. Cobie Durant had two of those interceptions, winning the best Christmas Day Durant performance in a long time. Even being out of playoff contention and missing Aaron Donald, the Rams are still playing inspired defense down the stretch in a bend but don’t break style. They rank fourth in EPA per play in the red zone despite ranking in the bottom half of early down, late down and midfield efficiency.    

T-21. Miami Dolphins

EPA/Play = -0.02

Last Week = T-20

T-24. Arizona Cardinals

EPA/Play = -0.01

Last Week = T-23

T-24. Minnesota Vikings

EPA/Play = -0.01

Last Week = T-20

T-24. Seattle Seahawks

EPA/Play = -0.01

Last Week = T-23

27. New York Giants

EPA/Play = 0.00

Last Week = T-23

28. Los Angeles Chargers

EPA/Play = 0.01

Last Week = 28

T-29. Chicago Bears

EPA/Play = 0.02

Last Week = T-29

T-29. Las Vegas Raiders

EPA/Play = 0.02

Last Week = T-29

31. Atlanta Falcons

EPA/Play = 0.06

Last Week = T-31

32. Detroit Lions

EPA/Play = 0.08

Last Week = T-31

Prepared by James Weaver

WATCH: Cam’s Corner Week 16

 

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