Rankings

NFL Week 12 Defensive Efficiency Rankings

One of the most interesting trends to watch this year has been the decrease in overall scoring in a league where we are used to seeing increases year after year. Rushing efficiency is up, but passing efficiency is down. This has come in a year where two-high shell coverages have been more utilized.

From an X’s and O’s perspective, all of this makes logical sense. Passing has been growing in usage and efficiency over recent years (with assists from rule changes and more efficient strategies). Teams have adapted by increasing the amount of time they play with two deep safeties. Quarters coverage has been growing in popularity in the college game for years, and NFL teams are following suit. So it stands to reason that teams are having more success on the ground at the expense of through the air.

With that in mind, it’s especially fascinating that the Patriots have ascended to first place in our defensive efficiency rankings. New England has eschewed the prevailing two-high philosophy and doubled down on its single-high preference. The Pats lead the NFL in both usage and performance with a middle of the field closed (MOFC) look on 63% of coverage snaps for -0.21 EPA per pass play.

As the league zigs, you can always count on Bill Belichick to zag. With lackluster QB play, the Patriots have won four out of their last five and are just a game out of first place in the surprisingly competitive AFC East.

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 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. 

1. New England Patriots 

EPA/Play = -0.18

Last Week = T-1

The Patriots have finally knocked the Broncos out of the top spot with an assist from Zach Wilson. As usual, their strength is on the back end, where Jonathan Jones leads their secondary with 40 Total Points (eighth among CBs). Up front, Matt Judon continues to be even better with New England than he was in Baltimore. For the second season in a row, he has 14 sacks, a pressure rate over 17%, and over 20 Pass Rush Total Points. The 30-year-old is on pace for the best season of his career.

T-2. Denver Broncos

EPA/Play = -0.14

Last Week = T-1

T-2. New York Jets

EPA/Play = -0.14

Last Week = 3

4. Philadelphia Eagles

EPA/Play = -0.12

Last Week = T-4

T-5. Dallas Cowboys

EPA/Play = -0.11

Last Week = T-8

Dallas has been quietly working its way into the top five in current Super Bowl odds, and Total Points likes them even better. The Cowboys are third overall in Total Points per game, and they are second in terms of Total Points on defense. With Micah Parsons leading an intimidating pass-rushing unit to a 40% pressure rate and 4.2 sacks per game, the trend toward running has been strong for Cowboys’ opponents. They are at virtual equilibrium allowing 4.9 yards per pass play compared to 4.7 yards per rush.

T-5. San Francisco 49ers

EPA/Play = -0.11

Last Week = T-6

T-7. Indianapolis Colts

EPA/Play = -0.10

Last Week = T-6

T-7. Washington Commanders

EPA/Play = -0.10

Last Week = 10

T-9. Buffalo Bills

EPA/Play = -0.09

Last Week = T-4

Buffalo still leads the NFL in team Total Points per game, but after losing two of its last three, all eyes will be on Josh Allen to put on a Thanksgiving show against the bottom-ranked defense in the league in Detroit. While that shouldn’t be a problem, the bigger threat to the Bills is likely to be the Lions’ more formidable offense. Buffalo has struggled in late-down situations defensively, ranking just 24th in the NFL in Success Rate, so the Bills will need to improve their ability to get off the field on third downs as we head into the home stretch.

T-9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

EPA/Play = -0.09

Last Week = T-8

11. Cincinnati Bengals 

EPA/Play = -0.07

Last Week = 11

12. Tennessee Titans

EPA/Play = -0.06

Last Week = 12

13. Baltimore Ravens

EPA/Play = -0.05

Last Week = T-22

The Ravens started the season with four games exclusively against the AFC East, and at the time, it appeared that they missed their old defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. They have played only NFC South foes in their last three games, and at this time, it appears that Roquan Smith was exactly the midseason acquisition that they needed to make a postseason run. Or maybe the AFC East is just a lot better than the NFC South. Regardless, Baltimore’s season is likely to come down to their four AFC North games in the last five weeks of the season.

T-14. Green Bay Packers

EPA/Play = -0.04

Last Week = 13

T-14. Seattle Seahawks

EPA/Play = -0.04

Last Week = T-14

T-16. Carolina Panthers

EPA/Play = -0.03

Last Week = T-20

T-16. Jacksonville Jaguars

EPA/Play = -0.03

Last Week = T-16

T-16. Los Angeles Rams

EPA/Play = -0.03

Last Week = T-16

T-16. New Orleans Saints

EPA/Play = -0.03

Last Week = T-16

T-20. New York Giants

EPA/Play = -0.02

Last Week = T-16

T-20. Pittsburgh Steelers

EPA/Play = -0.02

Last Week = T-20

22. Minnesota Vikings

EPA/Play = -0.01

Last Week = T-14

The Vikings won seven consecutive games by a total of 36 points before losing to the Cowboys by 37 in Week 11. While this sends them down any rankings list that evaluates teams on a play-by-play basis (like this one), they are still 8-2 and have the opportunity to quickly right the ship on a short week. Despite dropping to 22nd in EPA/Play, the Minnesota defense is still ninth in Total Points per game. It is led by ageless cornerback Patrick Peterson’s 41 Total Points, and linebacker Jordan Hicks’ 37 Total Points are second-most amongst LBs in the NFL.

T-23. Chicago Bears

EPA/Play = 0.00

Last Week = T-25

T-23. Kansas City Chiefs

EPA/Play = 0.00

Last Week = T-22

T-25. Arizona Cardinals

EPA/Play = 0.01

Last Week = T-22

T-25. Miami Dolphins

EPA/Play = 0.01

Last Week = T-25

T-27. Houston Texans

EPA/Play = 0.03

Last Week = T-28

T-27. Los Angeles Chargers

EPA/Play = 0.03

Last Week = T-25

29. Cleveland Browns

EPA/Play = 0.04

Last Week = T-28

T-30. Atlanta Falcons

EPA/Play = 0.06

Last Week = T-30

T-30. Las Vegas Raiders

EPA/Play = 0.06

Last Week = T-30

32. Detroit Lions

EPA/Play = 0.09

Last Week = 32

The Lions still have the worst defense in the league by a wide margin, but to their credit, they have shrunk the gap with wins in their last three games and are no longer more than twice as bad as the next worst team. Rookie Aidan Hutchinson has flashed some signs of life, but until Detroit can find a way to limit their opponents to less than 5.2 yards per carry and 7.4 yards per pass play, they will have a hard time against the stronger teams on their schedule.

Prepared by Matt Manocherian.

WATCH MORE: Benching Zach Wilson Was Right Move

 

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