5 min read

NFL Week 6: Defensive Efficiency Rankings

NFL Week 6: Defensive Efficiency Rankings

A simple look at the yards or points allowed leaderboards shows pretty quickly that the 49ers and Bills have been among the best defenses in the league this year. On the other end of the spectrum, you probably don’t even need to look at one stat to know that the Lions have been the worst to this point.

But what do you make of a Jets defense that is 10th in the NFL in yards allowed but the bottom half of the league in terms of points?

Is the Packers defense as good as its No. 5 ranking in yardage, or is their No. 11 ranking in points more indicative of their performance?

And can anybody make sense of the Houston Texans? They are 29th in the NFL in yards allowed, but are 13th in points allowed, yielding just 19.8 per game.

All things being equal, I’d rather go by points than yards in terms of stacking up the best defenses. But turnovers, defensive scores, and differences in field position can warp even the point totals, especially at this stage of the season.

Fortunately, we have the benefit of Expected Points Added (EPA) to give us a better indication of how well the defenses are actually playing. In the context of team defense, EPA looks at how much an average team would’ve been expected to give up over the course of all their drives to this point in the season and compares it to what they actually gave up. Here, we look at it on a per play level.

For example, the 49ers lead the league with -0.22 EPA/Play, meaning that they have given up 22 fewer points per 100 plays than we would have expected given the situations that they were in. On the other hand, the Lions at 0.16 EPA/Play means that they have allowed 16 more points per 100 plays than would have been expected.

1. San Francisco 49ers (EPA/Play: -0.22) | Last Week: 1

2. Buffalo Bills (EPA/Play: -0.20) | Last Week: 2

The Steelers and their rookie QB were no match for the Bills, who despite ranking second in EPA allowed are just 15th in terms of EPA-based Success Rate, indicating that the Buffalo defense has been very reliant on big plays. They face Kansas City’s second ranked offense (behind only the Bills) in a rematch of last year’s epic playoff game.

T-3. Jacksonville Jaguars (EPA/Play: -0.17)Last Week: T-3

The Jaguars had a reality check against the Texans, but their issues were not on defense. Rookies Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd have been difference-makers.

T-3. Denver Broncos (EPA/Play: -0.17) | Last Week: 7

Like the Jaguars, most of the Broncos questions are on offense. Patrick Surtain II is the third-ranked CB in the league by SIS Total Points, but they will have to withstand the loss of Ronald Darby on the other side.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (EPA/Play: -0.15) | Last Week: 5

T-6. Dallas Cowboys (EPA/Play: -0.14) | Last Week: 9

The Cowboys have been moving up the rankings on the strength of excellent secondary play from Anthony Brown, Trevon Diggs, and Donovan Wilson, but Micah Parsons is the headliner here. He leads the league in Pressures Above Expectation (PAE).

T-6. Cincinnati Bengals (EPA/Play: -0.14) | Last Week: 6

8. Philadelphia Eagles (EPA/Play: -0.13) | Last Week: T-3

The Eagles are in the top 3 in the league in both blitz efficiency and man coverage efficiency, but they have shown some susceptibility to the gap run game (which they have seen more than anybody in the league) and have given up 0.22 EPA/Play on gap runs.

9. New Orleans Saints (EPA/Play: -0.11) | Last Week: 8

T-10. Indianapolis Colts (EPA/Play: -0.10) | Last Week: 15

T-10. New England Patriots (EPA/Play: -0.10) | Last Week: T-20

The Patriots vaulted 10 spots in the rankings on the heels of their shutout victory over the previously-offensively-competent Lions. Slot corner Jonathan Jones is second in the NFL amongst CBs with 26 Total Points through 5 games.

12. New York Jets (EPA/Play: -0.07) | Last Week: T-18

T-13. New York Giants (EPA/Play: -0.04) | Last Week: 14

T-13. Carolina Panthers (EPA/Play: -0.04)  | Last Week: 11

T-13 Green Bay Packers (EPA/Play: -0.04) | Last Week: 10

T-13. Washington Commanders (EPA/Play: -0.04) | Last Week: T-16

T-13. Los Angeles Rams (EPA/Play: -0.04) | Last Week: T-18

18. Houston Texans (EPA/Play: -0.03) | Last Week: T-22

19. Pittsburgh Steelers (EPA/Play: -0.02) | Last Week: T-12

We’ve long been accustomed to the Steelers having one of the best front sevens in football, but after five consecutive seasons with 50 or more sacks, their streak is in jeopardy. They have just 10 sacks through five games.

T-20. Chicago Bears (EPA/Play: -0.01) | Last Week: T-12

T-20. Baltimore Ravens (EPA/Play: -0.01) | Last Week: 26

22. Kansas City Chiefs (EPA/Play: 0.00) | Last Week: T-16

The Chiefs have maintained their high-performing offense and been remarkably average on defense, a formula that has worked well for them in the Mahomes era. While this Sunday is headlined by the Chiefs offense against the Bills defense, this game might come down to whether or not the Chiefs defense can rein in Josh Allen and the Bills offense.

T-23. Tennessee Titans (EPA/Play: 0.02) | Last Week: 29

T-23. Minnesota Vikings (EPA/Play: 0.02) | Last Week: 27

T-23. Los Angeles Chargers (EPA/Play: 0.02) | Last Week: T-22

T-26. Arizona Cardinals (EPA/Play: 0.03) | Last Week: T-22

T-26. Cleveland Browns (EPA/Play: 0.03) | Last Week: T-22

T-26. Miami Dolphins (EPA/Play: 0.03) | Last Week: 28

29. Las Vegas Raiders (EPA/Play: 0.04) | Last Week: T-20

The Raiders slid down the rankings after allowing 30 points against the Chiefs. They have allowed at least 23 points in every game this season. One huge bright spot has been Maxx Crosby, who leads all defensive ends with 24 Total Points split evenly between Pass Rush and Run Defense.

30. Atlanta Falcons (EPA/Play: 0.06) | Last Week: 30

31. Seattle Seahawks (EPA/Play: 0.07) | Last Week: 31

32. Detroit Lions (EPA/Play: 0.16) | Last Week: 32

The Lions defense has been more than twice as bad as the next closest team.