Commentary

Quick Reads: Arian Foster runs wild

FBO spotlights the best and worst from around the NFL, including the Texans' RB

Updated: September 13, 2010, 1:09 PM ET
By Bill Barnwell | Football Outsiders
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesOnly three running backs have had better single-game performances in the past 15 years than Foster.

In Week 1, Peyton Manning threw for 433 yards, which led the league. His team lost. Just behind him was Carson Palmer, who threw for 345 yards; 159 of those went to Chad Ochocinco, who led the NFL in receiving yards. The Bengals lost, too. Great statistical performances from players like Miles Austin, Michael Vick and Darren McFadden didn't help their teams avoid meeting the same fate: losses.

So NFL statistics are useless, right? Think again. The problem is that those numbers don't adjust for context. Most of Palmer's yards came when he was down three touchdowns. Vick and McFadden were in the same boat. Even a fair amount of Manning's performance came against a prevent defense in the second half.

The solution isn't to throw the numbers away, it's to use better statistics. That's where Quick Reads comes in. It's the Monday morning wrap-up of the previous weekend's NFL games that takes Football Outsiders' advanced metrics and years of researching what makes teams win to break down who really contributed to wins and losses.

Featured in that discussion is a Football Outsiders metric known as defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR). It takes a player's performance on each play he's involved with and measures his level of play versus that of a replacement-level player (think a street free agent like Willie Parker or Jeff Garcia) after adjusting for the down and distance, the game situation and the quality of the opposition. (Quality of opposition isn't factored in until after Week 4, and it isn't fully incorporated until Week 11.)

DYAR is difficult to compute, but it makes logical sense: A 2-yard gain on third-and-17 against the Detroit Lions in a blowout isn't as valuable as those same 2 yards on third-and-1 against the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter of a tie game. Fantasy football treats them as equal, but DYAR sees the 2-yard gain against the Lions as a negative play and sees the run against the Ravens as a valuable one. A deeper explanation is available on footballoutsiders.com.

DYAR does a great job of taking the air out of inflated numbers and providing context for otherworldly games, and this week is no exception. One prominent receiver exceeded 100 yards while having a game that actually rated as one of the worst performances of the week, while another player had one of the five greatest games at his position over the past 15 years. As always, we'll start with the positive.


To read Football Outsiders' full list of the best and worst players from the NFL's first Sunday, plus in-depth analysis of those players, you must be an ESPN Insider.

Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) is a staff writer for Grantland.