Commentary

Quick Reads: Ryan Mathews' year

The San Diego running back is quietly on pace for a truly great season; who knew?

Originally Published: October 10, 2011
By Vince Verhei | Football Outsiders
Ryan Mathews Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesRyan Mathews is having a fantastic season so far for the San Diego Chargers.

Last week, the rankings in this space left a lot of Quick Reads readers confused. Comment after comment asked why this player had bundles of yards and touchdowns, but ended up ranked poorly in our system. This week, to demonstrate better how our method works, we're going to compare players who finished particularly high or low in our rankings, relative to their fantasy statistics.

We'll start at quarterback, where Tom Brady (164 DYAR, third this week) finished much higher than Eli Manning (9 DYAR, 16th) and Matt Schaub (7 DYAR, 17th), despite throwing for roughly 100 fewer yards (321 for Brady, 420 for Manning, 416 for Schaub). Brady also threw only one touchdown, fewer than Manning (three) or Schaub (two), and he was sacked four times while the others went down only three times apiece.

So why is Brady ranked higher? Part of it is opponent adjustments. Brady put up his numbers against the New York Jets, who have been outstanding against the pass. Manning and Schaub played against the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders, respectively, two teams that have made things easy on opposing quarterbacks. Brady also threw just one interception, compared to three for Manning and two for Schaub. Finally, Brady had only nine incompletions, while Manning threw 15 and Schaub 26. Combining sacks, interceptions, incompletions and completions for short gains, Brady had 17 bad plays, about one-third fewer than Manning (24) and half as many as Schaub (33).

It's easy to look at completion percentage and interceptions and figure out why one quarterback may outrank another, but things can get murkier at running back. For example, Fred Jackson had 111 yards on the ground against Philadelphia for a 4.3-yard average, while Michael Turner rushed for 56 yards against Green Bay, just 3.5 yards per carry. Yet Turner finished 12th among running backs in DYAR, while Jackson was 29th. Although we include receiving value in our overall running back rankings, that does nothing to explain this disparity. While Turner wasn't thrown a single pass, Jackson finished fourth among running backs in receiving DYAR. However, he was sixth from the bottom in rushing value.

Again, part of that is due to opponent adjustments. Jackson was playing against the Philadelphia Eagles, the worst defense in the league in our rankings, while Turner played against the Green Bay Packers, seventh in our run defense rankings entering the week. A play-by-play look at each runner's game further shows how Turner outperformed Jackson. Jackson gained more than half his yards on four carries, while his other 22 runs averaged 2.5 yards each. Half of his carries gained 2 yards or fewer, and he picked up just six first downs. Turner also gained 2 yards or fewer on half of his carries, but one of those short runs was a touchdown, the most valuable play for either runner all day. Turner picked up four total first downs on the ground, two fewer than Jackson, but in 10 fewer carries.

At wide receiver, Victor Cruz caught eight passes in 11 targets for 161 yards, while Hines Ward went 7-of-8 for 54. So why did Ward rank fifth among wide receivers with 44 DYAR, while Cruz was 19th with 27? By our standards, Cruz caught four "failed completions," catches that fail to pick up meaningful yardage. That includes three receptions on third downs that failed to pick up a new set of downs. (Cruz fumbled one of those receptions away, dropping his DYAR even further.) All told, his day consisted of seven bad plays and only four good ones. Only one of Ward's catches was considered a failure, a 1-yard gain on first-and-10. His other six catches produced six first downs, including a pair of touchdowns.

When it comes to DYAR, it's not just about rattling off a series of big plays (although that certainly helps). It's more about avoiding mistakes, moving the chains and keeping your offense on the field.


Three good performances

1. Drew Brees, NO


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