Titans vs Packers - a Football Outsiders Preview


On Sunday, Tennessee and Green Bay will begin the November portion of their respective schedules playing each other at LP Field. The teams are already familiar with each other, having met in Green Bay in August for their final pre-season game.

The Packers come into the game tied with the Bears at 4-3 in the NFC North, and they look to keep pace with Chicago while the Bears will spend their weekend on a bye playing the Detroit Lions. The Packers will have preparation in their favor when they come to Nashville, as they are returning from their week 8 bye.

With a short work week the Titans are grateful to stay at home, having taken down the reigning AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football. This game will be Tennessee's toughest yet, as Green Bay will be the only other team that the Titans have faced this season that owns a winning record (Baltimore is the other, also 4-3).

While matchup previews on the Network (NFL) and the Worldwide Leader (ESPN) will probably provide plenty of traditional football analysis (opinion), I've decided to do something different (numbers).

For the uninitiated, Football Outsiders is the Bell Labs of professional football sabermetrics. They publish the Pro Football Prospectus, an annual look back and look ahead at the NFL using their proprietary statistical concepts. If you like football and numbers, then they are the sports writers for you.

In what I hope will become a weekly affair for the remainder of the regular season, I will provide a breakdown of the Titans' upcoming matchup using the stats that FO generates. If you've never read anything from FO, some of their terms will be confusing. Please familiarize yourself with their innovations here before reading on; you'll be a better fan for it. Now for the numbers.

As a team, the Titans have posted the third highest overall DVOA through eight weeks. Though perfect in record, they sit behind the 4-3 Philadelphia Eagles (38.6%, in 1st) and the 6-1 New York Giants (37.2%, in 2nd). Green Bay edges the upper third of NFL teams in DVOA (13.7%, in 11th), making them either the worst of the best, below Carolina (13.8%), or the best of the average, above Miami (13.6%).

Both teams sit in the middle of the league in offensive DVOA, but they are different varieties of average. Green Bay (5.9%, tied for 15th) has a pretty successful passing game (17.5%, in 11th), sitting between Denver (20.8%) and Jacksonville (16.8%). The Packers are held back on offense by their running game (-7.7%, in 25th). They are accompanied in their rushing struggles by, and I can't believe I'm typing this, Carolina (-4.5%) and Minnesota (-8.3%).

Tennessee regresses to the mean by employing the opposite strategy - throwing poorly and running well. The Titans (4.6%, in 18th) have a below average passing game (-2.5%, in 20th), well ahead of the Jets (-9.2%) but behind the Vikings (-1.3%). The Titans move on the ground well, however (9.9%, in 6th), ahead of the Falcons (8.8%) and just behind the Ravens (10.0%).

In defensive DVOA, both teams are in the top ten, however, Tennessee's defense in substantially more balanced and, consequently, more dominating. The Titans are tied with the Steelers for bronze medal defense (-23.4%, in 3rd) behind Baltimore (-23.5%) and ahead of Philadelphia (-18.3%). The Packers (-6.7%, in 8th) are wedged between the Giants (-6.9%) and the Bears (-6.5%).

As good as Green Bay is against the pass (-29.6%, in 2nd), they are trumped by Tennessee (-33.4%), the best in the league through eight weeks. The Titans are also in the top ten against the run (-12.0%, in 8th) behind the Bears (-14%) and ahead of the Redskins (-7.9%). The Packers, on the other hand, are three spots out of last against the run (17.1%, in 29th) trailing the Raiders (14.9%) but fending off the Rams (21.7%).

So that's a macro look at both sides of the ball. I'm not going to cover special teams. Football Outsiders, though they measure special teams stats, they also have found that football is a seven part game - three parts offense, three parts defense, and one part special teams. Six out of seven isn't bad (unless there is a PAT involved).

Also, this isn't a FO stat but an old fashioned NFL one - Charles Woodson and Nick Collins of the Packers and Michael Griffin and Cortland Finnegan of the Titans are all tied for the league lead with four interceptions each. If there were an interconference mid-season pro bowl team (just rolls of the tongue, doesn't it?) those four guys would be your starting secondary.

I believe that will wrap it up for now. In this inaugural column I wanted to introduce the DVOA concept on both sides of the ball and make general comparisons. Later in the week I plan on specifically comparing quarterbacks, running backs, and receiving corps with DYAR, and the offensive and defensive lines with Success Rates. That column will focus on the weapons and strategies that make each team function.

Finally, please share any ideas or criticisms in the comments below. I want this to become a regular feature on Music City Miracles, and if it is going to be I would like the readers to have some say in its content.