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Published: Dec. 19, 2019 at 05:21 p.m.
Updated: Dec. 19, 2019 at 05:48 p.m.

Next Gen Stats: Key figures shaping AFC playoffs

Before we dive into Week 16 of the 2019 NFL season, let's take a look at some metrics that are shaping the AFC playoff picture.

6 Photos Total

  • The Ravens have excelled with blitzes on both sides of the ball in 2019. Lamar Jackson leads the NFL with 22 TD passes on blitzes, seven more than any other QB in a season since 2016. That number also equals or surpasses all but one other QB in the last two seasons (Russell Wilson has 26). Jackson's TD efficiency vs. blitzes stems from facing five or more rushers on 46.8% of dropbacks in the red zone this season, the second-highest rate in the NFL (18 of Jackson's 22 TDs vs. the blitz have come in the red zone). On the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens have blitzed opposing QBs on 49.5% of dropbacks (highest in a season since Next Gen Stats began tracking in 2016) and have allowed the lowest completion percentage (60.6%) and yards per attempt (5.7) when blitzing this season. Both blitz trends could be critical to the Ravens' effort to sustain a long playoff run. 6

    Associated Press

    Ravens boast ridiculous success with blitz trends

    The Ravens have excelled with blitzes on both sides of the ball in 2019. Lamar Jackson leads the NFL with 22 TD passes on blitzes, seven more than any other QB in a season since 2016. That number also equals or surpasses all but one other QB in the last two seasons (Russell Wilson has 26). Jackson's TD efficiency vs. blitzes stems from facing five or more rushers on 46.8% of dropbacks in the red zone this season, the second-highest rate in the NFL (18 of Jackson's 22 TDs vs. the blitz have come in the red zone). On the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens have blitzed opposing QBs on 49.5% of dropbacks (highest in a season since Next Gen Stats began tracking in 2016) and have allowed the lowest completion percentage (60.6%) and yards per attempt (5.7) when blitzing this season. Both blitz trends could be critical to the Ravens' effort to sustain a long playoff run.

  • As Tom Brady slowly declines, evidenced by his -4.1% completion percentage relative to expectation (2nd-lowest in NFL), the Patriots must continue to rely on their defense with their tight coverage (3.0 yards of separation, 2nd-fewest allowed in NFL) and pressure (29.6% pressure rate, 5th-highest in NFL) to have a fruitful playoff run. Luckily for New England, it has Bill Belichick and Stephon Gilmore, who has 84 targets as nearest defender without allowing a TD this season (most in NFL). Belichick's unit has been outstanding, especially when it comes to blitzing. The Patriots allow the lowest passer rating (57.3) and have nine INTs (most in NFL) on blitzes in 2019. Looking ahead to a potential playoff matching between the Pats and Ravens, Belichick has blitzed QBs with less than two years of experience (Lamar Jackson) on 34.9% of dropbacks (blitzes 29.1% of QBs with 3-plus years of experience) in the last three seasons. 5

    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Blitzing Belichick against young QBs

    As Tom Brady slowly declines, evidenced by his -4.1% completion percentage relative to expectation (2nd-lowest in NFL), the Patriots must continue to rely on their defense with their tight coverage (3.0 yards of separation, 2nd-fewest allowed in NFL) and pressure (29.6% pressure rate, 5th-highest in NFL) to have a fruitful playoff run. Luckily for New England, it has Bill Belichick and Stephon Gilmore, who has 84 targets as nearest defender without allowing a TD this season (most in NFL). Belichick's unit has been outstanding, especially when it comes to blitzing. The Patriots allow the lowest passer rating (57.3) and have nine INTs (most in NFL) on blitzes in 2019. Looking ahead to a potential playoff matching between the Pats and Ravens, Belichick has blitzed QBs with less than two years of experience (Lamar Jackson) on 34.9% of dropbacks (blitzes 29.1% of QBs with 3-plus years of experience) in the last three seasons.

  • After Mahomes returned from his knee injury in Week 10, Andy Reid schemed more quick passes into the game plan as a precaution to keep his QB safe (Weeks 1-7: 41.5 quick pass percentage; Weeks 10-11: 62.2). Mahomes has been a more efficient passer on passes taking at least 2.5 seconds to throw (quick passes: 6.3 yards per attempt; 2.5+ seconds: 10.2 ypa) this season. Part of that is because Mahomes is more prone to push the ball downfield on passes with 2.5-plus seconds to throw, averaging 8.8 air yards per attempt more on such passes (13.0) than on quick passes (4.2). The good news for the Chiefs is that since their Week 12 bye week, Mahomes has returned to his old self, attempting passes taking 2.5-plus seconds on 60.2% of attempts, which is in line with his 2.5-plus-second pass percentage in Weeks 1-7 (58.5%). 4

    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Patrick Mahomes returning to MVP form?

    After Mahomes returned from his knee injury in Week 10, Andy Reid schemed more quick passes into the game plan as a precaution to keep his QB safe (Weeks 1-7: 41.5 quick pass percentage; Weeks 10-11: 62.2). Mahomes has been a more efficient passer on passes taking at least 2.5 seconds to throw (quick passes: 6.3 yards per attempt; 2.5+ seconds: 10.2 ypa) this season. Part of that is because Mahomes is more prone to push the ball downfield on passes with 2.5-plus seconds to throw, averaging 8.8 air yards per attempt more on such passes (13.0) than on quick passes (4.2). The good news for the Chiefs is that since their Week 12 bye week, Mahomes has returned to his old self, attempting passes taking 2.5-plus seconds on 60.2% of attempts, which is in line with his 2.5-plus-second pass percentage in Weeks 1-7 (58.5%).

  • The Texans have used an empty formation at the highest rate in the NFL this season (14.9% of offensive plays). The formation has been beneficial to Deshaun Watson, who has been effective on passes from empty formations, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt (fourth-most in the NFL) and throwing for 6 TDs (tied for second-most in the NFL). The Texans' key to keeping up with the top offenses in the AFC might lie in Will Fuller's availability. Watson has been significantly more aggressive throwing deep (20-plus air yards) with Fuller on the field during his career. With Fuller on the field, Watson has thrown deep on 16.8% of his passes and completed 43.2% of those attempts, with a 94.6 passer rating. With Fuller off the field, Watson has thrown deep on 10.7% of attempts, and he's struggled when doing so, completing 33.8% of passes with a 66.6 passer rating. Fuller played 59 of 63 offensive snaps for the Texans in his Week 15 return from a hamstring injury that also sidelined him in Weeks 8-11. 3

    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Houston’s deep passing success dependent on Fuller?

    The Texans have used an empty formation at the highest rate in the NFL this season (14.9% of offensive plays). The formation has been beneficial to Deshaun Watson, who has been effective on passes from empty formations, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt (fourth-most in the NFL) and throwing for 6 TDs (tied for second-most in the NFL). The Texans' key to keeping up with the top offenses in the AFC might lie in Will Fuller's availability. Watson has been significantly more aggressive throwing deep (20-plus air yards) with Fuller on the field during his career. With Fuller on the field, Watson has thrown deep on 16.8% of his passes and completed 43.2% of those attempts, with a 94.6 passer rating. With Fuller off the field, Watson has thrown deep on 10.7% of attempts, and he's struggled when doing so, completing 33.8% of passes with a 66.6 passer rating. Fuller played 59 of 63 offensive snaps for the Texans in his Week 15 return from a hamstring injury that also sidelined him in Weeks 8-11.

  • Josh Allen's development from Year 1 to Year 2 has been impressive. His growth from inside the tackle box is apparent (2018: 58.8 completion percentage; 2019: 64.2), but the Bills' defense is what's gotten them to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Opposing QBs have had difficulty throwing downfield against this unit. The Bills have the lowest (23.6) and second-lowest (59.1) passer ratings allowed on deep passes and passes of 10-plus air yards this season, respectively. Theirs is also the only defense to not allow a touchdown on a deep pass this season -- every other team has allowed at least two. Speaking of not allowing TDs, Tre'Davious White is second to Stephon Gilmore in most targets as the nearest defender without allowing a TD (80). 2

    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    No downfield trespassing on Bills’ D

    Josh Allen's development from Year 1 to Year 2 has been impressive. His growth from inside the tackle box is apparent (2018: 58.8 completion percentage; 2019: 64.2), but the Bills' defense is what's gotten them to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Opposing QBs have had difficulty throwing downfield against this unit. The Bills have the lowest (23.6) and second-lowest (59.1) passer ratings allowed on deep passes and passes of 10-plus air yards this season, respectively. Theirs is also the only defense to not allow a touchdown on a deep pass this season -- every other team has allowed at least two. Speaking of not allowing TDs, Tre'Davious White is second to Stephon Gilmore in most targets as the nearest defender without allowing a TD (80).

  • With the Steelers' offense looking less and less familiar by the week, the Steelers' defense has returned to its former glory. The unit has been around the QB all season long, averaging 4.71 yards of pass rush separation to QBs (second-fewest in the NFL), led by T.J. Watt and his 3.2 sack rate (fourth-highest in the NFL, min. 300 pass rushes). Pittsburgh is one of three teams to have four players with at least 25 pressures each (Watt has 49, Cameron Heyward has 39, Bud Dupree has 34 and Javon Hargrave has 27). The Steelers have also tightened things up in the secondary since acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick by allowing 3.0 yards of separation on targets since Week 3 (third-fewest in the NFL). 1

    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    New Steel Curtain carrying Steelers

    With the Steelers' offense looking less and less familiar by the week, the Steelers' defense has returned to its former glory. The unit has been around the QB all season long, averaging 4.71 yards of pass rush separation to QBs (second-fewest in the NFL), led by T.J. Watt and his 3.2 sack rate (fourth-highest in the NFL, min. 300 pass rushes). Pittsburgh is one of three teams to have four players with at least 25 pressures each (Watt has 49, Cameron Heyward has 39, Bud Dupree has 34 and Javon Hargrave has 27). The Steelers have also tightened things up in the secondary since acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick by allowing 3.0 yards of separation on targets since Week 3 (third-fewest in the NFL).