It's time to take another look at where the Chargers stand in Football Outsider's advanced statistics after their performance in Week 14. This week, the site's Editor in Chief Aaron Schatz decided to devote a bit of his weekly analysis to the Chargers and why their record is better than their DVOA would suggest. Onward!
Very little has changed for the Chargers this week. In fact, the team's DVOA has actually decreased from last week to this week. Where last time San Diego ranked 13th in overall efficiency, this week the Chargers have dropped to 14th. Their weighted DVOA has increased a bit, though, to 11th, up one spot from #12 last week. The passing offense remains #1 by far, and while the offense as a whole has remained #5, its weighted mark improved to #3. Again, the only thing holding it down is the run game, which continues to check in at #30. The defense has remained the same, coming in at #25 overall, with the run defense ranked # 24 and the pass defense #23. Weighted, the defense as a whole is #22.
So how do the site's authors account for this disparity between great record and average DVOA? Schatz responds in a manner that many of us have already outlined:
The Chargers beat Dallas this week for their eighth straight win and actually dropped a spot in the DVOA rankings, down to 14th. Much of the NFL commentariat considers San Diego to be "the team nobody wants to play" -- for starters, we've seen in recent years that they are a terrible matchup for Indianapolis -- so San Diego's low DVOA may be even more surprising than Cincinnati's low DVOA. And, like Cincinnati's low rating, it's hard to find reasons in the usual places. San Diego's fumble recovery rate is 50 percent. The schedule has been easier than average, but not extreme. They get a little value from "hidden special teams," but not that much. It's hard to figure out why so many of their wins have ratings so close to zero.
Part of the problem is that the entire team is being dragged along by Philip Rivers and his running buddies, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. We see how great those guys are, and maybe we forget just how ordinary the rest of the team has been this year. The Chargers are below-average on defense and special teams, and their running game is horrid.. LaDainian Tomlinson's bust in Canton is already sculpted and sitting in a closet waiting for use, but at this point the guy is so toast that actual toast is considering a lawsuit for libel. As Vince Verhei noted in today's Any Given Sunday on ESPN.com, the Chargers are on pace to break the record for biggest difference between pass offense DVOA and run offense DVOA, currently held by the 2003 Tennessee Titans.
One point though in the Chargers' favor is that the team that started 2-3 appears to be significantly different than the one that's won eight straight games:
We also know that San Diego's rating is being dragged down by their 2-3 start. This table shows San Diego's DVOA ratings for the first five games, and then for their eight-game winning streak:
OFF DVOA Rank DEF DVOA Rank ST DVOA Rank TOTAL DVOA Rank Weeks 1-6 10.4% 16 21.5% 29 1.6% 11 -9.5% 20 Weeks 7-14 28.2% 2 3.5% 18 -1.6% 23 23.1% 9
Although Weighted DVOA drops the strength of games more than eight weeks old, most of those games still have some value in the formula, which is why San Diego is still just 11th in Weighted DVOA. Assuming the Chargers continue to play winning football, their Weighted DVOA rating will rise over the next couple weeks until it is a lot closer to 23.1% you see above. Still, even if we only consider the Chargers of the past eight games, we don't get a great team that should scare everyone come playoff time. We get another pretty good team in the year where there are lots of pretty good teams, about as good as Minnesota, Baltimore, or that Dallas team they just beat by a field goal.
I don't have much of a problem, really, with being called as good as Minnesota. The San Diego team of the last eight weeks is one with an outstanding offense, and a defense that's close enough to average to win games. Despite Schatz's comment, that's a formula that should scare any team in the post-season, in the sense that most every team that makes the playoffs is there for a reason, and is good enough to go on a season-ending streak that will carry them through the Super Bowl. It can be San Diego just as easily as it can be Indianapolis, New Orleans, or Minnesota. And if the Chargers do, in fact, accomplish that, then fans should take pride in the fact that the Chargers will have beaten some pretty good teams on the way that are probably better than they are. The Chargers have as good a chance as anyone in the AFC of going to the Super Bowl, and you can't really ask much more than that.
The San Diego weekly DVOA performance remains nearly zero, meaning average. Thankfully, Schatz made the graph for me so I don't have to wait for Richard to do it!
Again, we should be happy the Chargers haven't posted any negative performances since the Week 6 loss to Denver. There's no shame in turning in an average or slightly above average performance against a team that's as good as the Cowboys. The Chargers made the plays they needed to win, and that's all you can ask when playing another team that's seemingly built to beat you. I'd be curious to see how the Cowboys' play shook out this last week. I do think it's disingenuous to say the Chargers beat the Cowboys by a field goal--while that was the final score, those who actually watched the game know that Dallas's final score was essentially given to them while the San Diego defense allowed them to drive the field and waste the final two minutes. Moreover, the Chargers likely could have scored a touchdown on the final drive, but intentionally kept it on the ground to burn the clock and prevent a turnover. An accurate reflection of how the game actually ended would be a score of 24-10, or if we're being generous to the Cowboys, 24-13.
In other news, individual rankings remain about the same. Philip Rivers remains #1 in DVOA and #4 in DYAR (again, DVOA measures value per play, while DYAR measures total value throughout the entire season). Vincent Jackson is #1 in DYAR and #2 in DVOA (where Robert Meachem now leads, as he finally has enough passes to qualify. Gates remains by far the leader in DYAR, though he trails Ben Watson in DVOA.
San Diego's playoff odds have improved to 99.8%, and their chances of securing a first round by is 72.3%. Their odds of winning a fourth consecutive division title check in at 88.7%. The Broncos have a better than 80% chance at being a Wild Card. The Chargers' chances to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl are 21.5%, behind only Indianapolis. Their odds of winning the Super Bowl are 9.4%.