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PROOF: Philip Rivers is a better QB than Peyton Manning

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A whole lot of charts and numbers attempting show team performance trends for both Denver and San Diego, but also drilling down to position and individual contributions.

Dustin Bradford

This is my most recent iteration of trying to summarize the match up of the Chargers against their impending opponent. In this case, we'll compare the Denver Broncos to the San Diego Chargers.

The structure is as follows:

  • Multi-year team level trends, using both Football Outsiders' DVOA and metrics derived from Pro Football Focus' player rankings.  The Pro Football Focus derived metrics will be referred to as PFFM.
  • A comparison of both teams at key position groups (e.g. OL, DB, WR + TE) against all the teams in the league
  • A direct comparison of both teams by position group
  • A detailed view of the individual players scores the comprise the overall score

Team Trends

The picture below shows 2008-14 for total, offense and defense team performance, using the PFFM (left axis) and DVOA (right axis).

Team Metrics SDC DEN

The trend for the Chargers' matches my perception. The offense has been a little more muted this year, despite the elevated play of Rivers, but the team's defense has improved greatly. For Denver, DVOA and PFFM diverge a bit. DVOA has measured modest improvement on both their offense and defense, while PFFM sees their offense as less potent than last year. In addition to the trends, the scales are the same on all the charts, so the data shows Denver is stronger than San Diego at both offense and defense.

Drilling down one level, the charts below show all the teams in the NFL, including San Diego and Denver.

NFL POS Group

My quick summary by position:

  • Both QB's are quite good, with Rivers coming out a bit ahead of Manning, which I think is plausible.
  • Both OL are pretty mediocre. San Diego's line has been a mess, but they have gotten decent play from the tackles. The interior part of the line has been the biggest mess. These metrics weigh the play of the tackles much more strongly than the interior line, which is why their score is not lower. The metrics for Troutman, Legarsky and others are atrocious.
  • Denver's RB corp are OK and San Diego's has been bad. I buy that.
  • Denver has strong advantage, according the metrics, in their receiving corps. I also buy this. I feel like the Chargers have the talent, but outside of Floyd, no one has met my expectations this year. Not horrible, some have played pretty well even, but I just haven't seen the greatness I was hoping for. I have not seen too many Denver games, but the little I have seen, supports the score shown here. Tough group.
  • Starting with the DL on defense, the data shows Denver has a solid group. The Chargers have a solid if unspectacular group.  Luiget has been great at times but mixed.  They have DeMarcus Ware and Malik Jackson playing at a high level, so they have the advantage there.
  • The biggest gap for the Chargers is at the LB group, combining OLB and ILB. The Broncos have a healthy Von Miller, who is still one of the best players in the league. Their ILB is mostly Nate Irving, getting good scores. T'eo has been solid in his limited time, but Butler has been a mess.
  • The Chargers actually score higher at DB. Even though the Broncos have Taliq and Harris at CB, their safety group is not great. San Diego has, at least in its metrics, Flowers, Verrett and Weddle leading the charge. Flowers being out may make this game out of reach for San Diego.

Finally, for those who want to see all the detail, the list of the players is shown below. The most of the non-metric labels are intuitive but I have shown two scores for each player.

The first, "Individual Score" is derived by the player's PFF score. I transform it by measuring the score against the mean for that position divided by the standard deviation for that group. So a score of a 1.000 would mean that player is a standard deviation above the mean for the position.

The "Team Score" takes that individual score and then weights what percentage of snaps that player has played at that position and how important that position is to overall team performance (optimized to DVOA). The part I like about this is that it allows a direct comparison of players. So River's .965 score can be directly compared to Flowers .297. Rivers is roughly 3x as valuable than Flowers, who is the second-most important player on the team. Rivers has a higher individual score but the QB position weight is bigger than the CB weight as well. And you can measure across teams as well.

Player Detail SDC DEN

In summary, this is the toughest match up San Diego could have right now.

Denver is a very talented team, playing well, seemingly devoid of any major injury (perhaps Montee Ball injury, but not key) and playing at home. Assuming the Chargers address some of their issues and get healthier, I expect a very competitive game when Denver comes to San Diego. But this game will be a major test for the players and coaches.

I ran very similar numbers last week before the KC game, and those metrics made San Diego look absolutely dominant. The Chargers may have been dominant, had Verrett and Flowers both played the whole game, but that illustrates anything can happen.

I hope McCoy, Reich and Pagano have a whole slew of aces of their respective sleeves for this one.