20 stats to know ahead of the NFL's conference championship games
The NFL's top four offenses meet this weekend in what seems like the inevitable conclusion to a star-studded, scoring-fueled 2018 season. What will decide Sunday's NFC and AFC title game matchups? Using player grades and data from Pro Football Focus, we've identified the 20 stats you need to know ahead of both games.
-- When the Rams have the ball ...
4.0: The average yards after contact per attempt by C.J. Anderson with the Rams this season. The veteran running back has surpassed Todd Gurley's 3.2 post-contact average this season, giving Los Angeles a formidable two-headed monster. Of course, the common thread here is the highest-graded run-blocking offensive line in the NFL. The Rams' rushing attack will be tested, however, against a stout Saints run defense that finished with the third-highest run-defense grade in the league.
120: Yards gained by Rams running backs before contact against the Cowboys last week. That averaged out to a ridiculous 2.55 yards before contact per carry. If they can fire off the ball and block defenders that well again in New Orleans, the running game will succeed.
34.6: The percent of dropbacks quarterback Jared Goff used play-action this season -- the highest rate in NFL. In preparing for the Rams, stopping the play-action game must be priority number one. Goff gained 350 more yards off play-action than any other quarterback this year. The Saints had trouble stopping it this season, allowing a passer rating of 123.5 on play-action throws this year, the fifth-highest in the league.
46.1: Passer rating when targeting Marshon Lattimore in three career playoff games. Lattimore's 86.3 overall grade last week was the highest of any corner in the divisional round, as he pulled down two critical interceptions and did a good job of tracking Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. It goes without saying that the Rams have a potent passing attack, but Lattimore's 46.1 passer rating allowed in the playoffs is just barely above what a quarterback gets for throwing an incomplete pass on every play.
78.3: Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth's pass-blocking grade this season (on a scale of 0 to 100). That's the lowest he's earned since turning 30 toward the end of the 2011 season. It suggests he may no longer be the elite blindside pass protector he once was, but he might be just fine in this matchup. Saints edge defender Alex Okafor rushes from the right side of the defensive line almost exclusively, meaning he'll primarily match up with Whitworth. His pass-rush productivity from the right side of the defensive line ranked only 42nd among all edge defenders in the regular season.
-- When the Saints have the ball ...
25.7: The percent of dropbacks Drew Brees was under pressure this season -- the second-lowest rate in NFL. If the Rams are going to get pressure on Brees, it better come quickly as Brees averages a swift 2.43 average time to throw (fifth fastest in NFL).
106: The total quarterback pressures by Aaron Donald this season, 11 more than anyone else in the league. He'll be matched up against a guard in Andrus Peat who's struggled to a 39.9 overall grade. The Saints can't afford to let Peat go one-on-one against Donald in any obvious passing situation.
10: The number of drops in Michael Thomas' career, on 358 catchable passes, including the postseason. Thomas has firmly planted himself in the conversation for the league's best receiver as well as the best in contested situations. His 19 contested catches were the fourth most in the NFL.
146: The yards allowed by Rams cornerback Marcus Peters against the Saints in Week 9. Peters hasn't been used to track a No. 1 receiver since. After Aqib Talib's return, Talib has been exclusively left corner with Peters exclusively right. That means both should see a healthy amount of Thomas, who lined up pretty evenly on both sides of the field this season.
36.9: The completion percentage by Drew Brees on tight-window throws -- the highest rate in the NFL. Sometimes, perfect coverage isn't even enough to stop Brees and the Saints offense.
-- When the Patriots have the ball ...
88.8: Team run-blocking grade earned by the Patriots against the Chargers last week. Trent Brown led the way with a 90.1 run blocking grade in the Pats' dominant performance. The Chiefs put up a 57.7 run-defense grade in the divisional round, carrying over their suspect run-defense from the regular season, when they ranked 31st in the NFL with a 59.3 run-defense grade.
29: Total number of quarterback pressures Dee Ford surpassed his career-high by this season. Before this season, his career-high pass-rushing grade was 65.9, and he currently owns a 91.5 pass-rushing grade. He'll be matched up with Patriots tackle Marcus Cannon, who only allowed one pressure a week ago.
6: The number of completions from Tom Brady after breaking the pocket -- the fewest of any starter in the league. Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes' 45 were 12 more than any quarterback.
92.1: Catch rate allowed by Kansas City's Anthony Hitchens in coverage this season, the highest of any starting linebacker in the NFL. The free agent signing has been a liability for the Chiefs this season. Not surprisingly, the Chargers tried using defensive backs last week to cover James White, a strategy he exploited for 15 receptions and 97 yards. If Hitchens matches up against White, that's a big advantage for New England.
955: The playoff dropbacks by Tom Brady this decade, 304 more than anyone else. Brady and the Patriots are a machine come January. He rarely makes the big mistake and they once again rolled a comparable opponent at home last weekend.
-- When the Chiefs have the ball ...
21: Pressures allowed by Mitchell Schwartz, fewest of any starting right tackle. The Patriots defense ranked 26th in team pass-rushing grade this year and unless he has to face Trey Flowers, Schwartz could very well pitch a shutout.
33: Total touchdown passes by Patrick Mahomes to open receivers this season. That was 11 more than next-closest quarterback. The mixture of scheme and talent in Kansas City is off the charts, but Bill Belichick is the master of red-zone defense in this matchup of strength versus strength.
53: The percent of snaps Patriots played man-to-man coverage this season -- the highest rate in NFL. There has been no stopping Patrick Mahomes in his first year as starter, but he has shredded zones far more consistently than man coverage. The Patriots held the Chiefs quarterback to his lowest grade from the pocket all season in their first matchup, a 43-40 New England victory.
26: The amount of forced incompletions from Stephon Gilmore. That's six more than any other player in the NFL this season and a career-high for Gilmore. He shadowed Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins in the teams' October matchup, but chances are New England might employ a different strategy this time, as Kansas City star wideout Tyreek Hill torched the Patriots for 142 yards and three touchdowns in their first meeting, as nine of his 12 targets came against either Jason or Devin McCourty.
369: The difference in deep passing yards (throws that travel at least 20 yards downfield) between Mahomes (1,514) and the NFL's second-place passer. Mahomes broke PFF's previous record for deep passing yards, while Hill broke the record for deep receiving yards (754). Even if you shut them down for most of the game, all it takes is one.