The NFL is a game of not only inches but also numbers. Though you’ve likely already looked at the box score stats, other numbers – more specifically, the advanced numbers – often provide more insight into every performance. We’re taking a run through the NFL Week 2 highlights from a data perspective position by position.
The Running Backs
It’s common knowledge that running backs should no longer be taken in the first round. And they certainly shouldn’t be selected in the top 10.
It hasn’t taken Bijan Robinson long to rank among the NFL season leaders in highlight-reel plays. And he’s making the Atlanta Falcons look good for their controversial selection at No. 8 in the 2023 NFL Draft.
The former Texas star rushed for 124 yards on 19 carries and hauled in four catches for 48 yards in Atlanta’s thrilling come-from-behind 25-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers. He leads the 2-0 Falcons in rushing yards (with 180) and receptions (with 10 for 75 yards along with his first TD).
“It’s not surprising,” left tackle Jake Matthews told the team’s official website. “He’s so talented and we’ve seen it so much (in practice) that we’ve come to expect it. He’s a really, really good player.”
Yes, it is early, but how good has Robinson been really so far? A dive into some of the advanced data helps reveal some of that answer.
Robinson leads in the NFL with 4.0 yards before contact, which is usually an indication of how good an offensive line is playing. In this case, Robinson isn’t getting breathed on until he’s 4 yards down the field. The closest player among those with at least 20 carries is Cleveland Browns star Nick Chubb (3.89), who is likely out for the season after sustaining a gruesome knee injury on Monday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But here’s the deal: The Falcons haven’t been that good up front on run plays. In fact, they’ve allowed a run disruption on 51.6% of their plays – 27th in the league – and fellow running back Tyler Allgeier has averaged just 1.9 yards before contact.
Now this could be due to the types of concepts Atlanta is running with each back. It could be that Robinson is hitting the hole quicker and because he’s so good at avoiding contact. But it also could be pure luck since we’re only through two games of the regular season, but the sample size is similar with Allgeier carrying the ball 31 times and Robinson 29.
Either way, it’s a notable difference in yards before contact between the pair. So the rookie is getting a lot of space one way or another and that’s how he’s producing, right? And maybe he’s not so good after contact.
We mentioned the Falcons’ tendency to allow run disruptions up front. That hasn’t seemed to bother Robinson much. He’s second in the NFL with 3.7 yards per carry on plays in which a run disruption occurs and ranks seventh behind Christian McCaffrey of the San Francisco 49ers (3.5), James Cook of the Buffalo Bills (3.5), D’Andre Swift of the Philadelphia Eagles (2.9), Joe Mixon of the Cincinnati Bengals (2.6), Chubb fill-in Jerome Ford (2.5) and Raheem Mostert of the Miami Dolphins (2.4) with 2.3 yards after contact.
A big reason for those impressive rankings is that he’s tough to bring down once he does get caught. He’s fifth in the NFL with .256 missed or broken tackles per touch, behind only James Cook (.297), James Conner of the Arizona Cardinals (.286), Rhamondre Stevenson of the New England Patriots (.278) and Cam Akers of the Los Angeles Rams (.273).
Oh, and by the way, he’s also tied for third among all running backs with five burns, which occur when a targeted receiver does his part to achieve a successful play (that is, a significant gain towards a first down or touchdown), regardless of the quality of the throw by the quarterback. He’s just not a fair matchup for a linebacker in coverage.
So it’s safe to say that Robinson hasn’t just been good, he’s been one of the best backs in the NFL.
Two years ago, he led his team to the Super Bowl at the end of a storybook season. Last year, his team was just 3-6 before he went on injured reserve to end a nightmare campaign.
After missing the last eight games of the 2022 season with concussion and neck issues, Matthew Stafford is back under center for the Rams. But which quarterback has returned: The 2021 or the 2022 version?
The good news is that he’s looked more like the 2021 version. But that’s also the bad news.
In 2021, the Rams won the Super Bowl despite Stafford finishing with a 73.7 well-thrown percentage that only ranked higher than three other regulars: Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens (73.0%), Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears (70.9%) and Zach Wilson of New York Jets (66.0%).
He also had the seventh-highest pickable passes at 4.55 among those with at least 250 pass attempts. And that’s despite having the second-highest open target percentage (82.3). So he was targeting an open receiver more often than the league average (77.8%) but delivered a well-thrown ball less frequently than the average quarterback (77.9%).
In 2022, Stafford improved his well-thrown percentage to 80.5 but that’s likely a result of his average air yards per attempt dipping from 8.56 to 6.70.
So far this season, Stafford’s air yards per attempt are back up to 8.40. However, his well-thrown percentage is back near the bottom of the league at 75.3. That’s despite Stafford ranking seventh in the NFL with an 86.5 open target percentage. But only the Eagles and Dolphins have higher team open percentages and depth of target averages than the Rams.
It’s just going to come down to whether Stafford can get them the ball. He’s thrown three pickable passes – tied for the third most in two games – but two of them were interceptions in the second half of Sunday’s 30-23 loss to the rival 49ers.
Stafford ranks ninth in the league in quickest release time at 2.58, while the previously mentioned Fields has been criticized for holding on to the ball too long and checking down far too often during his slow start with the 0-2 Bears.
But he averaged a 2.92 release time in Sunday’s 27-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – the fifth-highest mark in the league – and only had a 3.6% checkdown rate in Week 2. The Bears have had him throw 11 screen passes in two games – only Mac Jones of the New England Patriots (19), Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars (15) and Lamar Jackson of the Ravens (12) have thrown more.
Through two weeks, Fields doesn’t have the slowest release time or the highest checkdown rate overall. Those honors go to Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns with an average release time of 2.95 seconds and rookie Bryce Young of the Carolina Panthers with a checkdown rate of 24.2%
Longest Release Time with Checkdown Rate Through Week 2
- 1. Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns (2.95/4.3%)
- 2. Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos (2.91/17.2%)
- T-3. Zach Wilson, New York Jets (2.90/20.9%)
- T-3. Jimmy Garoppolo, Las Vegas Raiders (2.90/14.3%)
- T-3. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears (2.90/12.5%)
- 6. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs (2.86/9.1%)
- T-7. Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks (2.83/3.2%)
- T-7. C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans (2.83/5.9%)
- 9. Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers (2.81/24.2%)
- 10. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (2.71/12.2%)
The Wide Receivers
We mentioned the Rams’ elite open percentage, and they also rank third behind the Dolphins (76.7) and Las Vegas Raiders (71.4) with a 68.5 burn percentage. Tutu Atwell, who is third (88.2%) among wideouts with at least 10 targets, and Puka Nacua, who sits seventh (80.0%), have been difficult for opposing cornerbacks to deal with.
Nacua, who is doing his best Cooper Kupp impersonation in his rookie season, leads the league with 25 receptions and is second behind Justin Jefferson with 266 yards. He had 16 burns in Week 2 alone, with CeeDee Lamb being the next closest with 10.
Week 2 Leaders in Total Burns
- 1. Puka Nacua, Los Angeles Rams (16)
- 2. CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys (10)
- T-3. Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals (9)
- T-3. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings (9)
- T-5. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers (8)
- T-5. Davante Adams, Las Vegas Raiders (8)
- T-5. Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins (8)
- T-5. Christian Kirk, Jacksonville Jaguars (8)
- T-5. Tutu Atwell, Los Angeles Rams (8)
Los Angeles is the only team besides Miami (Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill) to have two players in the top 10 in burn percentage.
The Tight Ends
The tight end has always been a big part of the offense during the Bill Belichick era in New England. And that remains the case as Hunter Henry leads the Patriots with 11 receptions and 108 yards and Mike Gesicki has eight catches for 69 yards.
Gesicki and Henry are also first and second, respectively, in burn percentage among tight ends with at least eight targets. And Henry is tied with Jake Ferguson of the Cowboys, Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs and T.J. Hockenson of the Minnesota Vikings with two touchdown burns.
Henry and Hockenson, formerly of the Detroit Lions, have both caught two touchdown passes to lead all tight ends. But what’s also revealing is that Henry is No. 1 (10.2 yards) and Gesicki is No. 2 (9.4) in terms of depth of target, so the Pats are using their tight ends to stretch the field.
Average Depth of Target, Tight Ends (Min. Eight Targets)
- 1. Hunter Henry, New England Patriots (10.2)
- 2. Mike Gesicki, New England Patriots (9.4)
- 3. Darren Waller, New York Giants (8.7)
- 4. Durham Smythe, Miami Dolphins (8.2)
- T-5. Irv Smith Jr., Cincinnati Bengals (7.1)
- T-5. Zach Ertz, Arizona Cardinals (7.1)
- T-5. Logan Thomas, Washington Commanders (7.1)