Pro Football Focus is a numbers-driven Web site that serves a different function than Football Outsiders, a numbers-driven Web site often referenced here. Football Outsiders mostly takes a macro view of advanced analytics; Pro Football Focus goes micro. PFF’s analysts attempt to do as coaches do, reviewing tape — or video, this being the 21st Century — and assigning grades to players.
As we know, football is less a game of individual statistics than baseball, which is almost entirely a game of individual stats. But PFF makes the brave attempt to rate every player at every position, offensive linemen included. Earlier in the week PFF’s Sam Monson caused a ripple when, writing for ESPN Insider, he averred that Tom Brady is no longer one of the NFL’s five best quarterbacks.
On the face of it, I’d disagree. I’d note that Brady, working with what appeared to be a moderately gifted group of receivers, just led New England to a 12-4 regular season. But if you’re asking, “Have you, Mark Bradley, gone back and reviewed every play of Tom Brady’s 2013 season?”, the answer would be a resounding no. And PFF’s Monson has, which means attention must be paid to his finding.
Comes now a PFF finding I consider even more stunning and, for the local NFL franchise, roundly sobering. The same Monson, again writing for ESPN Insider, has ranked the starters of the league’s 32 teams. He rates the Atlanta Falcons as the 30th-best. Or, put another way, the third-worst, ahead of the St. Louis Rams and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Once more, my instinct is to object. Seattle and San Francisco are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 by Monson, and only 17 months ago the Falcons beat the former, if just, and led the latter 17-0 in playoff games. Granted, 17 months can be a long time, and Tony Gonzalez and John Abraham and Tyson Clabo and Asante Samuel and Todd McClure and Dunta Robinson and Thomas DeCoud are gone from that team. But could the Falcons, who were 13-3 and the NFC’s top seed in 2012, really have fallen so far so fast?
Of the Falcons’ 24 starters, PFF rates only seven — Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Jon Asamoah, Paul Soliai, Sean Weatherspoon and Desmond Trufant — as above average. (Two of those seven just arrived via free agency; being a rookie, Jake Matthews is given an incomplete.) Four — Levine Toilolo, Sam Baker, Kroy Biermann and Paul Worrilow — are graded below average. As an overview, Monson offers this chilling note:
Atlanta has been in “win-now” mode for a while, but every move the team has made to try to get closer to that aim seems only to have brought it further away from it. This offseason the Falcons spent big retooling their offensive and defensive lines, but seem to have added a series of one-dimensional players: run specialists in a league that is getting more pass-oriented.
Again, the impulse is to quibble and say, “Hey, it’s not that bad.” But again, I don’t grade tape/video. And if Pro Football Focus is anywhere near accurate in its assessment, the Falcons had best hope their whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.