By Ken Crippen
Pro Football Researchers Association

It was a story of turnovers this week. The New Orleans Saints (5 turnovers), Houston Texans (4 turnovers) and Green Bay Packers (4 turnovers) were all hurt by mistakes and their opponents were able to capitalize on the miscues. You cannot turn the ball over and expect to win in the playoffs. Even a strong running game will not win it for you if you cannot hold on to the ball (right, Houston?).
 
Let’s dig into each of the games.
 

New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers
 

Some are calling it “The Catch Part II.” It has been thirty years since “The Catch,” but memories of that miraculous play have now resurfaced. On January 10, 1982, San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana connected with receiver Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone. Catching the ball with his fingertips over a leaping Everson Walls, the image of Clark leaping for the ball will always remain ingrained in the minds of 49er fans. With 51 seconds remaining in the game, the 49ers went ahead for good 28-27 to capture the Conference Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl.
 
Thirty years later, San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith threw a laser to tight end Vernon Davis for a touchdown and a 36-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints. In fact, this was the first time in NFL history that a team scored two lead-changing touchdowns in the final three minutes of a playoff game. An emotional Davis broke down on the sidelines after his game-winning score.
 
New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas was the Rusher Rating star of the wildcard round. He easily beat all other rushers in Rusher Rating, as well as Real Running Back Rating. However, Thomas went down with a head injury on the first series of the game and never returned. That impacted the Saints’ running game as they could never get it started.
 
The vaunted number one offense of the New Orleans Saints, behind the arm of the record-setting Drew Brees relied solely on the passing game, whereas the 49ers were able to have a good mix of run and pass. However, by early in the second quarter, three turnovers by the Saints generated 10 points for San Francisco. But the 49ers were not able to keep momentum going and the Saints started to come back. It was 17-14 49ers at the half.
 
By the fourth quarter, the Saints took the lead, but San Francisco put together a clock killing drive to take the lead with 2:11 left in the game. New Orleans quickly tossed a 66-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham to re-take the lead with 1:37 left. Forty-six seconds later, Smith tossed a 14-yard pass to Davis for the game-winner.
 
New Orleans Saints Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Drew Brees 1 5 5.00 0 0 80.21
Chris Ivory 9 23 2.56 0 0 66.80
Pierre Thomas 1 6 6.00 0 1 32.92
Darren Sproles 3 3 1.00 0 1 5.49
TOTAL 14 37 2.64 0 2 14.50
 
San Francisco 49ers Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Alex Smith 1 28 28.00 1 1 105.56
Frank Gore 13 89 6.85 0 0 90.34
Kendall Hunter 6 23 3.83 0 0 73.81
Ted Ginn, Jr. 1 3 3.00 0 0 69.24
Anthony Dixon 1 0 0.00 0 0 52.78
TOTAL 22 143 6.50 1 1 106.62
 
There is no question that the San Francisco 49ers had the edge in the running game. With a 106.62 Rusher Rating (compared to 14.50) and a Real Running Back Rating of 60.80 (compared to 41.81), the 49ers dominated on the ground.
 
New Orleans Saints Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Darren Sproles 15 119 1 5.49 39.49 +34.00
Pierre Thomas 1 5 0 32.92 27.16 -5.76
TOTAL 16 124 1 12.35 41.81 +29.46
 
San Francisco 49ers Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Kendall Hunter 1 13 0 73.81 63.55 -10.26
Frank Gore 7 38 0 90.34 62.25 -28.09
Ted Ginn, Jr. 1 11 0 69.24 57.84 -11.40
TOTAL 9 62 0 84.33 60.80 -23.53
 
 
Finally, let’s look at Rusher Rating Differential for both teams. As expected, the 49ers had the better Rusher Rating Differential. However, what was not expected was the final number. Obviously, the loss of Pierre Thomas had an impact on the Saints, but to see a Rusher Rating Differential of 92.12 was beyond comprehension.
 
Team Rushing Attempts Offensive Rusher Rating Defensive Rushing Attempts Defensive Rusher Rating Rusher Rating Differential
San Francisco 49ers 22 106.62 14 14.50 +92.12
New Orleans Saints 14 14.50 22 106.62 -92.12
 
Final score: San Francisco 49ers 36 – New Orleans Saints 32
 
 
Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
 
The New England Patriots were on fire. The Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos, who upset the Pittsbugh Steelers the previous week, were no match for the likes of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Deion Branch. Gronkowski’s 10 receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns (the latter tying a post-season record), pushed the Patriots past the Broncos. Brady tied a post season record, as well, with six touchdown passes, matching Daryle Lamonica and Steve Young.
 
From start to finish, the Broncos were out-gunned. Brady tossed five touchdown passes in the first half and finished the game with six scores. However, it was not just offense that propelled the Patriots to victory. Their defense had five sacks against Tim Tebow, and held him to 9 completions for 136 yards and no touchdowns.
 
Denver Broncos Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Willis McGahee 17 76 4.47 1 0 128.94
Lance Ball 13 44 3.38 0 0 71.35
Jeremiah Johnson 4 10 2.50 0 0 66.50
Eddie Royal 1 1 1.00 0 0 58.26
Tim Tebow 5 13 2.60 0 1 14.27
TOTAL 40 144 3.60 1 1 82.53
 
New England Patriots Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Aaron Hernandez 5 61 12.20 0 0 105.56
Danny Woodhead 4 25 6.25 0 0 87.07
Louskaka Polite 1 3 3.00 0 0 69.24
Tom Brady 3 8 2.67 0 0 67.41
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 13 28 2.15 0 0 64.60
Stevan Ridley 4 21 5.25 0 1 28.81
TOTAL 30 146 4.87 0 1 63.56
 
One thing stood out in the game, at least from a Rusher Rating perspective: tight end Aaron Hernandez. He was New England’s leading rusher and captured the week’s Real Running Back Rating title. His Real Running Back Rating of 115.37 was generated on five rushes for 61 yards, as well as four receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown. Just looking at his Rusher Rating of 105.56 was impressive.
 
Denver Broncos Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Willis McGahee 0 0 0 128.94 77.37 -51.57
Eddie Royal 2 25 0 58.26 53.48 -4.78
Lance Ball 0 0 0 71.35 42.81 -28.54
TOTAL 2 25 0 102.51 80.03 -22.48
 
New England Patriots Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Aaron Hernandez 4 55 1 105.56 115.37 +9.81
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 1 8 0 64.60 50.61 -13.99
Stevan Ridley 1 4 0 28.81 23.21 -5.60
TOTAL 6 67 1 58.50 75.86 +17.36
 
Finally, let’s look at Rusher Rating Differential for both teams. Here, the New England Patriots won despite having a negative Rusher Rating Differential.
 
Team Rushing Attempts Offensive Rusher Rating Defensive Rushing Attempts Defensive Rusher Rating Rusher Rating Differential
Denver Broncos 40 82.53 30 63.56 +18.97
New England Patriots 30 63.56 40 82.53 -18.97
 
Final score: New England Patriots 45 – Denver Broncos 10
 
 
Houston Texans vs. Baltimore Ravens
 
This game was to pit the two-headed beast in Arian Foster and Ben Tate of the Houston Texans, against rushing stud Ray Rice and the famed Baltimore Raven defense. Houston, as expected, focused on the running game and regardless of the score, continued to focus on the running game.
 
After a few early mistakes resulting in 14 Baltimore points, Houston put together a drive that resulted in a touchdown. A 12-play, 91-yard drive contained a good mix of run and pass to reduce Baltimore’s lead to four points by halftime.
 
The second half would again be plagued by mistakes as Houston’s T.J. Yates tossed two interceptions, including one with fewer than two minutes to play in the game.
 
Houston Texans Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Arian Foster 27 132 4.89 1 1 94.42
T.J. Yates 1 -1 -1.00 0 0 52.78
TOTAL 28 131 4.68 1 1 92.73
 
Baltimore Ravens Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Ray Rice 21 60 2.86 0 1 45.70
Ricky Williams 6 27 4.50 0 0 77.47
Vonta Leach 2 1 0.50 0 0 55.52
Joe Flacco 2 -1 -0.50 0 0 50.03
TOTAL 31 87 2.81 0 1 52.76
 
Rice had a sub-par day, by his standards. His 21 carries for 60 yards gave him a Rusher Rating of 45.70, mainly due to his fumble near the goal line in the third quarter. Conversely, Houston’s Foster racked up 132 yards on 27 carries for a Rusher Rating of 94.42.
 
Houston Texans Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Arian Foster 5 22 0 94.42 64.83 -29.59
 
Baltimore Ravens Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Ray Rice 4 20 0 68.45 48.48 -19.97
 
 
Finally, let’s look at Rusher Rating Differential for both teams. Houston had the edge, but turnovers prevented them from winning the game.
 
Team Rushing Attempts Offensive Rusher Rating Defensive Rushing Attempts Defensive Rusher Rating Rusher Rating Differential
Houston Texans 28 92.73 31 52.76 +39.97
Baltimore Ravens 31 52.76 28 92.73 -39.97
 
Final score: Baltimore Ravens 20 – Houston Texans 13
 
 
New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers
 
Taking three weeks off before playing this week definitely hurt Aaron Rodgers. Throwing in practice is not the same as throwing in a game. During practice, you have a little extra time to throw, as well as not having the pressure of being pummeled by defensive linemen.
 
However, the 37-20 victory by the New York Giants was not unexpected. They had been on fire the last month of the season, with both the offense and defense proving that they belonged in the post season. They had been moving up the Rusher Rating Differential charts and finished the season with a 4.63 Rusher Rating Differential.
 
The rushing of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw took the pressure off Eli Manning and allowed him to make big plays. His 330 yards and three touchdowns kept the Packers on their heels and Aaron Rodgers was not able to work his magic. Rodgers was sacked four times and lost one of Green Bay’s three fumbles. Contributing to the loss were several drops by Green Bay Receivers.
 
New York Giants Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Ahmad Bradshaw 12 63 5.25 0 0 81.58
Brandon Jacobs 9 22 2.44 1 0 118.97
Eli Manning 4 10 2.50 0 0 66.50
D.J. Ware 2 0 0.00 0 0 52.78
TOTAL 27 95 3.52 1 0 104.59
 
Green Bay Packers Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Aaron Rodgers 7 66 9.43 0 1 51.73
James Starks 6 43 7.17 0 0 92.10
Ryan Grant 8 33 4.13 0 1 22.63
Brandon Saine 1 3 3.00 0 0 69.24
John Kuhn 1 2 2.00 0 1 10.97
TOTAL 23 147 6.39 0 3 35.07
 
When your leading rusher is your quarterback, you are not going to win too many playoff games. Conversely, the team of Jacobs and Bradshaw combined for 85 yards and a touchdown for a Rusher Rating of 116.79.
 
New York Giants Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Ahmad Bradshaw 3 21 0 81.58 59.32 -22.26
 
Green Bay Packers Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
James Starks 4 24 0 92.10 35.48 -56.62
Ryan Grant 3 17 0 22.63 21.98 -0.65
John Kuhn 1 8 1 10.97 50.10 +39.13
TOTAL 8 49 1 28.53 57.86 +29.33
 
 
Finally, let’s look at Rusher Rating Differential for both teams.
 
Team Rushing Attempts Offensive Rusher Rating Defensive Rushing Attempts Defensive Rusher Rating Rusher Rating Differential
New York Giants 27 104.59 23 35.07 +69.52
Green Bay Packers 23 35.07 27 104.59 -69.52
 
Final score: New York Giants 37 – Green Bay Packers 20
 
 
A Brief Look at the Championship Games
 
We head into next week’s games with interesting matchups. Rusher Rating Differential champion San Francisco 49ers face the surging New York Giants. Both have solid running games and good rushing defenses. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, as well as the tough rushing defense is why the 49ers are the number two seed in the playoffs. The Giants struggles at times during the season, but they have things together at the right time.
 
The stiff defense of the Baltimore Ravens head to Foxboro to try and stop the Tom Brady machine. Ray Rice needs to play his best, as Joe Flacco has been inconsistent this season. The Ravens did not necessarily win the game this week, but were able to capitalize on the mistakes of the Houston Texans. I would be interested to see if New England continued to use Aaron Hernandez as a running back. They were effective and it created a unique wrinkle to their offense.
 
 
Weekly Rusher Rating Leaders
 
Finally, let’s look at Rusher Rating leaders for the week. First, individual Rusher Rating:
Player Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Willis McGahee – DEN 17 76 4.47 1 0 128.94
 
Real Running Back Rating:
Player Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Aaron Hernandez – NE 4 55 1 105.56 115.37 +9.81
 
Offensive Rusher Rating:
Team Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
San Francisco 49ers 22 143 6.50 1 1 106.62
 
Defensive Rusher Rating:
Team Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
San Francisco 49ers 14 37 2.64 0 2 14.50
 
Finally, Rusher Rating Differential:
Team Rushing Attempts Offensive Rusher Rating Defensive Rushing Attempts Defensive Rusher Rating Rusher Rating Differential
San Francisco 49ers 22 106.62 14 14.50 +92.12
 
 
How the Rusher Rating is Calculated
 
Here is how each component is calculated:
 
Average Yards Gained per Attempt (YD) = [Total Yards/(4.05 * Rushing Attempts)]
 
Percentage of TDs per Carry (TD) = [(39.5*Touchdowns)/Rushing Attempts]
 
Percentage of Fumbles per Carry (F) = [2.375-((21.5*Fumbles)/Rushing Attempts)]
 
Adding these components together and adjusting to a scale of 158.3 (the same as the NFL Passer Rating System) yields:
 
Rusher Rating = [(YD) + (TD) + (F)] * (100/4.5)
 
 
How the Real Running Back Rating is Calculated
 
Now, we look at the Real Running Back Rating. Here are the updated equations with the receiving components:
 
Average Yards Gained per Attempt (YD) = [Total Yards/(4.05 * Rushing Attempts)]
 
Percentage of TDs per Carry (RUSHTD) = [(39.5*Touchdowns)/Rushing Attempts]
 
Average Yards Gained per Reception (REC) = [Receiving Yards/(9*Receptions)]
 
Percentage of TDs per Reception (RECTD) = [(27.5*Touchdowns)/Receptions]
 
Percentage of Fumbles per Touch (F) = [2.375-((21.5*Fumbles)/(Rushes + Receptions))]
 
Adding these components together and adjusting to a scale of 158.3 yields:
 
Rusher Rating = [(YD) + (RUSHTD) + (REC) + (RECTD) + (F)] * (100/7.5)
 
 
Ken Crippen is the executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to preserving football history. You can follow him on Twitter: @KenCrippen.