Cowboys face tough test against Cards' D

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30

AP Photo/Brandon WadeDeMarco Murray has rushed for 100 yards in a Cowboys-record eight consecutive games.
The Dallas Cowboys welcome the Arizona Cardinals in a game featuring division leaders entering Week 9.

The Cowboys are coming off their first loss since Week 1, while the Cardinals’ only loss was in Denver, where third-string quarterback Logan Thomas was forced into action.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on as the Cowboys and Cardinals duel for the NFC’s top seed.

More Murray, Less Problems
DeMarco Murray extended his 100-yard streak to eight games with his most efficient rushing game of the season Monday, despite a season-low 19 rushes. But Dallas looked elsewhere in short-yardage situations.

Dallas ran 14 plays with 3 yards or fewer to gain. Only two were rushing plays, and both resulted in first downs. On the 12 pass plays, the Cowboys went 3-of-10 passing with two sacks taken.

This season, the Cowboys have gained a first down on 81 percent of rushing attempts with 3-yards-or-fewer to gain, the highest rate in the league.

Arizona’s defense has held opponents to a 52 percent conversion rate with 3-yards-or-fewer to gain, the second-lowest rate in the league this season.

The Cardinals pressure the opposing quarterback on 35 percent of their attempts with 3 yards or fewer to gain, the third-highest percentage in the league.

Cardiac Cards Bring Pressure
Since defensive coordinator Todd Bowles joined the Cardinals prior to the 2013 season, Arizona has had the most blitz-happy defense in the league.

This season, the Cardinals have a league-high five interceptions when blitzing and are one of three teams with a negative touchdown-interception differential (minus-1) when blitzing.

The Cardinals not only bring pressure, but they bring it from deep. Arizona has blitzed a defensive back on a league-high 48 pass attempts this season.

Opposing quarterbacks have completed only 38 percent of their attempts when the Cardinals send a defensive back on a blitz, tied for the second-lowest percentage in the league.

Ellington Evolves into Every-Down Back
After averaging 10.5 touches per game last season, Andre Ellington has 20-plus touches in each of the Cardinals’ last five games.
The Arizona running back has 31 percent of the Cardinals’ yards from scrimmage this season. Ellington is one of five running backs to record more than one-quarter of his team’s yards from scrimmage.

Ellington, Le’Veon Bell and Matt Forte are the only three backs this season with at least 400 rush yards and 250 receiving yards.

Inside the matchup: Brady vs. Manning

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30

Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsFor the third straight regular season, Tom Brady hosts Peyton Manning in Foxborough.
The two oldest starting quarterbacks in the league this year will meet Sunday for the 16th time. Thirty-eight-year-old Peyton Manning and 37-year-old Tom Brady, with a combined 442 starts and 32 years of professional experience between them, should be facing two opponents each Sunday: opposing defenses and Father Time. Only eight of the 118 4,000-passing yard seasons since the merger were by quarterbacks age 37 or older, and given the high level of their primes, Manning and Brady should be declining.

Except they aren’t (at all). No one’s played better in October than Manning and Brady.
Career resumes and supporting casts aside, Total QBR gives a slight edge to Manning in October, but the season-long advantage is sizable (90.1 to Brady’s 75.4) for the reigning AFC champion.

Bill Belichick said Tuesday there were “no weaknesses in [Manning’s] game,” but his own quarterback has played pretty well, too. Here’s how Manning and Brady match up in a few specific areas of focus for quarterbacks.

Deep ball
Manning is 14-of-27 (51.8 percent) for 550 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions on throws at least 20 yards downfield, leading the league with a plus-six touchdown-to-interception differential and 20.4 yards per attempt average on deep throws.

He’s one of three quarterbacks with at least 25 downfield attempts and no interceptions.

Brady really struggled to connect downfield in the first four weeks, but he’s been on fire since.

Brady connected on one of his first 17 deep throws this season, but has connected at least once in each of his past four games.

Avoiding pressure
Manning has the lowest pressure percentage in the league (sacked, under duress or hit while throwing on 15 percent of dropbacks) because of his ability to get the ball out quickly. No quarterback has a lower time-in-pocket average than Manning’s 2.11 seconds.

Brady’s average time in pocket is 2.19 seconds, fourth fastest in the league. Brady’s hardly holding on to the ball too long, but offensive line inconsistency has left him more susceptible to pressure (23 percent of dropbacks, 14th in NFL).

Six different Patriots have played at least 100 snaps at guard or center this year, most of any team in the league (Denver’s used the minimum three).

Limiting mistakes
One by-product of the increased pressure on Brady has been fumbles. The only quarterback with more fumbles than Brady (six) is Jay Cutler (nine). Manning struggled with fumbles in 2013 (10), but has fumbled only twice this season.

However, even during Brady’s slow start this season he wasn’t throwing interceptions. The only quarterback with fewer interceptions than Brady (two) this season is Carson Palmer (one), and Palmer (four) has played half as many games as Brady (eight). Brady’s 0.7 interception percentage (two in 281 attempts) is the second lowest in the league and would be the lowest over a full season in Brady’s career. Hardly a risk taker, Manning has thrown three interceptions in 252 attempts this season for a 1.2 interception percentage, fifth best in the league.

Key Matchups: Auburn rushing vs. Ole Miss

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30

USA TODAY SportsAuburn always scores 20 points under Malzahn (left), while Freeze's Rebels haven't allowed more than 20 in 2014.
In its win last week against South Carolina, Auburn looked just like Auburn from last season. The Tigers had season highs in rushing yards (395), yards per rush (8.4) and runs of 30 yards or more (3). At the same time, they had a season-low 15 passing attempts.

It was a return to the formula that helped the Tigers win the 2013 SEC championship. Entering Saturday’s game, Auburn had passed on 37 percent of its plays, 7 percentage points higher than in 2013.

Against South Carolina, Auburn passed on a season-low 24 percent of its plays, one week after passing on a season-high 49 percent in the loss to Mississippi State. To be fair, Auburn was trailing most of the second half against the Bulldogs and needed to pass.

This week, the Tigers travel to Ole Miss, which leads the nation in per-game scoring defense (10.5) and defensive efficiency (19.6), which measures the points a defense contributes to the team’s scoring margin and adjusts for the offenses faced.

It is a classic something-has-to-give matchup. Consider:

-Ole Miss is the only FBS team that has not allowed more than 20 points in a game this season, whereas Auburn has never been held to fewer than 20 under Gus Malzahn.

-Since Malzahn took over as head coach, Auburn is 15-0 when it runs for at least 250 yards and 3-3 when it does not. Ole Miss is winless (0-7) in three seasons under Hugh Freeze when its opponent rushes for more than 200 yards, including last week’s loss to LSU.

-Ole Miss has allowed three rushing touchdowns this season, tied for third fewest in the FBS. Auburn scored five rushing touchdowns last week against South Carolina.

Auburn outside offense

Under Malzahn, Auburn has been one of the best perimeter rushing teams in the nation. Since the start of last season, it has more rushing yards outside the tackles (4,122) than 90 FBS teams have total rushing yards. On such runs, the Tigers have averaged 7.8 yards per carry, second best among Power 5 schools behind Wisconsin (8.7).

Last week against South Carolina, Auburn had its best perimeter running game of the season, gaining a season-high 228 yards outside the tackles, including five touchdowns. The Tigers had more rushing yards outside the tackles on Ricardo Louis’ 75-yard touchdown than they had the previous game in their loss at Mississippi State.

Speaking of that loss, the 2014 Bulldogs were the fifth team to hold Auburn to less than 6 yards per carry outside the tackles under Malzahn. The Tigers are 2-3 in those games, with both wins coming by six points or fewer.

Ole Miss can stop it

Until last week, Ole Miss had been stout against the run. But crazy things happen under the lights in Tiger Stadium. The Rebels allowed 264 rushing yards to LSU, 19 more than they allowed in their previous four games combined. LSU had four runs of 15 yards or more; Ole Miss had allowed eight such runs entering the game, including four in its previous five games.

Despite last week, Ole Miss ranks fourth in the FBS in defensive efficiency on rushing plays. It has held opponents out of the end zone (allowed 3 TDs), forced turnovers (4 fumble recoveries) and limited teams on third down (31 percent conversion rate, sixth in the FBS).

Ole Miss has excelled on defense in the same area in which Auburn excels on offense. The Rebels have allowed 4.0 yards per rush outside the tackles, third fewest in the SEC. On such runs, the Rebels have allowed one touchdown and the second-lowest percentage (12 percent) to gain 10 yards or more in the SEC behind Alabama (9 percent).

In last season’s matchup, an eight-point Auburn win, the “Landshark” defense looked more like a fish out of water. Auburn had 175 rushing yards outside the tackles on 23 carries, including six runs of 10 yards or more. It is the most yards, yards per carry and 10-yard rushes that Ole Miss has allowed on such plays the last two seasons. If Ole Miss can improve in this area Saturday, it might be able to “set the edge” on the scoreboard as well.

Top stats to know: Giants win it all, again

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
The San Francisco Giants have lived up to their team name. They are now one of baseball’s dynasties.

The Giants won their third World Series in the past five seasons, beating the Kansas City Royals in Game 7.

It took an epic relief effort from Madison Bumgarner, who threw five scoreless innings to clinch a one-run win.

The Giants are the fifth franchise to win three World Series titles in a five-season span, the first since the Yankees won four from 1996 to 2000.

The Giants franchise has won eight times in total, tied with the Red Sox for the fourth-most titles in major league history, trailing only the Yankees (27), Cardinals (11) and Athletics (9).

The history
The Giants became the first road team to win Game 7 of a World Series since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy won his third World Series titles. He’s the 10th manager to win three World Series. The other nine are all in the Hall of Fame. Bochy and Connie Mack are the only managers to win three titles in a five-year span for a team other than the Yankees.

Doing so required the Giants snapping their four-game losing streak in World Series winner-take-all games.

The Giants won 88 regular-season games, the fewest of any champ since the 2006 Cardinals won 83. They joined the 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2004 Red Sox and 2011 Cardinals as wild-card teams to win the World Series.

The one thing these Giants haven’t done is win two in a row. This is the 14th straight season without a repeat World Series champion, tied for longest such streak all-time (1979 to 1992).

MVP: Who else but Bumgarner?
Bumgarner became the fourth pitcher to win league championship series and World Series MVP in the same postseason, joining Orel Hershiser (1988 Dodgers), Livan Hernandez (1997 Marlins) and Cole Hamels (2008 Phillies).

He’s the third Giants player to win World Series MVP, joining Edgar Renteria (2010) and Pablo Sandoval (2012).

Bumgarner was 2-0 with an 0.43 ERA in 21 innings in this World Series.

He's the first pitcher with two wins, a shutout and a save in a World Series since the save rule became official in 1969.

He'a also the first pitcher with two wins, a sub-0.50 ERA in at least 20 innings in a single World Series since legendary lefty Sandy Koufax for the 1965 Dodgers.

Bumgarner logged 52⅔ innings this postseason, the most of any pitcher in a single postseason (topping Curt Schilling’s 48⅓) and had an ERA of 1.03.

Bumgarner has now won three World Series titles. If he were never to pitch in the World Series again, his 0.25 ERA would be the best of anyone with at least 20 innings pitched.


Top stats to know: World Series Game 7

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29

USA TODAY SportsTonight's matchup of Tim Hudson, left, and Jeremy Guthrie will be the oldest for Game 7 starters.
The Giants and Royals meet in the seventh and deciding game of the World Series tonight at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Here are the stats you need to know before the teams take the field:

Odds are with the Giants

• According to numberFire simulations, the Giants have a 54.7 percent chance to win tonight's Game 7.

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Royals are the 61st team to trail 3-2 in the World Series.

• Like the Royals, 60.7 percent of them have forced a Game 7 (37 of 61).

• However, just 31.7 percent of them have won both Games 6 and 7 to win the series (19 of 60).

History is on the Royals' side

• The last nine times the World Series went a full seven games, the home team prevailed. The last time a road team celebrated a Game 7 win was the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates, who won Game 7 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium -- a facility demolished in 2002.

• The last seven World Series teams to force Game 7 by winning Game 6 at home won the title. The last to lose was the 1975 Red Sox, who lost the follow-up to Carlton Fisk’s dramatic Game 6 home run.

• As a franchise, the Royals have won their last four World Series elimination games, dating back to a 6-1 win over the Cardinals in Game 5 of the 1985 World Series.

• In those games, including Tuesday night’s Game 6, Kansas City has outscored its opponent 29-2.

Eldest Game 7 matchup

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, tonight’s matchup between San Francisco’s Tim Hudson and Kansas City’s Jeremy Guthrie is the oldest combined meeting of Game 7 starting pitchers in World Series history.

• At 39 years, 107 days old, Hudson is 15 days older than the previous elder statesman of Game 7 starters, Roger Clemens, who set the mark with a no-decision for the Yankees against the Diamondbacks in a 2001 loss.

• Elias also tells us that Hudson, who went 9-13 during the 2014 regular season, has the lowest winning percentage (.409) of any starter in a winner-take-all game in World Series history. Only four other pitchers to pitch this type of game even had a losing record during the preceding regular season: Johnny Podres in 1955 (9–10, .474), Jon Matlack in 1973 (14–16, .467), Hal Gregg in 1947 (4–5, .444) and Liván Hernández in 2002 (12–16, .429).

Stanford has blueprint to beat Oregon

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29

Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesPressure on Marcus Mariota has been vital to Stanford's ability to contain Oregon's potent offense.
How do you stop Oregon's high-octane offense?

Stanford appears to have found the formula for success, holding Oregon to two of its three lowest-scoring outputs since the start of the 2012 season.

Three keys for Stanford in the past two seasons have been limiting Oregon’s designed running game, pressuring quarterback Marcus Mariota, and forcing the Ducks into third-and-long situations.

Limiting Oregon’s Run Game
Since the start of the 2012 season, Oregon ranks second in the FBS in yards per rush (5.9) and rushing touchdowns (112).

Against Stanford, however, the Ducks’ rushing attack has been stymied, totaling one touchdown in the past two meetings. The Ducks have averaged 3.5 such touchdowns per game against all other opponents during that time.

When looking at designed rushes, Oregon has gained 122 and 77 yards in its past two games against Stanford; the Ducks have had at least 150 such yards in 31 of their 32 games against all other opponents.

One key to stopping Oregon’s designed run game has been funneling the Ducks inside the tackles. Since the start of 2013, Oregon is averaging 7.4 yards per designed run outside of the tackles (fifth among Power 5 schools) and 5.3 inside the tackles (16th among Power 5 schools).

Oregon was held to a season-low six carries and 30 yards outside the tackles last year against Stanford. In every other game, the Ducks had at least 13 carries and 50 yards to the outside (averaged 18 for 145). In 2012, the Cardinal were also able to funnel Oregon inside as they held the Ducks to season lows in yards (29), first downs (2) and 10-yard rushes (zero) outside of the tackles.

Pressuring Mariota
Marcus Mariota has a Total QBR of 67.0 in the two matchups against Stanford, compared with an 87.8 career Total QBR.

The Cardinal have done a great job of putting Mariota under duress. He has been pressured on 29 percent of his dropbacks against Stanford, and 17 percent against all other opponents.

When under duress against Stanford, Mariota is averaging fewer than 3 yards per play and has been sacked six times.

Forcing Oregon into third-and-long
Stanford has won third downs. Oregon, which ranks at the top of the conference in third-down conversions since the start of the 2012 season (47 percent), has converted 26 percent of its third downs against the Cardinal in its past two meetings.

More than the Ducks' other opponents, Stanford has been able to force them into third-and-long situations. They have needed eight or more yards on 14 of their 27 (52 percent) third downs against Stanford. Although Oregon’s average third-down distance to go is not significantly lower against other opponents (7.1 to 6.9), it has had eight or more yards to go on a much lower percentage of third-down plays (39 percent).

Given the difficult situations and the strength of Stanford’s defense, Mariota has struggled against Stanford on third down, posting a 29.7 third-down QBR and gaining a first down on 36 percent of his plays.

Can Stanford do it again Saturday?
Despite losing first-team All-Pac-12 members Ben Gardner, Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds, in addition to defensive coordinator Derek Mason to Vanderbilt, Stanford’s defense still has been one of the best in college football. The Cardinal rank second in FBS in opponent points per game (12.5), second in yards per game (250.6) and first in yards per play (3.7).

The biggest difference for Stanford, however, is on offense. In their previous meetings, the Cardinal have been able to run the ball to keep Oregon’s offense off the field. They have had the ball almost twice as long as the Ducks the past two seasons, including for 42 minutes, 34 seconds in 2013. Stanford’s run game has been able to move the chains and keep the clock ticking (274 rushing yards last season).

This year, Stanford ranks 90th in the FBS in rushing yards per game and does not have a workhorse back like Tyler Gaffney or Stepfan Taylor. The Cardinal were held below 3.5 yards per rush in each of their losses this season.

Stats to know: Royals rout forces a Game 7

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
The Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants will play one game to decide which team is baseball’s champion for 2014. That was made necessary by a 10-0 Royals romp in Game 6.

The Royals have won 14 of their past 17 postseason games dating back to Game 5 of the 1985 World Series.

Ventura aces Game 6
Royals starter Yordano Ventura came through with seven scoreless innings, helping the Royals both win and rest their key relievers to keep them fresh for Game 7.

Ventura is the first starter to throw at least seven scoreless innings in a Game 6 or 7 of the World Series since Josh Beckett of the Marlins beat the Yankees in Game 6 to clinch the 2003 World Series.

Ventura joined an impressive list of pitchers to do that in the last quarter-century, as noted in the chart on the right.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Ventura is the first rookie to start and win a potential elimination game in the World Series since John Lackey won Game 7 for the Angels against the Giants in 2002.

Royals bats come alive
The Royals scored seven runs in the second inning, the first team to score that many in a World Series game since the Giants in 2010 against the Rangers (seven runs in the eighth inning of Game 2).

The 10-0 shutout was the largest margin of victory in a World Series shutout since the Royals beat the Cardinals 11-0 in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series.

Lorenzo Cain had three RBIs, the first three-RBI game by a Royals player in the World Series since Darryl Motley in that 1985 Game 7.

Mike Moustakas hit his fifth homer this postseason, the most ever by a Royals player in a single postseason. The only Royals player with more career postseason home runs is George Brett with 10.

What to know about Game 7
The note you will hear repeated often throughout Wednesday is this:

The home team has won each of the last nine World Series Game 7s. The last road team to win Game 7 of a World Series was the 1979 Pirates, who rallied from a 3-games-to-1 deficit to beat the Orioles 4-1 in Game 7 behind a big game from Hall-of-Famer Willie Stargell.

The starting pitching matchup pits Tim Hudson of the Giants against Jeremy Guthrie of the Royals.

Neither has started a winner-take-all postseason game. Hudson pitched in relief in one, allowing a run in 1 2/3 innings in a Game 5 ALDS loss for the Athletics against the Yankees 13 years ago.

Hudson is 0-5 with a 5.51 ERA in his last nine starts (combining regular season and postseason). At age 39, he'll be the oldest pitcher to start a winner-take-all World Series game.

Guthrie is 4-0 with a 1.19 ERA in his last five starts, dating back to the end of the regular season. Elias notes that Guthrie's career record is 83-100 (.454 winning percentage), giving him the second-worst winning percentage ever for a starter in a World Series winner-take-all game.

Curly Ogden was 11-14 (.440) when he started (and pitched less than an inning) for the 1924 Senators against the Giants, as part of a gimmick to force the Giants to adjust their lineup mid-game.

The Giants last played in a World Series Game 7 in 2002, when they lost to the Angels. They are 0-4 all-time in winner-take-all World Series games, with three of the four losses by one run.

The Royals won their only World Series Game 7 in 1985.
What about Bumgarner?
There was a time when starting on two days' rest from your last start wasn't a big deal ... but that was a while ago. So Giants starter Madison Bumgarner will work out of the bullpen for the Giants on Wednesday.

The only pitchers in the divisional era to start a winner-take-all game on two days' rest from his previous start in the divisional era are Ron Guidry for the Yankees against the Royals in Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS and Derek Lowe for the Red Sox against the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS.

The last to do so in a World Series was Mickey Lolich of the Tigers, who beat Bob Gibson of the Cardinals on two days' rest in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series.

Bumgarner has pitched four games in relief in his career (three in the regular season, one in the postseason). In those four, he allowed no runs in 6 2/3 innings pitched.


Arizona Cardinals: No. 2 in Power Rankings

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28

Norm Hall/Getty ImagesThe Arizona Cardinals climb to No. 2 in the NFL power rankings for Week 9
At 6-1, the Arizona Cardinals have ascended to the No. 2 spot in the weekly NFL Power Rankings. This is the highest spot the Cardinals have ever earned in these rankings, which dates back to 2002.

The Cardinals are off to their best start in 40 years, when the St. Louis Cardinals started the 1974 season at 7-0. Dating back to Week 8 of last season, the Cardinals are 13-3, which is tied with the Denver Broncos for the best record in the NFL during that span. In fact, the Cardinals only loss this season came to the Broncos, who are currently No. 1 in the power rankings.

What is fueling the hot start for the Cardinals? A little bit of everything.

Only the New England Patriots (+11) have a better turnover differential than the Cardinals (+9) this season. The Cardinals have forced 14 turnovers this season, which is four shy of the NFL lead, but they’ve also limited their own mistakes. Only the Broncos (4) have committed fewer turnovers than the Cardinals (5) this season.

The lack of turnovers stems from quarterback play. Carson Palmer has thrown one interception on 154 attempts this season after throwing 22 last season. Even when he missed time, his backups Drew Stanton and Logan Thomas did not throw a single interception.

This has led to the Cardinals yielding only 10 points off turnovers this season, tied for best in the NFL.

Andre Ellington
Andre Ellington gives the Cardinals a versatile option out of the backfield, something they have not had in a long time.

Ellington has accounted for 31 percent of the Cardinals’ yards from scrimmage this season, fifth-highest in the NFL. The last two Cardinals running backs to even account for at least 25 percent of the offense were Edgerrin James in 2006 (26 percent) and Marcel Shipp in 2002 (26 percent).

Rush defense
The Cardinals rank third in the NFL this season in both rush yards per game allowed and yards per rush allowed. The Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8 were the first team to record 100 rush yards in a game against the Cardinals since Week 16 of last season.

Since Todd Bowles took over as the Cardinals defensive coordinator in 2013, the team ranks first in rush yards per game allowed and second in yards per rush allowed.

The blitz
Another key to Bowles’ defense has been blitzing. The Cardinals have blitzed on an NFL-high 47 percent of dropbacks the last two seasons.

It has been a boom or bust strategy for the Cardinals, especially this season, but the blitz has come up big late in games this year.

In two of the biggest wins for the Cardinals this season, their opponents had one final possession needing a score. In Week 1, Philip Rivers was trying to drive the San Diego Chargers downfield trailing by one. The Cardinals blitzed on all five plays of that drive, forcing three straight incompletions and a turnover on downs.

In Week 8, the Eagles need a touchdown and reached the Cardinals 16-yard line with 13 seconds remaining. The Cardinals blitzed on Nick Foles ’ last two attempts, putting him under duress and forcing incompletions.

Special teams
Not to be forgotten, Cardinals rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro has made all 16 of his field goal attempts to start this season. That’s tied with veteran Adam Vinatieri for most makes without a miss this season.

Top stats to know: World Series Game 6

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28

Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesThe World Series returns to Kansas City on Tuesday night for Game 6. The Giants lead the series 3-2.
The San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals will meet in Game 6 of the World Series Tuesday night, with the Giants trying to wrap up another title and the Royals trying to keep their magical season alive.

What's at stake
The Giants are trying to win their third World Series in the last five seasons. They’d be the fifth franchise to do that and the first since the Yankees in 1996-2000.

The Royals are trying to do what they did in their last World Series appearance in 1985: win Game 6 to force a Game 7.

Getting to Game 7 has a significant historical meaning.

The home team has won nine straight Game 7s in the World Series. The last team to win Game 7 on the road was the 1979 Pirates in Baltimore.

Jake Peavy stats to know:
Jake Peavy, who will start Game 6 for the Giants, has a 7.05 ERA in his postseason career. That is the highest postseason ERA among active pitchers and the second highest all time (minimum 35 innings pitched).

Including Game 2 of this World Series, Peavy is 1-6 lifetime at Kauffman Stadium with a 6.50 ERA and 1.69 WHIP.

Yordano Ventura stats to know:
The Royals are 3-0 in games started this postseason by Yordano Ventura, who gets the start Tuesday night.

Ventura had the fastest average fastball velocity among starters this season at 96.8 mph.

But the Giants have had success against heaters this postseason. The Giants are hitting .319 against pitches of 95 mph or faster this postseason, best among playoff teams, including 6-for-16 (.375) against Ventura in Game 2.

Keep an eye on: Giants versus pitches out of strike zone
One of the advantages the Giants hold in this series is success against pitches out of the strike zone.

Giants batters are hitting .270 with 17 hits on pitches out of the zone, compared to .167 with 10 hits for the Royals.

The Giants have done so without going considerably beyond their means. They chased 31 percent of pitches out of the strike zone during the regular season. Their chase percentage in this series is 32 percent.

Pablo Sandoval has four hits against pitches out of the strike zone this series. That’s not unusual. He had a major league best 70 such hits during the regular season.

But some of Sandoval’s success seems to have rubbed off on his teammates. Seven of his teammates have a hit against an out-of-the-zone pitch this series, including Brandon Crawford, whose second such hit scored Sandoval in the fourth inning of Game 5.

Why is that notable?

Crawford had only eight hits against pitches out of the strike zone during the regular season, tied for the fewest in the majors among the 150 players who saw the most out-of-zone pitches in 2014.

Also watch: Royals bats don't have the same pop in World Series
The Royals are hitting .221 in the Series. Left fielder Alex Gordon is among those struggling most, with only two hits in 20 at-bats. But he's 10-for-30 (.333 batting average) in his career against Peavy.

One batter Peavy has handled is Eric Hosmer, holding him to four hits in 22 at-bats. Hosmer, who was hitting .448 (13-for-29) this postseason entering the World Series, is hitting .263 (5-for-19) in five games against the Giants.

Stat of the night: Shutout in Game 5 is reason to celebrate
Since World War II, five pitchers have thrown a shutout in Game 5 of a World Series tied 2-2. Madison Bumgarner is the most recent to do so.

In the previous four instances (each of which happened more than 40 years ago), each pitcher's team lost Game 6, but won the Series in the final game.

Battle of strengths: Florida State-Louisville

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
MCT via Getty ImagesFlorida State quarterback Jameis Winston will face a tough Louisville defense Thursday night on ESPN
Jameis Winston is 20-0 as a starter and the driving force behind Florida State’s ACC- and school-record 23-game win streak. Last season, Winston became the third starting quarterback since 1950 to go undefeated, win a national championship and take home the Heisman Trophy in the same season. His efficiency, especially when under pressure, had a lot to do with that success.

But Winston has never faced a pass defense like Louisville’s. Every opponent he faced last season finished the season outside the top 25 in defensive efficiency on passing plays and this season every opponent he has faced is currently ranked outside the top 40.

Louisville, on the other hand, leads the nation in that stat, adding about 13 points per game to its net scoring margin as a result of its defense on passing plays. The Cardinals have allowed the lowest Total QBR in the nation and only NC State’s Jacoby Brissett has posted a raw QBR above 25 against them (0-100 scale, 50 is average).

When Winston matches up with Louisville’s defense Thursday night on ESPN, it will be strength versus strength, and one of the two will have to give. Will it be the reigning Heisman winner or the nation’s best defense in terms of Total QBR?

To help answer that question, we break down the areas in which Winston excels and how Louisville’s defense matches up.

Third Down
Winston has converted a first down on 53 percent of his third-down passing plays in his career, on pace to be the best for any FBS quarterback in the last 10 seasons (min. 10 games started). His career third-down Total QBR (96) is the highest for any active player and second to only Johnny Manziel’s.

Louisville is allowing the second-lowest third-down conversion percentage in the FBS at 24 percent. The Cardinals have an FBS-high seven interceptions on third down, which is more than 57 FBS teams have on all downs combined.

One player Winston might want to stay away from is Louisville safety Gerod Holliman, who has four interceptions and one forced fumble on third down. Holliman and Ole Miss’ Senquez Golson lead the FBS in third-down interceptions.

Winston can make all the throws. He has completed 51 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or more downfield during his career, best for an ACC quarterback with at least 50 attempts since the start of the 2012 season (first year we have air yard data). Winston has the most touchdowns (22) and completions (86) for any player in the ACC since the start of last season on such throws.

One problem is that Winston has a history of turning the ball over when passing downfield. Since the start of last season, the only Power 5 player with more interceptions on passes thrown 15 yards or longer than Winston is Washington State’s Connor Halliday.

That could be bad news against a Louisville defense that is tied with Ole Miss for the most interceptions among Power 5 schools on passes thrown 15 yards or more from the line of scrimmage with 10.

Since the start of the 2013 season, Winston has thrown a Power 5-high 26 touchdowns against five or more pass rushers. Winston has been even better against the blitz in his last two games, completing 19-of-22 passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Louisville has not blitzed often under first-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. They have sent five or more pass rushers on 21 percent of opponent dropbacks, six percentage points lower than the average for a Power 5 defense.

When they do blitz, the Cardinals have been successful, allowing 3.4 yards per dropback, seventh-best among Power 5 schools and two yards better than the Power 5 average.

Stats to know: Redskins 20, Cowboys 17

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
The Washington Redskins have gone through three quarterbacks this season. On Monday night, the third one was a charm.

Colt McCoy had a breakout game and led the Redskins to an overtime upset of the Cowboys on the road.

McCoy’s big game
McCoy completed 25 of 30 passes for 299 yards and ran for his first touchdown since the 2010 season. McCoy went 5-for-5 for 49 yards in overtime and led the Redskins to the go-ahead field goal.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes McCoy’s 83.3 percent completion percentage was the best in a single game by a Redskins quarterback who attempted at least 30 passes.

McCoy is one of three quarterbacks this season to complete at least 83 percent of his pass attempts and throw 30 or more passes. The other two are Tom Brady and Drew Brees. All three did so this past week.

McCoy has completed 86 percent of his passes over the past two weeks. That’s the best completion percentage in the league in that brief span.

McCoy’s primary deep target was DeSean Jackson, who caught six passes for 136 yards.

Jackson had two receptions of 40 yards or longer in the game, which gives him an NFL-best seven this season. No one else has more than four.

McCoy was 5-for-9 when throwing the ball at least 15 yards in the air (Jackson was his primary target on most of those throws) and 20-of-21 on his other pass attempts. He averaged only 6 air yards per throw on pass attempts to someone other than Jackson.

Murray racks up more yardage
DeMarco Murray became the eighth player to reach 1,000 rushing yards within his team’s first eight games of the season, after he rushed for 141 (his eighth straight game with at least 100) in the loss Monday.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes the other seven players to get to 1,000 in eight games were Adrian Peterson, Jamal Lewis, Terrell Davis (twice), Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, O.J. Simpson (twice) and Jim Brown (twice).

Murray’s 1,054 rushing yards are the most through a team’s eighth game since Davis had 1,150 in 1998.

Elias also notes Murray’s 1,293 yards from scrimmage are the fifth most through a team’s first eight games in NFL history and the most since Priest Holmes had 1,297 for the Chiefs in 2002.

Romo beat up by blitz
Tony Romo left due to injury but returned by game’s end, only to come up just short of a win.

The Redskins brought a lot of pressure against Romo. They blitzed on all 10 of the Cowboys' third-down plays and sacked Romo four times with those blitzes.

Romo did throw a touchdown pass for the 36th straight game, which tied Brett Favre for the fifth longest such streak in NFL history.


MNF Preview: Redskins-Cowboys

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
The Cowboys and Redskins meet on Monday Night Football for the 16th time
The Washington Redskins (2-5) and Dallas Cowboys (6-1) meet on Monday Night Football for the 16th time. Only the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos (17 meetings) have been more frequent Monday Night opponents.

Dallas leads the MNF series 8-7.

Here are the top stats to know heading into the NFC East matchup.

DeMarco Murray
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has the NFL record for the most 100-yard rushing games to start a season with seven. Murray's seven 100-yard games are tied for fifth-most in a single season in Cowboys history. The team record is 11, set by Emmitt Smith in 1995. The Cowboys won the Super Bowl that year.

Murray and Smith are the only players in Cowboys history with 900 rushing yards over any seven-game span. Smith had 949 over seven games spanning the 1993-94 seasons.

At his current rate of 26.7 rushes per game, Murray would set an NFL record with 427 rushes for the season. The current record holder is Larry Johnson with 416 for the 2006 Chiefs.

The increased workload helped the Cowboys rack up 423 yards of offense in a Week 7 win over the Giants, marking their fourth consecutive game with at least 400 yards.

Tony Romo
Tony Romo has thrown a touchdown pass in 35 straight games. If he throws one against the Redskins, he would tie Brett Favre for the fifth-longest streak in NFL history.

Romo has been the best quarterback in the NFL after halftime this season, leading the league in Total QBR (96) and yards per attempt (10.1) entering Week 8. Romo’s completion percentage (71 percent) and eight touchdowns after halftime rank second in the NFL.

With a win, Romo can get to 70 as a starter in his career. The only two Cowboys quarterbacks who have hit that threshold are Troy Aikman (94) and Roger Staubach (85).

Colt McCoy
Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy will make his first start since Week 14 of 2011. Among active quarterbacks, only Blaine Gabbert and Brandon Weeden have worse records as a starter.

McCoy will be asked to lead a Redskins team that has not won against an NFC East opponent since knocking off the Cowboys in Week 17 of 2012. The eight-game losing streak within the division is the longest active streak in the NFL.

Moving the football has not been a problem for the Redskins. They entered Week 8 averaging 6.2 yards per play, the second-best average in the NFL. However, their 15 turnovers were tied with the Jaguars for most in the NFL entering this week.

Top things to know: 2014-15 NBA Season

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
LeBron James returns home to try and end the city of Cleveland’s title drought
The 69th NBA season begins on Tuesday. Here are the top 10 things to know:

1. The defending champion San Antonio Spurs have won 5 NBA titles, fourth-most in NBA history behind the Boston Celtics (17), Los Angeles Lakers (16) and Chicago Bulls (6). San Antonio has never made it back to the NBA Finals in the season after hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.

2. LeBron James returns home to try and end the city of Cleveland’s title drought. A Cleveland major professional sports team has not won a championship since 1964 (Browns). Cleveland teams have completed a combined 142 seasons since the city’s last major sports title, the longest active drought of any American city.

3. With the acquisitions of LeBron and Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavaliers became the first team in NBA offseason history to acquire two players who ranked among the top 5 in total points the previous season.

4. Reigning MVP Kevin Durant is expected to be out through at least November with a fracture in his right foot. Over the last 2 seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder's offensive efficiency with Durant on the floor would rank first in the NBA. When he's off the floor, their offensive efficiency slips to 20th.

5. Kobe Bryant, who played just six games last season, needs 593 points to move past Michael Jordan into third place on the all-time scoring list. This will be Bryant's 19th season with the Lakers, which will tie John Stockton for the most seasons spent with a single franchise. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the record for the highest scoring average by a player in his 19th season or later with 14.6 points per game in 1987-88.

6. In seven seasons with LeBron James, the Cavaliers won more playoff games (42) than in 37 seasons without him (28). During James’ four-season stint in Miami, Cleveland posted the worst record in the league (.311 win percentage).

7. Carmelo Anthony is averaging 25.3 points per game for his career, the second-highest scoring average in NBA history by a player who never reached the NBA Finals (George Gervin). Anthony has played 11 NBA seasons, but has only managed to get out of the 1st Round twice.

8. Similarly, Chris Paul is entering his 10th season and is still seeking a deep playoff run, as he has yet to reach a Conference Finals. His seven All-Star selections are tied for the third-most by a player who never appeared in a Conference Finals, trailing only Dominique Wilkins (nine) and Yao Ming (eight).

9. Derrick Rose is back, but can he stay healthy? Rose has played in just 49 games since winning the MVP award back in 2010-11, the third-fewest games played by an MVP in the three seasons immediately after winning the award. Chicago averaged 99.7 points per 100 possessions last season, tied for the third-fewest in the NBA. In Rose's MVP season, the Bulls averaged 105.5.

10. In his second season in the league, Anthony Davis posted a player efficiency rating of 26.5 last season – fourth-highest in the NBA. Over the last 30 seasons - which dates back to the first year of Michael Jordan's career - only five players have posted a player efficiency rating of 25 or higher in their first or second season in the NBA. Anthony Davis joined Shaq, David Robinson, MJ and LeBron on that list.


Top stats to know: Bumgarner dominates

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
With each instance of postseason dominance, Madison Bumgarner is moving higher and higher up the ladder of baseball’s most elite performers on the biggest stage.

Bumgarner and Brandon Crawford combined to carry the San Francisco Giants to a 5-0 win over the Kansas City Royals in Game 5 of the World Series.

The Giants lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 set for Tuesday night in Kansas City, Missouri.

Bumgarner's amazing night
Bumgarner pitched the World Series' first shutout since Josh Beckett's series-clincher for the Marlins against the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.

Bumgarner is the first Giants pitcher to throw one in the Fall Classic in 52 years. The last was Jack Sanford against the Yankees in 1962.

Bumgarner joined Christy Mathewson as the only Giants pitchers with multiple shutouts in the same postseason. Mathewson did so against the Philadelphia Athletics in 1905.

What was unique about this one was that Bumgarner struck out eight and walked none. Bumgarner is the first to throw a World Series shutout that featured as many strikeouts and was walk-free.

Don Larsen came the closest, with seven strikeouts and no walks in his perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956.

Bumgarner's career World Series ledger now reads: four starts, four wins, 31 innings pitched and one run allowed.

He's the first pitcher to win the first four World Series starts of his career since Lew Burdette of the 1957-58 Milwaukee Braves.

Bumgarner did this with a masterful curveball, one that netted him six strikeouts, matching the most he's ever had in any start.

If this one looked similar to his last shutout -- the wild-card game win over the Pittsburgh Pirates -- it was, and not just because he allowed four hits in each. Bumgarner had six strikeouts with his curveball in that game, too.

The supporting cast
Crawford had three RBIs to pace the Giants offense.

How's this for a World Series-based quirk?

The last four times a shortstop had three or more RBIs in a World Series game, he was a member of the Giants. Rich Aurilia did so against the Angels in 2002 and Edgar Renteria had two such games (including one as the No. 8 hitter in a Game 5) in 2010.

Looking ahead
The Elias Sports Bureau notes the Game 5 winner of a World Series tied 2-2 wins the series 66 percent of the time (27 of 41).

Stats to know: Roethlisberger's big game

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an all-timer of a game in a win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon.

This didn’t quite come out of nowhere, but Roethlisberger hadn’t had any extremely notable games in a while. In his previous three games, he’s completed 63 percent of his pass attempts, averaged 255 passing yards and posted a 59.7 Total QBR.

But now he’s achieved some statistical benchmarks that had never been previously done, with a near-perfect performance.

The history
Roethlisberger threw for a Steelers record 522 passing yards and six touchdowns. The 522 yards ranked fourth in NFL history, 32 shy of Norm Van Brocklin’s record, set in 1951.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that he’s the second player to have at least 500 passing yards and six touchdowns without throwing an interception. The other was Y.A. Tittle for the New York Giants against the Washington Redskins in 1962.

Also via Elias:

Roethlisberger also became the first quarterback in NFL history to have multiple games of 500 passing yards.

Roethlisberger was 40 for 49 passing. His 81.6 percent completion percentage ranks second all-time (minimum 45 pass attempts), trailing only Jeff Garcia, who completed 82.2 percent (on 37 of 45) for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a loss to the Detroit Lions in 2007.

Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck combined for 922 passing yards, the fifth-highest combined total in a game in NFL history.

How he dominated
Roethlisberger completed 23-of-29 passes for 285 yards and four touchdowns against four or fewer pass rushers.

This was a particularly good day for him in that regard. Coming into the game, Roethlisberger ranked outside the top 15 qualified quarterbacks in Total QBR, completion percentage and yards per attempt against standard pressure.

Roethlisberger completed 8-of-11 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns on throws 15 or more yards downfield, his second--highest completion percentage on deep passes in a game in the last four seasons (minimum five attempts). His eight deep completions are tied for the second-most by any quarterback in a game this season.

Roethlisberger completed 10-of-12 passes for 169 yards and three touchdowns off play action. He threw two such touchdowns in his 1st seven games this season.

Roethlisberger completed 6-of-9 passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns when under duress. Coming into the game, only Carson Palmer had a better completion percentage under duress than Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger completed all six of his attempts for 65 yards and two touchdowns when blitzed by a defensive back, tied for the most attempts without an incompletion on such throws in a game this season.

Summing it up in one number
Roethlisberger finished with a 99.0 Total QBR. That’s the second-best QBR of his career, surpassed only by a 99.1 against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7 of the 2009 season.

Roethlisberger went 13 for 16 with five touchdown passes in a 38-7 win that day.

Roethlisberger's season QBR jumped from 61.9 to 72.7 and his ranking among NFL quarterbacks went from 17th to 8th.