Sweat the Small Stuff: The 10 Best NFL Teams at Doing the Little Things

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIDecember 12, 2012

Sweat the Small Stuff: The 10 Best NFL Teams at Doing the Little Things

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    Blocking and tackling. So simple, yet so many times, we see it not happening in football.

    Yet those who block and tackle the best usually have the most success.

    We have all watched NFL games where a quarterback threw a long touchdown pass to give his team the lead or a running back broke a few tackles on his way to the end zone.

    For many teams, those big plays have an impact not only on the game, but on an entire season.

    The difference between being in the playoffs and sitting at home watching them could be that one drive with that one big play.

    However, over the course of the season, the teams that do the little things are generally the ones that have the most success. While the big play can make a difference, the small things will be what lead a team to the Super Bowl.

    Here's a look at 10 teams that are the best at doing the little things right.

     

    Note: All stats taken from ESPN.com.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    For the longest time, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been a disciplined football team.

    This year is no different, as the Steelers are in the top five of multiple areas.

    The Steelers rank first in forced fumbles (18), third in third-down conversions allowed (47) and fourth in points allowed per game (19.1).

    Their recent struggles are due to Ben Roethlisberger being out with injury and will improve once he's back.

    Pittsburgh is also allowing a league-low 165.7 passing yards per game and a fifth-lowest 91.5 rushing yards per game.

    Then there's the swagger aspect. With guys like Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Ryan Clark, teams know the Steelers are going to bring the big hit. With proper form just about every time, there are not many tackles the defense misses.

    Things haven't been pretty so far this year for the Steelers, but they are consistent at doing the little things right.

9. Green Bay Packers

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    Sunday night's game against the New York Giants was an anomaly for the Green Bay Packers.

    Every team has at least one or two horrible games each year, and Sunday night's game was it for the Packers.

    Still, the rest of the year, the Packers have been good about doing the little things to put themselves in position to win.

    They've sacked opposing quarterbacks 34 times and are sitting at plus-five in the turnover department. The Packers also post the eighth-best in third-down percentage (42.1).

    On special teams, the Packers rank fifth in fair catches, as the defense is getting down the field to prevent a return.

    Some may say Sunday's game showed how the Packers will fare in the playoffs. However, it was just one game. Mistakes were made, and they will be corrected.

8. Indianapolis Colts

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    The Indianapolis Colts went from a future Hall of Fame quarterback who did all the little things to a rookie quarterback who does all the little things.

    There's no other way to explain the Colts' resurgence this season.

    While the Colts rank outside the top 10 in many categories, they are third in offensive first downs (263) and fourth in least third downs converted (53).

    They also rank sixth in punt return average (11.7).

    Things may not be pretty in some games for the Colts, but they continue to find ways to get the job done.

7. Denver Broncos

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    The Denver Broncos signed one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Peyton Manning during the offseason.

    Since then, the Broncos are winning games on both sides of the ball.

    The defense is allowing 33.5 percent of third downs be converted, while the offense is converting 44.1 percent of third downs. The Broncos have also only committed 66 penalties on offense, which ranks 10th in the league.

    The Broncos have also intercepted 13 passes and sacked opposing quarterbacks a league-leading 37 times.

    Their three losses have come against three of the top teams in the NFL in Atlanta, New England and Houston by a combined 22 points.

    Since their loss to New England, the Broncos have won six straight games by an average of 12.7 points per game.

    The defense has been good the last few years in Denver, but with Manning in town, the offense is clicking. Guys like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are turning into great receivers, with Manning deserving the credit for that transformation.

6. New York Giants

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    The New York Giants are one of those teams that should be ranked higher. But unless it's playoff time, you don't know if their hearts are in the game.

    New York has 30 sacks on the year and has intercepted 18 passes. The plus-13 in takeaways ranks second in the NFL.

    On third downs, the offense is converting 38.4 percent of third downs.

    The Giants also aren't killing themselves with penalties, as they've only committed 48 on offense and 69 on defense.

    The special teams is allowing 6.8 yards per punt return while gaining 11.7 yards per punt return. Lawrence Tynes has also converted a league-high 29 field goals with a long of 50 yards.

    It's hard to have the Giants this low, but their losses were bad in that they didn't look like they were interested in the game.

    Obviously, that will change come playoff time. But in the regular season, the Giants just don't seem to have their hearts into it.

    And they better be careful because if they don't win the NFC East, they may not make the playoffs.

5. Chicago Bears

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    Defense, defense, defense. That's the way Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith loves to play the game.

    This year, offense has been thrown into the mix with Brandon Marshall at wide receiver.

    Mix all that up, and you have a pretty good team.

    The Bears have 30 quarterback sacks and have forced 18 fumbles. They've also intercepted 20 passes, which is tops in the league.

    The defense ranks in the top 10 in passing yards (210.1) allowed and rushing yards (96.9) allowed per game.

    With a defense like that, the offense really only has to score about 20 points in a game, and they're likely going to win.

    Of course, that doesn't always happen, but the defense will give the Bears a good shot at going to the Super Bowl this year.

4. Houston Texans

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    The Houston Texans sit tied with the best record in the NFL and have shown they can easily do the little things this year.

    Houston has allowed a league-low 42 third-down conversions (28.6 percent) while converting 41.3 percent of third downs on offense.

    The Texans also rank in the top 10 in least penalties with 63 on offense and 64 on defense, while the plus-eight turnover differential ranks in the top five.

    The biggest stat is the Texans are 5-0 on the road. While winning at home is looked at more, when you can win on the road, it shows your confidence can't be shaken when you leave home.

    And it's not like the Texans have had a cake schedule. They've encountered teams like the Bears, Packers and Ravens all within the last six games.

    We'll get to see if that road record holds up in two weeks when the Texans visit the Patriots.

3. San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers are another team with a great defense. In fact, that's the reason why they're at where they're at.

    The 49ers are allowing opponents to convert 32.2 percent of third downs and have only committed 63 defensive penalties.

    The defense has also garnered 28 sacks, 12 forced fumbles and 10 interceptions.

    But where the 49ers are really controlling opponents is along the offensive line. Currently, the 49ers ranks first in the league in rushing yards per game (163.4).

    When you have a running game like that, you can easily control the clock, averaging 31:03 in time of possession each game.

    San Francisco will be in the playoffs, and likely in the NFC title game, no matter who its quarterback is. Whether it's Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick, the fact is, Frank Gore and other running backs are going to get the ball a lot.

    All they have to do is hand the ball off and make the occasional throw for a first down.

    With a defense like that, that's all the 49ers need from their quarterback.

2. Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons are currently 10-1 on the season, but there are a lot of people who think they're worse than their record shows.

    Having won six of their games by six points or less, the Falcons have always had the game go down to the final possession.

    So, why would the Falcons be the second-best at doing the little things right?

    For starters, Atlanta has committed 39 offensive penalties (lowest in the NFL) for 310 yards all season. That's nine penalties and 58 yards fewer than the No. 2 team (Giants).

    The Falcons also rank second in the league in third-down success (48.3 percent) and have only allowed 21 sacks on the year. The turnover differential is also plus-three, which ranks in the top 10 of the league.

    Atlanta had a few bad games where Matt Ryan threw five interceptions (Arizona) and miracle plays that set them up for a game-winning field goal (Carolina). The fact of the matter is, the Falcons got the win, and that's all that matters in the NFL.

    Then there's the special teams' play. Matt Bryant has made 26 of 31 field goals, including all three from beyond 50 yards.

    The Falcons aren't hurting themselves with mistakes. By not beating themselves, they're giving themselves opportunities to win the game or put it away.

    That's what happens when you do the little things right.

1. New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots have long been a team that doesn't kill themselves with mistakes.

    The reason they can put 40 points up in any game like it's nothing is because they do all the little things right.

    New England is sitting at 8-3, but lost all three of its games by a combined four points. A breakdown here and there is what has gotten the Patriots three losses.

    But, breakdowns are expected to happen every now and then. For the most part, all the little things are going right for the Pats.

    Offensively, the Patriots are the only team in the league that is better than 50 percent on third downs. Sitting at 53.2 percent, the Patriots have converted 83 on third down.

    They are also not giving up the ball much, as Tom Brady has only thrown three interceptions, while the defense has intercepted 14 passes. In total, the Patriots have an NFL-leading plus-24 in the turnover department.

    The offensive line has allowed 15 sacks this year, which is second-best in the NFL.

    While it doesn't ever look like much, the Patriots are simply a well-oiled machine where everyone knows their role. When everyone knows their role year in and year out, a team is going to be successful during that stretch.