Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Running the numbers, week 6

Twice last year, after week 4 and week 11, I ran a little analysis of how teams were doing with the run vs. the pass and how much their play calling suited their strengths. In other words, if I found that a team was averaging significantly higher yardage through the air, I reasoned that they should be calling more pass plays to take advantage of that. If they were averaging a lot on the ground, they should be calling more run plays.

Obviously, the Vikings came up as one of the best running teams in the league, and good ol' Brad Childress had them passing a ridiculous number of times in the week 4 analysis and calling a much more run-oriented game by week 11. Criticism of Childress's over-reliance on the passing game is still alive and well six weeks into the 2008 season, but is it still actually warranted? Here's how things look now, after six weeks of the 2008 season:

Average Yards per Pass Play:

New Orleans Saints8.47
San Diego Chargers8.32
Dallas Cowboys7.90
Denver Broncos7.26
Arizona Cardinals7.16
Miami Dolphins7.13
New York Giants7.13
Philadelphia Eagles6.87
Carolina Panthers6.72
Buffalo Bills6.71
Atlanta Falcons6.68
Green Bay Packers6.68
Indianapolis Colts6.49
Houston Texans6.34
Washington Redskins6.27
Chicago Bears6.25
New York Jets6.03
Tennessee Titans6.02
San Francisco 49ers6.02
Pittsburgh Steelers5.76
Jacksonville Jaguars5.76
Minnesota Vikings5.58
Tampa Bay Buccaneers5.39
New England Patriots5.26
Cleveland Browns5.23
Oakland Raiders5.16
Baltimore Ravens4.89
St. Louis Rams4.75
Detroit Lions4.58
Seattle Seahawks4.33
Cincinnati Bengals4.32
Kansas City Chiefs3.82

League Average6.15

Average Yards per Running Play:

New York Giants6.08
Atlanta Falcons5.02
Tampa Bay Buccaneers4.95
Dallas Cowboys4.76
Denver Broncos4.72
Seattle Seahawks4.70
San Francisco 49ers4.67
Oakland Raiders4.64
Washington Redskins4.62
Kansas City Chiefs4.57
Houston Texans4.38
Detroit Lions4.32
Miami Dolphins4.26
Minnesota Vikings4.18
Jacksonville Jaguars4.11
Cleveland Browns3.81
Chicago Bears3.78
New England Patriots3.77
San Diego Chargers3.76
St. Louis Rams3.75
Green Bay Packers3.74
Pittsburgh Steelers3.71
Baltimore Ravens3.70
Buffalo Bills3.70
Philadelphia Eagles3.68
New York Jets3.66
Carolina Panthers3.62
Tennessee Titans3.58
New Orleans Saints3.32
Indianapolis Colts3.30
Arizona Cardinals3.24
Cincinnati Bengals3.12

League Average4.12

Note that neither of these metrics takes turnovers into play. It's just raw yardage per play: (passing yards - sack yardage) / (passes + sacks) for passing plays, and yards per carry for running plays. While it's no surprise that the Vikings are below average in passing yards per play, it's a bit surprising to see them barely above average in rushing yards per play.

Now, here's the Yards per Pass Play divided by Yards per Running Play for the league. Teams with a high AYPP/AYRP should be passing more while teams with a low AYPP/AYRP should be running more. That's the theory, at least.

New Orleans Saints2.5559.3%
Arizona Cardinals2.2158.7%
San Diego Chargers2.2152.4%
Indianapolis Colts1.9664.5%
Philadelphia Eagles1.8762.2%
Carolina Panthers1.8651.2%
Buffalo Bills1.8154.6%
Green Bay Packers1.7957.2%
Tennessee Titans1.6845.6%
Miami Dolphins1.6853.0%
Dallas Cowboys1.6656.4%
Chicago Bears1.6552.8%
New York Jets1.6559.6%
Pittsburgh Steelers1.5551.9%
Denver Broncos1.5460.2%
Houston Texans1.4560.1%
Jacksonville Jaguars1.4053.8%
New England Patriots1.4054.5%
Cincinnati Bengals1.3960.8%
Cleveland Browns1.3754.4%
Washington Redskins1.3649.4%
Minnesota Vikings1.3354.9%
Atlanta Falcons1.3346.3%
Baltimore Ravens1.3246.1%
San Francisco 49ers1.2956.9%
St. Louis Rams1.2759.7%
New York Giants1.1752.8%
Oakland Raiders1.1149.0%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers1.0958.4%
Detroit Lions1.0668.0%
Seattle Seahawks0.9252.1%
Kansas City Chiefs0.8458.1%

League Average1.4955.4%

To sum this table up, from a Vikings perspective: Minnesota is averaging 1.33 times as many yards per pass play than it is per running play. The league average is 1.49, so the Vikings are significantly below average (22nd of 32 teams, in fact) in this category.

Meanwhile, the team is dropping back to pass on 54.9% of its offensive snaps (discounting QB runs), just under the league average of 55.4%. Seeing as how the team has never had a lead big enough to abandon the pass and has only rarely been behind enough to abandon the run (at least no more than any other team that might go pass-happy late in the second or fourth quarter), it would seem that the general consensus is true: The Vikings pass considerably more than they should, based on their success in the passing game versus the running game. But I think we knew all that already.

Other teams with badly skewed ratios have understandable reasons for their lopsidedness. The Chiefs and especially the Lions have low AYPP/AYRP ratios yet pass more than the league average, owing to their frequent large deficits, which require them to pass more than they'd like. On the other hand, it looks like Jon Gruden has a little of "Childress disease," having the Bucs pass 58.4% of the time despite the fourth-worst AYPP/AYRP in the league and never having more than a 10-point deficit to overcome.

On the other side of things, most teams with a high AYPP/AYRP ratio have passed more than the league average. One of the strange exceptions is the 5-0 Tennessee Titans, who rank ninth in AYPP/AYRP yet have called the fewest passing plays (by percentage) in the NFL. Having some big leads to protect and a great defense that allows you to play conservatively on offense probably contributes to that and, really, if you're calling the plays in Tennessee, do you want Kerry Collins flinging it all over the field? Also, the high ratio is probably due more to the Titans' ineffective yards/carry of the running game (3.58, 28th in the league) than any significant prowess in the passing game (6.02, 18th), though the team's pass blocking (only two sacks so far this year) is playing a huge part.

All this data does is confirm what we already know: Brad Childress calls far too many passes given his personnel and the rushing and passing ability of his team. It's just nice to have it confirmed every once in a while.

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