Mike Clay

Going Deep

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2014 Pass/Run Rate Projections

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


We all know the obvious ones.

The Cowboys and Falcons like throwing. The Seahawks and 49ers run a lot. Andy Reid has been trying to work play-action into the kneel for years.

Understanding a team’s offensive philosophy can be critical when determining who to choose on draft day. Some teams choose to operate a run-heavy offense, which provides a boost to their tailbacks, while limiting the ceiling of their quarterback and wide receivers. Other teams want to lean on the run, but consistently trailing on the scoreboard leads to a balanced, or even pass-heavy numbers.

The other day, I introduced an adjusted version of pass/run rates, which showed which teams actually are the run- and pass-heaviest in the league. Today, I’m going to take what I’ve learned from studying coach, coordinator, and team trends and apply it to the 2014 season.

Pass-Heavy

1. Falcons - 2014 Projection: 67% pass (2013: 69%)

Coach Mike Smith has transitioned quite a bit since taking over in Atlanta in 2008. After a run-heavy rookie season, his offenses were balanced for three years before a pass-heavy approach the past two seasons. Atlanta actually called a more balanced game in 2013 than they did in 2012, but trailing in the second half significantly more often led to the league’s No. 2 pass-heaviest pass/run rate. Smith and coordinator Dirk Koetter both have resumes that include run-heavy swings, but the last two seasons have made it clear that Matt Ryan will keep busy. The Falcons will be more competitive in 2014, but they remain the best bet to pace the league in pass attempts.

2. Cowboys - 2014 Projection: 65% pass (2013: 66%)

Coach (and, possibly not coincidentally, former quarterback) Jason Garrett has a long history of rolling with a pass-heavy offense. Last season, the Cowboys called pass a league-high seven percentage points above expected based on game flow. That’s despite leading on 45 percent of their offensive snaps, which was sixth-highest in the league. As if that wasn’t enough reason to project Dallas as pass-heavy, the club hired Scott Linehan as its offensive coordinator. While with Detroit, Linehan called plays for the league’s pass-heaviest teams in both 2011 and 2012. The Lions were more balanced last year, but still leaned on a pass-balanced offense. Be sure not to overlook Terrance Williams this season. He should be on your WR3 radar.

3. Lions - 2014 Projection: 65% pass (2013: 61%)

Coach Jim Caldwell has been all over the map in past years, utilizing a pass-heavy game as the head coach in Indianapolis in 2009 and 2010 before rolling with a run-heavy approach in 2011 and again as the Ravens offensive coordinator in 2012. Some simple dot-connecting leads to the obvious conclusion that he passed when had a good quarterback and ran when he didn’t. Coordinator Joe Lombardi will call the plays in Detroit and is bringing the New Orleans offense to town. The Saints have been a pass-first team during Lombardi’s time there, reaching as high as eight percentage points above expected in 2010 and 2011. The Detroit offense will be different than the one we’ve seen the past few years, but that doesn’t mean we’ll see less passing. With Matthew Stafford at the controls, Caldwell and Lombardi won’t be afraid to let it fly.

4. Chiefs - 2014 Projection: 64% pass (2013: 62%)

After years of running offenses on the extreme pass-heavy side of the league, coach Reid has added a shred of balance the past two years. The 2012 Eagles struggled, but Reid only passed slightly more than expected. The 2013 Chiefs went 11-5 and led on 53 percent of their snaps (fourth-highest), but still ended up as the league’s No. 12 pass-heaviest offense. Offseason movement suggests Kansas City will be worse in 2014, which means less leaning on the run in clock-killing situations. Expect the Chiefs to be among the pass-heaviest clubs in the league, which means some sleeper appeal for Alex Smith, Dwayne Bowe, and Travis Kelce.

5. Saints - 2014 Projection: 64% pass (2013: 64%)

Over his past five seasons as the head man in New Orleans, Payton’s offenses have called pass five percentage points above expected four times. With Drew Brees under center, that should hardly be a surprise. The Saints are usually competitive, which allows them to run in the second half, but Payton’s reliance on Brees has led to plenty of seasons among the league leaders in pass attempts.  

6. Colts - 2014 Projection: 63% pass (2013: 65%)

We’re now two seasons into Chuck Pagano’s regime as Indianapolis’ head coach. The Colts relied heavily on the pass during both seasons – and not just because of game flow. Indianapolis played with a lead plenty last season, but still called pass four percentage points above expected. The coordinator switch from Arians to Pep Hamilton last offseason actually led to a slightly more pass-friendly attack. With an improved and healthy supporting cast, Andrew Luck has his best shot for a breakout 2014 season.

7. Texans - 2014 Projection: 63% pass (2013: 63%)

Coach Bill O’Brien is new in town, but recent history suggests he’ll operate a pass-balanced offense. O’Brien called plays for New England from 2009 to 2011. He rolled with a pass-heavy approach all three years despite game flow suggesting that New England should’ve been among the league’s run-heaviest teams. With Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, the 2014 Texans seem destined for plenty of second-half deficits. Even if O’Brien tries to keep the ball out of Fitzpatrick’s hand early on, Houston figures to be forced into a pass-heavy approach down the stretch.

8. Giants - 2014 Projection: 63% pass (2013: 62%)

It may surprise you to know that the Giants have been a team slightly on the pass-heavy side of the league the past three seasons. Of course, after the disaster that was their 7-9 2013 season, changes were made. Coordinator Kevin Gilbride was replaced by Ben McAdoo. McAdoo comes from Green Bay where he’ll institute an offense similar to the one we’ve seen Aaron Rodgers operate the past few seasons. For the most part, Green Bay has been extremely pass heavy the past few years, but there was a movement towards a more balanced offense in 2013. McAdoo has no pro coordinator experience, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what he’ll do. That said, I’m projecting a slightly pass-balanced offense for a team that isn’t particularly good and has a tough schedule.

9. Bears - 2014 Projection: 62% pass (2013: 62%)

In his first year as the head man in Chicago, coach Marc Trestman instituted an offense that was slightly on the pass-balanced side of the league. The Bears were ahead during only 28 percent of their offensive snaps, which led to additional passing late in games. Chicago will lead more often in 2014, but the club’s pass/run rate shouldn’t change much with Trestman and coordinator Aaron Kromer calling the shots. The duo will want to keep Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett busy.

Balanced

10. Redskins - 2014 Projection: 61% pass (2013: 63%)

Washington hired Jay Gruden as its head coach this past offseason and he will call the team’s plays in 2014. In terms of pass/run rates, Gruden’s offenses have ended up right near league average while working as offensive coordinator in Cincinnati the past three years. An in-depth look at his play-calling, however, suggests a slight preference towards throwing the ball. Washington led on an atrocious and league-worst 11 percent of their offensive snaps last season. That led to a balanced pass/run rate despite a major effort to lean on the run. The Redskins will improve on that mark in 2014, but Gruden figures to call nothing less than a balanced game. Expect Washington to finish right near league average in the pass/run rate department this season.

11. Steelers - 2014 Projection: 61% pass (2013: 63%)

The Steelers have a stereotype as a defense-led, run-heavy franchise, but that hasn’t been the case with coach Mike Tomlin in control. The Steelers have called pass more than game flow suggested five of the past six seasons. After operating run-heavy offenses in Kansas City in 2010 and 2011, coordinator Todd Haley has actually brought some balance to the Pittsburgh offense the past two seasons.  

12. Jaguars - 2014 Projection: 61% pass (2013: 65%)

The award for the most-deceiving pass/run rate of 2013 belongs to the Jaguars. Thought to be instituting an attack similar to the one in Seattle, coach Gus Bradley’s team ended up throwing 65 percent of the time, which was the league’s No. 6 pass-heaviest mark. A deeper look at the play-calling, however, shows that coordinator Jedd Fisch actually called a run-heavy offense. Jacksonville only led on 22 percent of its offensive snaps – third-worst in the league. Game flow called for Fisch to call pass six percentage points above league average, but he actually was two points below expected. The Jaguars will look to lean on a Toby Gerhart-led running game this season, but – similar to the past few seasons – trailing on the scoreboard will mean extra pass attempts in the second half. The Jaguars will throw less in 2014, but not by a massive margin.

13. Cardinals - 2014 Projection: 61% pass (2013: 60%)

Coach Bruce Arians has a history of preferring to lean on the pass, and that doesn’t figure to change with Michael Floyd and John Brown emerging behind Larry Fitzgerald. Of course, Arians’ clubs also have a history of leading on the scoreboard quite a bit, which has led to game flow suggesting he run more than he does. Arizona went 10-6 last year and figures to be competitive in most games this season. Expect a relatively-balanced attack.

14. Broncos - 2014 Projection: 61% pass (2013: 61%)

The record-setting 2013 Broncos led on a league-high 60 percent of their offensive snaps. Game flow suggested they should call pass around 56 percent of the time (same as 2012), but instead they were at 61 percent.  As dominant as the Broncos were this past season, they actually threw the ball quite a bit more than they did in 2012. It was a clear scheme adjustment. The 2014 offense is sure to regress, so it’s conceivable to expect more passing this season. That’s especially the case when you consider Denver’s lack of depth at the tailback position. Of course, a highly-effective offense and much-improved defense will allow for plenty of late-game rushing opportunities. This offense will be very close to league average in the pass/run rate department this season.

15. Vikings - 2014 Projection: 61% pass (2013: 62%)

Mike Zimmer – the new head man in Minnesota – has a defensive background, which means coordinator Norval Turner will call plays for the Vikings this season. Turner spent six seasons spanning from 2007 to 2012 as the Chargers’ head coach. He called a fairly balanced game, leaning slightly towards the pass. Turner’s teams were usually pretty good, though, which resulted in a pass/run rates that favored his backs. Last season, however, Turner coordinated the Cleveland offense and put up the league’s pass-heaviest pass/run rate. The Browns were behind quite a bit, which boosted their rate, but Turner called pass six percentage points more than expected, which trailed only Dallas. That all being said, 2013 is really the outlier season on Turner’s recent resume. With defensive-minded Zimmer running the team and Adrian Peterson on the roster, it makes perfect sense for Minnesota to lean on the run. Of course, this is a club that went 5-11-1 last season and didn’t make drastic offseason improvements. A run-heavy approach coupled with plenty of second-half deficits will mean a fairly balanced pass/run rate.

16. Raiders - 2014 Projection: 60% pass (2013: 60%)

The play-calling resumes of coach Dennis Allen and coordinator Greg Olson show a similar trend. Both coaches seem to prefer leaning on the run, but have dealt with second-half deficits throughout their careers. The Raiders, of course, have struggled during Allen’s two years as head coach, while Olson spent 2009 through 2011 with Tampa Bay and last season with Oakland. The Raiders’ passing game is a weakness, but they did add Maurice Jones-Drew to a backfield that already included Darren McFadden. The goal in 2014 will be the same as in 2013: Run the ball as much as possible. Oakland will be forced to throw more than they want, but they’ll end up on the run-balanced side of the league.


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Mike Clay is a football writer for Rotoworld.com and the Founder/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He can be found on Twitter @MikeClayNFL.
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