Thursday, while on Twitter, I asked a basic trivia question: “See if you can name the NFL’s pass heaviest Head Coach and/or Offensive Coordinator since 2008. (Hint: 66% of offensive calls = pass)”
Approximately 20 minutes and 40 or so tries later, someone finally came up with the correct response: Broncos and Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan.
Although most football fans are aware of certain coach / coordinator trends (eg. Mike Martz means bad news for tight ends, Rex Ryan means tons of rushing attempts), many are overlooked, including ones as basic as the coach who calls a pass play the most often. In a world where we love our statistics, player projections, and fantasy football, it surprises me that there isn’t more of a focus on the trends we see from coaches.
Today, I’ll get the fun started by studying some relatively basic head coach and offensive coordinator statistics from the last three years.
First, a few important notes:
• Included in the study is every head coach or offensive coordinator who coached/coordinated at least eight games during the last three seasons (One exception: Leslie Frazier’s six games as Vikings head coach in 2010 will be included). This eliminates only six coaches, all head coaches, from the study. They are Mike Nolan (SF), Perry Fewell (BUF), Eric Studesville (DEN), Lane Kiffin (OAK), Scott Linehan (SL), and Jim Tomsula (SF).
• Playoff games are included.
• You will notice that many Head Coaches are grouped with an Offensive Coordinator. This is the case only when the two show the exact same data across the board, which would be a product of them coaching a team during the exact same timeframe.
• You will see some names twice. This is because a coach’s stats as a Head Coach are separated from his stats as an Offensive Coordinator. This might seem silly, but it’s important that we differentiate between, for example, what Bill Belichick did during his 2 years as both the Patriots HC and OC and what he did in 2008 when Josh McDaniels was the OC.
|4||Jim Schwartz & Scott Linehan||HC/OC||DET||32||65.6|
|5||Pete Carmichael Jr.||OC||NO||36||65.5|
|8||Mike Smith & Mike Mularkey||HC/OC||ATL||50||65.4|
|10||Jon Gruden & Bill Muir||HC/OC||TB||16||65.3|
We already know that the Patriots’ Bill Belichick gets the most out of his offense. It certainly helps when you average 66 offensive plays per game. The highlight came back in 2008 when Josh McDaniels was the team’s offensive coordinator and they averaged a league-best 68.5 plays/game. McDaniels proved not to be a one year wonder in this department, averaging 64 plays/game in 28 games as the Broncos head coach. This is worth noting when considering the Rams’ potential 2011 offensive production.
Interestingly, Jason Garrett makes the list, but only as the Cowboys’ head coach. Dallas averaged 63.0 plays under Wade Phillips, 2.4 fewer per game than we saw from Garrett’s team.
The Saints averaged 65.4 plays with Doug Marrone at Offensive Coordinator in 2008 and 65.5 plays with Pete Carmichael Jr. at the same position from 2009-2010. This really just shows the consistency of the head coach Sean Payton-led Saints offense.
Many of the teams here (eg. Patriots, Colts, Falcons, Saints) sport some of the best NFL offenses. The Lions, ranked 4th, appear to be on the verge of joining the club.
|1||Alex Van Pelt||OC||BUF||16||56.8|
|2||Rod Marinelli & Jim Colletto / Kippy Brown (Pass)||HC/OC||DET||16||57.1|
|3||Romeo Crennel & Rob Chudzinski||HC/OC||CLV||16||57.4|
|4||Mike Holmgren & Gil Haskell||HC/OC||SEA||16||57.9|
|7||Ted Tollner (Pass)||OC||OAK||16||59.1|
|8||Jimmy Raye II||OC||SF||19||59.2|
|10||Mike Miller (Pass) Russ Grimm (Run)||OC||ARZ||34||59.4|
Not coincidentally, only two (Brian Daboll and Mike Miller) of the 15 names in this list still hold the title of Offensive Coordinator and none are head coaches. Daboll takes over the struggling Dolphins offense, while Mike Miller has been upgraded from pass game coordinator to offensive coordinator in Arizona.
|2||Mike Miller (Pass) Russ Grimm (Run)||OC||ARZ||34||65.4%|
|4||Herman Edwards & Chan Gailey||HC/OC||KC||16||64.9%|
|5||Jim Mora Jr||HC||SEA||16||64.5%|
|6||Andy Reid & Marty Mornhinweg||HC/OC||PHI||53||64.1%|
|7||Jim Schwartz & Scott Linehan||HC/OC||DET||32||64.0%|
|9||Jimmy Raye II||OC||SF||19||63.5%|
As mentioned earlier, Broncos and Redskins Mike Shanahan is the league’s pass-heaviest coach/coordinator since 2008 at 65.6% pass. It’s worth noting that he was out of football during the 2009 season, but 32 games still gives us a solid sample size to work with.
Mike Miller and Russ Grimm teamed up to coordinate the Cardinals offense during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, calling a pass play 65.4% of the time. Near two-thirds of Ken Whisenhunt’s 65% mark is covered by those two seasons, but Todd Haley called a pass-heavy offense in 2008 as well.
We already know that Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan’s Lions rack up a ton of offensive plays. Now we see that they also pass the ball a ton. This could prove to be a deadly combination for opposing defenses in 2011 and beyond.
|4||John Harbaugh & Cam Cameron||HC/OC||BLT||55||51.1%|
|5||John Fox & Jeff Davidson||HC/OC||CAR||49||51.6%|
|6||Jeff Fisher & Mike Heimerdinger||HC/OC||TEN||49||53.2%|
|9||Tom Coughlin & Kevin Gilbride||HC/OC||NYG||49||54.5%|
|10||Mike Smith & Mike Mularkey||HC/OC||ATL||50||54.5%|
In 2009, Rex Ryan’s first year as an NFL Head Coach, the Jets were, by far, the league’s run heaviest team. In 2010, they passed a bit more, but still featured a run-first scheme. In our three year window, those two seasons added up to a pass play call on 47.4% of their offensive snaps, which is nearly 3% lower than second place. In fact, in three years, no other coach/coordinator has managed to call a pass on fewer than 50% of their play calls.
Interestingly, six of the 10 listed racked up 49+ games over the last three years. If you group Ryan with Jets Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, that figure jumps to 6-of-9.
Running Back Targets
|1||Norv Turner & Clarence Shelmon||HC/OC||SD||51||27.7%|
|2||John Harbaugh & Cam Cameron||HC/OC||BLT||55||27.3%|
|6||Pete Carmichael Jr.||OC||NO||36||25.3%|
|9||Alex Van Pelt||OC||BUF||16||25.1%|
|10||Jon Gruden & Bill Muir||HC/OC||TB||16||24.3%|
Over the last three seasons, no coaches have thrown to the running back more than the Norv Turner-Clarence Shelmon duo in San Diego. That said, a large chunk of the 28% went to Darren Sproles, who is unlikely to return to the Chargers. Still, Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert, Jacob Hester, and rookie Jordan Todman should be heavily involved in the pass game.
The Ravens feature Ray Rice in their passing game more than any other team features its lead back through the air. Rice is directly responsible for John Harbaugh/Cam Cameron’s appearance on this list.
Hue Jackson, 3rd at 26.4%, was promoted by the Raiders from Offensive Coordinator to Head Coach. New OC Al Saunders sits 15th on this list of 70 at 23.1%, a figure he racked up while the Rams OC in 2008, so don’t expect much of a decline in 2011.
|4||Mike Tomlin & Bruce Arians||HC/OC||PIT||54||14.4%|
|5||Herman Edwards & Chan Gailey||HC/OC||KC||16||15.0%|
|6||Mike McCarthy & Joe Philbin||HC/OC||GB||53||15.5%|
|10||Marvin Lewis & Bob Bratkowski||HC/OC||CIN||49||16.0%|
In his first “real” season as Offensive Coordinator, Clyde Christensen (10.9%) picked up where his predecessor Tom Moore left off in terms of not throwing the ball to the running back. This becomes clear when you see that Head Coach Jim Caldwell ranks 2nd at 12.6%. Although we’re focusing on coaches here, it’d be silly not to mention Peyton Manning, whose ability to find his wide receivers/tight ends down field surely makes an impact.
It’s worth noting that Leslie Frazier’s Vikings threw to the running back just 15.5% of the time when he took over as head coach late in 2010. At 22.8%, Frazier’s predecessor Brad Childress threw to the RB more than just 16 other coaches in the study. This is bad news for Adrian Peterson’s receiving prospects in 2011, especially considering that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (22.1%) was replaced by Bill Musgrave.
Wide Receiver Targets
|1||Chan Gailey & Curtis Modkins||HC/OC||BUF||16||76.6%|
|3||Mike Miller (Pass) Russ Grimm (Run)||OC||ARZ||34||73.8%|
|7||Marvin Lewis & Bob Bratkowski||HC/OC||CIN||49||69.0%|
|8||Rod Marinelli & Jim Colletto / Kippy Brown (Pass)||HC/OC||DET||16||67.9%|
|9||Tom Coughlin & Kevin Gilbride||HC/OC||NYG||49||67.6%|
Steve Johnson’s 2010 breakout can be partially attributed to the heavy workload Bills offensive coaches Chan Gailey and Curtis Modkins gave their wide receivers. If you were curious how Johnson, Lee Evans, David Nelson, Roscoe Parrish, and Donald Jones all became regular contributors last year, this should shed some light.
Interestingly, most of the coaches listed here who were active in 2010 enjoyed the services of a breakout or much-better-than-anticipated wide receiver. The Bills (Johnson), Broncos (Lloyd), Chiefs (Bowe), Bengals (Owens), and Giants (Nicks) fit the bill. The only exception would be the Cardinals, but Larry Fitzgerald is already as elite as they come.
|2||Jimmy Raye II||OC||SF||19||45.9%|
|3||Romeo Crennel & Rob Chudzinski||HC/OC||CLV||16||47.9%|
|4||Norv Turner & Clarence Shelmon||HC/OC||SD||51||49.1%|
|5||Jim Schwartz & Scott Linehan||HC/OC||DET||32||49.2%|
We’ll find later that the main reason for Jason Garrett’s appearance on this list is the 2nd-half explosion that tight end Jason Witten enjoyed in 2010. Still, it’s worth noting how little Garrett’s offense used the wide receiver after he took over as head coach.
We already know Norv Turner and Clarence Shelmon love throwing to the running back. When you also consider that they have elite tight end Antonio Gates at their disposal, it shouldn’t be shocking to find them on this list.
There’s a good reason why teams like the Lions, Raiders, and 49ers have only seemed to need to go 3-deep at wide receiver over the last few years. Each team finds itself using its wide receivers very little. Both the Raiders and Lions return the same/similar coaching schemes in 2011, but the 49ers are in for a makeover with Jim Harbaugh in town.
Tight End Targets
|2||Jimmy Raye II||OC||SF||19||31.9%|
|3||Herman Edwards & Chan Gailey||HC/OC||KC||16||30.9%|
|7||Romeo Crennel & Rob Chudzinski||HC/OC||CLV||16||29.1%|
|9||Raheem Morris & Greg Olson||HC/OC||TB||32||28.0%|
Under Wade Phillips, the Cowboys already featured the tight end quite a bit at 29%. Once he was fired, however, Jason Garrett put workhorse TE Jason Witten to even bigger use (34%). Although we should expect some regression in 2011, there’s no doubt that Garrett will continue to feature his tight ends.
Rob Chudzinski (29%) takes over as the Panthers Offensive Coordinator in 2010. He featured the tight end heavily as the Browns OC in 2008 and has already stated that the TE position will be featured in his offense.
Oddly, most of the coaches on this list are currently without jobs. We already mentioned Garrett and Chudzinski. The only other coaches joining them are Bills Head Coach Chan Gailey, who we’ll get too in a minute, and the Bucs’ Raheem Morris/Greg Olson duo.
|1||Chan Gailey & Curtis Modkins||HC/OC||BUF||16||5.8%|
|3||Mike Miller (Pass) Russ Grimm (Run)||OC||ARZ||34||7.1%|
|10||Rod Marinelli & Jim Colletto / Kippy Brown (Pass)||HC/OC||DET||16||14.0%|
What jumps out at me here is that Chan Gailey shows up on both lists. Back in 2008, as an Offensive Coordinator, Gailey’s Chiefs heavily featured TE Tony Gonzalez. However, in 2010, Gailey and Bills OC Curt Modkins looked to the tight end on just 6% of their pass attempts. Obviously, personnel is the big issue here and the Bills are unlikely to improve much in that department this off-season.
Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Miller should begin to make a move down this list after selecting speedy tight end Rob Housler in the third round of the 2011 rookie draft.
Todd Haley sits at 10%, but his use of the tight end is on the rise, especially after drafting Tony Moeaki last year. It’s yet to be seen what kind of impact new OC Bill Muir will make, but we already know that offensive-minded Haley will be heavily involved.
Josh McDaniels finds himself on this list as both a head coach and offensive coordinator. Although, it should seem pretty clear that he doesn’t like using the tight end in the passing game, it’s no secret that he models his game after his former boss, Bill Belichick. The Rams drafted receiving TE Lance Kendricks in Round 2 of the 2011 NFL draft as a long-term target for Sam Bradford at the position. Don’t expect to see McDaniels on this list in 2012.
It may surprise you that Mike Martz (convicted TE hater) is not on this list. He’s not far off. At 15.7%, he ranks 14th.
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[Editor’s note: this article and much more can be found in our fantasy section.]