Fact or Myth? – Brandon Pettigrew / Matthew Stafford Edition

| July 1, 2011

Fact or Myth?
 
Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew is a much less of a receiving threat when Matthew Stafford is at quarterback. Pettigrew’s 2010 production in the pass game was a product of Stafford’s injury, coupled with Drew Stanton’s – and especially – Shaun Hill’s reliance on the tight end.
 
This will surprise many of you, but this is, in fact, a myth.


 
 
 
 

Background

To start our investigation, we first have to take a look at some essential data. Both Stafford and Pettigrew were drafted early in the 2009 rookie draft and both saw a respectable amount of playing time immediately. Stafford was installed as the Week 1 starter at quarterback and Pettigrew averaged just over 53 snaps per game.
 
Although that paragraph makes it sound like the youth movement in Detroit was in full gear, injuries quickly got in the way. The duo played together in just eight games (458 snaps) during the 2009 season and 2.5 games (142 snaps) in 2010.
 

2009 2010
Week MS BP Tm MS+BP Week MS BP Tm MS+BP
1 60 29 60 29 1 29 41 58 20
2 68 37 68 37 2 0 75 79 0
3 82 76 82 76 3 0 53 68 0
4 71 63 83 57 4 0 81 85 0
5 0 51 74 0 5 0 50 68 0
6 0 22 50 0 6 0 67 75 0
7 0 0 0 0 7 0 0 0 0
8 74 52 74 52 8 80 60 80 60
9 71 67 71 67 9 70 64 74 62
10 79 75 79 75 10 0 66 87 0
11 67 61 67 61 11 0 68 73 0
12 69 4 69 4 12 0 69 77 0
13 49 0 55 0 13 0 55 57 0
14 0 0 0 0 14 0 57 66 0
15 0 0 0 0 15 0 56 69 0
16 0 0 0 0 16 0 49 51 0
17 0 0 0 0 17 0 71 71 0
690 537 832 458 179 982 1138 142
Snaps Stafford and Pettigrew played together 600
Snaps Pettigrew played with other QBs 919

 

Brandon Pettigrew Splits

Now that we know how often the two played together, we can see how Pettigrew fared in each situation.
 


With Stafford
Without Stafford

Total Wide TE In-Line TE FB
Total Wide TE In-Line TE FB
Targets 50 3 46 1 103 9 89 2
Receptions 32 1 30 1 69 6 59 2
Yards 340 6 318 16 721 43 640 10
Depth 317 28 293 -4 623 53 546 6
YAC 207 1 186 20 372 17 333 4
TD 4 0 4 0 2 1 1 0
INT 2 1 1 0 3 0 3 0
Drop 3 0 3 0 15 2 12 0
Blitz 12 1 11 0 25 2 23 0

 

Here we have some totals for Pettigrew, with and without Stafford behind center. We already know that they spent more games apart than they did together, which partially explains the split in targets. That being the case, we need to move on to rate stats in order to learn more about the relationship between the two players.
 


With Stafford
Without Stafford

Total Wide TE In-Line TE FB
Total Wide TE In-Line TE FB
% of Targets 100% 6% 92% 2% 100% 9% 86% 2%
Rec/Targ 64% 33% 65% 100% 67% 67% 66% 100%
YPR 10.6 6.0 10.6 16.0 10.4 7.2 10.8 5.0
Depth/Targ 6.3 9.3 6.4 -4.0 6.0 5.9 6.1 3.0
YAC/Rec 6.5 1.0 6.2 20.0 5.4 2.8 5.6 2.0
TD/Rec 12.5% 0.0% 13.3% 0.0% 2.9% 16.7% 1.7% 0.0%
INT/Targ 4% 33.3% 2.2% 0% 3% 0.0% 3.4% 0%
Drop/Targ 6% 0% 7% 0% 15% 22% 13% 0%
Blitz/Targ 24% 33% 24% 0% 24% 22% 26% 0%
Target/Snap 8.3% 11.2%
Target/Game 4.8 6.6

 

Now we have some good data we can analyze. Although Pettigrew’s catch rate is slightly better when Stafford is inactive, almost every other rate stat is worse. When Stafford is out, Pettigrew sees a drop in yards-per-reception, he isn’t targeted as deep down the field, his YAC rate is over a full yard worse, his TD rate is significantly lower, and his drop rate increases quite a bit.
 
The touchdown and drop numbers show the widest gaps and are rather intriguing. Pettigrew has scored six times in his two seasons as a pro. Stafford, despite being responsible for just 49% of Pettigrew’s career targets, threw four of those six TD passes. Apply that 12.5% TD rate to the 71 balls Pettigrew caught in 2010 and you end up with just under nine scores. Some are hesistant to jump on board with Pettigrew because of drop issues. Notice that 15 of Pettigrew’s 18 career drops came when Stafford was out of the lineup.
 
Finally, we have Target/Snap and Target/Game data. This is where the anti-Pettigrew folks can make their best argument. In games Stafford is active, Pettigrew sees a target on 8.3% of his snaps, which works out to roughly 4.8 targets/game. With other quarterbacks on the field, he sees a target on 11.2% of his snaps, which is about 6.6 targets/game. During Pettigrew’s breakout 2010 campaign, he saw a target on 10.5% of his snaps and averaged 6.4 targets/game.
 
At first glance, those are some very telling stats. Sure, Pettigrew scores at a higher rate and drops fewer balls when Stafford is around, but he simply doesn’t see as many targets. Right? Well … kind of. We’re not done yet. Let’s take a look at Stafford’s pass distribution by snap location and position when Pettigrew is in the lineup:
 

Matthew Stafford Splits


Snap Location Breakdown
Position Breakdown

Total Back Wide Slot Line
HB FB WR TE
Targets 376 81 139 82 74 76 10 195 95
Receptions 225 60 65 50 50 55 7 101 62
Yards 2427 530 958 453 486 483 81 1279 584
Depth 3127 13 2061 608 445 32 35 2476 584
YAC 1342 506 330 239 267 493 49 482 318
TD 17 1 7 2 7 1 1 8 7
INT 14 1 7 5 1 2 0 10 2
Drop 29 5 13 6 5 5 1 16 7
Blitz 116 15 58 27 16 14 3 80 19

Key: ‘Back’ is any player lined up in the backfield when the ball is snapped. ‘Wide’ indicates a player lined up out wide, besides those in the slot. ‘Slot’ is simply any player lined up in the slot. ‘Line’ refers to an in-line tight end. The positional breakdown chart signifies targets to each of the 4 listed positions based on the player’s “official” position, regardless of where they lined up prior to the snap.
 

Again, I’m giving you the raw data for reference purposes, but I’m going to move right on to the more useful rate stats before providing analysis.
 


Snap Location Breakdown
Position Breakdown
Matthew Stafford Total Back Wide Slot Line
HB FB WR TE
% of Targets 100% 22% 37% 22% 20% 20% 3% 52% 25%
Rec/Targ 60% 74% 47% 61% 68% 72% 70% 52% 65%
YPR 10.8 8.8 14.7 9.1 9.7 8.8 11.6 12.7 9.4
Depth/Targ 8.3 0.2 14.8 7.4 6.0 0.4 3.5 12.7 6.1
YAC/Rec 6.0 8.4 5.1 4.8 5.3 9.0 7.0 4.8 5.1
TD/Rec 7.6% 1.7% 10.8% 4.0% 14.0% 1.8% 14.3% 7.9% 11.3%
INT/Targ 4% 1% 5% 6% 1% 3% 0% 5% 2%
Drop/Targ 8% 6% 9% 7% 7% 7% 10% 8% 7%
Blitz/Targ 31% 19% 42% 33% 22% 18% 30% 41% 20%
NFL Average
% of Targets 100% 19% 42% 26% 13% 18% 3% 60% 20%
Rec/Targ 66% 79% 59% 65% 69% 79% 76% 60% 68%
YPR 11.5 7.8 13.6 11.8 11.1 8.0 7.2 13.2 11.1
Depth/Targ 8.7 0.2 12.6 9.2 7.4 0.4 1.5 11.8 7.8
YAC/Rec 5.3 8.1 4.2 4.6 5.1 8.3 6.3 4.3 4.7
TD/Rec 6.8% 3.1% 8.5% 6.9% 8.4% 3.0% 4.9% 7.9% 8.4%
INT/Targ 3% 1% 4% 4% 3% 1% 1% 4% 3%
Drop/Targ 7% 7% 6% 7% 6% 7% 9% 6% 7%
Blitz/Targ 31% 19% 36% 32% 30% 20% 26% 35% 30%

 

The first chart shows Stafford’s rate stats and the next shows the league average in each category over the last three years.
 
There’s a lot to learn about Stafford here, but our focus is on the tight end columns. We see that he throws to the in-line tight end 20% of the time, which is very generous when you consider the 13% league average. We also see a 14% TD rate, which is even better than the Stafford-to-Pettigrew mark we discussed earlier.
 
Moving over to the ‘Position Breakdown’ chart, we see that Stafford also targets tight ends, in general, 25% of the time, which is well above the 20% league average. The other rate stats are relatively even with the ‘in-line TE’ data, but note that the TD% is a bit lower. This tells us that Stafford finds tight ends lined up in the slot more than he finds in-line tight ends. Considering that Pettigrew lines up on the line about 90% of the time, this doesn’t bode particularly well for his TD rate. Of course, 2010 proved to be a successful season in the receiving department despite just 4 scores (5.6% TD rate).
 

Wait … I’m confused

So, now you’re probably thinking, “If Stafford targets the tight end at a rate well above league average, how is it possible that Pettigrew sees a drop in targets when Stafford is in the game?”
 
Your answer:
 


2009
2010
Player
Snaps % of Team
TE Snaps
Targ/Snap
Snaps % of Team
TE Snaps
Targ/Snap
Brandon Pettigrew 537 38% 9.3% 982 63% 10.5%
Will Heller 650 46% 7.1% 169 11% 3.0%
Tony Scheffler 0 0% 0.0% 417 27% 15.6%
Casey Fitzsimmons 167 12% 15.0% 0 0% 0.0%
Jake Nordin 34 2% 1.6% 0 0% 0.0%
Dan Gronkowski 17 1% 17.6% 0 0% 0.0%

 

Listed here are the six tight ends who played at least one snap for the Lions since the 2009 season opener. Pettigrew, Will Heller, Casey Fitzsimmons, Jake Nordin, and Dan Gronkowski manned the position in 2009. Pettigrew, Heller, and Tony Scheffler did the job in 2010.
 
Why is this relevant? Take a look at the changes in Snaps, % of Team TE Snaps, and Targets/Snap for each player. Clearly the starter during his breakout 2010 season, Pettigrew had to deal with plenty more competition during his 2009 rookie season. One example is Fitzsimmons, who played 167 snaps and was targeted on 15% of those plays. Heller actually led the tight ends in snaps in 2009, but took a backseat to both Pettigrew and Scheffler in 2010. He also went from targets on 7.1% of his snaps to 3.0%.
 

Conclusion

The main threat to Brandon Pettigrew’s 2011 production is not Matthew Stafford. It’s the other tight ends. To be more specific, it’s Tony Scheffler. Scheffler played quite a bit early in the 2010 season, but his snaps progressively dropped, allowing Pettigrew to take on a larger role in the passing game. Assuming that trend continues into 2011, Pettigrew’s target numbers should be fine and his TD rate could even see an increase. If, similar to back in 2009 when Pettigrew was still being groomed into the position, Scheffler takes on a larger role, Pettigrew will see fewer snaps and targets.
 
The more likely scenario is the former. Stafford clearly likes targeting the tight end and nearly 80% of the snaps the two played together came when there was a logjam at the position in 2009. With Pettigrew now seeing nearly double the snaps he saw that year, he’ll be in for a larger share of the targets, or, at least, a similar number to what he saw in 2010.
 
 
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeClay … and our official Twitter feed: @ProFootbalFocus
 
 
[Editor's note: this article was previously published in our fantasy section where you can find much more outstanding work from Mike and the PFF Fantasy staff.]
 

Comments are closed.