Fantasy: A Statistical Breakdown of the Josh McDaniels Offense

| 5 years ago

Fantasy: A Statistical Breakdown of the Josh McDaniels Offense

Earlier this year, the Rams named former Patriots Offensive Coordinator and Broncos Head Coach Josh McDaniels their newest Offensive Coordinator. Today, I’ll be taking a long look at 6 years of playcalling by McDaniels so that we can get a better idea of what to expect from Sam Bradford and company going forward.

Last week, I took a look at three-year offensive playcalling trends on a coach-by-coach basis. Today’s study, on the other hand, will stretch further back than 2008, so that we can get a better picture of McDaniels offense. Last year, I did similar studies on Mike Martz and Mike Shanahan.

The Resume

After spending 2 seasons as a Michigan State Graduate Assistant during the 1999 and 2000 seasons, McDaniels joined the Patriots staff as a Personnel Assistant under Bill Belichick in 2001. He took on a Defensive Coaching Assistant role during the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being promoted to Quarterbacks Coach in 2004. He held that post all the way through the 2008 season, but was also promoted to Offensive Coordinator prior to the 2006 season. It’s worth noting that the team’s previous Offensive Coordinator, Charlie Weis, left for Notre Dame prior to the 2005 season, leaving McDaniels as the offensive playcaller. That being the case, we will include the 2005 Patriots offense in our study. Prior to the 2009 season, McDaniels was hired to replace Mike Shanahan as the Denver Broncos Head Coach. After an 8-8 rookie season, he was fired after a 3-9 start to the 2010 campaign.

Pass vs. Run

Year Team Position G Plays/Gm PA/Gm RA/Gm PA% RA%
2005 NE Offensive Playcaller 16 64 37 27 57% 43%
2006 NE Offensive Coordinator 16 66 35 31 53% 47%
2007 NE Offensive Coordinator 16 66 38 28 57% 43%
2008 NE Offensive Coordinator 16 69 36 32 53% 47%
2009 DEN Head Coach 16 64 37 28 57% 43%
2010 DEN Head Coach 12 64 41 23 64% 36%
6 year Average 92 66 37 28 57% 43%

After an interesting streak of 5 seasons in which he rotated between 57/43 (slightly pass heavy) and 53/47 (slightly run heavy) seasons, McDaniels’ struggling 2010 Broncos turned to a pass-heavy offense in 2010. Not coincidentally, McDaniels’ .250 winning percentage in 2010 was, by far, his worse as an OC/HC at the NFL level.

In terms of offensive plays/game, the Matt Cassel 2008 season seems to be the only outlier. In each of the other 5 seasons, McDaniels’ offense averaged between 64 and 66 plays.

Over 92 games, McDaniels sports a 57/43 pass/run ratio, which is right around the current league average.


Year Quarterbacks Com Att YD TD INT Com% Y/C TD/C INT/A
2005 Brady
352 564 4322 28 15 62.4% 12.3 8.0% 2.7%
2006 Brady
326 527 3590 25 12 61.9% 11.0 7.7% 2.3%
2007 Brady
403 586 4859 50 9 68.8% 12.1 12.4% 1.5%
2008 Cassel
338 533 3792 21 11 63.4% 11.2 6.2% 2.1%
2009 Orton
341 558 3825 21 13 61.1% 11.2 6.2% 2.3%
2010 Orton
275 458 3494 21 6 60.0% 12.7 7.6% 1.3%
TOTAL 2035 3226 23882 166 66 63.1% 11.7 8.2% 2.0%
TOTAL minus 2007 1632 2640 19023 116 57 61.8% 11.7 7.1% 2.2%

Our next chart takes a look at some data from McDaniels-led passing attacks. In every case, the quarterback listed first (Brady x3, Cassel x1, Orton x2) handled a majority of the pass attempts. Notice that I include a ‘Total’ row and a ‘Total minus 2007’ row. This is because the Patriots 2007 season was so impressive that it significantly impacts our rate stats.

Focusing on the rate stats, we see that McDaniels’ quarterbacks average an impressive 63.1% completion percentage. Of course, that figure drops to 61.8% when we remove 2007, but it’s still above average. Bradford completed 60% of his passes in 2010, but lived on the short pass. 60-61% should still be a safe bet for 2011.

The quarterbacks also enjoy an above average 11.7 yards-per-completion mark, which is significantly higher than the 9.9 Bradford put up in his rookie season. He will most certainly throw down field more often in 2011, which means a mark in the 11.-11.5 range is likely.

The league average TD rate is 6.8%, so McDaniels’ quarterbacks also score at an above-average rate. Bradford threw a touchdown on just 5.1% of his 2010 attempts, but expect a mark closer to 7% going forward.

Bradford was intercepted on just 2.5% of his attempts in 2010, which is impressive for a rookie, but mostly reflective of the Rams conservative passing attack. The league average is 2.9% and no McDaniels’ QB unit has been above 2.7%.

Interestingly, my 2011 Bradford projections all seem to fall near McDaniels’ career averages (minus 2007). This isn’t too shocking when you consider that my process was to adjust Bradford’s 2010 data to reflect the new offense. Still, we won’t know until the games start whether or not Bradford will continue to ignore the long pass and force underneath throws.


Year Player Pos G GS Att Yds TD
2005 Corey Dillon HB 12 10 209 733 12
2005 Patrick Pass HB 12 4 54 245 3
2005 Kevin Faulk HB 8 2 51 145 0
2005 Heath Evans FB 6 1 51 192 0
2005 Mike Cloud HB 6 0 23 59 0
2005 Amos Zereoue HB 3 0 7 14 0
2005 Other 44 124 1
2006 Corey Dillon HB 16 13 199 812 13
2006 Laurence Maroney HB 14 0 175 745 6
2006 Kevin Faulk HB 15 1 25 123 1
2006 Heath Evans FB 16 3 27 117 0
2006 Patrick Pass HB 3 0 6 21 0
2006 Other 67 151 0
2007 Laurence Maroney HB 13 6 185 835 6
2007 Kevin Faulk HB 16 8 62 265 0
2007 Sammy Morris HB 6 2 85 384 3
2007 Heath Evans FB 16 1 34 121 3
2007 Kyle Eckel FB 12 0 33 90 2
2007 Other 52 154 3
2008 Laurence Maroney HB 3 3 28 93 0
2008 Sammy Morris HB 13 7 156 727 7
2008 Kevin Faulk HB 15 3 83 507 3
2008 Lamont Jordan HB 8 0 80 363 4
2008 BenJarvus Green-Ellis HB 9 3 74 275 5
2008 Heath Evans FB 16 4 11 23 0
2008 Other 82 290 2
2009 Knowshon Moreno HB 16 9 247 947 7
2009 Correll Buckhalter HB 14 7 120 642 1
2009 Lamont Jordan HB 9 0 25 86 0
2009 Peyton Hillis HB 14 2 13 54 1
2009 Other 35 107 0
2010 Knowshon Moreno HB 9 9 146 633 4
2010 Correll Buckhalter HB 11 0 39 94 1
2010 Laurence Maroney HB 4 3 36 74 0
2010 Lance Ball HB 3 0 7 41 0
2010 Andre Brown HB 1 0 2 -1 0
2010 Spencer Larsen FB 10 5 3 18 0
2010 Other 38 175 3

Included in our next chart is the rushing data for each of Josh McDaniels’ offenses. “Other” includes carries by players at any position other than HB or FB (usually QB WR TE).

The first thing that jumped out at me here is the general lack of feature back usage by McDaniels, especially early on. Only 2 backs reached 200 carries and there were 16 different occasions where a back carried the ball 50+ times in a season. Don’t get me wrong, McDaniels certainly made an effort to have somewhat of a lead back, but not one of those lead backs eclipsed 56% of the total team carries (Moreno, 2009). In fact, during his 4 years in New England, the team’s lead ballcarrier handled fewer than 42% of the carries 3 times.

Breaking it down a bit more, we see that Corey Dillon was McDaniels’ lead back during both the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Although Dillon paced the field by a wide margin in 2005, McDaniels kept HB Kevin Faulk, FB Heath Evans, and hybrid Patrick Pass involved, as well, with each handling about 50 carries. In 2006, Laurence Maroney joined the team and McDaniels used him in the running game just as much as he did Dillon.

With Dillon out of the picture, Maroney took over as the lead back, but managed just 41% of the carries over 13 games. Meanwhile, Sammy Morris and Faulk each stepped into a larger role, while the fullback duo of Kyle Eckel and Evans handling 15% of the workload. This marked the third consecutive season that McDaniels’ used the fullback relatively heavily in the rushing game.

In 2008, his last with New England, the fullback was less involved, but the disparity in carries was as high as ever. Morris’ 30% of the carries led the team, with Faulk, Lamont Jordan and BenJarvus Green-Ellis each seeing between 14-16%. Consider, however, that Laurence Maroney only appeared in 3 games due to injury, and that Matt Cassel skewed the math a bit by scrambling a lot more often than Tom Brady normally does.

2009 and 2010 are our most important years to investigate since McDaniels was in total control. Here we saw an attempt to build around a feature back, with Knowshon Moreno handling 56% and 54% of the carries, respectively. Moreno was a rookie in 2009, which partly explains why veteran Correll Buckhalter handled 27% of the carries. In 2010, Moreno was averaging nearly 16 carries/game prior to McDaniels’ departure.

In 2011, with St. Louis, McDaniels is going to have a clear feature back in Steven Jackson. Although he’s worked with a few good backs over the last 6 years, none were quite as talented and/or had the resume of Jackson. Corey Dillon was wrapping up his career, Laurence Maroney couldn’t put a full season together, and Moreno was just beginning to develop. Additionally, the Rams have little depth behind Jackson, although they are a strong bet to add a back or two via free agency. 2009 and 2010 showed us that McDaniels isn’t afraid to rely on a feature back if he can, but it’s safe to say that the new Rams #2 back will see 20% or more of the carries. If I might speculate for a moment, could free agent Kevin Faulk, who McDaniels worked with in New England for 4 years, get a phone call from the Rams once the lockout wraps up? Stay tuned.


% of Receptions
Year Team Position G HB FB WR TE
2005 NE Offensive Playcaller 16 21% 3% 60% 16%
2006 NE Offensive Coordinator 16 25% 2% 48% 25%
2007 NE Offensive Coordinator 16 14% 1% 72% 12%
2008 NE Offensive Coordinator 16 23% 1% 67% 9%
2009 DEN Head Coach 16 17% 1% 64% 17%
2010 DEN Head Coach 12 19% 2% 71% 8%
6 year Average 92 20% 2% 64% 15%

Our next chart shows us how McDaniels-led offenses distribute pass receptions (Ideally, I’d use targets here, but that data is not available for the 05-07 seasons).

McDaniels has consistently targeted the fullback on 1-2% of his throws, but the halfback numbers have been all over the place. Two of his three lowest seasons in this department have come over the last 2 years, which were seasons in which his depth at the position was poor. Considering that 2011 will likely be much of the same (unless, of course, they can land a player like Darren Sproles), expect a number around 20%.

McDaniels used the wide receiver less than 50% of the time in 2006, an odd feat, but, other than that, the receiver has been an important part of the passing game. In fact, wide receiver usage has been in the 67%-to-72% range 3 times in the last 4 years.

The big shift between 2009 and 2010 is a result of the Broncos cutting ties with Tony Scheffler and going with block-first tight end unit. McDaniels’ Tight End usage has been quite volatile and you can expect a number closer to 20% in 2011 after the team drafted receiving TE Lance Kendricks in round 2 of this year’s draft. It’s no secret that McDaniels models his offense after his former boss Bill Belichick. He’ll do his best in 2011 to make his Kendricks-Hoomanawanui duo the 2011 version of what Belichick did with the Aaron Hernandez-Rob Gronkowski duo in 2010.

Summary / Fantasy Football Ramblings

% of Receptions
Year Team Position G Plays/Gm PA/Gm RA/Gm PA% RA% HB FB WR TE
2011 Proj. STL Offensive Coordinator 16 64 37 27 58% 42% 19% 0% 62% 19%

I already touched on quite a bit of what you should expect from the Rams offense in 2011, but the chart above summarizes it for you.

The 19% figure for tailbacks assumes the current depth chart and should stay about the same as long as they don’t add a big-time receiving back like Sproles or Reggie Bush. As mentioned earlier, Kendricks and Hoomanawanui are going to contribute from the tight position, which explains the 4% increase over McDaniels’ 6-year average.

There’s no doubt that a McDaniels offense has the ability to create a WR1 for fantasy owners. In 6 years, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Brandon Marshall, and Brandon Lloyd have been among the fantasy elite. The favorite to lead the team in receiving in 2011 has to be Mark Clayton, who is an unrestricted free agent, but is expected to be resigned after the lockout ends. Clayton averaged 25% of the team’s targets prior to a season-ending injury in week 5 of the 2010 season. Similar to the Moss-Welker dynamic in New England, Danny Amendola could be in for upwards of 80 receptions as the #2 target behind Clayton. Speedy, but oft-injured Donnie Avery is the current favorite for the #3 job, but the Danario Alexander-Austin Pettis-Greg Salas youth movement will be hot on his tail. Although McDaniels has created a few fantasy superstars at wide receiver, he hasn’t been afraid to spread the ball around when he has no clear options atop of the depth chart. Even Amendola could be spelled by Salas should the Rams struggle to stay in contention.

The moral of the story is that the Rams receiving situation is going to be a headache for fantasy owners. Amendola is a relatively safe bet at his current ADP, but Clayton has the most upside at this point. There are better options than Avery in the last few rounds.

Mike Clay is the Director of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. His accolades include the 2013 Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) award for most-accurate preseason player rankings and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) award for the best online article in 2013. Under Mike’s leadership, PFF Fantasy has been nominated for eight industry awards over the past three years, including a 2014 win over the likes of and for Best Single-Sport Specialization Fantasy Site. Mike broke the first unrestricted free agent signing of 2013 (Martellus Bennett to the Bears). A stat-head, Mike has created several advanced football statistics, including average depth of target (aDOT) and opportunity-adjusted touchdowns (OTD). His award-winning offensive player projections power several top fantasy league sites, including Yahoo, RT Sports and Reality Sports Online. One of the most well-known fantasy analysts, Mike has a Twitter following of more than 43,500. Mike also contributes to ESPN Insider and ESPN the Magazine, and is a regular guest on ESPN Radio and the network’s Fantasy Focus football podcast. He has also contributed to NBC’s, Athlon Sports and at Mike was featured as a Virtual Analyst in EA Sports' Madden 25 and Madden 2015 video games. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and is on the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Board of Directors and Hall of Fame voting committee. He makes regular appearances on NFL-related podcasts and shows, including those on Sirius XM and FNTSY Sports Channel. Mike’s work has been referenced on several outlets across the web, including CSN New England, ESPN, Houston Chronicle, and Originally from Pottsville, PA, Mike now resides in Fleetwood, PA with his wife, daughter, and two dogs. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeClayNFL

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