By The Numbers: 2014 Offensive Coaching Changes

| March 18, 2014

jay_grudenYou’ve heard it before: ‘NFL’ may as well stand for “Not For Long”.

Considering the year-to-year roster turnover we see, it’s accurate. And that doesn’t just go for the players. Each and every year winter, we see coaches fired and promoted across the league.

That doesn’t make life any easier for those of us in the prognostication business.

This year, like any other, there were several coaching changes that will have a major fantasy football impact. It’s important that we analyze these changes so as to enter our drafts with accurate representations of each player’s role in his new offense.

Today, I’ll examine the head coaches and offensive coordinators who have been in a play-calling role at the NFL level for a significant portion of the past six years (PFF database begins in 2008). I’ll take a look at several key statistical categories, including pass/run ratios, scoring production, target distribution, and personnel package usage.


Ravens Offensive Coordinator – Gary Kubiak

Kubiak spent 2006 through 2013 as the head coach of the Houston Texans. This gives us 96 games over the past six seasons to examine.

  General Passing % of Targets by position
Year G Pass% Run% YPG TD/G Comp% aDOT Sack% Wide Slot IL Back
2008 16 60% 40% 397 2.31 73% 7.8 5.8% 43% 21% 18% 18%
2009 16 61% 39% 393 2.63 75% 8.1 4.4% 45% 20% 15% 19%
2010 16 59% 41% 402 2.75 70% 8.1 5.2% 41% 20% 20% 19%
2011 18 49% 51% 379 2.33 68% 9.0 6.5% 38% 17% 24% 22%
2012 18 54% 46% 390 2.50 70% 7.8 4.3% 42% 19% 21% 18%
2013 12 62% 38% 386 1.83 65% 8.6 6.7% 43% 21% 19% 17%
Total 96 57% 43% 391 2.42 70% 7.8 4.3% 42% 20% 19% 19%

What we see here is that Kubiak runs a fairly balanced offense, but he wasn’t afraid to lean heavily on the run when the team was strong at tailback (thank you, Arian Foster). Despite the “lean on the defense”/run-first scheme, the Houston offense was at or above the 2.36 touchdowns-per-game league average each season from 2008 through 2012. The entire team stumbled in 2013, however, which led to Kubiak’s firing.

Target distribution shows us that Kubiak offenses tend to lean towards throws to the in-line tight end, and away from slot receivers. Consider that players lined up in the slot failed to combine to exceed 21 percent of the team’s targets in any season in our sample. The league average in the department is 27 percent.

A look at Kubiak’s offensive personnel package data shows further evidence of his preference for balance. Contrary to the NFL’s movement towards ‘11’, Kubiak’s favorite package has been ‘21’ four of the last six seasons. He’s used ‘21’ on 33 percent of his offensive plays, compared to ‘11’ on 28 percent and ‘12’ on 22 percent. Last season, 50 percent of all NFL plays included the ‘11’ package, while only 13 percent rolled with the ‘21’. Note that Kubiak hasn’t exceed 36 percent usage of the ‘11’ during any of the last six seasons.

Fantasy Impact: From 2008 through 2012, both the Ravens and Texans hovered around league average in terms of offensive touchdown production. In 2013, both teams were terrible in the category. The Baltimore offense figures to rebound with Kubiak calling plays, but it will still be limited by mediocre quarterback play. We mentioned Kubiak prefers balance and, despite their struggles in 2013, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are the team’s strength. Baltimore will also have a healthy Dennis Pitta and newly-acquired Steve Smith to help boost the passing game. I expect to see a run-balanced attack with league-average scoring production.

As for personnel, it should be clear that Pitta and whoever the team adds as a No. 2 tight end will play a lot. The likes of Owen Daniels, Joel Dreessen, Garrett Graham, James Casey, and Ryan Griffin were fantasy relevant at one time or another in Houston. Pitta is a slam dunk for TE1 production and his backup will be worth a stash in deeper formats. The extra tight end reps and targets mean bad news for the team’s third wide receiver. Torrey and Steve Smith are safe bets to play quite a bit, but recently re-signed Jacoby Jones and sophomore Marlon Brown are going to struggle for consistent playing time.


Browns Offensive Coordinator – Kyle Shanahan

Shanahan has spent the past six years as an offensive coordinator. He was with Houston from 2008-2009 and Washington 2010-2013. Our sample is 97 games.

  General Passing % of Targets by position
Year G Pass% Run% YPG TD/G Comp% aDOT Sack% Wide Slot IL Back
2008 16 60% 40% 397 2.3 73% 7.8 5.8% 43% 21% 18% 18%
2009 16 61% 39% 393 2.6 75% 8.1 4.4% 45% 20% 15% 19%
2010 16 67% 33% 357 1.9 63% 8.8 7.3% 37% 22% 20% 22%
2011 16 62% 38% 358 1.7 64% 9.3 6.5% 40% 26% 14% 20%
2012 17 53% 47% 388 2.8 69% 8.7 7.2% 45% 28% 12% 15%
2013 16 63% 37% 389 2.1 62% 8.8 6.5% 48% 26% 13% 12%
Total 97 61% 39% 380 2.2 69% 8.7 7.2% 43% 24% 15% 18%

Scanning over Shanahan’s last six seasons as a play-caller, one should really stand out as an outlier: 2012. The Redskins’ offense was pretty good during Robert Griffin III’s rookie season, allowing Shanahan to call a lot of runs. Otherwise, we see a lot of consistencies across the board. Shanahan calls pass about 62 percent of the team, which is just above league average. Although his offenses tend to underwhelm in terms of touchdown production, they’ve been above average in the yardage department six consecutive years.

There’s not much we can learn from Shanahan’s target distributions except that he’s relatively balanced. He leaned away from slot receivers in order to favor in-line tight ends a few years back (most of which came while under Kubiak in Houston), but shied away from that in Washington. Targets have been at a premium to running backs the past two seasons, but that was with Alfred Morris handling most of the backfield snaps.

Shanahan has utilized the ‘11’ package on 41 percent of his play-calls over the past six seasons. In fact, that number has been between 44 percent and 47 percent each of the past four years. That aligns him near league average. Last year in Washington, he used ‘12’ personnel a career-high 28 percent of the time.

Fantasy Impact: If there’s been a clear theme here, it’s offensive balance. Under Shanahan, we shouldn’t expect anything wild out of the Cleveland offense. We know Andre Johnson and Pierre Garcon never had trouble finding targets while Shanahan was in control. The same will be said about Josh Gordon. Shanahan has shown a willingness to adjust to personnel, which likely means Ben Tate, who struggles in pass protection and as a receiver, likely won’t see many targets. It also means Jordan Cameron – much like Jordan Reed, Fred Davis, and the aforementioned Houston tight ends – won’t struggle for targets. Cleveland still has work to do on offense, especially at wide receiver, so there’s still plenty to be learned about this team’s plans for 2014 and beyond. Still, it’s fair to expect a balanced offense that caters to its best players.


Cowboys Play-Caller – Scott Linehan

Linehan has had head coaching and offensive coordinator stints with Washington (1994-1998), Minnesota (2002-2004), Miami (2005), St. Louis (2006-2008), and Detroit (2009-2013). We have 81 games at our disposal.

  General Passing % of Targets by position
Year G Pass% Run% YPG TD/G Comp% aDOT Sack% Wide Slot IL Back
2008 4 62% 38% 273 1.0 61% 8.7 10.3% 40% 32% 7% 21%
2009 16 64% 36% 319 1.6 58% 9.0 6.4% 36% 21% 19% 23%
2010 16 64% 36% 351 2.3 65% 7.3 4.2% 33% 22% 22% 24%
2011 17 68% 32% 414 3.2 67% 8.8 5.0% 40% 24% 19% 17%
2012 16 68% 32% 422 2.4 64% 8.9 3.7% 36% 29% 18% 17%
2013 16 61% 39% 402 2.8 62% 8.9 3.6% 44% 26% 11% 18%
OC Total 81 65% 35% 382 2.5 64% 8.9 3.7% 38% 25% 18% 20%

If we know one thing about Linehan, it’s that he’s not afraid to call a pass. A head coach towards the end of the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ years in St. Louis, Linehan has been an architect of Detroit’s high-scoring, pass-heavy offense over the past five seasons. Having called pass 68 percent of the time in both 2011 and 2012, Linehan’s offense was pass-heaviest in the league in consecutive seasons. Linehan called a more balanced game in 2013, but his offense still finished No. 8 in the NFL in touchdowns.

It may surprise you to realize that throws to outside receivers were below average while Linehan was in control of the Lions offense. Calvin Johnson was a target hog on the outside, but Detroit has struggled to find a quality body to pair with him. That led to extra looks for running backs and especially in-line tight ends.

Linehan’s personnel usage changed by an absurd margin from 2012 to 2013. He went with ‘11’ personnel only 37 percent of the time in 2012, instead leaning heavily on ‘12’. With Tony Scheffler out of the picture, Linehan moved to ‘11’ on 67 percent of the team’s snaps in 2013. ‘12’ usage fell to 21 percent – the least he’s used it since 2009.

Fantasy Impact: The Cowboys have thrown the ball a lot over the past few seasons and that is unlikely to change with Linehan calling the plays. Much like with Johnson, Linehan has a superstar No. 1 wide receiver in Dez Bryant. He won’t struggle for targets and is a Top 5 fantasy wide receiver. Linehan’s tendency to lean towards his in-line tight end means Jason Witten will remain plenty involved as a pass-catcher. Linehan adjusts his offense to the team’s strengths. Currently, Dallas is weak in terms of wide receiver depth, but has receiving tight end and 2013 second-round pick Gavin Escobar sitting behind Witten. Unless Dallas drafts an early-round wide receiver, expect this team to rank near the league leaders in ‘12’ personnel. Even with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell in the picture, Detroit’s throws to players lined up in the backfield barely increased last season. Going forward, expect DeMarco Murray’s role to be nearly the same as it was in 2013.


Vikings Offensive Coordinator – Norv Turner

Turner has been coaching at the NFL level since I was born back in 1985, but he’s known most recently for his work as the Chargers head coach (2007-2012) and Browns offensive coordinator (2013). We have 83 games to work with.

  General Passing % of Targets by position
Year G Pass% Run% YPG TD/G Comp% aDOT Sack% Wide Slot IL Back
2008 18 57% 43% 356 2.9 71% 9.0 5.9% 35% 23% 11% 31%
2009 17 58% 42% 370 2.8 70% 10.1 5.0% 42% 21% 13% 23%
2010 16 57% 43% 408 3.0 71% 9.0 6.6% 35% 27% 8% 30%
2011 16 59% 41% 404 2.7 69% 9.6 5.1% 38% 24% 10% 29%
2012 16 60% 40% 316 1.9 71% 7.7 9.2% 40% 25% 5% 30%
2013 16 70% 30% 357 1.8 61% 8.6 7.3% 44% 28% 8% 21%
HC Total 83 58% 42% 370 2.7 71% 7.7 9.2% 38% 24% 10% 28%

Having called a pass 69.8 percent of the time last season, the Browns were the NFL’s pass-heaviest team. Although that’s easy to trace to their play-caller (Turner), it doesn’t align very well with his philosophy in San Diego. Turner was no lower than 57 percent pass and no higher than 60 percent in five seasons spanning from 2008 to 2012. You don’t get more balanced a play-caller than that. With Philip Rivers in control, San Diego’s offenses were very good up until a disastrous 2012 season cost him his job. Quarterback play was an issue last season in Cleveland, but Turner’s offenses are averaging a dreadful 1.85 touchdowns per game over the past two seasons.

A look at target distribution shows significant running back usage in the passing game. Over the past six seasons, 28 percent of all passes in a Norv Turner offense went to a back. That’s a 55 percent increase on the 18 percent league average. Throws to running backs dropped quite a bit in 2013, which means some of the credit for that massive number belongs with Rivers.

Turner doesn’t throw to the in-line tight end much, which is a bit surprising when you consider that he loves using ‘12’ personnel. He’s been below 33 percent in the category only once over the past six years (2009). In fact, he’s had a package on the field with multiple running backs or tight ends on 72 percent of his plays since 2008. In 2013, the Browns leading the league in passing led Turner using ‘11’ 51 percent of the time. Although that was barely above league average, it was 20 percentage points higher than his previous high.

Fantasy Impact: A look at the Vikings’ offensive depth chart shows weakness at quarterback, but strength at the top of the other skill positions. Turner figures to return to his run-balanced philosophy from San Diego so as to allow Adrian Peterson plenty of opportunities to carry the ball. Additionally, Turner’s resume tells us to expect a moderate – by not massive – boost in targets for Peterson and other Vikings’ backs. We learned here that Turner loves multiple tight end sets, but that it doesn’t result in targets for in-line tight ends. Kyle Rudolph works more in line than many of the other top fantasy tight ends, but 43 percent of his career targets have come while in the slot or out wide. Unless Minnesota adds a better move tight end (thus kicking Rudolph to more of a blocking role), he figures to see plenty of work as a receiver. The big loser here is recently re-signed Jerome Simpson. Now third on the depth at wide receiver, he’s going to lose a good chunk of his snaps to a fullback and/or second tight end.


Titans Head Coach – Ken Whisenhunt

Whisenhunt was Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator from 2004-2006 before signing on as Arizona’s head coach in 2007. He was there six seasons before landing in San Diego as its offensive boss. Our sample is 86 games.

  General Passing % of Targets by position
Year G Pass% Run% YPG TD/G Comp% aDOT Sack% Wide Slot IL Back
2008 20 64% 36% 379 2.9 73% 7.3 4.2% 40% 37% 4% 18%
2009 18 64% 36% 368 2.8 73% 7.9 4.4% 47% 29% 5% 18%
2010 16 67% 33% 291 1.1 54% 9.7 7.9% 46% 34% 6% 14%
2011 16 64% 36% 349 2.1 60% 8.9 8.6% 42% 32% 11% 15%
2012 16 67% 33% 283 1.3 59% 8.3 10.0% 46% 34% 7% 13%
2013 18 55% 45% 391 2.6 74% 8.1 5.6% 39% 31% 8% 21%
HC TOTAL 86 65% 35% 337 2.1 59% 8.3 10.0% 44% 33% 7% 16%

I feel like this a recurring theme, but we saw a ton of play-calling consistency from Whisenhunt while he was with Arizona before a complete changeup as San Diego’s play-caller in 2013. Whisenhunt called pass no fewer than 64 percent and no more than 67 percent of time in a single season from 2008 to 2012. In 2013, he called run 55 percent of the time despite the Chargers holding the lead on only 32 percent of their offensive snaps (14th-lowest). Of course, Mike McCoy was San Diego’s head coach last season and he, of course, has his own philosophy after spending four years as Denver’s offensive coordinator.

In his final three years with Arizona, the team’s touchdown production was poor, but so was its quarterback play. Consider that Whisenhunt’s quarterbacks completed 73 percent of their passes in 2008, 2009, and 2013. From 2010 through 2012, the mark was 58 percent.

Target distribution shows that Whisenhunt’s offenses avoid throwing the ball to the in-line tight end. In fact, they’ve been below league average in the category six straight years. We can say the exact opposite about slot receivers. Over the past six years, one-third of throws in Whisenhunt’s offenses have gone to a player lined up in the slot.

Whisenhunt’s personnel package usage is the most interesting we’ve seen today. In his days with Arizona, Whisenhunt’s favorite package was your standard ‘11’. What’s interesting is his second favorite, which was the ‘10’. From 2008 through 2012, he used the ‘11’ 28 percent of the time, which was barely ahead of the 24 percent clip at while he used the ‘10’. Consider that not for a single snap did the 2013 Chargers have more than three wide receivers on the field. Of course, in fairness to Whisenhunt, he started to wean himself off the ‘10’ during his final years in Arizona. In the 29-to-32 percent range from 2008 to 2010, he was at 14 percent in 2011 and 11 percent in 2012.  The 2013 Chargers used a lot more ‘21’ than Whisenhunt was used to, but he still got plenty of use out of the ‘11’ (53 percent).

Fantasy Impact: Although he lined up in the slot or out wide only 31 percent of the time in 2013, Delanie Walker is very much a move tight end. He’s spent plenty of time in the backfield and at wide receiver in his career. There’s hope for his fantasy value, but I’d argue the ceiling is low. Tennessee is currently three-deep at wide receiver, and we now know all three players are going to play a ton. That’s especially the case for Kendall Wright, who also has Whisenhunt’s affection for slot receivers on his side. Sophomore Justin Hunter is an intriguing breakout candidate, and Nate Washington will make for a nice late-round flier. Tennessee’s running back situation is still in the air, but its seems very likely this team will be on the pass-heavy, but low-scoring side of the league. That’s certain to limit the unit’s fantasy upside.


Redskins Head Coach – Jay Gruden

Gruden has spent the last three seasons as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator. The team went one-and-done in the playoffs each year, which provides with a 51-game sample.

  General Passing % of Targets by position
Year G Pass% Run% YPG TD/G Comp% aDOT Sack% Wide Slot IL Back
2011 17 58% 42% 331 1.9 63% 8.6 4.6% 45% 24% 15% 16%
2012 17 60% 40% 334 2.3 65% 9.2 8.1% 49% 28% 12% 11%
2013 17 59% 41% 384 2.8 66% 9.3 5.7% 47% 28% 11% 14%
Total 51 59% 41% 350 2.3 65% 9.2 8.1% 47% 27% 12% 14%

In his years with Cincinnati, Gruden’s play-calling barely fluctuated. He called pass 58 percent of the time in 2011, jumped to 60 percent in 2012, and evened out at 59 percent this past season. The Cincinnati offense has progressed each year under Gruden in terms of touchdown production. They reached a three-year high of 2.8 touchdowns per game this past season, which was the league’s fifth-highest mark. Quarterback Andy Dalton is a relatively ordinary talent, but the 2013 Bengals’ offensive success allowed him to finish as fantasy’s No. 3 quarterback despite the team running the ball quite a bit.

Gruden has also shown consistency and balance in the target distribution department. He’s right at league average in throws to in-line tight ends and slot receivers over the past three years. He does favor outside wide receivers at the expense of running backs. Interestingly, Cincinnati’s usage of the in-line tight dropped from 2012 to 2013 despite the addition of Tyler Eifert.

Although targets to in-line tight ends didn’t increase, Gruden certainly adjusted his personnel packages to account for Eifert. Ahead of the game a bit in ‘11’ usage, Gruden used the package 43 percent of the time in 2011 and on 50 percent of the snaps in 2012. That mark was at 41 percent in 2013, with ‘12’ usage jumping from 19 percent to 37 percent. Gruden was right near league average in two-back packages in his first two years before all but abandoning the fullback in 2013.

Fantasy Impact: Gruden has shown a willingness to run the football and that’s unlikely to change with speedy Robert Griffin III at quarterback in Washington. We saw the Shanahan’s adjust to Griffin’s game in 2012 and it’s fair to expect Gruden to do the same. Gruden’s heavy usage of outside receivers, especially his heavy usage of A.J. Green, suggests there’s no reason to expect a drop-off for Pierre Garcon. He remains in the WR1 conversation. Washington’s backfield has a similar dynamic to the one Gruden has in Cincinnati in 2013 (Alfred Morris:BenJarvus Green-Ellis::Roy Helu:Bernard). Even with Bernard involved plenty in the team’s passing game, Gruden was still well below league average in throws to his backs. We can expect Morris to remain uninvolved in the passing game, with Helu or a rookie/free agent handling around 30 receptions.

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