So much of fantasy football success is dependent on the opportunities that players get to throw, run or catch the ball. Without the ball, a player cannot score fantasy points. So there is benefit to get players that are expected to touch the ball on a regular basis, as this will increase the probability of that player to gain yards and score touchdowns. This opportunity all starts with the play call from the sideline to the QB or the QB audible at the line of scrimmage. In order to identify how many touches or targets a player will get, we first must understand the tendencies that teams have when it comes to the types of plays being called, Run or Pass.
I will be writing a series of articles this week that examine each NFL team and take a look at their offensive tendencies and the tendencies of their current coaching staff. For each team, I will show a grid of the previous 2 years of data, including overall offensive play tendencies and tendencies they have in the Red Zone and Inside the 10 yard line, along with my projection for each team in 2015.
During the season, I will be utilizing this projection along with 2015 data, and other offensive tendency data (such as tendencies a team has when trailing, leading or tied), to examine each game for that week and give some predictive data and tips for the upcoming matchups to try to help you find where the opportunities will come from.
Today, I will examine the AFC East and AFC North divisions.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are one of the most consistent teams year in and year out with Bill Belichick at the helm. This consistency translates to their overall offensive tendencies with a very similar Pass-to-Run ratio over the last two years. Don’t expect much to change this year. One interesting change last season was the shift to running the ball more often in the Red Zone and Inside the 10 even with Rob Gronkowski on the field more often than in 2013.
New York Jets
The Jets have a new head coach, Todd Bowles, along with a new offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey. Bowles is a former defensive coordinator and Gailey has historically been a more run-focused coordinator. While the Jets have added WR Brandon Marshall to the passing game, they will have Ryan Fitzpatrick starting at QB, so I don’t expect a big spike in passing attempts. I would expect a fairly balanced offense under the new regime that is similar to the Pass/Run distribution that the Jets have had the last 2 seasons.
Joe Philbin is starting his 4th season as head coach of the Dolphins. Ryan Tannehill will also be entering his 4th year as the starting QB for the Dolphins, and 2nd year in the same offensive system with Bill Lazor as offensive coordinator. Tannehill has been improving each year of his career and many expect him to take another step forward this year, as do I. I expect the Dolphins offensive tendencies to be similar to last season with a slight increase in passing attempts to take advantage of the maturation of Tannehill.
Rex Ryan moves within the division from New York to Buffalo for his 1st season as the head coach of the Bills. In his years with the Jets, Ryan’s teams were always run-oriented compared to the league average. Ryan has brought in Greg Roman as the offensive coordinator, who was most recently the offensive coordinator in San Francisco, another run-heavy team. The Bills also acquired LeSean McCoy in the off-season to solidify the running game. So, in 2015, we should expect a heavy dose of the running game from the Bills that mimics the play distribution the Jets had under Rex “Ground and Pound” Ryan.
The Bengals have had Marvin Lewis as a head coach for 11 seasons, but the biggest change to the Bengals offensive tendencies came last year when Hue Jackson was hired as the offensive coordinator. Jackson brought his run-heavy tendencies with him from his days in Oakland. With Jackson back for his 2nd season with the Bengals and with the emergence of Jeremy Hill last season to go along with Giovanni Bernard, expect a lot of running from this Bengals team. Especially once they get inside the 10 yard line, where they ran the ball the highest percentage last season (72.1%).
The Steelers have been very consistent the last couple of years with the combination of head coach, Mike Tomlin, and offensive coordinator, Todd Haley. Each of the last 2 seasons, the Steelers have had about a 61% Pass to 39% Run ratio. Pittsburgh is also not afraid to put the ball in Ben Roethlisberger’s hands in the Red Zone and Inside the 10, as they actually pass more as they get closer to the end zone, unlike most teams.
While John Harbaugh enters his 8th season as head coach of Baltimore, the Ravens have brought in Marc Trestman as the offensive coordinator this year. Trestman was the head coach of the Chicago Bears the previous two seasons, where the Bears were a pass-oriented team with over 60% pass plays each year. With veterans Joe Flacco at QB and Steve Smith at WR, to go along with a good pass-catching RB in Justin Forsett, and rookies, WR Breshad Perriman and TE Maxx Williams, things are setup for Trestman to infuse his pass-oriented attack in Baltimore this season. Look for more of a 60/40 Pass/Run split this season for the Ravens.
Seems like there is turnover every year in the Cleveland coaching staff. This year will be the 2nd season for head coach Mike Pettine, but the Browns will have a new offensive coordinator this year, John DeFilippo, who was previously the quarterbacks coach in Oakland. This is the first NFL offensive coordinator position for DeFilippo, so trying to project the Browns offensive tendencies will be difficult. Looking through the Browns first 3 preseason games, they have attempted 86 passes (52.4%) and run the ball 78 times (47.6%). I feel like I might be the only person in the world examining Cleveland Browns preseason box scores. In any case, based on this data, the quarterback question marks with Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel, and the solid depth at RB, I think the Browns will need to lean on the run similar to what they did last season.
* Note that all historical stats are from pro-football-reference.com. I count Pass Plays as a combination of Pass Attempts plus Sacks allowed.