Thursday, August 6, 2009

An Adequate Offense

I am an ardent believer in Joe Flacco. A couple weeks ago I engaged in a lengthy back and forth banter on a Ravens discussion forum about predictions for Flacco's stats for this upcoming season. I basically went with:

3200-3400 yds with 22-24 TDs and 13-14 INTs

Last season, those numbers would have ranked:

13th-17th in yards
8th-10th in TD passes (12th if you say 21 TD passes)

I don't want to get into whether that's a reasonable or likely prediction for a 2nd-yr QB. I used a number of assumptions, including the major one that the level of performance we saw from Joe Cool over his last 11 regular season games last year was a true, repeatable performance. But mostly I went with my gut, not with any "science". But in the process I wondered: what does a decent, just-barely-in-the-top-10 passing offense look like? Who catches the passes, and what do their stats look like?

What kind of production do the wide receivers, backs and tight ends typically get, when a quarterback posts that kind of season?

I took stats from, of the top 12 leading passers by yardage and TD passes over the last 10 years. Here's how they average out:


This table says that, from 1999-2008 the average league-leader in passing yards threw for 4,576 yards; and the average leader in TD passes threw 37. The average 10th-placed passer by yardage threw for 3449 yards; 10th-place by TDs had 21 passing TDs. If you throw for 3321 yards with 19 TDs, that would on average place you 12th in the league in both categories, over the last 10 years.

Excel's TREND function shows an upward trend of about 23 yards per QB per year over the time period: so next year's prediction by TREND is about a hundred yards higher at each position than this average shows. Close enough.

Returning to Flacco for a moment, you'll notice that my yardage and TD predictions don't quite jibe with each other. Either I was too conservative in the yardage prediction, or too optimistic with the TD prediction (guess which one is most likely). If Joe were to pass for around 3200-3400 yards, then a more likely TD prediction for him would be something like 17-21. If he were to pass for 22-24 TDs, then it seems that might be good for 3600-3800 yards. So my prediction doesn't look too great: basically I have him in the top 10 in the league in the passing stats. Sure I think Joe is good; very good. But it's also true that Drew Brees is good, and Philip Rivers is good, and Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo and Super Bowl champ Ben Roethlisbugger. That guy Brady in Massachusetts is pretty decent.

By the way, 1999 seems to represent a natural cut-off in the passing data.
  • From 90-99, there were only two seasons where the top 12 QBs combined for over 45,000 passing yards (94-95), and the others weren't close (under 42,500). From 99 on, there were only two seasons where the top 12 QBs didn't combine for over 45,000 yards, and those two were over 44,000.
  • From 90-99, there was only one season where the 4th-highest-yardage passer in the league had over 4000 yards (95, Favre + Mitchell + Moon + Jeff George were all over 4140). From 99 on the league leader has only twice been under 4400, and there have been 5 seasons where the leader had more yardage than any passer in 90-99.
  • From 99 on, the #4 yardage passer has been over 4k six times. In 99 the #5 yardage passer was over 4k, which never happened in 90-99; and that happened 4 more times over the following years.
Maybe it's just an illusion, something that pops up in messy data. But just by eyeball it seems like something changed btw 98 and 99.


I was curious about the "decent" passing offense, or the decent-to-good offense. I decided that meant the QBs ranked #9 thru #12: almost making the top 10, or just barely in it. From the chart above, over the last 10 years that would be a range of QB yardage numbers between 3320 yards and 3575 yards; and from 19 to 23 TDs.

You may pause for a moment to observe how pathetically funny this is. A Ravens fun wonders what a decent offense would look like. And he has to go to the statistical record, because he's never seen one!


has data up thru 2007. I took QB seasons that were narrowly "similar" to that range of stats above: 3300-3600 yards, with 19-23 TDs. I did not adjust for INTs, or for passer rating; I just took the raw production totals. How often does a QB put up numbers like that?

There were 45 such seasons in the PFR data, starting with Johnny Unitas in 1963 and Joe Namath in 1966. That was a little farther back than I wanted to go, so I stuck with the past 20 years (actually 21). That gave me 29 such QB-seasons.

(You might have expected more, since I was going with the #9-10-11-12 guys in yardage and TDs each season. Shouldn't there have been 80 such seasons? 4 x 20? Remember that I required that BOTH the yardage and TDs fit into a narrow range. Very often a guy will be the #10 yardage passer, but a couple spots higher or lower in TDs: since not both stats are in the range, a season like that would be excluded from my list.)

Here are the 29 QB-seasons from 1988-2008:

Phil Simms 1988Brett Favre 1993Steve McNair 2001
Neil Lomax 1988Jeff Hostetler 1994Steve McNair 2002
Randall Cunningham 1989Scott Mitchell 1997Jeff Garcia 2002
Dave Krieg 1989Dan Marino 1998Matt Hasselbeck 2004
Steve Deberg 1990Trent Green 1998Kerry Collins 2004
Dan Marino 1990Jon Kitna 1999Philip Rivers 2006
Jim Kelly 1992Elvis Grbac 1999Eli Manning 2007
Troy Aikman 1992Kurt Warner 2000Jay Cutler 2007
Jim Everett 1992Donovan McNabb 2000Donovan McNabb 2007
Warren Moon 1993Mark Brunell 2001

The average QB line for this group was:

287 of 488 (59%) for 3399.3 yds with 21.3 TDs and 14.5 INTs, 7.0 ypa , passer rating 82.3.
Max 3563 yards, 23 TDs.
Min 3303 yards, 19 TDs.

Could not really ask for seasons more similar to my original prediction for Joe: at the high end for yards, one off at the low end for TDs. (I predicted a higher ypa for Joe, so I had a higher QB rating.)

So then I looked at the performances of the #1 WR (by yardage) on those teams, and the #2 and #3 receiver; also the top RB (by receiving yardage) and the top TE (by receiving yardage). Note that the top RB by receiving yardage is not necessarily the team's top RB. In fact it's usually not: it's the 3rd-down back or the FB.

• I excluded the 2000 Rams of Kurt Warner from the study. Warner put up his stats in 10 or 11 games; Trent Green started the rest of the way, and the composite QB line for the season was like 5500 yds (!) with 37 TDs. Not at all comparable to the kinds of QB seasons I was looking for. Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce combined for 3000 yds all by themselves; Marshall Faulk and Az Hakim added quite a bit more.

• I also excluded the 1988 Cards of Neil Lomax. Lomax played 14 games, so you'd think the data would be "good enough": but the top 5 receivers accounted for 102% of Lomax's yards and 105% of the TDs. Cliff Stoudt threw for ~750 yards with 6 TDs that year: the offense had almost 4200 yards passing with 26 TDs. The season is a little too good to fit in with the others.

• The 1993 Titans of Warren Moon played the run-&-shoot; no TE got a single receiving yard, as far as I can tell. (Did they even have a TE on the roster?) They did complete one 13-yd pass to an offensive lineman. For purposes of the study, I pretended their #4 WR (Curtis Duncan) was the TE.

Here is what I wanted to know: when a QB has a statistical line like that, what kind of production does the team get from the WR corps, and the backs & TEs? What do the #1 receiver, #2 receiver et al, all post in a decent-to-good season like this?


Here are the average receiving yards and TDs for the 5 positions I looked at on those 27 teams:


• Brian Westbrook throws off the RB averages a little. The median RB yardage is 284.

• Likewise Antonio Gates throws off the TE averages: the median TE yardage is 383.

•These 5 players accounted for about 85% of the QB's total production in those seasons: 83.9% of the yardage, 85.1% of the TDs.

So that's the typical decent-to-good passing offense, good for #9 to #12 in the league in yardage and TDs. A thousand-yard receiver with 7 TDs, a #2WR with 650 yds and 5 TDs, a #3WR who kicks in 370 yds and 2 TDs; plus a back with about 300 yds receiving and a couple TD catches (probably the FB or 3rd-down back), and a TE with about 400 yds and 3 receiving TDs.

Looking at the list of teams (data at bottom of post) shows that there are a number of ways to skin the cat on offense. There were some true #1 receivers in the data: Michael Irvin at 1400 yds, Sterling Sharpe (who I think belongs in the Hall of Fame), Tim Brown near his peak, Herman Moore (who probably should also be in the Hall), Jimmy Smith, Derrick Mason when he was making Pro Bowls in Tennessee, Terrell Owens with 1300 yds and 13 TDs with San Francisco, Plaxico in 2007 when he caught 12 TDs, Brandon Marshall.

But there were also some true West Coast dink-and-dunk offenses: McNabb's Eagles, Hasselbeck's Seahawks, possibly the Chiefs with Deberg and later Elvis. And also some offenses built around Hall-of-Fame (or at least Pro Bowl) caliber talent at the backs and TEs: Chargers with Gates and LDT, Chiefs with Tony Gonzalez, Randall's 1989 Eagles with Keith's Jackson & Byars. Brian Westbrook, of course. No one ever talks about this guy, but FB John L. Williams had a 3-yr stretch in the late 80s / early 90s where he was over 650 yds receiving for Chuck Knox's Seahawks, and then 4 more years at 500. A valuable, productive player.

There were only two cases (out of 27) were a #2 WR was over a thousand yards: Scott Mitchell 1997 (Johnnie Morton) and Mark Brunell 2001 (Keenan McCardell). I think in general when your #2 WR puts up a thousand, you have a more productive passing offense than the "adequate" stratum we're looking at here: maybe top 5.

In general I was surprised how little the #3 WR contributed. Several of those totals were below 300 yds, a couple below 200. On the other hand, there was a Pro Bowl caliber TE very often. Not just the obvious guys like Gates & Gonzalez, but Mark Bavaro, Keith Jackson, Ferrell Edmunds, Jay Novacek, Stephen Alexander, Chad Lewis, Frank Wycheck, Shockey. More of these teams had such a player than didn't; many of the guys who never made a Pro Bowl were nevertheless pretty damn productive in the seasons I looked at (Jackie Harris, Jerramy Stevens). The productive pass-catching TE seems to be important.
(It would be nice if Todd Heap could start putting up big numbers again.)


My original interest in this was whether this year's Ravens squad had enough firepower for a passer to post stats similar to the #9-10-11-12 passer rankings. Substituting in the appropriate Ravens:

study averageRavens career high
#3WR368.61.9D Williams3962




This says that if every Raven were to hit their career high, and assuming the normal percentages from above, then Flacco would throw for 4230 yards with 22 TDs. !

I didn't use Mason's career high, which was set when he was much younger, making Pro Bowls in Tennessee; but rather his high with the Ravens. That's the number shown in the table above (2007). Heap's career high (2005) is a pretty aggressive number to use, since he's been to the Pro Bowl twice (could have been three times; but the year he had his career highs, Gates & Gonzalez exploded). His career averages are 538 yards and 4 TDs, which includes some years where he missed extensive time due to injury. If you plug in those for Heap instead of his career high, you get a muliplied total for the QB of 3852 yards with 19 TDs.

A few things would have to break right for this Ravens squad; but I am surprised by how achievable those numbers are. Not that I'm saying it's likely every Raven will set a new career high (though in my heart of hearts I believe that can easily happen, given how limited the Ravens offenses were under Billick). But the Ravens clearly have enough talent at the receivers and backs to be a decent-to-good offense. It really just depends on the QB play.

In particular

Two offenses of particular interest to Ravens fans: the 1998 Redskins of Trent Green, and the 1992 Rams of Jim Everett.

• 1998 Redskins
Cam Cameron had been the QB coach under Norv. This was 2 seasons after these Redskins sent Gus Frerotte to the Pro Bowl, and Cameron was gone, coaching Indiana. Trent Green was in his 5th or 6th season, having attempted only 1 career pass (the year before). They had Terry Allen (700 yds) and Skip Hicks running the ball. Their leading receiver was Michael Westbrook with 736 yds. They had other useful players like Stephen Alexander & Brian Mitchell, plus a few young guys who would later turn into real players (Stephen Davis, James Thrash, Mike Sellers). But this was not an explosive group.
Green went 278 of 509 (55%) for 3441 yds (6.8 ypa) with 23 TDs and 11 INTs (rating 82).
(Also took 49 sacks that year, leading the league. Ouch.)

• 1992 Rams
In Cam Cameron's press conference last year, after Joe got drafted, Jim Everett was one of the QBs Cam specifically mentioned as having developed in the system he was running. Norv had been the WRs/TE coach here, but had left to go to Dallas. Ernie Zampese was still the OC. Jim Everett was in his 7th season, having gone to a Pro Bowl a couple years before (he probably deserved it earlier). They got 1100 yds rushing out of Cleveland Gary, who never came near that number again. The leading receiver was old Henry Ellard, with 727 yds. Flipper Anderson was only 27, but he must have had an injury or something a few yrs before: looks like his speed was gone.
Everett went 281 of 475 (59%) for 3323 yds (7 ypa) with 22 TDs and 18 INTs (rating 80.2).

There are lots of ways to get it done on offense.

People (including Chris!) need to be more optimistic about this year's Ravens team. ;-)



Below is the underlying data for the QB seasons under discussion.
In the tables, the numbers below the QB's name are his stat line for the year:
comp/att (pct) for yards with TD/INT rating.

Phil Simms, 1988 Giants|Randall Cunningham, 1989 Eagles
263/479 (55%) for 3359 with 21/11 r 82.2|290/532 (55%) for 3400 with 21/15 r 76
#1WRLionel Manuel10294|#1WRCris Carter60511
#2WRStephen Baker6567|#2WRRon Johnson2951
#3WRMark Ingram1581|#3WRMike Quick2282
#1RBMaurice Carthon1941|#1RBKeith Byars7210
#1TEMark Bavaro6724|#1TEKeith Jackson6483

Dave Krieg, 1989 Seahawks|Steve Deberg, 1990 Chiefs
286/499 (57%) for 3309 with 21/20 r 74.5|258/444 (58%) for 3444 with 23/4 r 96.3
#1WRBrian Blades10635|#1WRTommy Kane7764
#2WRPaul Skansi4885|#2WRBrian Blades5253
#3WRSteve Largent4033|#3WRJeff Chadwick4784
#1RBJohn L. Williams6576|#1RBJohn L. Williams6990
#1TERobert Tyler1480|#1TERon Heller1571

Dan Marino 1990|Jim Kelly 1992
306/531 (58%) for 3563 with 21/11 r 82.9|269/462 (58%) for 3457 with 23/19 r 81.1
#1WRMark Duper8105|#1WRAndre Reed9133
#2WRMark Clayton4063|#2WRJames Lofton7866
#3WRTony Martin3882|#3WRThurman Thomas5542
#1RBTroy Stradford2570|#1RBThurman Thomas6263
#1TEFerrell Edmunds4461|#1TEPete Metzelaars2986

Troy Aikman, 1992 Cowboys|Jim Everett, 1992 Rams
302/473 (64%) for 3445 with 23/14 r 89.6|281/475 (59%) for 3323 with 22/18 r 80
#1WRMichael Irvin13967|#1WRHenry Ellard7273
#2WRAlvin Harper5624|#2WRFlipper Anderson6577
#3WRKelvin Martin3593|#3WRJeff Chadwick3623
#1RBEmmitt Smith3351|#1RBCleveland Gary2933
#1TEJay Novacek6306|#1TEJim Price3242

Warren Moon 1993|Brett Favre 1993
303/520 (58%) for 3485 with 21/21 r 75|318/522 (61%) for 3303 with 19/24 r 72.3
#1WRWebster Slaughter9045|#1WRSterling Sharpe127411
#2WRErnest Givins8874|#2WRMark Clayton3313
#3WRHaywood Jeffires7536|#3WRRobert Brooks1800
#1RBGary Brown2402|#1RBEdgar Bennett4571
#1TECurtis Duncan4563|#1TEJackie Harris6044

Jeff Hostetler 1994|Scott Mitchell 1997
263/455 (58%) for 3334 with 20/16 r 80.9|293/509 (58%) for 3484 with 19/14 r 79.9

#1WRTim Brown13099|#1WRHerman Moore12938
#2WRRocket Ismail5135|#2WRJohnnie Morton10576
#3WRAlexander Wright2942|#3WRTommie Boyd1420
#1RBHarvey Williams3913|#1RBBarry Sanders3053
#1TEAndrew Glover3712|#1TEDavid Sloan2640

Dan Marino 1998|Trent Green, 1998 Redskins
310/537 (58%) for 3497 with 23/15 r 80.2|278/509 (55%) for 3441 with 23/11 r 82.1
#1WROJ McDuffie10507|#1WRMichael Westbrook7366
#2WROronde Gadsden7137|#2WRLeslie Shepherd7128
#3WRLamar Thomas6035|#3WRAlbert Connell4512
#1RBBernie Parmalee2210|#1RBStephen Davis2632
#1TETroy Drayton3343|#1TEStephen Alexander3834

Jon Kitna, 1999 Seahawks|Elvis Grbac, 1999 Chiefs
270/495 (55%) for 3346 with 23/16 r 78.1|294/499 (59%) for 3389 with 22/15 r 81.7
#1WRSean Dawkins9927|#1WRDerrick Alexander8322
#2WRDerrick Mayes82910|#2WRJoe Horn5866
#3WRMike Pritchard3752|#3WRKevin Lockett4262
#1RBRicky Watters3872|#1RBTony Richardson1410
#1TEChristian Fauria3760|#1TETony Gonzalez84911

Donovan McNabb, 2000 Eagles|Mark Brunell 2001
330/569 (58%) for 3365 with 21/13 r 77.8|289/473 (61%) for 3309 with 19/13 r 84
#1WRCharles Johnson6427|#1WRJimmy Smith13738
#2WRTorrance Small5693|#2WRKeenan McCardell11106
#3WRTodd Pinkston1810|#3WRSean Dawkins2340
#1RBDarnell Autry2751|#1RBElvis Joseph1832
#1TEChad Lewis7353|#1TEKyle Brady3862

Steve McNair, 2001 Titans|Steve McNair, 2002 Titans
264/431 (61%) for 3350 with 21/12 r 89.9|301/492 (61%) for 3387 with 22/15 r 83.8
#1WRDerrick Mason11289|#1WRDerrick Mason10125
#2WRKevin Dyson8257|#2WRDrew Bennett4782
#3WRDrew Bennett3291|#3WRKevin Dyson4604
#1RBEddie George2790|#1RBEddie George2552
#1TEFrank Wycheck6724|#1TEFrank Wycheck3462

Jeff Garcia, 2002 Niners|Matt Hasselbeck, 2004 Seahawks
328/528 (62%) for 3344 with 21/10 r 85.5|279/474 (59%) for 3382 with 22/15 r 83.3
#1WRTerrell Owens130013|#1WRDarrell Jackson11997
#2WRTai Streets7565|#2WRBobby Engram4992
#3WRJ.J. Stokes3321|#3WRKoren Robinson4952
#1RBGarrison Hearst3171|#1RBShaun Alexander1704
#1TEEric Johnson3210|#1TEJerramy Stevens3493

Kerry Collins 2004|Philip Rivers, 2006 Chargers
289/513 (56%) for 3495 with 21/20 r 74.5|284/460 (62%) for 3388 with 22/9 r 92.2
#1WRJerry Porter9989|#1WREric Parker6590
#2WRRonald Curry6796|#2WRVincent Jackson4536
#3WRDoug Gabriel5512|#3WRKeenan McCardell4370
#1RBAmos Zereoue2840|#1RBLaDainian Tomlinson5083
#1TEDoug Jolley3132|#1TEAntonio Gates9249

Eli Manning, 2007 Giants|Jay Cutler 2007
297/529 (56%) for 3336 with 23/20 r 73.8|297/467 (64%) for 3497 with 20/14 r 88.4
#1WRPlaxico Burress102512|#1WRBrandon Marshall13257
#2WRAmani Toomer7603|#2WRBrandon Stokley6355
#3WRSinorice Moss2250|#3WRJavon Walker2870
#1RBDerrick Ward1791|#1RBSelvin Young2310
#1TEJeremy Shockey6193|#1TETony Scheffler5495

Donovan McNabb 2007|
291/473 (62%) for 3324 with 19/7 r 90.3|
#1WRKevin Curtis11106|
#2WRReggie Brown7804|
#3WRJason Avant2672|
#1RBBrian Westbrook7715|
#1TELJ Smith2361|


Post a Comment

About This Blog

Twitter: oblong_spheroid

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP