Sunday, January 10, 2010

Return of the adequate offense

Back in August I predicted Joe Flacco would throw for 3200-3400 yards with 22-24 TDs and 13-14 INTs. That prediction looks pretty good when compared with Flacco's actual numbers. Unfortunately I made a bet with Chris, that Flacco would have 22 TD passes, so it's not quite good enough. You can imagine my gnashing of teeth as the Raiders tackled Leron McClain at the half-yard line last week; or the week before as Mason let that pass in the end zone bounce off his face mask (and then laughed about it on the sideline!).

In the body of that post I suggested that either my yards prediction was conservative or my TD prediction optimistic. So really my prediction was right on:


Also in that post I took a look at what it would take for the Ravens to have an offense produce at that level:

An Adequate Offense

I had a table with the statistical profile of the top 5 receivers in offenses over the last 10 years, where the QB threw for 3300-3600 yards, with 19-23 TDs. The purpose of the study was to figure out whether the Ravens had enough firepower, outside of Flacco, to have that kind of offense. This was in the context of an argument I was having with Chris on another site, where basically I was saying that yes, the Ravens had enough firepower to have that kind of a passing offense, and he was saying no, the Ravens have terrible receivers, there's no way their passing game could be that productive.

Here's that table again, now repopulated with the Ravens top 5 receivers of 2009:

study average2009 Ravens
#1TE459.63.1K Washgtn4312

You'll notice that in every row but the last one, the Ravens player has more yards than the study average. They had to move some roles around, but clearly the Ravens did have enough firepower to have a top 10 or 12 offense. It's actually kind of striking how close these overall numbers are. There are, as shown in the prior post, a lot of ways to skin the cat. Clayton did not produce as much as the typical "#2 WR" did on those other teams; but Rice and Heap made up for it.

The offense this reminds me of is the 2006 Chargers. The #2 and #3 WRs were very comparable in yardage between these teams. Mason was clearly better than Eric Parker was. Those Chargers got 1432 yards and 12 TDs in the passing game from Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson; Rice & Heap got most of that for these Ravens, with Mason making up the difference.

I should mention that even though I was right, I was actually wrong. I had no idea Ray Rice would be a 2,000-yd all-purpose back. I did think those numbers were going to come from somewhere; but I was thinking of Mark Clayton & Demetrius Williams. And I still owe Chris that 20 bucks.

The 2009 Ravens matched their franchise record for most points scored (391). They ranked 9th in the league in points. Only one other time since 1996 have they ranked that high; that was in 2003, when they had 34 TDs rushing/receiving and 7 returns TDs (3 by Ed Reed). That was also the year Jamal Lewis rushed for 2k. This year they had 43 rush/recv TDs + only 4 return TDs. So this year's Ravens offense was much better than 2003's; and that's the only year that was close, since Vinny threw for 4100 yds and 33 TDs in 1996.

The Ravens ranked 13th in the league in yardage offense (with 5619), their highest ranking since 1997 and only the 3rd time since then that they've been in the top half of the league. It's the Ravens 2nd-highest yardage season ever, behind Vinny's great year in '96: it's more than 400 yards better than their next-highest yardage season.

Flacco's 3600 yards passing is the Ravens 2nd-highest single-season total, behind Vinny's season. (Next come McNair '06 and GrBac '01.) He threw 21 TD passes. The Ravens have not had a QB throw 20 TD passes in a season since Vinny's Pro Bowl in '96. The last time they had a QB throw even 18 TD passes was Vinny in '97.
(The Ravens have had QBs split time and throw 20 TD passes between them: Banks/Dilfer in 2000, Blake/Redman in '02, and McNair/Boller in '06. Flacco's 2009 stats are better than any of those tandems, by a smidge over McNair/Boller.)

These Ravens also set a team record for rushing TDs with 22, tied for the league lead (with Miami, one ahead of the Jets and Saints). They were in the top 5 in rushing yards and yards per carry.

The Ravens finally put together a decent offense. (And I called it!)

We'll see what they manage to do against the Patriots...



    Your prediction was closer than mine, though mine wasn't too far off on anything other than the TD passes. It's interesting, though, to take a look at where the major difference came from and how Joe got to the level he made it to. I'd actually suggest you edit your chart to put the receivers by their numbers and RB/TE by theirs.

    Mason had virtually the exact season you had as your #1 generic receiver needed for those numbers. Mason had a terrific season (barring those blow-ups) and played better than I thought he would, though not by much. Classic Mason, just solid play overall.

    The other two receivers performed about where I thought they would, though Washington performed a bit better and Clayton a bit worse than I expected. Combined, they did about what I thought they would do. I made the two out to combine for somewhere around 900 yards and a few TDs.

    But where the improvement really shows is in Rice and Heap. Where your numbers showed a prediction of 800 yards and 5 TDs, those two combined for 1,300 yards and 7 TDs. Their importance to the passing game can't be understated.

    It also has to be fairly concerning for the Ravens going forward. In order for Flacco to continue to improve, he's simply GOT to get more production out of his receivers. It's unlikely for an aging and oft-injured Heap to outperform what he did this season. Possible, but not likely. And it's extremely hard to imagine Rice outperforming what he did this year...almost 80 receptions and 700 yards for a back is ridiculous productivity and will be tough to replicate nevermind improve upon.

    The receivers are an issue in and of themselves. Mason turns 36 next season and the sun is setting on an excellent career. Mark Clayton is clearly a terrible #2 receiver. He might be a good #4 and average #3, but he shouldn't be counted on to do much more than he's done his whole career. Washington had a solid year, but should really be a #3 when you need 7 yards on third down. Demetrius Williams has shown little. And all four are free agents this off-season.

    I've said it all season long. The Ravens really need to get Flacco some receiving help, and soon. I love this kid's projection, but he can't get much better without some legitimate receiving help.

  2. At this point I completely agree with you. Rice is still young enough that he can improve, as is Flacco and 4/5 of the O-line. But Heap is an old 29, and Mason is on the brink of retirement. The receiving corps needs to be completely rebuilt.

    It's not completely impossible. The Pats rebuilt their WR corps one year, and wound up with The Imperfect Season. But it's not easy.

    I'd almost be willing to trade our top 3 draft choices for Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Bowe. Except, the Ravens also have needs at pass rusher, DB, TE, and O-line. More than one draft pick really isn't expendable.

    Did you check out the stats for that Charger team I mentioned? Take a glance, if you haven't. Really similar distribution of receiving yardage.


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