70 Observations on how NFC Teams Must Improve Passing Efficiency in 2017


August 29, 2017 by Connor Allen

This is the second half of my “how to pass more efficiently series”, you can find the first one here:

The NFC seems to be no different than the AFC in the fact that elite tight ends are some of the most efficient pass-catchers in the NFL and “receiving-backs” are largely unsuccessful. The source for all of these observations is the Receiving Success Rate Over Average (SROA) tool at Sharp Football Stats.  Here are my findings for the NFC:







NFC North

Packers

  • Aaron Rodgers was best when throwing to the right, posting a 10% SROA short and 5% SROA deep. This was significantly better than the rest of the field where he was either exactly average or slightly below.
  • Jordy Nelson was a highly efficient receiver when thrown to within 15 yards, especially short right where he posted a whopping 27% SROA in his most targeted area (65 times).
  • If watching Packer’s games wasn't enough to convince you, Jordy's deep SROA (0% deep left, -23% deep center, and -4% deep right) makes it clear that he isn't the deep threat he once was. He should remain the Packer’s premier target within 15 yards.
  • Davante Adams overall SROA of 0.3% doesn't tell the full story of his efficiencies. He is a rare example of a player that is clearly better in some parts of the field than others.
  • Despite having a "down" year in fantasy, Randall Cobb was one of the most successful receivers on the Packers posting a 7.7% SROA overall, grading positively in 5/6 zones.


Bears

  • Cameron Meredith was highly efficient player on a relatively inefficient offense last season. He had an overall 6% SROA and only graded negatively short center (-1%)
  • The loss of Alshon Jeffery will be a big one for the Bears as he absolutely dominated short right (25% SROA). This was also the area he was targeted most (28 times).
  • Jordan Howard struggled as a pass-catcher last season with a -4.8% SROA only grading positively short center (6%).


Lions

  • The Lions employ a "dink-and dunk" approach in the passing game with Matt Stafford and their SROA shows why they are successful at it.
  • Golden Tate wasn't a consistent player and was much more successful to the left (12% deep, 6% short SROA) than the right (-18% deep, -7% short). Likely to play in the slot this season, Tate should be more efficient all over.
  • Still only 24 years old with two NFL seasons under his belt, popular fantasy break-out candidate Eric Ebron has an SROA similar to other elite tight ends (10.8%).
  • Ebron’s overall SROA is elite and within 15 yards he posted an SROA of 11% left, 21% center and 7% right. He should be targeted more short center, where he was the most efficient.
  • Anquon Boldin will be missed this year especially in the Red Zone. Boldin was 21.6% more successful than the rest of the league when being targeted there.
  • Marvin Jones was the most inefficient receiving option out of the Lions main targets last season posting a -1.5% SROA overall.
  • Theo Riddick was a below average receiving option in 3/4 zones he was targeted in. He needs to be targeted more short center (10% SROA) instead of outside.



Vikings


  • Adam Thielen was not consistent by zone but overall his SROA was 11.2%. He was especially successful when targeted deep posing a 34% SROA deep left and 35% SROA deep right.
  • Stefon Diggs should be targeted as much as possible as he posted an insane 13.7% SROA overall. When healthy, Diggs is an elite WR who should lead the Vikings in receiving yards this season.
  • With the addition of Dalvin Cook hopefully the Vikings won't have to use Mckinnon in the pass game as much. He was below average in all three areas less than 15 yards with a -6.3% SROA overall.
  • Sam Bradford was very efficient when throwing deep left (10%) and right (13%) but below average deep center (-5%).
  • Bradford's overall SROA (3.1%) was good and should only improve from last season where the Vikings had the most injured offensive line in the NFL.



NFC EAST

Falcons


  • Matt Ryan was unsurprisingly extremely efficient in his MVP season posting an 8.3% SROA. It will be interesting to see how he does with the loss of Kyle Shanahan.
  • TE Austin Hooper is a small sample size hero posting a gaudy 10.4% SROA. Hopefully he can be similarly efficient as his role grows in the offense this season.
  • Devonta Freeman is very involved in the Falcons passing game and rightfully so. He had a 6.5% SROA overall grading positively in all short areas he was targeted.
  • Julio Jones wasn't targeted as much as previous seasons due to Shanahan’s creativity in 2017. When he was targeted he was 11.8% more efficient than the league and fantastic all over. 
  • Tevin Coleman posted a -1.8% success rate last season, something that looks even worse when compared to Freeman’s 6.5% SROA.


Saints

  • Drew Brees was highly efficient posting a 7.2% SROA especially excelling deep with 8% left, 15% center and 10% right.
  • Michael Thomas' SROA is a work of art. As a rookie Michael Thomas had the 2nd best success rate of every WR in the league and absolutely dominated all over. [27]
  • Willie Snead was very efficient last season with a 10.9% SROA. He was over 20% more successful than the league average in 3/6 field zones and only graded slightly negative in one zone.
  • Mark Ingram's role on the Saints may be in question with the addition of Alvin Kamara and Adrian Peterson but within 15 yards he graded positively or average in all areas.
  • For a player who had a terrible season in the minds of many, Coby Fleener still posted a 6.4% SROA. He should come closer to meeting his expectations this season in terms of yards, catches and touchdowns.


Panthers

  • Cam Newton had one of his worst seasons in 2016 and his SROA reflects that. He was below the league average in all areas except deep center and posted a -3.8% all over.
  • I thought his SROA may improve in games he was healthy. He was actually worse, with an overall -4.3% SROA.
  • Greg Olsen was very efficient within 15 yards with an SROA of 1% left, 14% center and 18% right. The Panthers need to continue to utilize him as much as possible
  • Kelvin Benjamin was unsurprisingly inefficient, similar to his entire career. Last season he posted a -1.0% SROA all over.
  • Devin Funchess is playing a ton with the 1st team, but was horrible when being thrown to within 15 yards. He posted a -13% short left, 12% center and -20% right.
  • Jonathan Stewart was painfully inefficient last season, the addition of Christian McCaffrey is a massive upgrade. Stewart not only graded negatively in all three areas but was 30.6% LESS successful than the league average.


 
Tampa Bay

  • The Bucs are an interesting team to analyze. Weeks 1-4 they passed at the 6th highest rate in the league. The rest of the season they entirely switched approaches becoming the 5th run-heaviest team in the league.
  • Jameis Winston's SROA splits follow with the Buc’s intentions. Weeks 1-4 Winston wasn't efficient with a -2.0% SROA. After week 4, Winston became much more efficient posting a 4.4% SROA.
  • Cam Brate performed similarly to elite tight ends in terms of efficiency with a 10.1% SROA. Brate should still remain an important part of the Bucs’ offense as they will be near the league leader in two tight end sets.
  • Charles Sims wasn't very efficient in the passing game grading positively only short middle.
  • Mike Evans isn't known for being very efficient but his SROA says otherwise. He had a 4.1% SROA overall and was very good within 15 yards with a 14% short left, 4% short middle and 11% short right.


NFC WEST

Seattle

  • Jimmy Graham was extremely good on passes greater than 15 yards with a 12% SROA left, 36% SROA center, 22% deep right. The Seahawks need to utilize Graham more often there as he wasn't targeted in any deep zone more than 7 times.
  • Doug Baldwin is another incredibly efficient wide receiver with a 9.2% SROA overall. His only negative SROA was short center with -2%. Baldwin has consistently answered the question of whether he can be a WR1 for a team with a resounding “Yes”.
  • Russell Wilson’s superb passing efficiency is clear with his SROA of 4% overall, even though he was injured for a large portion of last season.
  • On early downs Wilson was even more efficient with a 4.4% SROA. He was especially effective throwing deep left (14% SROA) and center (10% SROA).
  • On 3rd downs Wilson was less efficient overall (3.4% SROA) and struggled mightily short center (-14% SROA) but this also happened to be his least-targeted area within 15 yards.


San Francisco

  • The only important player who has remained intact from last season is Carlos Hyde. He wasn't overly efficient in the passing game with a -1.2% SROA.
  • Their current starting QB Brian Hoyer was acquired from the Bears in the offseason. He was actually fairly efficient (1.9% SROA) with a poor surrounding cast, similar to what he will have this season. His play with Shanahan previously was quite uninspiring but could improve with more time in the system.
  • Pierre Garcon will make for a great addition to this offense. With Kirk Cousins Garcon posted a 10.9% SROA. If Garcon can post anywhere near the same efficiency, the 49ers passing offense won’t be as bad as many think.


LA Rams


  • Looking at weeks 11-17 when Jared Goff was the starter he was horribly inefficient. He had a -16.1% SROA all over and within 15 yards he was -13% left, -27% center and -18% right. Goff was not only bad, he was worse than the league average by a wide margin. He did have two positive zones, deep left he was 7% better than average and 2% better deep center.
  • Tavon Austin is likely to have a depressed role in the offense this season with the additions of Cooper Kupp, Kenny Britt and Robert Woods and for good reason. All over he posted a -9.9% SROA and within 15 yards, where he is targeted most, he posted a -1% left, -17% center and -16% right.
  • Like the rest of the team, Todd Gurley was pretty poor in terms of success rate with a -13.3% SROA. Goff needs to improve dramatically for anyone on this team to be efficient.


Arizona

  • When Palmer played he wasn't as bad as the media portrayed in terms of success rate. He was actually .8% above the average and was better short than long which is a surprise in a vertical Bruce Arians offense. With a healthy arm and new practice regiment to keep him fresh, Palmer should improve his efficiency this season.
  • Larry Fitzgerald needs to continue to be the focal point of this offense until he retires. He was very efficient grading positively in all areas except one and was 8.1% more successful than the league average overall.
  • David Johnson was very average in the receiving game with a -0.1% SROA. He was surprisingly much more efficient to the left than all over though, posting a 10% SROA short left and 2% SROA deep left which are the two areas he was targeted most in each of their respective depths.



NFC EAST

Cowboys

  • Dak Prescott was incredibly efficient as a rookie with a 5.3% SROA. However, he struggled when throwing to the middle of the field with a -8% SROA deep center and -3% short center. The Cowboys’ need to improve efficiency and target the center of the field more as it has the highest average success rate in the league.
  • Cole Beasley was one of the most efficient wide receivers in the NFL last season with a 19.1% SROA. On 3rd down he was the most successful receiver in the league with a 30.5% SROA.
  • Dez Bryant was oddly much more efficient to the left than right. He had a 10% SROA short left and 22% SROA deep left compared to a -9% SROA short right and -21% deep right. Dez needs to be more involved in the Cowboy’s passing game for it to reach its full potential.
  • Jason Witten remains a solid option after posting a 3.2% SROA overall. He was successful short right and short left, but struggled over the middle with a -15% SROA. Dak Prescott needs to improve there and may find more success by targeting Cole Beasley instead of Jason Witten in that area.
  • Terrence Williams is hardly viewed as an average wide receiver by many, but his SROA of 14.5% says otherwise. Williams was incredibly efficient last season especially within 15 yards (23% short left, 10% short middle, 22% short right).



Eagles

  • Carson Wentz needs to improve on his efficiency (-2.5% SROA), especially deep in 2017. He only graded positively in 2/6 total areas and that was short left (1% SROA) and short center (6%). The addition of Alshon Jeffery should help immensely in improving Wentz's deep efficiency.
  • Zach Ertz was a solid option in terms of efficiency with a 7.9% SROA overall. He graded positively in 4/6 areas with his only deficiencies short right (-6%) and deep center (-17%). Ertz should take on a heavier target load this season with the departure of Jordan Matthews if the Eagles want to be more efficient than last season.
  • Nelson Agholor has gotten a lot of hype this offseason as the Eagles slot WR now that Jordan Matthews is gone. The Eagles better hope his efficiency increases as he posted a -10.5% SROA last season, grading negatively everywhere except short left (5%).
  • Darren Sproles is arguably one of the best "pass-catching backs" there is, but he wasn't very efficient last season with a -4.6% SROA overall.



Washington Redskins

  • Kirk Cousins posted a 4.6% SROA overall and was especially good when throwing to the center of the field (11% SROA short, 17% SROA deep). The loss of both Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon is sure to hurt, but with Josh Doctson healthy and the addition of Terrelle Pryor, Cousins should still remain a respectable NFL QB in terms of efficiency.
  • Jamison Crowder was surprisingly average on passes less than 15 yards last season. He had a 1% SROA short left, 1% short center and -5% short right. For being known as one of the better slot receivers in the league he didn't perform up to expectations.
  • Jordan Reed was one of the most efficient options on the Redskins last season with an 8.8% SROA overall. He feasted on targets to the right with a 17% SROA short right and 12% SROA deep right.


New York Giants

  • Eli Manning's SROA is as bad as you would think based on last year’s play. He graded negatively in all areas with a -3.4% overall. The additions of Brandon Marshall through free-agency and Evan Engram through the draft could help resurrect Eli this season.
  • It's very difficult for a player to be efficient on an inefficient team and OBJ was no different. He posted a -1.9% SROA all over and was especially poor deep center (-33%) and deep right (-20%).
  • Shane Vereen is another pass-catching back who struggles to be efficient. His SROA was -18.1% last season.


About the author:  Connor Allen (follow: @ConnorAllenNFL) was crowned co-winner of the Sharp Football Stats 2017 Writing Contest.  He will share articles featuring his analysis throughout the 2017 NFL season.

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Examining Marcus Mariota's Struggles to his Right


August 14, 2017 by Warren Sharp

Hopes are high for the Titans this season.  Their win total was set at an incredibly high 9.5 wins, before being bet lower down to 8.5.  But that alone is a massive increase from the 5.5 projected wins the Titans were lined at heading into the 2016 season.  Off of 3 wins in 2015, Marcus Mariota's rookie season, expectations were for another subpar season.  But the team went 4-0 in games decided by a FG or less, and instead of splitting those games and finishing 7-9, the team won all 4 and finished 9-7.

It would be a massive understatement to suggest that Titans fans are optimistic about the season.  They believe the team has found the franchise star, their foundation and cornerstone for years to come.  And with added weapons at the receiver position, there should be no reason to believe the Titans won't improve in Mariota's 3rd season.  But there is one element of Mariota's game which has been lacking.  And if he fixes it this season, look out.






Marcus Mariota has been terrible when passing to his right.  He was bad in 2015, his rookie year, and he was bad his sophomore year last season.  How bad was 2015?

  • To the right:  86/146, 58.9%, 6.4 YPA, 82 RTG, 8:5 TD:INT
  • Everywhere else:  144/218, 66.1%, 8.6 YPA, 100 RTG, 11:5 TD:INT


Unfortunately, 2016's stats look eerily similar, but more egregious:

  • To the right:  101/174, 58.0%, 6.4 YPA, 79.5 RTG, 5:3 TD:INT
  • Everywhere else:  175/266, 65.8%, 8.7 YPA, 111.6 RTG, 21:5 TD:INT


The main thing you'd want to consider immediately is sample size.  But in over 300 attempts to his right over two seasons, this isn't a sample size issue.  Mariota's success everywhere else, in over 450 attempts, is a consistent 66% with almost 8.7 YPA and well over 100 rating.  To the right, that completion percentage drops to 58%, the average yardage is 2.3 yards per pass worse, and the rating is over 20 points worse.

Here is how Mariota's passing looked visually, thanks to the dynamic Receiving Success Rate Over Average (SROA) tool at Sharp Football Stats:



While first and second down still reflected these bad patterns, third down was especially concerning.  Mariota fired over 60 attempts to his right on 3rd down and just over 25% recorded first downs.  To his left, he fired 57 attempts on 3rd down and 58% resulted in first down.  That's a massive difference.  If you were defending Mariota on 3rd down, you'd try to flush him to the right and hope he'd throw to his right, rather than allow him to throw to his left.  Here is what his SROA looked on 3rd down:



And when the game is close, within 1 score up or down, Mariota's success to the right was even more below average.  In almost 100 attempts to the right in one-score games, Mariota posted a 35% success rate, whereas it was 20% better (55%) when passing to his left:



I wrote about this issue from Mariota in my 2017 Football Preview.  When trailing, Mariota threw nearly 100 attempts to the right side of the field and averaged a 67 rating (31st in the NFL).

Despite the consistency in problems from 2015 to 2016, I still was hoping this was an anomaly.  Some type of odd occurrence that, despite the stats (both basic and advanced) showing a major issue existed in his ability to throw to his right, there was no concern.

But then I watched his week one preseason game.  Yes, he threw only 3 passes.  But the only one he threw deep right was very inaccurate and nearly intercepted.  Hopefully this was just another random throw which shouldn't be read into.  But it was enough to prompt me to watch every single pass attempt to the deep right in 2016.

However, I decided to study the film of every one of his passes to the deep right.  He clearly struggled to his right in general, but I focused on the deep right passes as these are where his larger gains would occur, and where the misses would result in the most negative-EV.  Below is a reel of most of Mariota's passes to the deep right from 2016.  I cut only a few throws which were from extreme bootlegs/wild scrambles or had him tossing it downfield just before running out of bounds.  You can see for yourself some of the issues.  The first pass is the one from the 2017 week 1 preseason game this past weekend, followed by his 2016 attempts:

















Observations:

  • Many of these passes which were poor were late.  Some of these late passes were thrown when the receiver was nearly out of bounds.  Mariota needs to work to identify with his eyes and deliver the ball earlier in the receiver's break to make both the catch easier.
  • While there were a couple of drops, most of the misses were simply bad passes.  Very inaccurate passes.
  • Additionally, many of his struggles appeared to come when he was trying to deliver the ball over the top of the receiver, to hit him in his stride down the field.  Better success was when the receiver was breaking back toward Mariota, or when the ball was delivered short of the receiver so he could grab it while facing Mariota, as opposed to facing the end zone.
  • Many of these were on 3rd down, and you saw time and time again at the end of each clip, Mariota jogging off the field as the punting team jogged on after these missed 3rd down opportunities.
  • Many of them were badly overthrown.  Several were overthrown TDs.
  • Some of the great plays were either completely wide open receivers who made adjustments in their routes to catch underthrown passes.


Mariota has better receivers this year, in Corey Davis, Eric Decker and Taywan Taylor.  Last year, the receiving options left a lot to be desired.  Perhaps this will help Mariota in 2017.  Because while many of the passes in the above reel were not accurate, rather than receiver drops, perhaps better receivers would have run better routes and put Mariota in more positive-EV situations to complete the pass.

However, it should be noted that we're not isolating only these passes to the right and saying Mariota's receivers were bad.  Mariota and these receivers were outstanding to the left.  They were far above average.  Exceedingly so.  But there were notable struggles to the right.

There are other areas Mariota needed to work on apart from passing to the right, although that is the most critical.  On early downs in the first quarter, due in part to play scripting, Mariota recorded a 100 passer rating, averaged 8.2 yards per attempt and completed 69% of his passes.  However, after the first quarter, his early down passer rating dropped to 81 (25th in the NFL), he averaged just 6.3 yards per attempt and completed just 57% of his passes.  Those numbers became even worse when trailing, as his 68 passer rating ranked 34th, he averaged 5.6 yards per attempt and he completed just 54% of his passes.  Early down passing correlates tremendously toward winning in the NFL, and Mariota’s passing on early downs must improve, particularly after the script runs out and it becomes the 2nd quarter.

But let's not paint Mariota in this totally negative light.  What are some positives from the passing game in 2017?  Unlike 2016, where the Titans played the 14th rated pass rushing defenses, which helped parlay into the 4th best defenses preventing explosive passes, it’s much easier this year. The Titans play the 26th rated pass rushing defenses and likely as a result, these defenses allow the 2nd highest rate of explosive passes. In Nashville, that’s literally music to the ears of Mariota, Matthews and Davis. Matthews was the most dominant deep threat for the Titans last year, and delivered a 138 rating deep left and a 141 rating deep middle.

While I'm extremely optimistic in Mariota as a passer and believe the Titans are certainly headed in the right direction (no pun intended) with him under center, I really want to see him develop his ability to be consistent when throwing to his right.  If Mariota can develop those traits and deliver more efficiency on those attempts to the right, the sky is the limit for him and the Titans offense in 2017.

About the author:  Warren Sharp ( @SharpFootball ) owns and operates SharpFootballAnalysis.com and SharpFootballStats.com

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