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» Audibles at the Line: Week 16

The FO crew takes on the top contenders as the playoff field rounds into shape. Plus: the great Drew Brees debate of 2014.

11 Jul 2014

Catch Radius: Denver vs. DVOA vs. Dalton

by Scott Kacsmar

We recently looked at catch radii for receivers such as Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. It's one thing to catch a perfectly thrown pass, but how many times does a receiver catch a ball thrown above his head, or reach back with one hand on a pass thrown wide to finish a play? Those are some of the things we want to try quantifying with catch radius.

Today, we'll look at some more receivers through this lens, starting with the primary wide receivers from the record-setting 2013 Denver Broncos. Only two offenses in NFL history have had three wide receivers catch at least 10 touchdowns in the same season: 2004 Colts and 2013 Broncos. Peyton Manning pulled the trigger for both offenses, and he also threw 12 touchdowns to tight end Julius Thomas, but we're focused on wideouts for now. This season, Eric Decker will hope to post a high catch rate and DVOA with the Jets (snicker snicker) while Emmanuel Sanders comes to Mile High from Pittsburgh. His 2013 season has also been included.

The Broncos had the most productive receiving corps last year, but what about the guys who were the most efficient on a per-play basis? I looked at the top-five DVOA leaders and found unexpected names of breakout players in Kenny Stills (40.1%), Doug Baldwin (33.3%), Marvin Jones (32.4%) and Keenan Allen (28.2%). Eddie Royal (31.6%) was actually fourth, but Allen makes for a more interesting study. From that group we have two mid-round rookies who enjoyed stellar quarterback play from Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. Baldwin was an undrafted free agent sensation in 2011, and he exceeded that level on his way to a Super Bowl win with Seattle. Jones was only a fifth-round pick in 2012 by Cincinnati, and might be the answer to A.J. Green's search for a dynamic partner. Jones' numbers were so interesting that we had to include Green as well. Andy Dalton's agent may want us to kill this piece with fire, but up first are the Broncos.

Denver Broncos: Days of Future Past

We start with a 2013 receiving breakdown (regular season only) for Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders. These four players each have a different playing style, and their average depth of reception (Dist) and number of screens or smoke passes sheds some light on that.

2013 Receptions Breakdown
Receiver Height Catches Dist Screens/Smoke
Eric Decker 6-3 87 10.5 8 (9.2%)
Demaryius Thomas 6-3 92 8.0 19 (20.7%)
Emmanuel Sanders 5-11 67 6.7 18 (26.9%)
Wes Welker 5-9 73 6.2 13 (17.8%)

Decker played the role of big deep threat, which now may better suit second-round rookie Cody Latimer at 6-foot-3. Verticality really hasn't been Sanders' game, though he is fast. He's not going to be a perfect replacement for what the Broncos did with Decker, but he'll still fit the offense. Denver's known for screen passes because of the success, but Sanders actually had a higher rate of screens last year. He also had seven catches for no gain or negative yards last year -- that's four more than the combined total for Denver's trio. Better blocking and playcalling should help Sanders in that department.

So how did they catch the ball in 2013? All images are captured from NFL Game Rewind.

2013 Wide Receiver Catch Radii
Type of Catch D.Thomas Pct. W.Welker Pct. E.Decker Pct. E.Sanders Pct.
Total 92 - 73 - 87 - 67 -
Chest-Level 63 68.5% 50 68.5% 50 57.5% 37 55.2%
Chest-Low 1 1.1% 1 1.4% 1 1.1% 4 6.0%
Chest-High 0 0.0% 1 1.4% 1 1.1% 1 1.5%
Chest-All 64 69.6% 52 71.2% 52 59.8% 42 62.7%
Above the head 3 3.3% 4 5.5% 4 4.6% 7 10.4%
Below the waist 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 1 1.5%
Diving to ground 0 0.0% 4 5.5% 3 3.4% 6 9.0%
Eye-level 11 12.0% 9 12.3% 13 14.9% 7 10.4%
Over the shoulder 10 10.9% 3 4.1% 10 11.5% 3 4.5%
Pass thrown wide 4 4.3% 1 1.4% 5 5.7% 1 1.5%

It's a little surprising to see Thomas didn't make any catches where he needed to dive to the ground, but his game is about running after the catch. His routes might be better than given credit for, but it's easy to see he's at his best with the ball in his hands. He led the league with 704 yards after the catch.

Decker's the first receiver I've studied who did not catch at least 60 percent of his passes at the chest-level, but we're talking about a one-play difference. It's also moot when he hauled in 10 over-the-shoulder catches (four in one game against the Chiefs alone). Much was made of Manning getting to play with big receivers like Decker and Thomas for the first time in his career. The size advantage has certainly helped offset the loss in arm strength, but Manning's anticipation has probably never been better. The ball usually finds its mark, no matter how ugly it may look.

Manning's accuracy in the first five games last season was uncanny. Traditional stats agree -- he was 150-of-198 passing (75.8 percent) with 20 touchdowns and one interception. More than just the completion rate, his ball placement was on the mark. For general comparison (acknowledging the following isn't always true), let's consider the chest the sweet spot, over-the-shoulder plays good throws, and designate anything caught above the neck, below the waist or wide a "bad throw," then look at the start Manning had with his wide receivers compared to the finish.

Peyton Manning - 2013 Accuracy Split
Split Receiver Rec. Chest Pct. "Bad Throw" Pct.
Weeks 1-5 D.Thomas 34 28 82.4% 4 11.8%
Weeks 6-17 D.Thomas 58 36 62.1% 14 24.1%
Weeks 1-5 W.Welker 31 25 80.6% 5 16.1%
Weeks 6-17 W.Welker 42 27 64.3% 13 31.0%
Weeks 1-5 E.Decker 29 19 65.5% 8 27.6%
Weeks 6-17 E.Decker 58 33 56.9% 17 29.3%
Weeks 1-5 TOTAL 94 72 76.6% 17 18.1%
Weeks 6-17 TOTAL 158 96 60.8% 44 27.8%

While the Decker numbers remained closer, Manning finished with very similar results with Thomas and Welker in both splits. Not that I haven't been suspecting this since the beginning, but this suggests the quarterback does indeed take on the lion's share of responsibility for how accurate his passes find his target, no matter what type of receiver he's throwing to. The split was hardly opponent-based, since the Ravens (Week 1) and Giants (Week 2) were two of the best defenses Denver faced last year.

A significant event happened to Manning in Week 6 against Jacksonville: he suffered a high ankle sprain on his first play of the game. He suffered a second sprain in the same game, then went through his first major slump of the season for a few quarters in Indianapolis after Robert Mathis' strip-sack for a safety. Three weeks later in San Diego, Manning again aggravated the knee after taking a hit on his last pass of the game that momentarily kept him on the ground. By the time December started, Manning was closer to where he was at the beginning of the season, but his decreased accuracy during that six-game stretch was likely a result of the ankle problems.

By adding Sanders to the mix, the Broncos get a former slot receiver who played on the outside as Pittsburgh's No. 2 guy last year. This week Sanders commented that playing with Manning "feels like I just made it into wide receiver heaven." Their first meeting must have been like Uncle Ruckus' encounter with Ronald Reagan on The Boondocks. Sanders just had his best season in Pittsburgh. Watching (but not charting) his first few seasons, he looked like a smooth route runner who made a lot of routine catches, which should make for a good fit in Denver. But watching Sanders last year, he looked more like a financially burdened (but not poor) man's version of Antonio Brown. Ben Roethlisberger was not at his sharpest with Sanders in 2013, given the seven catches above the head and the six diving grabs. Those are both easily more than any Denver wide receiver, and Sanders had fewer catches overall.

A receiver under six foot like Brown, Sanders showed improved ability to attack the ball from all angles. His over-the-shoulder catches were quick throws down the sideline from Roethlisberger, which is a staple of a Manning-led offense. Sanders likely won't match Decker's deep-ball success, but he'll have opportunities he didn't always get in Pittsburgh.

With the talent in this offense, paying a cheaper price for Sanders and drafting Latimer certainly looks like a smarter move than re-signing Decker would have been. Keeping in mind Julius Thomas' growth, this offense will thrive on Demaryius' dominant ability after the catch and Welker's consistency. Since he was cast away from the Broncos' "Wide Receiver Heaven" and landed with the Jets, do we start calling Decker the Lucifer of the NFL? Then again, Tim Tebow once made the same fall…

Holy Ginger Snaps, Batman: The Other Guys

We've seen the catch radii for a historic offense, but now what helps create a highly efficient season? Like with Denver, we begin with a 2013 receiving breakdown for Kenny Stills, Doug Baldwin, A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen.

2013 Receptions Breakdown
Receiver Height Catches Dist Screens/Smoke
Kenny Stills 6-1 32 13.9 1 (3.1%)
Doug Baldwin 5-10 50 11.0 5 (10.0%)
A.J. Green 6-4 98 10.4 14 (14.3%)
Marvin Jones 6-1 51 9.6 8 (15.7%)
Keenan Allen 6-2 71 9.0 2 (2.8%)

Not surprisingly, this group routinely made big plays down the field. Take away the Cincinnati receivers and the screen pass was rarely a factor for these receivers. Unless you have a Demaryius Thomas, screens rarely produce big plays. These guys dig the long ball, though we're going to find some very interesting results for just how accurate their quarterbacks were.

2013 Wide Receiver Catch Radii
Type of Catch K.Stills Pct. D.Baldwin Pct. K.Allen Pct. M.Jones Pct. A.Green Pct.
Total 32 - 50 - 71 - 51 - 98 -
Chest-Level 16 50.0% 24 48.0% 48 67.6% 20 39.2% 38 38.8%
Chest-Low 3 9.4% 4 8.0% 1 1.4% 1 2.0% 5 5.1%
Chest-High 1 3.1% 2 4.0% 4 5.6% 8 15.7% 1 1.0%
Chest-All 20 62.5% 30 60.0% 53 74.6% 29 56.9% 44 44.9%
Above the head 1 3.1% 1 2.0% 2 2.8% 5 9.8% 9 9.2%
Below the waist 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 0 0.0%
Diving to ground 3 9.4% 1 2.0% 4 5.6% 2 3.9% 1 1.0%
Eye-level 5 15.6% 8 16.0% 9 12.7% 10 19.6% 28 28.6%
Over the shoulder 3 9.4% 6 12.0% 1 1.4% 0 0.0% 9 9.2%
Pass thrown wide 0 0.0% 4 8.0% 2 2.8% 5 9.8% 7 7.1%

Does anything jump out here? Out of the 19 seasons I've studied so far, Green and Jones have the lowest chest-level rates, and they had the same quarterback. But before we get into what Andy Dalton did wrong, let's look at what the young receivers did right last year.

Kenny Stills

Stills was a productive receiver at Oklahoma, but somehow slipped to New Orleans in the fifth round last year. That's bad news for the NFL, because Sean Payton and Drew Brees had no problem getting him involved with big plays. Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem used to be that guy in New Orleans, but Stills might be more talented. He led the league by averaging 20.0 yards per reception. Some of the defensive coverage against him was flat out embarrassing (see 52-yard touchdown against Dallas) or nonexistent (see 76-yard touchdown against Tampa Bay), but he was very impressive for a rookie.

He only had 32 catches, but they weren't all just deep balls. He made a trio of diving grabs and his catch of the year was arguably this beauty thrown high above his head against Carolina.

So how did Stills lead the league in DVOA, or better yet, how did he rank 21st in DYAR with just 32 catches? Well, he outperformed some absurd baselines. Since 1998, only two receivers have caught multiple touchdowns on third or fourth down with 20-plus yards to go for a conversion. Randy Moss had two touchdowns on 17 targets, and Stills had two touchdowns on two targets last year. Both were third-and-20. There was the spectacular 34-yard touchdown in New England in the fourth quarter, then two weeks later against Buffalo, Brees again gave Stills a shot in the end zone and the rookie delivered, jumping off the ground for his lone chest-high catch of the season. Those help.

Doug Baldwin

Baldwin only caught 50 passes on run-heavy Seattle last year, but his highlight reel would be longer than a lot of receivers with larger stats. I compiled a little collage of some of his receiving highlights. I prefer a video, but the NFL frowns on such creations.

When Russell Wilson scrambles, Baldwin's the guy he likes to target, and he can make some incredible catches on the sideline with the body control to complete the play. He high-points the ball, like the touchdown in coverage against Minnesota. He tracks the ball very well. Baldwin's rate of over-the-shoulder catches (12.0 percent) is the highest among the 19 seasons studied. He made a one-handed touchdown (thrown by Tarvaris Jackson) against Jacksonville. This is a legit No. 1 receiver in the making.

Baldwin is a great example of DVOA's value. Yeah, he probably wasn't the second-best or second-most valuable wide receiver in the league in 2013, but he played at an exceptionally high level when the Seahawks threw him the ball. That's supported by the play-by-play metrics, and he passes the eye test with flying colors. If Baldwin was on a team like Denver, he probably would have 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, but Seattle hasn't needed that from its receivers. In the Super Bowl, Denver's all-star receiving cast struggled to create separation and gain yards after the catch against the league's best defense. Seattle's unheralded group made a few great individual plays and enjoyed the rout. Baldwin should get even more chances to shine in 2014 with Golden Tate's departure to Detroit.

Keenan Allen

Can you believe Allen was the 76th pick in the draft? Injury was the main reason for that fall, but some teams might want to reconsider the medical evaluation the next time a potential stud is the prospect. Allen got off to a slow start, but thanks to injuries to Malcolm Floyd and Danario Alexander, he soon earned a starting role and had a fantastic rookie season. He caught 68 percent of his targets, which is phenomenal work by Philip Rivers as well since Allen only had two screens.

On Allen's first catch of the season in Philadelphia you could see something special. Cary Williams held Allen enough for pass interference, but he still managed to catch the ball before it touched the ground.

Allen has the third-highest chest rate in the study with only Mike Wallace seasons above and below him in the top four, but he's not another Wallace. Allen could prove to be much better given the way he worked the intermediate routes like a seasoned pro as a rookie.

Cincinnati: Where the Receiver Should be Paid More than the Quarterback

We'll conclude this week's catch radius study with the Bengals, but let's preface it by showing the summary of the 19 seasons studied so far.

Summary of Wide Receiver Catch Radii Study
Receiver Year Team Rec. CHEST% EYE% ATH% DIVE% OTS% WIDE%
Mike Wallace 2012 PIT 64 79.7% 6.3% 3.1% 6.3% 3.1% 1.6%
Mike Wallace 2011 PIT 75 76.0% 4.0% 2.7% 4.0% 8.0% 4.0%
Keenan Allen 2013 SD 71 74.6% 12.7% 2.8% 5.6% 1.4% 2.8%
Mike Wallace 2013 MIA 73 74.0% 6.8% 2.7% 4.1% 5.5% 5.5%
Wes Welker 2013 DEN 73 71.2% 12.3% 5.5% 5.5% 4.1% 1.4%
Demaryius Thomas 2013 DEN 92 69.6% 12.0% 3.3% 0.0% 10.9% 4.3%
Brian Hartline 2012 MIA 74 67.6% 16.2% 10.8% 0.0% 4.1% 1.4%
Antonio Brown 2013 PIT 110 67.3% 14.5% 4.5% 3.6% 3.6% 5.5%
Rishard Matthews 2013 MIA 41 65.9% 12.2% 9.8% 2.4% 2.4% 7.3%
Antonio Brown 2012 PIT 66 65.2% 10.6% 10.6% 4.5% 1.5% 4.5%
Emmanuel Sanders 2013 PIT 67 62.7% 10.4% 10.4% 9.0% 4.5% 1.5%
Kenny Stills 2013 NO 32 62.5% 15.6% 3.1% 9.4% 9.4% 0.0%
Antonio Brown 2011 PIT 74 62.2% 10.8% 12.2% 5.4% 1.4% 8.1%
Brian Hartline 2013 MIA 76 60.5% 25.0% 5.3% 3.9% 3.9% 1.3%
Doug Baldwin 2013 SEA 50 60.0% 16.0% 2.0% 2.0% 12.0% 8.0%
Brandon Gibson 2013 MIA 30 60.0% 23.3% 3.3% 3.3% 3.3% 6.7%
Eric Decker 2013 DEN 87 59.8% 14.9% 4.6% 3.4% 11.5% 5.7%
Marvin Jones 2013 CIN 51 56.9% 19.6% 9.8% 3.9% 0.0% 9.8%
A.J. Green 2013 CIN 98 44.9% 28.6% 9.2% 1.0% 9.2% 7.1%
AVERAGE 68.6 65.3% 14.3% 6.1% 4.1% 5.3% 4.6%

If 50 percent is about the Mendoza line for where you want your quarterback hitting the receiver in his breadbasket, then Dalton has some explaining to do. Granted, along with Ryan Tannehill, Dalton ranks at the bottom of the quarterbacks in this study, which includes some of the best passers in the league. When we look at some lesser passers in the next study, we might find similar results to Cincinnati's 2013 season.

But in the eternal hunt for finding an appropriate answer to "does the quarterback make the receiver, or does the receiver make the quarterback" we may have stumbled into receiver-friendly territory with the Bengals.

Last year, Dalton was quarterback of the 12th offense in NFL history to produce two receivers with 10-plus touchdown catches in a season. (Manning is already on this list four times.) We knew about Green's greatness, but Jones stepped up as well with some help from a four-touchdown game against the Jets.

But after charting Jones' season, I wondered why his numbers were so different from everyone else's. His depth of reception was 9.6 yards, which isn't outrageously deep. He has pretty good size at 6-foot-1 and roughly 200 pounds, so it's not like he presents a little target. He had eight catches marked as chest-high. I had only marked 10 of those on the first 683 catches I studied.

There's a few of Jones' more difficult catches last year. Dalton was wide (the wrong direction being the problem) on a screen against Buffalo, but the receiver still turned around with ease and picked up 42 yards on the play. Jones did a great job to bring down a touchdown in Detroit, the home of Calvin Johnson. Jones pulled in a one-handed touchdown against the Ravens in Week 17 to cap off his fine regular season.

Maybe the numbers were just a small-sample fluke, but I didn't think his 18 catches as a rookie in 2012 would be of much help. That's when I decided to chart Green's 98-catch season last year. Green started 2013 with a 42-yard bomb caught over the shoulder, and thrown perfectly down the right sideline by Dalton. That's good. The two would connect on several plays like that during the season, and it's really the throw where Dalton looks his best with Green.

The problem was I didn't get through that Week 1 game against Chicago without being very underwhelmed by Dalton's accuracy. Just look at this ridiculous extension for a pass thrown wide by Dalton on third-and-10. Green picked up the first down with a 13-yard gain, completely bailing out his quarterback in the process.

Game after game, the inaccurate throws kept coming, and Green still ran his season total to 98 receptions in spite of Dalton. Even on plays where Green was wide open over the middle, Dalton was too high with the ball and limited YAC for his offense. Green's the tallest receiver I've studied at approximately 6-foot-4, so why in the world is he catching 37.8 percent of his passes above his neck when my research average is 19.4 percent? I have never preached my methods for this to be a perfect science, but I'll admit some of Dalton's "chest-level" passes were aimed closer to Green's throat, and he might have got the chest just out of my pity for him.

Through the process, I gained a lot more respect for Green, who just finished ninth on the NFL Network's Top 100 list, which may or may not be voted on by his peers. Ninth may make you scoff at first, but if his first two seasons with Dalton were anything like 2013 in terms of the degree of difficulty, then it's not that crazy. Just look at some of these catches.

Not featured: last season's only true Hail Mary completion in Baltimore after James Ihedigbo tipped the ball to Green to force overtime.

Now I think I know why Green heavily supports Dalton. Green just said this week "I don't want any other quarterback throwing me the ball." It's because he helps him create a freakishly great highlight reel with inaccurate throws, right? I wouldn't have ranked Green in my top five receivers the other day, but I think I will now.

I'm probably overreacting to 149 completions, which I said included many good throws by Dalton. But when offensive coordinator Hue Jackson recently proclaimed Dalton and Green as the best quarterback/receiver duo in the league right now, did he factor in the throws or was he just in awe of the catches the same way I am?

No one can say Dalton is afraid to give Green a chance to make him look good. Perhaps we would find better results for him if looking at 2011-12, but that would be missing the point. Dalton should have been better in his third season. If the Bengals win even one playoff game -- something they haven't done since the 1990 season -- this year, Dalton stands to become a very rich man in today's quarterback market. But if he doesn't improve and is relying on Green and Jones to make so many great catches, why should Cincinnati invest so much into him?

As this study has shown so far, highlight-reel catches are rare. When an offense starts relying on them, the quarterback's not making enough good reads and accurate throws. This exercise has brought great news for those interested in Green's ability, but there's a reason they call the NFL a passing league, and not a catching league. Caught or not, Dalton has to throw better passes in 2014. Roger Goodell hasn't added style points (yet).

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 11 Jul 2014

35 comments, Last at 18 Jul 2014, 10:03am by fb29

Comments

1
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 07/11/2014 - 11:13pm

I didn't realize Decker was the Bronco's main deep threat last year, or that he had such a huge catch radius. He might do better in NY than everyone thinks, since Geno is more accurate down the field (6th most accurate deep passer, according to PFF). I was surprised that Tannehill was as inaccurate as you showed in your last article.

3
by Perfundle :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 4:05am

Well, PFF has Geno only being accurate from 21-30; beyond 30 yards he's the second-least accurate passer. It's a small sample size, but 14.3% is still horrible.

12
by theslothook :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 2:20pm

I had this debate with a friend of mine. How bad does a rookie qb have to perform before expectations of him ever producing a good enough career dim completely? We cited obvious examples like Clausen and Gabbert. I know Geno improved later in the season, but in the 4 games I watched of him, I just thought he didn't look good at all and I personally have very low expectations of him.

14
by Perfundle :: Sun, 07/13/2014 - 12:37am

How about this: rookie QBs since 2000 that have at least 200 attempts must have at least an ANY/A of 4.5 to have a chance (year cutoff added because ANY/A has been steadily going up)? Here are the rookies that missed that mark:

http://pfref.com/tiny/32c7z

2.78 Andrew Walter
2.98 Jimmy Clausen
3.20 Kyle Orton
3.24 David Carr
3.56 Ken Dorsey
3.64 Matthew Stafford
3.65 Bruce Gradkowski
3.68 Blaine Gabbert
3.69 Josh Freeman
3.74 Chris Weinke
3.75 Kyle Boller
3.77 Chad Hutchinson
3.98 Joey Harrington
4.07 Mark Sanchez
4.17 Geno Smith
4.25 Christian Ponder

The one exception is Stafford, but he gets a pass for going to a 0-16 team that was truly devoid of talent. There's also Freeman, but he's a strange case, doing okayish for a few years after a horrible rookie season, then suddenly crashing and burning last year.

16
by PaddyPat :: Sun, 07/13/2014 - 11:39am

Orton has had a decent career too. He really seemed to grow under Josh McDaniels and I would put him down as a passable starter at least comparable to someone like Fitzpatrick.

19
by mehllageman56 :: Sun, 07/13/2014 - 5:07pm

I have to admit that I am biased because I'm a Jets fan, but I'm optimistic about Geno's chances at becoming a competent NFL quarterback. He could not put two consecutive games of positive DYAR together the entire year until the last month, when he put four of them together. I believe the Jets had the worst receiving core of the entire league last year. I feel like Geno turned a corner in the Raiders game, when he threw a pass up for grabs in the end zone, and Jeremy Kerley came down with it. After that point, he played much better, even against the Panthers, who are obviously the toughest defense he played last year.
Paradoxically, I am not optimistic for the Jets season. I expect their young and injury-prone secondary to be torched by the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matt Stafford, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady twice.

20
by theslothook :: Sun, 07/13/2014 - 9:11pm

Lol, I actually have the Jets making the playoffs. The Ryan defense should actually be good this year, with Dee set to play better and prior being a major upgrade at safety. Ryan managed to post a pass dvoa that topped seattle last year with journeyman and revis. He should be able to do well again.

You are right about Geno having some pretty awful receivers. I didn't really watch him at all late in the season so I'll take your word for it that he's likely much improved.

22
by Perfundle :: Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:43am

How did they manage that, exactly? I didn't get a chance to watch many Jets games that year, but it looks like they were only slightly above-average at forcing turnovers, and like all of Ryan's teams, did not get a whole lot of sacks, and yet they were first at forcing punts and three-and-outs. Was it simply that the blitzes were very successful and QBs had to keep throwing the ball away?

23
by theslothook :: Mon, 07/14/2014 - 1:36am

I have honestly no idea. Many of those players would not remain on the team for very long either. Players like Coleman and Lowry, for example, would be gone in a year. This was also before Wilkerson. They even lost Jenkins early to a torn Achilles.

Per pff, Their entire pass defense seemed to be anchored by the ridiculous season Revis had, combined with Kerry Rhodes' awesomeness along with Jim Leonard and david harris coverage.

Beyond that, no real idea how they did it, only they did. That season alone convinced me that Rex Ryan deserves hall of fame consideration.

2
by RolandDeschain :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 3:59am

Glad to see the Doug Baldwin love. Everybody thinks Seattle's receivers are just worthless nobodies because they all rank lowly on the fantasy football charts due to not seeing a lot of catches. Not only does Seattle run a LOT, but Russell Wilson spreads the ball around a TON on a regular basis all season long.

Go look up how many different receivers caught passes in each Seattle game in 2013, then look up how many different receivers caught passes in each San Francisco game in 2013. The difference between Wilson and Kaepernick is laughable. People will eventually be forced to recognize that Wilson is underrated and already better than the vast majority of NFL fans think or realize. People need to stop relying on pinball number cumulative statistics in the NFL. If I eventually get a Ford Taurus going 130 miles per hour on the freeway, that doesn't make it a better or faster car than a Porsche 911 Turbo that I'm driving at 90 miles per hour.

4
by theslothook :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 4:07am

If that's true...then why did Seattle throw the fewest passes of any team this year?

5
by RolandDeschain :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 4:16am

Because Seattle rarely needs to throw much between a great running game and an elite defense, and smart coaches start young QBs off slowly. Look at the first two years Brady spent in the league...Same thing. Patriots had a very good defense, nice running game, and they didn't have Brady throwing much or very far.

Carroll loves the run-first offense. He did it the two years in Seattle prior to drafting Wilson, too. Using that to make the claim that Wilson can't throw or whatever is just asinine. You want to see what Wilson can do, go watch the 4th quarter & overtime of the Seattle @ Chicago game from his rookie season in 2012, they let him off the leash at that point.

7
by Scott Kacsmar :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 4:48am

Taking a trip back to 2004-06 for a moment...

I'd compare Wilson's first two years to Roethlisberger in 2004-05. The Steelers were a dominant team in those seasons and usually had the game in hand in the second half. He didn't need to throw much, and when he did, he was successful. He later proved he could handle a bigger workload, and Wilson will have to do the same eventually. I see no reason not to be confident he'll do well.

And I would not compare Kaepernick and Wilson (or any quarterbacks) by how many receivers they get involved on a weekly basis. That was a classic argument Patriots fans tried using years ago for Tom Brady, and I didn't find any evidence that getting more receivers involved makes for a more successful offense. The Patriots themselves got much better offensively after utilizing more talented, but fewer weapons. Some teams try to formation people to death and sub in different guys, while some just line up with a base set most of the time and do their thing. One approach isn't better than the other.

Having said that, I see a lot in common with the 2012-13 Seattle receiving corps and the 2001-04 Patriots. Who does the defense expect to be the No. 1 guy? Who do they double team? The whole field is open. The receivers don't get as much respect because the team doesn't operate in a way that allows for big numbers, but individually when you watch these guys play, they are good. There's a play in SB 38 where David Givens catches a short pass and stiff arms the defender for more YAC. There are some really good, HOF-caliber receivers who just won't do that. Then with Seattle this year, look at some of those touchdown catches in the playoffs. Great stuff, even if the names are Kearse and Baldwin. That's the path I'm trying to get at here. Spotlight how the receiver is making his plays.

After watching 600+ catches this week alone, Green and Baldwin stood out most to me for the degree of difficulty with their catches. Demaryius was the most impressive after he caught the ball, but his delivery system was really solid. Kenny Stills probably took advantage of the worst coverage I've consistently seen to this point, though two of his biggest plays were in pretty good coverage in the end zone.

10
by dbostedo :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 12:03pm

I'd really like to see the back of Manning's jersey changed to read "Delivery System".

15
by bpeterson464 :: Sun, 07/13/2014 - 10:20am

I agree with you on pass distibution, but only to an extent. When 13 of a guy's 21 TD passes go to one guy, only two receivers have more than 300 yards, and your fourth leading receiver is your fullback, there might be some distribution problems. There were essentially three players to stop with San Francisco at the beginning of the year, Boldin, Davis, and Gore, and then the offense wouldn't really have anywhere to go.

11
by theslothook :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 2:18pm

See Perfundle, this is why I said I thought Wilson was overrated but poised to be very very good in the future. I think there are a fair number of Fo readers who probably already think he's better than Romo for example. His dvoa is high, but its akin to a slot receiver in limited duty posting the top receiving dvoa(like stokley did 2 years ago). Just because this team won the sb and posted one of top dvoas of all time doesn't mean its the qb that deserves the most or even much of the credit.

I have nothing against Wilson, but one doesn't have to look very hard to see his flaws in the passing game and much of these are completely covered up by the fact that the team does not need him to execute a highly efficient, team carrying passing game.

I wonder if he were switched with Romo, what might happen. Romo may have his famous flameouts, but those obscure many other stretches of excellence that are equally undone by an utterly pathetic defense and stupid coaching decisions. Is it just fair to assume Wilson would post the same dvoa with Dallas or with a (FAR)less than stellar overall team?

13
by theslothook :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 2:24pm

I've seen that game. I've also seen games he was borderline terrible in. I just don't see how he's FAR better than Kaep at this point, other than one being on a team that won the sb and and one who's team just barely lost it.

6
by Perfundle :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 4:18am

Who do you think you're going to convince with that? As someone who knows how good Baldwin was last year, what I got out of the article was:

1. Wilson needs to improve on his accuracy. Tate and Baldwin bailed him out on a lot of passes last year; as the article says, spectacular catches are usually inaccurate throws.

2. If Baldwin is so good at making these catches, is great on third downs, and is usually not being covered by the opposing team's best CB, he must have some other flaws in his game that led to him being the third receiver before Rice got hurt. There are many games in which he just disappears; he only totaled 7 catches in the divisional games in the regular season, for instance.

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by RoninX :: Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:48pm

Without getting into a discussion of the relative value of Wilson vs. anyone else I thought I'd reply to your numbered points

1. Every QB in the league would be better if they improved their accuracy, and certainly Wilson isn't the most accurate QB in the league. However, Baldwin's catch radius numbers are very similar on a percentage basis to Kenny Stills in every category. Does Brees need to improve his accuracy too? Remember that bread basket throws aren't entire representative of accruacy, e.g. "over the shoulder" catches are often (but not always) difficult catches, but good throws (as the article author acknowledges).

2. Rice's catch radius is anecdotally also pretty incredible. The man is a very good receiver when healthy. However, there are games where Baldwin disappears. This can be said of all but a handful of receivers in the league, and it is more apt to happen when a passing game spread the ball around (for good or ill) and is low volume to start with. Despite this I feel like you are right in pointing out Baldwin propensity to disappear. It would be interesting to see if he does have a specific flaw (e.g. shut down by press coverage or something).

26
by Perfundle :: Mon, 07/14/2014 - 2:40pm

Well, we're comparing Baldwin to #1 receivers, and there's quite more than a handful that don't disappear to the extent that he does. Under the arbitrary criteria of how many games a receiver caught fewer than half of his per-game average of receptions, Baldwin had 6 such games, whereas Tate had 2 such games last year and 2 such games in 2012. And if you look at Carolina's receivers last year, who were in pretty much the same situation as Tate and Baldwin, Olsen had 2 such games and Smith had 1.

8
by nat :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 7:29am

Decker's the first receiver I've studied who did not catch at least 60 percent of his passes at the chest-level... Much was made of Manning getting to play with big receivers like Decker and Thomas for the first time in his career...The ball usually finds its mark, no matter how ugly it may look.

Non sequiturs, much?

If Decker is a big target, it should be easier to hit him accurately in the chest area.

From this stat at least, we should conclude the Manning is missing his mark more than any QB you've studied.

But really, you need to chart the targets, too. We can't tell from just counting catches whether Decker has great catch radius, or just gets thrown fewer accurate passes.

17
by mehllageman56 :: Sun, 07/13/2014 - 4:18pm

Nat, you're cherrypicking to criticize Manning's accuracy. The other two Denver receivers are near the top of the tables in the percentage of catches at chest height. If Manning had an issue with accuracy, it would show up with the other two receivers. Decker's targets were deeper than the other two, which may account for the difference.

18
by theslothook :: Sun, 07/13/2014 - 4:43pm

It seems to happen with every manning related post on this site.

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by nat :: Tue, 07/15/2014 - 8:26am

No, I'm not cherry picking. And the point is not to criticize Manning's accuracy. It is to point out the flaws in this use of stats. In particular, it was to point out that the low stat and large size do not support the paragraph's conclusion at all. That's what makes it a non sequitur. The conclusion does not follow. That's what non sequitur means,

The real problem is that this stat sucks for this use. As Kacsmar concedes in a later response, comparing this stat to other receivers is useless unless you adjust for depth thrown, to the thrower's accuracy, etc.

In short, you have to figure out how many throws were on target before you can make good use of the number or percentage of catches were on target. And then you need to do the same for off target throws. Only then can you draw any meaningful conclusion about this "catch radius" skill.

9
by Scott Kacsmar :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 8:28am

"If Decker is a big target, it should be easier to hit him accurately in the chest area."

But compared to whom? His average catch is 2.5 yards deeper than Demaryius and more than 4 yards deeper than Welker, and that's purely vertical distance. Given Decker's often outside and Welker's in the slot, the ball has to travel a longer distance to get to Decker than any other Denver receiver. The longer the throw, the tougher it is to be accurate.

And you left out the part where I said it's a moot point since Decker had twice the average rate of over-the-shoulder catches. Those are usually very good throws (Tarvaris to Baldwin an exception here). Some of Andy Dalton's deep balls to Green were so underthrown that Green had to stop and wait for the ball, making it a chest-level catch when it really should have been over the shoulder. I probably should have mentioned that.

If you look at the last table, Decker was right around the average or below for EYE%, ATH% and DIVE%. He was just above average on WIDE%, but looking at my notes, one of those wide catches was a back-shoulder fade against Dallas. That throw's pretty much indefensible unless it's thrown to the wrong side.

https://twitter.com/FO_ScottKacsmar/status/487937110494965760

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by justinfred :: Mon, 07/14/2014 - 10:52pm

I watched every game the Broncos played last year, and Decker was the go to guy whenever the defense was trying to play Bronco receivers tight. As a result he ran a lot of go routes that Manning tried to hit him either over the shoulder or back shoulder. I, and a lot of other Denver fans, were disgusted with Decker's ability to get separation at those times. Hopefully, Sanders will be more successful.

31
by theslothook :: Mon, 07/14/2014 - 11:58pm

I watched all of Denver's games too. Decker to me was the kind of receiver that would be successful in a peyton led offense. He's not terrible, mind you, but seemingly average across the board at everything. His hands are meh, his separation skills are just OK(he actually gets a way with a lot of hand fighting). But he's not terrible and can make for a decent number 2.

32
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 07/15/2014 - 1:23am

The best coverage against Denver last year was played by NE (in Foxboro) and of course Seattle. Decker had 2 catches for 11 yards in those games combined. I knew after that SB there was no way he'd be back. I think he'll put up solid totals in NY and beat some bad defenses down the field, but I don't see him as a true No. 1 guy.

21
by lightsout85 :: Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:33am

So glad to see more of this!

Keenan Allen brings up an interesting point so far. Originally Mike Wallace's high chest-% was used to show that he didn't have a large catch-radius. This time Keenan Allen also has a high chest-% but it is (correctly, for anyone who's watched him) said that he isn't like Wallace. In the future, if this becomes widely kept track of and we could look at all the WRs on a team & compare to team average (ie: we could rule out KA's high chest-% as being "bad" if Rivers was just super accurate and hitting all his guys in the numbers on a consistent basis (likely, since he was elite in accuracy-metrics this season and threw a lot of shorter routes with the receiver facing him, or coming across the field).

Going forward I'd love to see a comparison of either the top DYAR receivers or perhaps the top WR by "opinion" (Megatron, Julio, AJ, Dez, etc etc - the big names people always place near the top) - give fans some ammo to break some ties :D

24
by Scott Kacsmar :: Mon, 07/14/2014 - 1:39am

I have a lot of the big-name guys planned for the finale, and then I'll be moving onto 2014 season stuff. Like to do more of these earlier in the offseason next year.

29
by lightsout85 :: Mon, 07/14/2014 - 8:32pm

Awesome! Appreciate the great work, Scott!

27
by Jimmy :: Mon, 07/14/2014 - 3:59pm

Scott I would love to see what your project spits out for Chicago's twin towers, especially Alshon Jeffery. Is there a spot where you can throw it to him and he doesn't catch it?

28
by Scott Kacsmar :: Mon, 07/14/2014 - 4:54pm

Jeffery and Marshall are two I'll be researching today.

34
by tomdrees :: Wed, 07/16/2014 - 2:21pm

I know it's a lot of work, but somebody PLEASE rank the QBs by Chest%.

35
by fb29 :: Fri, 07/18/2014 - 10:03am

Yes please. Something like receptions weighted by height of receiver (so we know how big the target is). Like if RG3 is hitting the smurfs more often, that's even more impressive.