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02 Dec 2005

Too Deep Zone: Short Receptions

by Mike Tanier

Carson Palmer took the center snap, turned quickly, and fired a pass into the flat to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The receiver tried to turn upfield, but he was quickly corralled by Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle. The Bengals lost one yard on the play.

Palmer leads the league in completion percentage. His receivers haul in 69.7 percent of his passes; at this rate, he could post one of the highest figures in NFL history. But only a few of those passes are 50-yard bombs to Chad Johnson. Many are quick screens to Hooch that lose yardage. Or out-patterns by Kevin Walter that lose yardage. Or flairs to Chris Perry for one yard. Or screens to Rudi Johnson that travel about 10 feet through the air and net just five yards on the field.

Palmer threw all of those short passes against the Ravens in one of his best games of the year. How many more crummy little throws has he executed this year? How much is that 69.7 percent figure inflated by glorified handoffs, throws so short that they don't help the offense a lick?

And Palmer's not the only offender. Quarterbacks around the league are padding their stats by dumping off two-yard passes to their fullbacks. That's why NFL passers complete an average of nearly 60 percent of their passes. In the mid-1970s, when men were men and quarterbacks threw deep, that total was closer to 50 percent.

Modern quarterbacks execute sissy throws so they can pump up their rankings in that namby-pamby "efficiency rating" statistic that doesn't work and nobody believes in. Or so some critics suggest. But just how prevalent are these short completions? Are players like Palmer really building gaudy stats out of useless three-yard gains? And if we isolate the weenie receptions and remove them from the equation, can we separate the men from the boys and the downfield bombers from the dump-off pretenders?

The Short Circuit

Through Week 11, a total of 1,560 passes were completed for gains of five yards or less. That figure includes 76 completions for no gain and 121 completions for a loss. In an average game, each team completes about five passes that net five yards or less.

The Ravens lead the league with 75 of these short passes. They are followed by the Cardinals (70), Eagles (68), Patriots (66), Buccaneers (65), Packers (64), Lions (60), Bengals (60), Rams (56), and Redskins (54). Palmer, clearly, is among the league leaders in dink-and-dunk completions.

The Giants are at the bottom of the list; Eli Manning and company have completed just 30 passes of five yards are less. The bottom five also includes the Steelers (31), Niners (31), Falcons (34), and Panthers (37).

The raw data on short passes is polluted by several factors. First, we are dealing with the results of plays, not the actual lengths of the throws. If Tiki Barber catches a 36-inch toss and runs 36 yards, that play is not in the data. But that's not a very big problem. After all, a quarterback who spots a player two yards away with an acre of open field in front of him deserves credit for an alert read and a wise decision. The "short completions" we are looking for are plays that went nowhere, the ones that had almost no offensive value.

But some short receptions are important. First downs and touchdowns are included in the totals above; while three-yard completions aren't very impressive in most situations, they can be extremely important on third-and-2 or at the three-yard line. The Eagles threw 15 short passes that resulted in first downs or touchdowns, the Patriots 14. These passes aren't the weenie throws we're looking for.

Discard the first downs and touchdowns and the order of the top 10 changes somewhat. The Ravens and Cardinals still lead the way with 69 and 63 "useless" short passes. The Buccaneers rise to third with 55, followed by the Packers (54), Eagles (53), Lions (53), Rams (53), Patriots (53), Rams (52), Bengals (49) and Vikings (48). The Redskins drop to 11th with 46. The Giants threw just 21 useless short passes, the Steelers 23, the Falcons and Panthers 27 each.

The data contains another, more powerful pollutant: many of the teams with the most short passes are simply the teams that throw the ball the most. The same is true at the bottom of the list. The Cardinals (420) lead the league in pass attempts, followed by the Eagles, Rams, and Packers; the Ravens (believe it or not) and the Patriots are also among the top 10. The Niners (231) and Steelers (240) have attempted fewer passes than any other team, with the Panthers and Falcons among the bottom ten. In other words, there's a self-selection bias at work: obviously, when one team throws 190 more passes than another, they'll complete a few more three-yarders.

The best way to filter out this bias is to simply divide by attempts. By dividing completions of five or fewer yards (minus first downs and touchdowns, so teams aren't penalized for short-but-clutch throws) and dividing by attempts, you get Short Completion Percentage. Here are the top five and bottom five in this category.


Short Completion Top Five
Team Short Comp%
Ravens 19.2
Bucs 17.9
Lions 16.4
Bills 15.8
Cardinals 15.0
Short Completion Bottom Five
Team Short Comp%
Giants 7.2
Seahawks 9.4
Raiders 9.5
Panthers 9.5
Steelers 9.6

Suddenly, the data seem intuitive. Anyone who has watched a Ravens, Bills, or Lions game knows that those teams are constantly dumping passes to running backs or asking their receivers to run short hitches or drag routes. Steelers and Panthers fans know that when their quarterbacks drop back to pass, they mean business. The Eagles may have completed 68 short passes, but take away the touchdowns and first downs and divide by attempts, and they earn a Short Completion Percentage of 12.8, almost precisely league average. The Bengals, at 14.8 percent, are sixth: Palmer may have a little padding in his numbers, but he's not a chronic offender.

Rinky-Dink-and-Dunk

Other players and teams have much more helium in their figures. Critics of the quarterback rating statistic certainly have a case when talking about the Ravens, Lions, and other teams near the top of the Short Completion Percentage table. Think about it: 19.2 percent of Kyle Boller or Anthony Wright's pass attempts result in a meager gain. That works out to 31.5 percent of their completions. Baltimore quarterbacks complete 60.8 percent of their passes, Bucs quarterbacks 61.7 percent; they are above the league average, and the NFL's antiquated passer rating system judges them to have outstanding accuracy and efficiency. Our eyes tell us otherwise.

In fact, it might be informative to wipe out all of these short passes by subtracting each team's Short Completion Percentage from its real completion percentage. The result isn't quite a "long completion percentage" -- remember that many 20-yard passes begin life as one-yard dumpoffs, and incomplete short passes aren't removed from the data -- but it's a decent estimate of a team's effectiveness when actually throwing down the field.

The table below shows the top teams in Non-Weenie Completion Percentage, for want of a better term. Also included is each team's rank in real completion percentage

Non-Weenie Completion Percentages
Team Non-Weenie Real Rank
Colts 57.6 2
Bengals 54.7 1
Seahawks 53.8 7
Chargers 53.4 4
Rams 53.3 3
Cowboys 52.1 6
Packers 50.9 5
Broncos 50.5 13
Giants 50.2 24

Some of the league's most effective offenses top the non-weenie list, but they also are among the leaders in old-fashioned completion percentage (and quarterback rating, for that matter). The Giants are an interesting case, as Eli's low completion percentage seems out-of-whack with the rest of his stats. The numbers above suggest that the younger Manning isn't completing many dump-off passes, opting instead to take shots downfield or throw the ball away. His high completion percentage on longer passes suggests that he's very effective when putting a little distance on his throws.

The Dolphins' completion percentage drops to 38.4 (from 50.9) when the short tosses are removed. The Niners, Bears, Jets, Ravens and Lions join them near the bottom of the list. Only the Ravens are above the league average in actual completion percentage. Take out the dump-offs, and they take their rightful place among the league's weakest offenses.

As for Palmer, well, he completes some weenie passes, but he completes a heck of a lot of long throws as well.

Micro Throw-aways

But wait, you say: why are four and five-yard passes being lumped into this study? A five-yard pass on 1st-and-10 is a pretty good play. Two five-yard passes equal a first down. What happens if you limit the study to really short completions?

The first thing that happens is that the data sample shrinks, and it doesn't shrink proportionally. Those 68 short passes thrown by the Eagles? It turns out that 40 of them earned four or five yards. Of the Patriots' 66 shorties, 41 were relatively productive. Meanwhile, only 32 of the Ravens' 75 short passes earned four or five yards. It seems like some teams use the "long handoff" more effectively than others.

The teams that complete the most "super-short" or "eenie-weenie" passes are the Ravens (11.9 percent of attempts), Lions (11.8), Bills (11.7), Vikings (10.7), and Bears (10.5). All bad offenses, to be sure, but the Bengals (10.0) and Chargers (9.2) are among the top ten. Only 4.2 percent of the Steelers' pass attempts net three or less yards.

If you count only passes that gain more than three yards, the Colts have a completion percentage of 63.6. The Rams, Seahawks, Bengals and Chargers round out the top five. The bottom five looks familiar: Miami (42.7 percent), San Francisco (43.7), Chicago (44.4), the Jets (45.6), and the Bills (47.3). The Ravens are seventh from the bottom

Little Wings

So who is responsible for all of these mostly harmless little dinks and dunks: conservative offensive coordinators, skittish quarterbacks, or receivers who can't make moves in the open field? That's a knotty question; the answer is certainly all three, to a certain degree.

When a team changes quarterbacks, sometimes its percentage of short completions changes drastically. In Buffalo, Kelly Holcomb completed a short pass (five yards or less) on 18.9 percent of his attempts. J.P. Losman's Short Completion Percentage is 9.6 percent. Holcomb's regular completion percentage is significantly higher than Losman's, with short throws comprising much of the difference.

A similar split occurs in Tampa, where Brian Griese completed 20.1 percent of his attempts for shorties, Chris Simms 12.7 percent. On the other hand, Daunte Culpepper's Short Completion Percentage was 13.4; Brad Johnson's is 15.3. The numbers are similar, though the players themselves have different strengths, and Culpepper completed about 10 percent more throws overall. The Vikings playbook must emphasize short passes to some degree, with decidedly mixed results.

Because you are curious: Joey Harrington completes 14.5 percent of his passes for short gains, Jeff Garcia 18.8 percent. Garcia's data sample is really too small to be useful.

Most short passes are thrown to running backs, so it makes sense that two of the best receiving backs in the NFL lead the league in short receptions: LaMont Jordan (17) and Brian Westbrook (16).

Both Jordan and Westbrook are capable of breaking free any time they touch the ball, so it makes sense that their quarterbacks keeping feeding them short throws. Third-down backs and all-purpose backs also catch lots of short passes, so Chris Perry (14), Chester Taylor (14) Obafemi Ayanbadejo (14), Ronnie Brown (13), Marcel Shipp (12) and Shawn Bryson (12) are all among the league leaders in short receptions. LaDainian Tomlinson also has 12.

Passes to Tomlinson and Jordan are worth the risk of a two-yard gain, but what about passes to Justin Peelle, Josh Parry, John Paul Foschi, or Derrick Wimbush, all of whom caught multiple short passes this year? Wimbush had three receptions as of Week 11, none of which cleared the five-yard mark. Sometimes, the quarterback would have been better off taking a shot downfield or trying to run; Peelle, for example, lost yardage on one third-and-12 catch. But a closer look at the data shows that even fullbacks and backup tight ends can help the offense by gaining five yards on first down or four yards on second-and-5. One of Wimbush's three catches, for example, converted a fourth down.

Wide receivers don't run many routes shorter than five yards, but drags, hitches, and "bubble screens" are popular this year. Derrick Mason has caught 13 short passes, paying a price after many of them. Deion Branch, Larry Fitzgerald, and Muhsin Muhammad each have 11 short receptions.

The Patriots throw more dump-offs to wide receivers than most teams; Tom Brady's quick tosses to Branch, Givens, and others are clearly designed to gain a few yards while stretching the defense horizontally. When Mason or Muhammad catches a four-yard pass, it looks more like a desperation strategy: get the ball to the playmaker, and maybe he'll make 20 moves and score a touchdown.

For the record, the shortest completion of the year was a catch by Jamal Lewis that lost nine yards. It was one of five completions by the Ravens that lost yardage. The Vikings lead the league in receptions for a loss, with nine, split mostly between Michael Bennett and Mewelde Moore. The Lions have completed eight passes for a loss.

Summing it Up

Obviously, the straw-man criticism of Carson Palmer at the start of this essay was unwarranted. Palmer completes a lot of passes, period: short ones, medium ones, long ones. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees can say the same thing. Take away the occasional two-yard dunk to the fullback, and these players still have great completion percentages and excellent stat lines.

On the other hand, some players and teams are clearly over-reliant on short completions. Players like Anthony Wright and Joey Harrington complete a lot of passes, but so many of them yield meager gains that they aren't doing their teams any good. You can argue that even a two-yard completion is better than an incompletion, but what about a two-yard completion versus a 10-yard Wright scramble? Three two-yard completions, or three shots further down the field, one of which could gain 20 yards?

Many of the league's weakest offenses -- the Lions, Ravens, Bills, Bears, and others -- appear to be gorging on these non-nourishing little plays. But is this cause or effect? Does throwing too many short passes make their offenses bad? Or does offensive ineptitude lead to lots of three-yard catches?

The Patriots, Bengals, and Chargers are able to handle these weenie completions just fine. The Eagles used them wisely before everyone was hurt. The Panthers, Falcons and Steelers eschew them altogether in favor of something called a running game. And of course, the 49ers complete so few passes in general that they throw everyone else's stats off.

There's more data here than conclusions. And there are other questions. What about short completions in wins versus losses? On first down versus other downs? What about six-yard completions?

What we need is a way to measure the value of all of these plays. How useful is that three-yard completion on second-and-6? How many of a quarterback's completions are essentially useless? Maybe each individual pass can be rated, compared to league averages, and adjusted based on the game situation. That would be an excellent measure of pass offenses and of quarterbacks. It would take away most of the biases and numerical padding, leaving us with just the true value of a team or player's performance.

Oh, yeah. I just described DVOA.

(Notes: All statistics calculated through Week 11 except for those pertaining to Palmer in the opening paragraphs. Individual quarterback Short Completion Percentages, like the Griese-versus-Simms comparison, do not include short completions for first downs or touchdowns.)

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 02 Dec 2005

74 comments, Last at 16 Mar 2012, 1:32pm by parissportif

Comments

1
by Tootie (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 3:53pm

"Three two-yard completions, or three shots further down the field, one of which could gain 20 yards?"

Otherwise known as the Brad Johnson approach vs. the Mike Tice/Daunte Culpepper approach. Hucking the ball downfield dumbly like that causes picks, which is why, in spite of Culpepper's higher completion percentage, he also has a much higher interception percentage.

2
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:20pm

As a Bengals fan who has watched 10 of their 11 games this season there is no way Palmer is a dink-and-dunk QB. After watching a season full of downfield throws to Chad Johnson, TJ and Chris Henry this analysis has got to be missing something. Doesn't this "reward" QBs who are bad at throwing short passes? (It's not as though all dink-and-dunk throws get completed, and a QB who makes a habit of missing on all the safe screens and dunks that are called might be made to look good in the above analysis)

Remember, passer rating does include yds/attempt, so it's not as though confining oneself to 3 yrd dumpoffs is going to really boost one's rating. The only thing Palmer has done to "pad" his stats this year is lead the league in TD passes whilst throwing only 7 INTs.

3
by Ted Max (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:25pm

An outstanding piece! Not only does it lead us through an interesting detective story, but it brings us full circle back to why DVOA-like statistics are so much more meaningful than yards, completion percentage, etc., alone. Well done.

This article suggests an interesting question: Is the so-called West Coast offense a waste of time? There's more to it, obvously, but from the way talking heads tell us, the "West Coast" offense involves lots of dinky passes and rare tosses downfield, and that's supposed to be a good thing.

I find myself tearing my hair out while I watch "West Coast offense" teams throwing two yard passes to wide receivers and expecting them to juke their way eight more yards for the first down. Since dinky passes (except in third down/goal to go situations) don't help a team win and can be a sign of a crappy offense in general, why is a system based on dinky passes supposed to be so great?

Somebody who understands the misnamed "West Coast Offense" step up and fill us in. Is the West Coast offense just another word for "a gutless passing game and no running attack"? DVOA should be able to help us here, so an article comparing "West Coast" DVOAs with other offensive approaches would also be terrific.

4
by Craig (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:25pm

Coming from a Detroit fan, this pretty much hits the nail right on the head. Constant risks taken for meaningless rewards. Its nice to see the numbers quantitatively show us what our eyes can qualitatively see every Sunday: the Lions are aweful.

5
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:30pm

#3:

Tell that to the 49ers of the 1980s and early 1990s, Denver, Seattle, the Chargers of the 1970s and early 1980s, etc.

6
by Another Craig B (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:31pm

So, so many shots at other men's masculinity in one article. Think someone's overcompensating for something?

7
by Nathan (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:31pm

Really fun article, first one in a while i've really really enjoyed. Thanks.

8
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:31pm

Sorry, guess I'm taking the insult to my man Palmer's manhood a little personally, but:

the Bengals WRs, Chad Johnson, Chris Henry, TJ Houshmandzadeh and Kevin Walter combine to catch 159 of the Bengals 252 completions (63%) and have averages per reception of 16.4, 12.8, 13.7 and 11.9. Considering Chad alone has at least 4 receptions longer than 40 yards that I can remember off the top of my head, I think it's fair to say there's some downfield passing going on in Cincy.

9
by geoff (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:35pm

If Tiki Barber catches a 36-inch toss and runs 36 yards, that play is not in the data. But that’s not a very big problem.

Jeez, I hope it's at least kind of a big problem, otherwise I've wasted all this time charting these games...

10
by Smeghead (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:37pm

Great article, Mike. That's what keeps me coming back here.

11
by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:39pm

Ryan (#2 & #8) - ummm... did you read the entire article?

Obviously, the straw-man criticism of Carson Palmer at the start of this essay was unwarranted. Palmer completes a lot of passes, period: short ones, medium ones, long ones.

12
by doktarr (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:40pm

Ryan #2 -

Not sure what you're complaining about. The article leader is just a tease to get you thinking. Your conclusion is the same as the one that the article comes to. Read the paragraph following "Summing it up".

13
by Pit Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:43pm

#2 and #8: Seriously guys, if you can take the time to comment, take the time to read the entire article. A lot of thought goes into this stuff (and it's free!)

14
by emcee fleshy (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:47pm

Finishing the article before commenting can be fun and informative!

15
by Sam O (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:47pm

It seems fairly obvious that #2 Ryan did not read the entire article thoroughly.

16
by emcee fleshy (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:47pm

dangit Pat!

17
by Mike M (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:49pm

#2,8: Did you actually read the whole article? In particular, this quote at the beginning of the "Summing It Up" section: Obviously, the straw-man criticism of Carson Palmer at the start of this essay was unwarranted.

18
by doktarr (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:50pm

Ted Max #3 -

I'm not an expert, but my understanding is that "West Coast offense = short passing" is not true. I think the fundamental ideas of the WCO are

1) A timing-based offense where passes are thrown quickly and the QB must go through the progressions quickly and in a specific order, and

2) Receivers run routes where they are in a position to run downfield after the catch without completely changing directions.

So, as I understand it, a team can be running a "West Coast Offense" whether they are run-heavy or pass-heavy, and whether they like the dink pass or not.

But I'm probably dreadfully wrong, so hopefully someone more knowledgable than me will chime in.

19
by Mike M (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:50pm

Um... jinx!

20
by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:52pm

Ok, this is the part where we start parodying people who don't read the entire article by not reading the previous comments, right?

21
by doktarr (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:52pm

wow, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 17 are ALL letting Ryan know he should read the article before writing two long comments.

22
by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:54pm

Ack, that comment came out much snootier than I intended. Always use the smiley!

23
by stan (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 4:58pm

Why is Brady included in this statement? "Obviously, the straw-man criticism of Carson Palmer at the start of this essay was unwarranted. Palmer completes a lot of passes, period: short ones, medium ones, long ones. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees can say the same thing."

Colts, Bengals and Chargers rank 1,2,4 in your non-weenie completion percentage stat. But I don't think I saw the Patriots listed on your chart.

24
by Tootie (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 5:03pm

You do realize that throwing a two yard weenie pass is better than forcing the ball downfield, right?

25
by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 5:04pm

Why is Brady included in this statement?

You have no right to talk about the Patriots. You should be worrying about your own team.

26
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 5:08pm

To all the numerous people who asked whether or not I read the article: the answer is yes, I did. The article ranks the Bengals as the sixth highest "short-pass" team, hence my question about the methodology in my first comment.

Sometimes it's nice to read people's comments before responding to them too!

Conversely if the dig at Carson Palmer is not warranted then why start with it? Taking a shot at the league's top-rated QB when the rest of the analysis doesn't support your criticism of the guy is the kind of writing that I come to this site to get away from.

27
by doktarr (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 5:18pm

To all the numerous people who asked whether or not I read the article: the answer is yes, I did. The article ranks the Bengals as the sixth highest “short-pass” team, hence my question about the methodology in my first comment.

Yes, it does. It also ranks them as the second highest "Non-Weenie Completion" team, behind only the Colts. Hence the conclusion that the article makes, which is that the Bengals complete a lot of passes in ALL situations, and Palmer's completion percentage is not significantly inflated.

In other words, the article DIRECTLY addresses this point. And agrees with you.

Conversely if the dig at Carson Palmer is not warranted then why start with it?

The article leads with a description of a common misconception, and then sets about dismantling it. It is a common literary device used in in-depth pieces like this. Nothing wrong with it.

28
by Reinhard (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 5:27pm

A question that wasn't really raised in the article was whether or not the short completions are the result of good coverage/bad "getting openness" down the field. Too bad that there seems to be now real way to measure this... the statistics on the backup qbs is a good idea. But I'd be interested in how the numbers between the two qbs differed further. Of course, it would have to be adjusted for opponent. And take into account the game situation and field position.

29
by J Martin (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 5:32pm

I think the concept of “West Coast Offense� (WCO) needs to be properly defined.

My take: A more horizontal than vertical, timing oriented, ball control offense that can be used to set up the run.

{There is debate about Bill Walsh’s idea of the WCO differing from the original Air Coryell idea. But, that’s another discussion.}

Those who use the WCO clearly want to go vertical, but the offense must manage the middle of the defense—the backers and the “under� safety—before they do so: suck them up toward the line of scrimmage. You can do that with either a strong running game or quick “Ins� or “Outs� to particularly quick receivers. The quick, timed passes to the receivers are done in anticipation of that one missed tackle. The defense adjusts by moving personnel closer to the line of scrimmage to avoid that missed tackle.

It’s all about getting your numbers v. their numbers in order. It’s football!

To confuse “dink and dunk� passes by Rookie or struggling QB’s with WCO execution is the issue. Is Joey Harrington or Chris Simms or Kyle Orton really running a WCO or are they provided “outs� in anticipation if their growing pains with reading defenses? I believe the latter.

30
by Mike Tanier :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 5:32pm

I started with Carson Palmer because he leads the league in completion percentage.

When I first started writing, the intro was about Brees, who was the completion percentage leader before Sunday.

I didn't mean to take a dig at Palmer or Brees, but to sift through the data and show that there are some QBs who do throw too many shorties, like Harrington and the Ravens guys.

I also didn't mean to take shots at anyone's manhood. I was referring to frankfurters!

In most cases a two-yard pass is better than a forced pass down field. But I think some QBs may be dumping the pass off a little to quickly. "Oh, he's slightly covered, I'll jyst check down to the QB." Or that some coaches teach "risk aversion" to such a fault that they actually hurt the offense.

Like someone said before, I wanted to set up an argument then knock it (mostly) down.

31
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 5:32pm

#27: so if the opening paragraph is detailing a common misconception, then who exactly was it who thought that Cincy were a dink-and-dunk offense? Before reading that Palmer's throws were "quick screens to Hooch that lose yardage. Or out-patterns by Kevin Walter that lose yardage. Or flairs to Chris Perry for one yard." I hadn't heard/read anybody else claim Palmer was throwing a lot of dumpoffs this year.

The really interesting thing about this article is that the teams who are accused of "padding" their stats with short passes are the teams with really, really poor stats (eg. Lions, Bills, Ravens) Guess that padding ain't working out too well for some teams.

32
by doktarr (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 5:49pm

OK, last comment in this useless semantic debate.

Who is making these criticisms? Well, just read the article. "Modern quarterbacks execute sissy throws so they can pump up their rankings in that namby-pamby “efficiency rating” statistic that doesn’t work and nobody believes in. Or so some critics suggest."

So the answer is "some critics". Nobody is named. And later on he identifies this argument as a straw man. I've certainly heard people argue that modern efficiency ratings are inflated, although I haven't heard anyone call out Palmer specifically.

Again, it was a literary device to jump-start the piece. Everyone agrees with your substantive points, including the author of the article. Let's all get over it.

JM #29, thanks for the WCO details.

33
by Chris I. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 5:50pm

Not surprised that the Bears are one of the leaders in the "eenie-weenie" pass category. The infuriating thing is that they have been doing this for the last decade or so. It doesn't seem to matter who the head coach is or who the offensive coordinator is or who the players are -- the Bears just continue to dink and dunk and stink and stunk offensively.

34
by pawnking (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 5:55pm

This is the kind of analysis I cannot get anywhere else. This is why I come to FO. Very very well done.

35
by Kachunk (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 6:03pm

Re #27: Except that it sets off people with short fuses who feed their egos vicariously through the accomplishments of professional athletes.

36
by tom (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 6:20pm

re 29, I think that's a pretty good starting definition, and a good example of this is Philadelphia's monday night game against the Cowboys a few weeks back; Mcnabb threw to Josh Parry, Brian Westbrook and LJ Smith, to set up 3 consecutive rushes that led to a TD in the Eagles first drive. they took a lot of time before throwing to the wideouts, and that wasn't all about TO's absence. Apart from the meltdown at the end, every time the Cowboys took away the wideout pass, Mcnabb just went back to the short game or the run game and kept on truckin'. the end-of-game meltdown aside, it worked really well, and should have won the game for them as a well-run WCO does for lots of teams. By the way, linked from my name is an interesting site about the WCO, which I think that I got from someone on here a few months back, but is fairly useful.

37
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 6:29pm

But I think some QBs may be dumping the pass off a little to quickly. “Oh, he’s slightly covered, I’ll jyst check down to the QB.� Or that some coaches teach “risk aversion� to such a fault that they actually hurt the offense.

Can said coaches go to Green Bay and give Brett Favre a hand?

38
by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 6:52pm

#29: Great comment. The thing that's always bugged me most about discussions of the West Coast Offense is the ambiguity of it. If the Denver offense gets lumped into the same category as Philly, then I think it's time we re-thought our terms. Or, to quote Fezzig, "I do not think that word means what you think it means."

The other thing is when people start treating the scheme independently of the personnel running it (much like the 3-4 vs. 4-3 debates). As with every other offense, you can't just plug anyone into the system and expect to get the next Montana/Rice/Craig. That's one of the oft-overlooed things I like about Parcells - he ran 4 very different offenses with his 4 very different teams (5 offenses, if you consider the Quincy Carter Cowboys against the Drew Bledsoe Cowboys).

39
by foos (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 7:01pm

#38: wasn't that Inigo Montoya?

40
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 7:21pm

I'm glad we have returned to the old style of FO articles where the author says something nice about a team or player and that team/player's fans take offense. Not to mention another argument about what "West Coast Offense" really means.

41
by fromanchu (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 7:29pm

minor quibble
i raelly doubt qbs are making these throws thinking "qb rating, qb rating," or "my completion percentage is a little low, better make some short throws."
more liekly, they're thinking short pass is better than a sack.

42
by Browns Dude (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 7:44pm

#2,#8.

RyanMc,

Relax, dude. Read the entire article.

Palmer is great and completes all kinds of passes.

43
by Dave (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 7:56pm

I love the fact that someone can misattribute a quote from The Princess Bride and be corrected one post later.

44
by dbt (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 7:57pm

#33: In defense of this year's Bears team, every time Kyle takes a shot deep it's terrible. Hopefully the Packers defense is bad enough to allow us to air it out a little this week. Ron Turner's play calling was pretty good in 1995.

45
by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 8:20pm

Oh sh!#t - now I have to reconsider my opinion of Eli... why couldn't this have come earlier in the week, before I talked smack to all of my Giant fan friends and co-workers!?!?

46
by Darren Willett (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 9:29pm

Hi BlueStarDude

Send some more Cowboys Faithful to the site. It just might make the message board conversations a little bit more stimulating.

47
by Matt (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 10:13pm

When is a useless two-yard completion better than an incompletion? Ask Mike McMahon. His brilliant line vs. Green Bay on Sunday: 12 for 28 for 96 yards. Twenty-eight pass attempts for under 100 yards!!! That's not easy to do, folks. He couldn't even complete the useless micropasses! At least it gave momentary pause to all those in Eagles country murmuring that McNabb was selfishly holding the team back by playing hurt.

48
by Vash (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2005 - 11:39pm

25: Post of the Year.

49
by SteveGarvin (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 12:27am

Nice article...

Would be interesting to do this type of analysis over several seasons (from different eras) to see how approach has changed over time.

50
by SlantNGo (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 1:20am

What I've always taken as the definition of the West Coast Offense is one where your feet dictate your reads.

For example, in a traditional passing offense, the quarterback drops back, sees the safety in Cover-1, and realizes that his speedy wide receiver will get open on a deep curl pattern. He will then do what he needs to look off the defense, avoid the rush, etc. while waiting for his receiver to make his last cut, then throw it to him.

In a West Coast offense, the quarterback takes his drop, looks for his primary read. Not open? Hitch, adjust your feet to where your next read is. Not open? Check down to your back and try to dump it there. This type of offense is very timing based in that all of the receivers are designed to "get open" at a certain time. Rather than sticking with a receiver and waiting for him to get open, the QB is constantly adjusting his feet and looking for open receivers. Clearly, crossing routes work well for this type of offense, hence why the WCO is usually known as a horizontal, short passing offense.

51
by Fnor (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 3:06am

B: I think the "set up a straw man making a straw man so you can prove that straw man wrong by tearing down his straw man" scared off the people who would normally derail the incredibly rational discussion of whether or not Michael insulted Carson Palmer's manhood.

52
by Ted Max (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 1:58pm

See, I knew I didn't understand the WCO very well. Thanks for the useful comments.

Maybe this quote from the Unofficial West Coast Offense site explains my confusion: "The 49er West Coast offense relies on short passes turning into big plays with the ability of the skill players." The key here is "the ability of the skill players." Throwing a four yard pass to Jerry Rice got you something. Throwing one to Charles Rogers, not so much. Calling crappy offenses full of dinky, do-nothing passes "West Coast Offenses" sounds like an excuse for offenses that aren't doing anything useful.

Which leaves me with another question: If smart, experienced quarterbacks and skilled receivers are so crucial to the WCO, why do new coaches continually try to implement WCO's as part of a rebuilding scheme? Isn't this almost the WORST kind of offense for a inexperienced team with a young quarterback and talent deficits at key positions?

53
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 3:02pm

re 52: interesting question at the end there. Bill Walsh originally designed his offense whilst an assistant coach at Cincinnati. The Bengals had Greg Cook at QB in 1969, a strong-armed downfield passer (9.4 yds/attempt that year!), but he got injured and was replaced with the less athletically gifted Virgil Carter (although Sam Wyche and later Ken Anderson also saw playing time). Carter was a mobile QB, but without a strong arm and Walsh designed an offense of short passes which could be executed by a mobile but relatively weak-armed QB.

So, I guess I don't know the answer to your question now days, but originally Bill Walsh's offense (and he is usually acknowledged as the father of the WCO) was designed to accomodate an inexperienced QB of lesser athletic ability. Of course, the receivers would have been the same guys who were hauling in deep balls from Cook. (Bob Trumpy, a tight end, averaged 22.6 yds/catch in 1969!)

54
by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 4:44pm

re: 43

Dave, you had me crying. Didn't think it was funny til you pointed it out.

Dang I love you guys.

55
by John P (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 7:40pm

Great article! Thanks for crunching thru the number and sorting some of it out for us.

56
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 9:04pm

If anybody is still following this thread I'd love an explanation for this comment (seeing as I obviously don't understand the article at all):

"Critics of the quarterback rating statistic certainly have a case when talking about the Ravens, Lions...Baltimore quarterbacks complete 60.8 percent of their passes, Bucs quarterbacks 61.7 percent; they are above the league average, and the NFL’s antiquated passer rating system judges them to have outstanding accuracy and efficiency."

The NFL's rating system judges Joey Harrington to be 30th in efficiency, Anthony Wright 27th, Chris Simms 23rd and Brian Griese 21st. All are ranked in the bottom third of the league. How is this consistent with "outstanding accuracy and efficiency". I enjoy all the innovative analysis FO comes up with, but let's not just knock existing stats and ratings without the facts.

57
by Podge (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 10:07pm

But I think some QBs may be dumping the pass off a little to quickly. “Oh, he’s slightly covered, I’ll jyst check down to the QB.�

If that's not a QB padding his stats I don't know what is. A short completion and a reception.

Good article though. I think the terminology is slightly flawed though, because saying that the Ravens have 19% short pass completion rate sounds like they only complete 1 of 5 of their attempts of less than 5 yards. Obviously it doesn't mean this, and I'm not going to offer an alternative. I'm not a helpful guy.

I did think of a cheap crack at the Pats while I was reading the comments, but i forgot it. Sorry.

58
by Eric (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 10:28pm

I guess according to you Joe Montana was a "WEENIE".

59
by Jon (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 11:11pm

Ok...let me get this straight...Palmer inflates his stats, but still has a better Yards per Completion than every QB in the top 10 in passing yards not named Peyton (and even Peyton only has 8.15 YPC compared to Palmers 8.07).

Your thinking is completely flawed. If the strategy of each game is to simply win...what does it matter? The current holder of completion percentage for a season is former Bengals QB Kenny Anderson who ran, what else, the west-coast offense. That is the father of all "dink-dunk" passes scheme! Carson runs a Spread offense.

Sure, does he throw some short screens and slants? Absolutely. When DB's are 10 yards off the WR because they are afraid to be burned, you have to take what the defense gives you. Not every play can be a 50 yard bomb to Chad Johnson, although we would all love it!

Simply put, even the bad teams must be forced to do things that may not make sense. Poor David Carr and Harrington can not get protection long enough to run deep outs or deep posts. They MUST do short curls, hitches, and screens in order to maintain bodily funtions needed to live. The protection is that bad.

Is it fustrating at times to see a pass for 1 yard? Yes, it is. However, is it needed at times; no doubt about it. If teams are going to play DB's 10+ yards off the WR, and you can complete a pass for 4 yards, and another pass for 4 yards, and face 3rd and 2 or less every time...you would take your chances with that every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

Save your rant for something much more needed...like fixing the OT rules in the NFL.

60
by TomS (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 12:03am

RE: multiple comments:

while it is worthwhile to read the entire article prior to commenting, it is also worthwhile to read all the comments to the comments before commenting.

;-)

61
by TomS (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 12:08am

re#30 i think you ought to check you stats, Carson has lead the league in completion % for just about the entire year, being over 70% for much of it. You might be thinking of a single week when Brees has only 4 or 5 incompletes, but that was isolated to a single weeks' worth of stats.

just an observation...

62
by TomS (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 12:12am

re #43: just shows how well rounded a group we are! :-D

63
by dave whorton (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 3:10am

good article i love this kind of stuff. one thing i noticed though is the cardinals are 2nd in the league in completed pass plays of 20 yds or more with 51. new england is 1st with 53. the colts have only 36. the cardinals are also tied for 2nd with plays over 40 yds. very interesting.

64
by dave whorton (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 3:17am

new england and ariz. who are the to top passing teams of 20 yds or more are near the bottom with rushing plays of over 20 yds or more.

65
by Justus (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 4:31am

Ha ha! This week it is Bengals Fans. Who will be next?

#56 - Maybe this season features only QBs from Lake Woebegone and #30 is still a HOF-worthy performance. Kinda like how even the girl who comes at #12 (i.e. dead last) in the Playmate of the Year voting is still "oustanding looking".

I took that line to mean that Joey H's 56.9% official NFL accuracy rating for this season suggests he a more accurate passer than Otto Graham. Same if you look at QB ratings. I mean in 1950 (when they went 10-2, won the championship, led the conference in scoring, and he went to the Pro Bowl) Graham had 14 TDs and 20 INTs. Today you'd have to be playing for a pretty bad team to have a ratio like that and keep your starting job.

I certainly don't think Harrington is a better passer than Graham; I don't think I'm alone on that one. But just looking straight at official NFL stats doesn't give you that.

66
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 6:07pm

I thought I heard Walsh one time while coach of the 49's say that every defense comes into the game saying we have to stop the run. The "weenie" passes were there for the taking and a five yard pass on first down was as good and as frustrating to the defense as a five yard run. Combined with Coryell's passing tree it made for an effective offense picking up yardage with short passes that other offenses picked up with runs. Add the skills of a Rice and any offense would work

67
by Nick (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 6:12pm

Wouldn't it make more sense to look at passes that only travel a certain distance down the field, rather than the amount of yardage gained? It seems like a screen to Tomlinson that goes for 75 and a touch is considered a non-weenie pass, while the same pass to Shawn Bryson is a weenie pass. That might be part of the reason good offenses tend to throw fewer non-weenie passes. They have players that can turn those non-weenie passes into big gains.

68
by MikeT (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 10:46pm

Next year, with the FO Game Charting Project, we'll be able to do more with the actual "air length" of passes.

With that data, we may be able to come up with something about non-productive vs. productive short passes.

And I am still not sure how an article designed to compliment Carson Palmer and defend (to a degree) the QB rating stat was taken to mean exactly the opposite. Maybe my over-the-top tone in the opening paragraphs wasn't over-the-top enough for the internet :)

69
by Thane (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2005 - 7:39am

I think we are forgetting how well the SF WCO worked before Jerry Rice ever showed up. The 1984 Niners were arguably the best of the dynasty and they had Dwight Clark and Russ Francis as wideouts. The system relies more on a skilled quarterback who can make the reads quickly and accurately than it does on a wide receiver who can turn a short catch into a long gain.

Of course, when you add a wide receiver like that (Rice), it is only gravy to what the offense can do.

Two important variables this article doesn't consider: First, how does the receiver's Yards after Catch affect the utility of throwing short to him. I'm happy to dump four-yard passes to Rice all day if he can break one or two of them for a 40 yard gain.

Second, do teams with a lot of short completions draw the defense in and enable themselves to make long completions? This used to happen with the 49ers all the time. A handful of shorter passes followed by a long gainer when the secondary isn't ready for it.

The utility of short passes would go up a lot if you had receivers who could run with the ball and you were also setting yourself up for the deep ball.

70
by Nick (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2005 - 8:03am

- Mike Tanier fired up his computer, typed furiously, and spat out an essay onto FO. The reader tried to find any hint of new, thought-provoking analysis but was prematurely confronted by the comments section though exhausted from reading anti-short passing propaganda and DVOA loving.

Just as Carson Palmer's accomplishments are misrepresented by the small sampling of plays in the first paragraph, I guess I'll have to read some more articles to see if I'm wrong about Mike Tanier. I'm very surprised at the overwhelming number of commendations. I smell groupthink, is this simply BTF for football?

I just don't see why this article was anything special, other than explaining something relatively simple with as many words and little barbs as possible. I assume everyone here watches football, and has a pretty good idea of what most teams do. The best information in the whole essay is contained in the charts (short completion % and non-weenie completion %) but could be easily imagined in a general sense by most. Illustrating this point exactly is a line from the essay: "Suddenly, the data seem intuitive..." - Oh, so you've been telling everyone what they already know over a couple thousand words?

Getting tackled for losses/no gain/short gain is bad, thanks for the insight.
Getting the ball to a playmaker is a better play than passing it to someone who will take 2 steps and get tackled you say?
Good offenses can gain yardage despite some bad downs, while bad ones can't?

Can't believe how much of this good stuff I've been missing and not knowing for soo long.

71
by emcee fleshy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 10:34pm

yards per attempt appears line up with this analysis as well.

Conclusion- to increase YPA, throw the ball farther, more often.

This is also shown by the fact that total yards have almost no correlation with completion percentage.

72
by emcee fleshy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/08/2005 - 11:22pm

Yards per catch and yards per attempt also correlate quite positively.

Throw it down the field!

73
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