2011 Play-Action, Offense

2011 Play-Action, Offense
2011 Play-Action, Offense
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Rivers McCown

Continuing our look into the many, many tables to be completely revealed in Football Outsiders Almanac 2012, today we'll look at play-action passes. Our game charting project tirelessly catalogs the plays that are run over the course of an entire season, marking (among other things) play-action looks. A massive thanks to those involved, from someone who has been working for the project since the 2007 season: your effort really helps to further the statistical revolution in football.

We've seen a pretty settled pattern of play-action passes for the past couple of years. NFL teams ran play-action 17 percent of the time during the 2008 season, and that number has been gradually ticking up from 18 percent in 2009 and 2010 to 19 percent last season. Last year, the Ravens ran play-action more than any other team, but this year they actually cut back on it and fell out of the top 10. This year's champion is another of the clubs you'd expect: Houston.

The Texans went from a team that loved the play-action to a team that needed to run play-action once T.J. Yates took over at quarterback. In fact, of Yates' 150 non-penalty dropbacks last year, 59 of them took place off play-action; nearly 40 percent of his throws. That's a big part of the reason why their 33 percent figure is the highest we've recorded over the past five years. However, they were running it more often even with their regular offense: 93 of Matt Schaub's 308 dropbacks were play-action, roughly 30 percent.

There's a clearly-defined tier of teams that run the most play-action. Houston, Denver, St. Louis, and Washington have all finished in the top 10 in play-action pass percentage the last two seasons. That's a Shanahan team, a Shanahan-disciple team, Shanahan's old team, and ... the guy who replaced Shanahan in Denver. (Pat Shurmur was the St. Louis offensive coordinator in 2010, though.)

The team that ran play-action the least last year? That'd be the Buffalo Bills. Not really a surprise given Chan Gailey's pre-disposition towards the spread offense -- faking a handoff does require a little bit of time, after all. Buffalo was tied for last with Detroit in 2010, as well.

The list of teams that have been in the bottom 10 in percentage of play-action passes in each of the last two years: Bills, Lions, New York Giants, Tennessee, and Arizona.

The most effective play-action team by DVOA last year was New England, but they actually didn't run much play-action at all, and the increase over their normal passing DVOA wasn't very pronounced (just 19.8%). The team that improved the most using it? Denver went from a -28.9% DVOA on regular passes to a 39.2% DVOA off of play-action. It's almost like they had a quarterback that was known for not being an effective pocket passer back there.

The team with the worst play-action DVOA was, believe it or not, Jacksonville. Of course, the Jaguars had one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL last year anyway, but they ran play-action 22 percent of the time to try to take some pressure off their rookie quarterback. Blaine Gabbert, who mostly operated out of the spread in college, led the team to a -60.9% DVOA off play-action, a little over 35 percentage points behind than the second-worst team, Tampa at -25.1%. Anyone who watched Gabbert last year knows that footwork isn't exactly the most polished part of his skill set, so it would make sense that putting him in motion could lead to some poorly-placed balls.

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However, the biggest difference was not in Jacksonville, but in New York. The Giants finished with the fourth-best passing offense in the NFL, but said offense actually went from excellent to poor with the threat of a handoff. Big Blue had a 41.3% DVOA last year on pass plays without play-action, but that dipped all the way down to -21.1% on the fake. The Giants didn't run the ball much at all, and didn't run much play-action when they did. One anecdotal reason for this is that the Giants were so much more effective with three receivers on the field: as we showed in our preview of the strategic tendencies tables, the Giants tended to be most effective out of 11 personnel (i.e. one back and one tight end), and tended to use that more than any other formation. Just 18 percent of their plays out of that formation were runs. Naturally, without much on tape of them running from the formation, New York didn't have much reason to play-fake out of it either. The Giants ran a play-action pass with three or more wideouts on the field just nine times all season.

Below is the play-action data from 2011 for all teams, in descending order starting with the teams that used the most play-action. The columns in green represent performance with play-action on actual passes only, with sacks, scrambles, and intentional grounding removed.

2011 Play-Action Pass Statistics, Offense
Offense PA% Yds/Play
with PA
with PA
Yds/Pass with PA
(Actual passes only)
DVOA with PA
(Actual passes only)
no PA
no PA
HOU 33% 10.0 47.3% 10.2 47.1% 5.7 8.5% 4.3 38.8%
MIN 29% 6.6 -1.6% 6.6 -4.2% 5.4 -16.5% 1.3 14.9%
PHI 25% 8.3 9.3% 8.2 -0.2% 6.9 28.0% 1.4 -18.7%
STL 24% 5.8 -11.0% 5.8 -12.2% 4.5 -30.1% 1.3 19.1%
NO 23% 8.0 40.3% 8.1 40.9% 7.8 55.8% 0.2 -15.5%
DEN 23% 7.3 39.2% 7.4 38.5% 5.0 -28.9% 2.3 68.2%
SEA 22% 7.2 21.5% 7.4 21.8% 5.3 -0.4% 2.0 21.9%
JAC 22% 3.4 -60.9% 3.2 -69.5% 4.7 -29.6% -1.3 -31.3%
GB 22% 10.0 58.3% 10.5 63.4% 7.8 71.3% 2.2 -13.0%
WAS 21% 7.6 17.6% 7.8 17.8% 5.5 -5.3% 2.1 22.9%
CAR 20% 7.6 22.8% 7.6 21.4% 7.0 18.8% 0.6 4.0%
Offense PA% Yds/Play
with PA
with PA
Yds/Pass with PA
(Actual passes only)
DVOA with PA
(Actual passes only)
no PA
no PA
OAK 20% 6.5 -0.2% 6.4 -0.1% 7.4 14.6% -0.9 -14.7%
KC 20% 6.8 21.1% 6.8 17.5% 5.5 -19.5% 1.2 40.6%
NYJ 20% 5.9 1.7% 5.8 -1.0% 5.9 4.1% 0.1 -2.3%
SF 19% 7.8 50.5% 8.0 52.6% 5.5 7.5% 2.2 43.0%
CLE 18% 6.1 -1.5% 5.9 -9.5% 5.0 2.1% 1.0 -3.6%
ATL 17% 8.7 60.3% 8.7 60.3% 6.5 14.8% 2.2 45.5%
BAL 17% 6.7 1.4% 6.7 0.4% 6.3 18.6% 0.4 -17.2%
IND 17% 6.1 -11.2% 6.0 -13.7% 5.4 -12.5% 0.6 1.3%
CIN 16% 7.8 42.2% 7.8 40.8% 5.8 12.4% 1.9 29.9%
NE 16% 10.8 72.0% 11.0 73.1% 7.3 53.2% 3.5 18.7%
PIT 16% 7.6 3.9% 7.8 5.0% 6.9 30.3% 0.7 -26.4%
Offense PA% Yds/Play
with PA
with PA
Yds/Pass with PA
(Actual passes only)
DVOA with PA
(Actual passes only)
no PA
no PA
CHI 15% 7.1 2.6% 7.0 -0.8% 5.7 -19.4% 1.4 22.0%
MIA 15% 7.7 31.5% 7.7 29.2% 6.0 3.4% 1.7 28.1%
TB 15% 7.2 -25.1% 7.2 -29.7% 5.9 -2.3% 1.3 -22.8%
ARI 15% 8.3 30.3% 8.2 26.4% 5.6 -26.7% 2.7 57.0%
SD 15% 7.9 34.8% 8.0 34.4% 7.2 29.4% 0.7 5.4%
DET 14% 9.8 61.0% 9.7 58.9% 6.5 13.9% 3.4 47.1%
NYG 14% 6.3 -21.1% 6.4 -25.2% 8.0 41.3% -1.6 -62.4%
DAL 14% 7.5 46.2% 7.6 47.9% 6.9 28.0% 0.6 18.2%
TEN 12% 9.1 22.8% 9.3 23.6% 6.2 16.7% 2.9 6.2%
BUF 11% 7.0 2.9% 6.9 -4.3% 6.5 7.4% 0.5 -4.4%
NFL 19% 7.5 19.6% 7.6 18.2% 6.2 10.5% 1.3 9.1%


46 comments, Last at 05 Jul 2012, 5:24pm

1 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

Wow play action is usually only effective for the Eagles when Vick takes off

10 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

I wonder if that's because the Eagles tend to throw deep off play action, so they probably have a low completion percentage and DVOA doesn't much care for that kind of play. But that doesn't account for the yards per pass statistic off of play action, so maybe Vick is just bad at it.

11 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

Also, isn't their philosophy clearly, "Vick, if you see a lane on PA, take it." I think that Reid has been for a decade or so using PA as a tool to get his excellent scramblers at QB out into open space and give them an opportunity to extend and/or intentionally break plays.

Of course, another factor is that Vick's fakes are HORRIBLE and don't fool anybody, even with McCoy tearing it up in 2011. In essence,, what i think happens (and their numbers seem to back up) is that Vick is encouraged to use PA situations take off or dance around in the back-field as it opens bigger lanes... but that no one is really fooled, so he can't get off clean passes or short stuff to pump up his DVOA.

18 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

It could also be partly due to defenses keying on Vick keeping the ball. I've seen three defenders focus on Vick on plays where he gave the ball to McCoy, it probably didn't help that the Eagles' line wasn't the best in pass protection last year.

20 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

My most prominent memory of the Eagles' pass blocking last year would be their performance against the 49ers where Vick made five or so near miraculous escapes from the niner pass rush in the first half. I'm pretty sure Ray McDonald had him bang to rights twice in the pocket and Vick houdinied and made a huge play instead.

Vick is a double edged sword, he will yield sacks as a result of holding onto the ball while trying to evade the rush (and see over the line of scrimmage) but he also avoids sacks that many other qbs would give up. I don't think that my description of the Philly line is that far off.

Aside: I've become convinced that the best way to corral Vick is to bring a lane-disciplined blitz, it's just much easier to catch him within the confines of the pocket than it is in the open field and he has neither the height or the smarts to exploit the deficiencies in the pass coverage. I think that's what the niners did in the second half of that game.

21 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

The problem with a lane-disciplined blitz is that he's gotten good enough at reading defenses (pretty unbelievable, I know) that he can kill you on the blitz if it gets held up even a little. Exotic blitzes that confuse him (even if called several times in row) are still the best way to go. He panics and is likely to make a series of bad decisions if people come from crazy places at him.

Also, giving the Niners one once of credit for "winning" that game or doing anything other than witnessing the Eagles blow their own brains out with a series of the most ridiculous mistakes you will ever see in a game en route to winning by less a field-goal is pretty disingenuous. Even in the second half, there were missed field goals and idiotic fumbles - their defense was somewhat better, but Reid and Vick got ultra-conservative and than had a ton of bad luck. I don't give one once of credit to the 49er's for that loss... (The niners were also lucky to get a shot at them so early in the season back when their defense was still the worst in the league.)

But, yeah, the Eagles' pass protection woes are wildly over-stated - there's at least a dozen in the league with far worse lines than the Eagle's had in 2011.

25 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

As a 49ers fan, I heartily agree with the sentiment here. That game was just silly all the way around. Unfortunately, I don't think these teams play each other next year, except perhaps in the playoffs.

I actually recently went through a bunch of Eagles games on Rewind. Their season felt like it had a pretty definite arc: early season was terrible from a discipline and defense standpoint, then a really strong midseason form that just looked really scary, then Vick gets injured and Vince Young sucks, sinking the remainder of the season into a dark abyss. As a result, I really don't have any sort of feel for how this team is going to do in 2012. Is this about right CB?

31 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

Well, they closed out the season with 4 straight blow-out wins (the smallest margin of victory was 13 points, the largest 26 points) and they were in serious playoff contention until the final week of the season, so the dark abyss wasn't really there until the last game. Their season really came down to two games which slipped away from them in a ridiculously frustrating fashion: the 49er's game that they absolutely had to go out of their way to lose (seriously, watch that Ronnie Brown goal-line fumble/lateral again and then Maclin's game-ending fumble. Or the two missed field goals, both under 40 yards - Henery only missed ONE OTHER FG all season.) and the Cardinals game where Vick got injured early, sucked all game. That Cards game was decided by a deflected pass that ending up flying forward to be caught for a TD and a goal-line stand that went on forever. Eagles win either of those games and the Giants are Superbowl champs because they don't make the playoffs.

And also remember that 5 of the 8 Eagles losses were decided by a TD or less. 3 of those close losses came early in the season when their defensive was decisively #32 worst in the league by a good margin in DVOA. Another 2 of their losses came with Vince Young at the helm. And they still didn't have a losing season. I've been up and down about them this off-season, but I am 100% certain this team will compete in 2012 at to the level that they competed in 2011 - which is to say, without having to be delusional, you can see how much had to go wrong for them not to be a 10-6, 11-5 team.

I think injury luck is the big question mark and losing Jason Peters, the best tackle in the league in 2012, for the season could really kill their chances. McCoy was running through holes the size of a refrigerator and then Peters was getting in shots at guys on the second level, knocking down safeties twenty yards up the field as McCoy wended his way along in his wake. Plus, I'm not sure Kafka/Foles as Vick back-up is such a great plan. You know they're going to see the field at some point in 2012, probably for several games (or worse) and I'm just not sure how far Kafka and Demetrius Bell can carry them. Also, if one of the CB's goes down, there's nobody even remotely proven behind them. The drop-off from Asomugha to Curtis Marsh might be worse than Vick to Kafka.

Anyways, (you shouldn't have asked) but by the end of the season last year, I felt as good about them as I have any Eagles' team since 2004. They were on fire and I know they plowed through some chumps in Miami and Washington, but they also destroyed the playoff hopes of Dallas and the Jets right when those teams needed to make a stand and had as much on the line as they did all season. Sometimes I feel like they're going to run away with the division in 2012 because of how good they were by the end of 2011 and the ways in which they strengthened their d-line and LB's. Other times, I think betting on Vick to stay useful for anything in neighborhood of 19 games, that getting rid of their best defensive player somehow making their pass defense better and the loss of Peters to not sting like hell is not the safest of bets.

34 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

I'm glad I asked! And yes, I have watched the Brown and Maclin fumbles many many times. One additional note on that game: even though the Eagles did their best to give the game away, the niners weren't doing much with it, especially in that first half. The niners matched two eagles missed FGs with two of their own with Akers (one is marked blocked), who was pretty spectacular all season. And the Ronnie Brown fumble was on 3rd/1, which is super costly when you're on the goal line, but not as costly as fumbling on 2nd/1.

More broadly, I was shocked last season that there weren't great records coming out of the NFCE. I felt that there were 3 strong teams, whose NFC divisional opponents were from the NFCW. My main concern with the eagles is that their offense just won't run without Vick, a QB who has the most injury-prone playing style of any in the NFL.

Man, September can't come quickly enough.

38 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

Even if they just take a field goal on the Brown fumble, that extra three points would have mattered - the 49er's only won by a single point. That Maclin fumble in FG range is just... ugh. He just falls down and drops it. How often are two unforced fumbles recovered by the opposing team to take the winning points off the board? I could respect the 49er's win if Brown literally hadn't thrown the ball to them or if Maclin had gotten hammered or something and hadn't just given it a "whoopsie!" and he went down. But... ugh. Both of those plays don't even feel like the missed FG, which, hey those things happen - the two fumbles feel like plays I can't believe happened in the game of professional football.

But yeah, Vick is the real issue with the 2012 team. He's a year older and has always been injury prone. His level of performance receded in 2011 from where it was in 2010, so another slight slide-back unrelated to injury isn't out of the question. And, as you point out, his back-ups couldn't be more different types of players than he is. Every scouting report notes Nick Foles (who apparently is on his way to stealing the #2 spot from Kafka) has extremely limited mobility and that his lack of movement might be a reason not to draft him. Kafka, also, is no runner and his weak little arm means that they can't run the deep stuff that Reid loves so much.

Also, how much damage Babin can inflict on the Eagles is going to be an issue - I just have that Seahawks game playing over and over in my mind where he makes an almost heroic effort to avoid helping in the run game. On Lynch's long TD, he runs away 7 yards away from him to spin for the QB and there's no one but Asante Samuel standing behind him. I'm not fooled by Babin's junk-time sacks (6 of them coming in 2 blowouts) and I hope Vinny Curry can play him our of a job or they let Fletcher Cox play DE next to Jenkins sometimes like they've suggested they'd look at...

(Yeah, since I don't foolow any sport but NFL football, I can't wait for September either. Also, I get to take a couple of hugely fun business trips then every year, so... bring on September.)

36 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

(The niners were also lucky to get a shot at them so early in the season back when their defense was still the worst in the league.)

To be fair, the Eagles were lucky to get the 49ers so early in the season when the new coaching staff was still measuring out small dollops of the play book.

37 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

Eagles defense were 32nd in DVOA (by a wide margin) all the way up until the Buffalo game... and ended the season 12th in DVOA. If the latter part of the season were the only thing taken into account, they would have probably been a Top 5 defense, maybe even higher - they had a 0.3% DVOA and Jacksonville at #5 had only a -6.6% DVOA. The Eagles played 5 games with a DVOA I believe around 40%. To get to 12th in league, they had to be playing at least on the level of the 49er's at -10.3% for the remainder of the season and probably well above it.

It might be possible that the 49er's had some playbook related improvement or whatever, but you should probably consider that their weighted DVOA was worse than their final DVOA. (They actually got worse as the season went along despite the magic playbook secrets!) Any Niner's fan who takes pride in that victory over the Eagles' should be ashamed of the themselves.

40 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

"Any Niner's fan who takes pride in that victory over the Eagles' should be ashamed of the themselves."

OK, this is getting annoying.

I'm sorry if I think that the long passes to Crabtree, the great runs by Gore and the catch and run from Davis are worth remembering. Perhaps I should disregard that the 49ers missed as many short field goals with their probowl kicker as the eagles did or that the eagles also recovered a fumble. Vick's absurd escape for his first TD pass is legit but any plays by the 49ers are bogus?

I am utterly flummoxed that you feel that Justin Smith had no influence on Maclin's fumble. You probably watch more of the Eagles than me but does Maclin just drop the ball on a regular basis? Maybe I should be ashamed of myself for thinking that the 295 lbs defensive lineman punching the ball out had some sort of impact on him fumbling? While the Ronnie Brown comedy fumble only cost Philly three points, that ignores that the 49ers had the ball at the end of the game and made no effort to score as they had the lead.

The 49ers regression in DVOA could have had something to do with them losing two of their top three receivers to injury, that tends to have an effect. It left them with Ted Ginn and a second year 6th round pick in Kyle Williams for the second and third recievers, which is pretty poor. I think what Bravehoptoad said is probably has some validity. (And the 49ers have added Moss, Manningham and AJ Jenkins to last years' group which should mean that they don't end up in that situation again.)

45 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

The 49er's made some plays without a doubt. But do you honestly feel like that was a game that proved anything about the quality of the 49er's? It was a stunning display of incompetency on the Eagles' part and you must know that deep down. It's fine, it happens and I definitely cherish my memories of Brian Dawkin's final game in Philly when they blew out the Cowboys, even though the Cowboys made a torrent of mistakes. The Eagles botched things up an down the field. I'm not criticizing the 49er's, but come on man, you must see that the Eagles' handed them that game. Take pride in the NFC Divisional Win or the well-played Championship game. Don't take pride in the another team's ridiculous fumbles, missed field goals and offense taking the second half off.

46 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

One thing it did show to the fan-base was that Alex Smith was capable of leading a comeback, no matter how flawed the team. Remember that, in week 4, the notion of Smith doing anything positive seemed silly.

Also, it inspired a great Onion video along the lines of "Reid Challenges 49ers TD on the grounds that it was thrown by Alex Smith."

22 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

The Bears have had a lot of success containing the Eagles, and it's mainly by not blitzing. Stay disciplined in your gaps while rushing 4. Have really fast linebackers that can corral Vick without needing extra guys in the box. Drop 7 guys into coverage, make sure Jackson and Maclin don't get behind the safeties, and force Vick to make accurate passes into small holes in zone coverage.

24 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

You don't need an very good pass rush to defend Vick. It helps, but he gets antsy on his own. If you can contain him and play good zone coverage you can get by with an average rush against him.

He's still not an accurate enough passer to thread the needle consistently, (and QBs who are like Peyton, Palmer, and Brady have torn up the Bears), and he gets antsy in the pocket when the play takes too long.

29 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

This is actually correct, although it should be noted that Vick has put up quite reasonable numbers recently against the Bears only to be let down by his defense. Last season the game hinged on a fake punt that frustratingly did not go for a TD. Vick had 213 yards, got sacked only once and averaged almost 7 yards a rush, so it's not like he got shut down. I think the stupid INT he threw was probably the best evidence that their strategy worked, but they were also in their "we need to get DJax more involved!" phase of the season which contributed to the mistake. And DJax's moronic fumble isn't Vick's fault either. Anyways, Cutler and Forte won that game at least as much as Vick was shut down...

30 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

I didn't actually say shut down, I said contain. And the Eagles have done worse against the Bears than their average.

The Eagles with Vick are an elite offense and the only way to shut down an elite offense is having an elite defense. Since most teams don't have elite defenses, the next best thing is to limit the offense as much as possible which is what the Bears have done.

I don't think most teams could do what the Bears can either. Most teams don't have linebackers resembling Urlacher and Briggs, and most teams don't run a zone coverage with the same precision that the Bears do either.

32 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

Gosh, I'm talking out both sides of my mouth. Not sure I agree about "containment" being the best you can do against Vick. I do think that teams like the Giants and Vikings have had more success than "containment" with exotic blitz packages and repeatedly hammering blitzes that have worked. Also, I'm not sure the Eagles with Vick are that elite- the best their pass offense featuring Vick has ranked is 12th. Their rushing attack has been excellent and, yes, that's partially on Vick, but a lot of teams have shut Vick down or gotten him to look terrible, so that should be every team's goal. Especially because some very mediocre defenses have been the ones to do the most damage and, as you admit, most defenses aren't nearly as good as the Bears. I guess both styles CAN work, but teams have definitely blown him up by going blitz-crazy as well...

35 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

Well Vick has never played all 16 games with the Eagles. He finished 8th in passing DVOA in 2010. Plus, he was 2nd in rushing DYAR among QBs last year and 1st the year before that.

The Vikings could easily be a one off game, and the Giants are just a weird team but they're very good at confusing zone blitzes.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it depends on the team and personal like most things. The Bears would get torn up trying to pull off exotic blitzes because they don't really have the personal or training to do so. On the other hand, they can play sound fundamental zone concepts and contain Vick and the Eagles because they have the athletes to do so. I have a feeling that more teams are able to latter than the former, but that could just be a product of watching the Bears so much.

39 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

The reason I can't make up my mind is that I agree the Bears have a good strategy for Vick in containing him, making him inch down the field and hoping he makes a mistake (to which he's easily prone) like taking a bad sack, fumbling or (more rarely) throwing an INT. You won't shut him down, but it work if you have personnel like the Bears. Whereas with a bad defense like the Vikings, I think trying to "contain" him and force him to make a mistake, we'll that's just asking for trouble. Constant crazy blitzes seem to work better - because Vick takes gambles and big shots on so many of his snaps, it makes sense for the defense to do the same and hope the Eagles' scheme devolves into a mess...

27 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

That's not the hard to replicate part. It's the ahtletic LBs like Urlacher and Briggs which cna conatin him.

- Alvaro

Phil Simms is to analysts what Ryan Leaf is to NFL QBs

14 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

What's odd is that GB, Baltimore, and TB have a similar PA modifier effect -- increased yds/play but decreased DVOA. GB and PHI being similar makes sense -- PHI/GB are Holmgren descendants. PHI/GB/TB makes sense, as all three have mobile QBs. But Joe Flacco and Baltimore resemble those other teams almost not at all.

2 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

The interesting thing in this, imo, is that there doesn't seem to be a correlation between frequency and success/fail. I was curious if there reached a point where play-action becomes self defeating if overused. So before looking at the table I expected to see an inverse relationship between the frequency and results, with the low frequency teams having higher success/results than the teams with high frequency. The more a D anticipates/expects to see playaction, the better they are at defending it, and vice versa. Doesn't appear to be so.

13 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

Play action success is about fooling defenders into thinking it's a run play. Teams that run play action more often will get better (theoretically, at least) at all the little tricks that go into screwing up a defenders run/pass reads: high hat-low hat, pulling linemen, QB ball fakes, etc.

Play action also serves different purposes in different offenses. For some, like the Ravens or Eagles, it's most often a "shot" play, so it'll be used in the middle of the field and in favorable down-and-distance situations. For other teams, like the Saints and Texans, it's a staple of their passing game, either because their run game is so effective or because their passing game functions better when they move the pocket.

3 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

I find Green Bay's stat line ... unusual to say the least. They were one of eleven teams that gained an average of 2+ yards per play more when they used play action, yet they were the only team of the eleven to see a decline in DVOA using play-action (-13%). Unless I left my understands-DVOA-hat at home, that means they were measurably _worse_ on a per-play basis using play-action than straight-up passes and runs.

Is that purely an artifact of how absurdly successful their offense was overall last year? How does that even happen? Because, dang, I can see a lot of offensive coordinators crying out, "Oh please, sir, may I too have an unadjusted ten yards-per-play on play-action and a declining DVOA? I'm a just a poor lost coach in search of a little more yardage! Take pity on me!"

8 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

A guess at an explanation would be: they used play action on some 3rd and 15's or 3rd and 24's where it netted them an unsuccessful play, despite gaining 10+ yards.

15 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

Either that, or it resulted in a series of big plays either way (probably on 3rd down, or they PA'd a draw play), and DVOA serially undervalues big offensive plays but penalizes for big defensive plays.

GB seemed to get a ton of 20+ yard plays, which makes up for the occasional PA sack, but which DVOA functionally ignores.

4 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

OK, so the columns w/PA have Sacks, Scrambles, and Grounding removed. But it seems that the Non-PA columns don't? (Or is it like the basic "passing offense" DVOA stat, where sacks and relevant penalties count, but scrambles would be considered "rushing offense"?) Either way, wouldn't the columns on the difference between the two be more useful if they were comparing the same thing? A large part of why the vast majority of teams do better in DVOA and yards/play on PA plays could very well be the exclusion of Sacks from the calculations for the PA plays.

9 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense


To add to what tuluse said, I think another hint would be in the first comment. With Brees, Brady, Manning the elder (although he isn't listed here this year), etc. behind center, the green columns should be slightly better than the 2 columns to their left--because sacks & intentional grounding would be removed. However, with Vick, Rodgers, Romo, Cam Newton, etc. back there, the green columns could be worse--because their scrambles (positive DVOA) would be removed. Either way, as tuluse said, the "difference" compares the columns on both sides of the green columns.

16 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

As someone who watched GB games, they were pretty successful with PA. They had many huge gains off of the Play Action where Rodgers would play fake, Roll Right, and then Bomb it 50 yards to Nelson (usually). GB ran this play often 2-3 times per game

33 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

Not shocked Tampa was awful on play-action last year; if Blount was in the game, the team was basically holding up a giant WE ARE RUNNING sign, because he was worthless in the passing game in pretty much every conceivable facet, and if (insert name of incredibly ineffective Kregg Lumpkin and/or Lumpkin-esque schmuck) was in the game, they were passing. Had to make those defensive keys soooooo easy.

41 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

Re: the Green Bay stuff, consider how poor their actual RUNS were then consider how well they did off PA. Why is it that significant that their offense ran Straight pass, PA pass, Run in terms of the order of efficiency? The offense operates as a whole and trying to parse it up to compare an offense to itself is the wrong way to look at these stats. Compare it to other teams, and then think... why were teams biting on the PA at all?

My short answer to that question is: players are coached to fill the run, and GB does a good job of isolating those players with run responsibility in coverage as a part of their play design. Often deep shots to Nelson/Jennings were double moves against safeties off play action.

44 Re: 2011 Play-Action, Offense

The overall view of these numbers reveal one basic truth (or truism, if you already have a certain point of view): Play action is a positive tactic for offenses. 20/32 teams had a net positive DVOA differential when running play action, while only 3 teams netted fewer yards per play running play action than not (Jacksonville, Oakland, and the Giants).

The hows and wherefores of these results cry out for deeper analysis. For instance, did the teams that did poorly on PA have QBs who did a bad job on selling play fakes? Did they run PA with personnel that telegraphed that they weren't going to run? It's not so easy to parse the numbers beyond the obvious. The Lions did quite well with PA, and I could attribute that to the likelihood that Stafford sells a play fake well enough to freeze the pass rush (and the possibility that the Lions runners are just good enough to take seriously, even though they can't finish a season). One might wonder why they didn't run PA more often, although, given the number of times the Lions ran pass plays, they had roughly the same absolute number of PA plays as the Packers did.