NFL Team Passing Identities Through Five Weeks

Atlanta has been passing like no other team again in 2013.

I’ve been posting the Game Scripts numbers each week this season, and now have a full page dedicated to the results from every game at the top right of your screen. But the best use of Game Scripts is to adjust Pass ratios for teams to understand their true Passing Identity. Here’s how you do it.

1) Calculate how many standard deviations above/below average each team is in Game Scripts. The average Game Script, of course, is zero. The standard deviation through five weeks is 4.69, so the Broncos (8.43 Game Script) are 1.80 standard deviations above average in Game Script.

2) Calculate how many standard deviations from average each team is in Pass Ratio, defined as pass attempts (including sacks) divided by total plays. The average Pass Ratio through five weeks is 59.8%, while the standard deviation among the thirty-two teams is 6.7%. The Giants (excluding last night’s game) lead the league in Pass Ratio at 71.8%, which is 1.79 standard deviations above the league-average Pass Ratio.

3) Add how many standard deviations above/below average each team is in both Game Scripts and Pass Ratio. To convert these into an Index (and a more intuitive number for folks), multiply that result by 15 and add it to 100. So a team that has a Pass Identity that is 1 standard deviation above average will be at 115, while a team that is 1.6 standard deviations below average will be at 76.

Here are the results:

RkTeamGGame ScriptPass RatioStDev GSStDev PRPass Identity
1ATL52.0570.2%0.441.53129.5
2DAL54.0666.1%0.870.93127
3NOR55.9763.2%1.270.5126.6
4DEN58.4357.7%1.8-0.33122.1
5GNB45.5360.6%1.180.11119.3
6CLE50.2467.5%0.051.14117.9
7KAN56.5957.9%1.4-0.3116.6
8MIA5-2.268.4%-0.471.28112.1
9NWE53.759.7%0.79-0.03111.3
10DET51.2361.8%0.260.29108.3
11SDG50.7861.6%0.170.26106.4
12PIT4-6.5770.8%-1.41.63103.4
13NYG5-7.471.8%-1.581.79103.1
14ARI5-2.1262.7%-0.450.4199.5
15CHI5-1.6761.9%-0.360.399.2
16BAL5-1.1761.1%-0.250.1898.9
17CAR44.0653.4%0.86-0.9798.4
18CIN50.6457.4%0.14-0.3796.5
19STL5-6.7367.8%-1.431.1996.3
20IND53.5153.1%0.75-1.0196.1
21MIN41.4455.1%0.31-0.7293.8
22TAM4-0.5656.8%-0.12-0.4691.3
23HOU5-4.4461.4%-0.950.2389.2
24OAK50.8453.2%0.18-0.9987.8
25WAS4-8.5266.5%-1.820.9987.7
26TEN51.2652.3%0.27-1.1387
27SFO53.4648.3%0.74-1.7385.2
28SEA54.1146.4%0.88-2.0183.1
29NYJ5-2.2354.3%-0.47-0.8380.5
30BUF5-0.3351%-0.07-1.3379
31PHI5-1.9751.5%-0.42-1.2674.8
32JAX5-12.8864.6%-2.750.7169.4

Through five weeks, the team with the strongest pass identity is the team that led the NFL in this statistic a year ago: the Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez are as good a quartet as you’ll find anywhere in the NFC, and with a hobbled Steven Jackson, the Falcons have been very pass-happy again this year. It will be interesting to see how this changes after Atlanta’s week six bye, as Jones is now out for the season, White is hobbled, and Jackson will be returning.

Despite the 1-4 record, you might be surprised to learn that the Falcons have held an average lead of 2.05 points so far this season. One reason is because the Falcons held a 13.4 point average lead in their lone win, but Atlanta also posted positive Game Scripts in losses to Miami and New Orleans. With a 70.2% Pass ratio, the Falcons are therefore the most pass-happy team. For some perspective, the other four teams in the top five in Pass ratio have passed 69.7% of the time and have an average Game Script of -5.72. In light of those numbers, you can see why the Falcons lead the league in Pass Identity.

The Cowboys have held on to their pass-happy beliefs.

Dallas ranked second in raw pass/run ratio last year while ranking 30th in time spent with the lead. But this year, Tony Romo and the Cowboys are still passing a ton this year, even while they have been much more competitive. And it’s not like the shootout against Denver was an outlier: the Cowboys have passed 69% of the time in four of their five games this season, with the blowout over the Rams being the lone exception.

The Giants and Steelers, the nominal most pass-happy teams by traditional metrics, were (prior to week six) 0-9 on the season. The least pass-happy team so far is the Jaguars, although Jacksonville games have been so uncompetitive that it’s hard to get a real read on the actual design of the offense. Yes, Jacksonville ranks 9th in Pass ratio, but by ranking dead last in Game Scripts — and nearly a full standard deviation behind everyone else — that makes them look pretty run heavy.

The second least pass-happy team is Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles. That’s not surprising at all, given Kelly’s history and the presence of Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy. I don’t expect much to change with Nick Foles at quarterback. Philadelphia currently leads the league in rushing yards and yards per carry.

By traditional metrics, the NFC West powerhouses are the two most run-happy teams and the only two teams to run on more than 50% of their plays this season. Both Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson have had some struggles (relative to their scorched-earth runs last year) in the passing game, and neither quarterback is averaging even 200 passing yards per game. But both use their legs and are surrounded by stud running backs and generally strong defenses (although San Francisco’s defense has had its struggles, too). That leads to a lot of rush attempts, and both teams are still in the top six in Rush Identity (simply sorting the Pass Identity table from lowest to highest), so even after adjusting for Game Script, both teams are still very run-heavy.

One surprising run-happy team is the New York Jets. Sure, between a rookie quarterback in Geno Smith and an ultra-conservative head coach in Rex Ryan you might find this obvious, but new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been one full standard deviation above average in terms of Pass Identity throughout his career. The Jets (in part due to injuries to Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, and Jeremy Kerley) have the 4th highest run identity in the NFL. As Smith develops, it will be interesting to see how the yin and yang relationship between Mornhinweg and Ryan evolves.

The other architect of the old Eagles offense has stayed truer to form. Andy Reid is one of the most pass-happy coaches in history, which made for an oil-and-water situation as Kansas City was by far the most run-heavy team in 2012 after adjusting for Game Script. That was understandable given the presence of Jamaal Charles and the lack of an NFL caliber quarterback, but with Alex Smith in Kansas City, how much would things change? The Chiefs currently have the 7th highest Pass Identity in the league. Last weekend, Kansas City held an average lead of 5.2 points against the Titans, but still passed on 61% of their plays. Of course, that hasn’t stopped Dwayne Bowe’s fantasy owners from expecting him to appear on a milk carton one of these weeks.

“Statistics are for losers” is a common refrain. A better one would be “Misusing statistics is for losers.” The Broncos rank 20th in pass/run ratio, despite, you know, being the Broncos. No Peyton Manning offense is run-happy no matter what the statistics say. When I introduced Game Scripts, I noted that the ’99 Rams and ’07 Patriots both had roughly league average pass/run ratios, despite being thought of as two of the most pass-happy (and best-passing) teams in league history. After adjusting for Game Script, St. Louis and New England each led the league in their respective seasons in Pass Identity. The Broncos aren’t there yet, but Denver does rank 4th in Pass Identity, a much truer representation of Denver’s offense than their 20th place ranking according to traditional metrics. And who knows high Denver’s Game Script will go once Champ Bailey and Von Miller return.

• Jonpaul

Good to see you compile the Game Script data for this year. Revealing, honestly. Though a time sink, it would be interesting if you could churn through Game Script data over the last 20 years (or even since the merger) and see what a typical Super Bowl-winning team (or even a Super Bowl participant) averaged as far as Game Script and Pass Identity. Obviously would expect a positive Game Script (but how much? Denver’s 1.8 σ GS must surely be near the upper end of recorded Game Scripts) but I suspect the Pass Identity would be lower in the 70s and highest now. How much difference would there be, though? In both popular opinion and statistically the league is more pass-centric now than ever before, but perhaps successful teams have long been higher in Pass Identity than popular opinion suggested? Would make for an interesting graph, needless to say.
Keep up the good work, Chase.

• Chase Stuart

Thanks Jonpaul. I appreciate it.

In my introduction to Game Scripts last year, I presented a lot of historical data which hits on some of your questions:

http://www.footballperspective.com/game-scripts-part-ii-analyzing-team-seasons/

• Jonpaul

Thanks for the reference. That’s in the vein of what I was asking about, yes.
You wouldn’t be willing to share the spreadsheets for all the Game Script and Pass Identity results since 1966 or 1970, would you? I’d like to check it out instead of pester you. If not, or if only with certain agreements, I understand, but I’d be remiss not to ask.

• Marty

Have you ever considered calculating defensive passing identities? It might be interesting to find out the results.