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Week 1 Game Scripts (2017): Ravens Flip The Script

Two different Ravens running backs had more carries than Flacco had attempts in week one.

Last season, no team was more pass-happy than the Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco and the Ravens led the NFL in pass attempts along with both pass ratio and pass identity. Flacco threw at least 30 passes in every game last year. The Ravens threw 50 passes in a game they won 38-6 in a remarkable display of the team’s pass-only identity.

Well, in week 1 of the 2017 season, the Ravens threw just 18 times and on only 29.5% of all plays, both of which were league-lows. Terrance West and Javorius Allen combined for 40 carries, and while both players were on the team last year, clearly something has changed in Baltimore. The Jaguars and Bills also stood out as very run-heavy in week 1: Jacksonville spent the fourth pick on Leonard Fournette, so that makes a lot of sense, while the Bills are always run-heavy in the Tyrod Taylor/LeSean McCoy era.

On the Game Scripts notes: the Rams led the way with the best Game Script of week 1, courtesy of a blowout win over the Colts. And just two teams won with negative Game Scripts in the opening slate of games: the Chiefs and Lions both won by double digits, but were the only two teams to pull off fourth quarter comebacks.

TeamH/ROppBoxscorePFPAMarginGame ScriptPassRunP/R RatioOp_POp_ROpp_P/R Ratio
RAMINDBoxscore4693720.3313348.4%252451%
CAR@SFOBoxscore2332011.8253839.7%391572.2%
JAX@HOUBoxscore2972211.5213935%462366.7%
DALNYGBoxscore1931610.8403156.3%411277.4%
BAL@CINBoxscore2002010.5184329.5%362262.1%
DENSDGBoxscore242136.6323647.1%342260.7%
MINNORBoxscore2919106.2333052.4%382164.4%
PIT@CLEBoxscore211835.9371768.5%372559.7%
PHI@WASBoxscore3017135412463.1%441772.1%
OAK@TENBoxscore2616104.4342954%422166.7%
BUFNYJBoxscore211293.7304241.7%401572.7%
ATL@CHIBoxscore231762.3322358.2%442068.8%
GNBSEABoxscore17982.3462862.2%301862.5%
KAN@NWEBoxscore422715-1.9382758.5%393552.7%
DETARIBoxscore352312-2.8422661.8%491873.1%

Which teams were the most pass-happy of week 1, after adjusting for Game Script? I’ll throw out the Steelers, Jets, and Cardinals.

Pittsburgh threw on 69% of all plays against the Browns despite being in control most of the game: that was the highest pass ratio of any winning team in week 1. Ben Roethlisberger had a solid if unspectacular day, but the real issue was the running game. Pittsburgh ran just 17 times — and three of those were from Roethlisberger! Le’Veon Bell had 10 carries for just 32 yards, while James Connor had a 4-11-0 line. Giving the running backs 14 carries in a day when Pittsburgh had a +5.9 Game Script is very pass-happy. As for Bell, he set a career low with just 48 yards from scrimmage, the first time he had ever been held below the 50-yard mark.

The Jets and the Cardinals were the two of the three most pass-heavy teams last week (both at 73%) without accounting for Game Script, but given that both games were close, it makes those ratios look even stronger (the Giants passed the most, but trailed most of the day). It’s both weird and not weird to see the Jets as pass-happy. The weird part is easy: the quarterback is Josh McCown and the receivers are a newly-integrated Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson, and ArDarius Stewart. On the other hand, both Matt Forte and Bilal Powell saw five targets and the Jets were passing on early downs to avoid third and long because the passing game is so bad. I’m not quite sure how the Jets will turn out: it makes sense to try to establish the running game with Powell and Forte, but you don’t want to be in a situation where they only are throwing when McCown has to throw. But I do know this: McCown dropping back 40 times while Powell and Forte combine for 13 carries is not a Jets formula for success.

As for the Cardinals, the injury to David Johnson with about 20 minutes left in the game may have played a part, although Johnson also had nine targets in the passing game.  Arizona running backs rushed 16 times for just 33 yards, while Carson Palmer had 49 dropbacks and averaged just 3.02 ANY/A.  Like McCown, Palmer is 38-years-old.  And while Palmer was a much better quarterback in his prime, the evidence is mounting that he has now aged into a below-average quarterback.  Without Johnson, the Cardinals are going to have to rely on Palmer even more: the early returns suggest that that may not turn out very well. Arizona, remind you, had a positive Game Script in this game: I’ll be curious to see how pass-happy Arizona becomes when that changes.

  • Richie

    I was watching A Football Life: Dan Marino (Surprise!). They mentioned a time where Marino said it was his dream to have a game where they passed on every play. It got me to thinking about what the most pass-happy game of all-time was.

    It looks like the answer is probably a 2006 Cardinals game where they lost to the Vikings. The Cardinals (Matt Leinart) attempted 51 passes (plus were sacked once), but only had 5 rushing attempts. This, despite the Cardinals returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown. The Cardinals were leading or tied for all of their first half offensive possessions.

    Does anybody remember why they went so pass wacky? I googled some game summaries, but couldn’t find any mention of them refusing to run the ball.

    https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200611260min.htm

    • Deacon Drake

      Patriots-Vikings… 2006 I think, as well. Vikings had a ridiculous run D, so BB and McDaniels had Brady throw on 30-some straight plays to build the lead… they milked it late on the ground.

      Patriots-Steelers 2007, same deal, run game ineffective so they had Brady throw 30-some straight times again, this time to protect the lead.

    • I don’t, but the 2006 Vikings (as mentioned below) had an insane defense. This was late enough in the year that Arizona knew this, plus the Cardinals only had a washed up Edgerrin. They probably were correct in thinking passing was the only way of winning.

    • I had forgotten about that 2006 Vikings team and their run defense. As a Packers fan, that is the weird year between the Culpepper/Tice/Moss Era and the Peterson Era where you just kind of didn’t worry about the Vikings. You weren’t that worried that Chester Taylor was going to beat you.

      The Packers, in Ahman Green’s last season as an effective starter, ran 50 times for 115 yards in the two games against Minnesota. However, Green Bay still won both times. Favre carved them in the Metrodome and in the rematch, the Vikings started Tarvaris Jackson in his first start and it was sleeting like crazy (I was there – it was miserable). Minnesota got three first downs the whole game and the Packers beat them 9-7 on a late field goal. The Vikings would’ve been shut out if not for a Favre pick six. My brother and I paid $160 each for tickets because we thought it would be Favre’s last game at Lambeau. Ha!

  • gregg d

    great article! are you planning on adding a 2017 game scripts tab at the top like 2016?

    • Thanks, gregg. Yep, at some point I will — usually after a few weeks.