Which Teams Project to Run the Most Plays in 2016?

A few weeks ago, I put together a series of posts to look at the various coaching trends in the NFL, and what they might mean for the 2016 season. There were a lot of data in those posts, so let’s compile the predictions and see which teams might run the most plays, throw the most passes, and have the most rushing attempts in the 2016 season.

A Quick Review

The format of the FF Accounting series was built on the premise that to be predictive, the most recent trends are most important. Implicit in that assumption is the idea of diminishing returns the further back you look into the past. Therefore, I looked at up to only five seasons of statistics relative to league average and used a weighted averaging method to come up with projections for 2016, a strategy inspired by the way baseball projections are created.1

Of course this was a naive method arguing that play-calling trends come directly from the coaches, and aren’t heavily influenced by the personnel. We know that probably isn’t entirely accurate, so I added a quirk where I judged the tenability of the projection on a Low-Medium-High scale based on how stable the trends seemed to be and to account for coaches who had recently changed teams/personnel.

In short, we came up with a set of projections based on prior coaching trends, and then graded the viability of those trends. Let’s take a look at how they all come together, and which coaches’ offenses tend to run more plays, throw more passes, or run more heavily than their peers.

The Chart

TeamCoachTenabilityPlaysPass AttRush AttSacks

Note: I’ve added a sack column which equates to the difference between total plays and the sum of pass and rush attempts.


  • The Texans, 49ers, Saints, and Patriots project to run the most plays in the NFL based on recent trends for their play-callers.
  • Of those teams, the 49ers were the only one whose projection I deemed untenable, but that was mostly because Chip Kelly is working with all new personnel. In terms of total plays (and rush attempts in particular), he was consistently above league average. It’s safe to say his 49ers team should be among the league leaders in total plays run.
  • The Saints project to lead the league in pass attempts by 40. Other pass-heavy coaches have at least trended more toward neutral for a season or two at some point in their history, generating a more conservative weighted average. That is not true for Payton, who is far and away the most dependably pass-happy of the league’s play-callers.
  • Marc Trestman’s Ravens come in with the second most projected pass attempts, notable because the offense as a whole is projected to run just the 13th most plays. Not surprisingly, his teams stay well below league average in rush attempts.
  • Detroit is the NFC version of Trestman’s Ravens, except they project to allow a bunch more sacks. They project to run a similar number of total plays with a handful fewer rush attempts and eight fewer passes.
  • Greg Roman is really, really boring. He had some of the most consistent trends over his last five seasons as a coordinator, notably a low number of plays and throwing as little as 20 percentage points below league average. The Bills project for the fewest pass attempts in 2016.
  • Jeff Fisher’s Rams project for the fewest plays overall by a comfortable margin of 24 plays, because of course they do.
  • Interestingly, right behind Fisher’s Rams are Doug Pederson’s Eagles, projecting for well below league average plays. There is certainly some question about how much Pederson’s tendencies in Philadelphia will mirror his time in Kansas City, but the suggestion here is the Eagles could run significantly fewer plays overall than their last three seasons under Kelly.
  • Jacksonville projects to run the ball less than any other team. Justin Winn looked at whether they should run more in 2016, specifically in the red zone.
  • There is certainly some noise in a few of these projections, such as Adam Gase’s for Miami. The high pass totals and particularly the extremely low sack numbers are heavily influenced by the fact that three of his four offensive coordinator seasons were spent working with Peyton Manning in Denver.

In the next post we’ll look at projected breakdowns of targets and rush attempts, and check on the positional usage patterns of these coaching staffs.

  1. It is my understanding that some of the more popular baseball projection systems don’t look at a specific player’s performance further back than N-3 seasons, although I’m passing that along from some personal notes a couple of years old and I can’t find an article to link to that corroborates that.  (back)

Ben Gretch

Writer. Podcast host. Former and still occasional editor. Previous work at Rotoworld, Draft Sharks. Work cited at NFL.com, Washington Post. Probably a little too obsessed with fantasy football.
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