The Bills Pick Up The Pace
August 16, 2013 | C.D. Carter
The charge that the New England Patriots were the NFL’s run heaviest team in 2012 is frequently countered with the fact that they were also among the pass happiest.
It’s the leading cause of cognitive fantasy football dissonance.
I see this on Twitter all the time. People get angry. The “block” button is deployed with malice. Families are ruined. Tears are shed.
Both sides are right though.
Only three offenses passed the ball more than the 2012 Patriots, and no one ran the rock more than Bill Belichik’s lightning-fast offensive unit, which kept defenses from substituting — and breathing, very often — with that up-tempo approach.
Here’s a quick and dirty look at how this extreme offensive pace has real and lasting fantasy impact: Tom Brady, if the Patriots maintained there 55-45 pass-run ratio, would’ve thrown 541 passes in 2012 had the team recorded the league average plays per game. Brady actually threw 638 passes last season — fourth most among all quarterbacks.
New England’s frenetic offensive pace, in the end, gave Brady 97 pass attempts. That’s not insignificant.
A question has emerged as NFL offenses adopt this rapid-fire offensive pace, including Chip Kelly’s Eagles and Doug Marrone’s Bills.
The Bills ran a jaw-dropping 91 plays from scrimmage in their preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts, and while we shouldn’t expect that sort of pace to persist, it’s crystal clear that Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett are committed to this Patriot-like offensive pace.
Maybe even faster.
I’ll look today at what this means for Bills rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel, and what it might mean for C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, and Stevie Johnson next week.
A Viable Fantasy Option By Default?
Manuel has all but been tabbed as Buffalo’s Opening Day starter, with Kevin Kolb entering the stage of his career in which he slips and falls and misses practice and game time.
The Bills brass has publicly acknowledged that they’re rooting for Manuel to seize the opportunity and grab the starting gig over the next couple weeks. I think he will, and for the purposes of this exercise, he is the Bills’ starting signal caller.
Below is a chart of the five fastest pace offenses over the past three seasons, along with the pass-run ratios among those five squads.
|Top-5 Up-tempo offenses (year)||Average Plays Per Game||Pass/Run Ratio (percent)|
I won’t pretend to know what kind of run-pass split Hackett and Maronne are planning during Manuel’s rookie season, though their public comments have indicated they’re not afraid to keep the ball on the ground.
Hackett said in an early August radio interview that he intended to use Spiller until “he throws up.” Marrone wasn’t thrilled with that turn of phrase, but the point was made.
Spiller carried the ball on five of Buffalo’s first seven plays in their preseason opener.
Manuel completed 16 of his 21 passes for 107 yards and a score against the Colts. He also rushed three times for 28 yards. He seemed composed, competent, if not a touch hesitant in the early going.
How, you might ask, do we project Manuel in an up-tempo offense? How do we project him at all? There are always ways to find the upper limits of a guy’s fantasy prospects, and conversely, go the more conservative route.
Let’s do both, using the average fantasy points per drop back (as calculated by Pro Football Focus) of the 12th-24th highest scoring fantasy signal callers from 2012. Those quarterbacks – everyone between Andy Dalton and Jay Cutler – averaged .46 points per drop back.
|Points per drop back||Average plays per game||Pass/Run Ratio||QB fantasy points|
The first scenario is based on the league-wide averages of the five most up-tempo teams since 2010, and the second is a much more conservative projection of what an uber-run heavy fast-paced offense might produce for a quarterback. The middle projection in which Buffalo uses a 53-47 pass-run split, would have landed Manuel the QB14 spot in 2012.Manuel would’ve finished 2012 as the 10th highest scoring fantasy quarterback in the first scenario, and the 16th highest scoring signal caller in the second scenario.
Remember: This all assumes Manuel will – or can – produce at the same per-drop back basis as 2012’s collective QB2s.Neither projection, however, incorporates the potential for consistent – and just maybe – significant fantasy points accumulated on designed runs and quarterback scrambles.
Hackett has played coy as to how Manuel’s running talent might be deployed in the regular season, though I think the rookie showed enough against the Colts to indicate he will score fantasy points with his legs.
It wouldn’t be over the top to suggest Manuel could be Buffalo’s No. 2 rushing option behind Spiller, as veteran Fred Jackson doesn’t seem primed for a late-career flourish. Jackson, in fact, looked horrendous in his limited preseason action.
Below are Manuel’s college rushing stats, for the record.
The strange college football rule that counts sacks as rushing attempts comes into play here, as Manuel was sacked 59 times in 2011 and 2012 as Florida State’s signal caller. It was in those years that coaches emphasized Manuel’s pocket passing, so his 2009 and 2010 rushing stats probably provide a better look at what he can or can’t do on the ground.
The Bills’ potential to be among the NFL’s fastest pace offenses, I think, should be a central reason for taking a late-round flier on Manuel and using him as a spot starter until (if) he proves an every-week fantasy option. It’s that pace — and really, they could exceed 68 plays per game if the preseason is any indication — that instantly raises Manuel’s fantasy ceiling.
Manuel, in my humble degenerate opinion, is an ideal part of a quarterback by committee approach. Pairing him with Carson Palmer or Jay Cutler or Josh Freeman could pay big dividends for fantasy owners in 2013.
And if he flames out, or if Hackett and Marrone inexplicably abandon the up-tempo approach, or if they use an extraordinarily run heavy approach that puts a stifling cap on Manuel’s fantasy opportunity, so what?
You won’t have to break the fantasy bank to acquire Manuel. He’s being drafted at the start of the 14th round, ahead of only a single signal caller: Ryan Tannehill.