Football by the Numbers is a very tough column to write after Week 1. The sample size is so small. And it's also very distorted by factors that are more likely than any after any other week to be random.
But when in doubt, the safest approach is to just pull the data that I would most want to shape early season decisions. What would I put the most stock in right now after one week? I like run/pass splits the first half of games.
Think about it: Teams have been game-planning all summer. What did they want to do to open their season, when preference and not score is most likely to be operational? Here, perhaps, the fact that it's the first game actually gives more meaning to these stats because there was an entire offseason of preparation that went into planning for it.
The inspiration for this was a note in the Week 1 Scouting Notebook about Matt Ryan(notes). In the Falcons third preseason game (the one preseason game that is an actual dress rehearsal) when Ryan threw 42 first-half passes. I was dying since then to find out if the Falcons were going to transform themselves into a passing team. Remember, they sacrificed about their entire draft for Julio Jones(notes). Sure enough, they threw 65 percent of plays in the first half in Week 1. Since the average NFL team runs 1,000 plays, the math is pretty simple – a 650 pass rate. Stats pile up easily with that much quantity.
Of course, nothing is perfect. Sure, if your running game gets stuffed every first-down, you are going to throw more frequently even irrespective of the score. And the score is going to come into play for all teams at some point, forcing them to throw more than they may want or dictating that they run more to beat the clock after the opponent has already been dispatched with their passing attack. But would you rather have running backs on teams that seem to want to run more and QBs and receivers on teams that seem to want to pass more, all else being equal? Of course you would.
Here are first-game, first-half-only run/pass splits for all 32 teams, sorted by pass percentage:
|Week 1 first-half run/pass splits|
Clearly, the Titans aren't going to throw that much when Chris Johnson is in shape. But I bet they beat the league average this year in the first half, which we can assume will be about 55 percent.
I do think the Saints will throw 75 percent of the time (or thereabouts) in a neutral environment. Remember, neutral is not merely score but also at least a league-average opponent. But they're going to be running more frequently with second-half leads.
The Jets were a team that couldn't run on first down, where the splits were at those league average rates. But expect them to throw about 550 passes (average last year was roughly 540 but the Jets run more plays than most teams because of their defense leading in three-and-outs).
The Giants should throw 600 passes with those two dynamic receivers (assuming Hakeem Nicks(notes) will ever stay healthy). But I wouldn't bet on it being by choice. Of course, if their pass defense is anywhere near as bad as it looked in Week 1, they will hit that number out of necessity.
What about the Texans? Are they a run-dominant team if the score is neutral? In other words, was Matt Schaub's(notes) stats last year influenced significantly by game situations (losing) when this year those situations are likely to change (i.e., more winning)? I'm worried as a Schaub owner. But Andre Johnson(notes) will get his either way.
Everything else seems about where I would have expected it to be over a much larger sample size. Remember, to guesstimate total season play numbers based on these first-half preferences, merely multiply the percentages by 1,000.