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Football by the Numbers: Run/pass splits

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

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
Team Run Pass Run% Pass%
Titans 5 17 22.7 77.3
Saints 7 21 25.0 75.0
Bucs 6 16 27.3 72.7
Chargers 10 25 28.6 71.4
Jets 8 18 30.8 69.2
Broncos 8 18 30.8 69.2
Falcons 9 17 34.6 65.4
Eagles 14 26 35.0 65.0
Patriots 12 22 35.3 64.7
Redskins 12 21 36.4 63.6
Packers 14 24 36.8 63.2
Bears 13 21 38.2 61.8
Lions 16 25 39.0 61.0
Steelers 10 15 40.0 60.0
Chiefs 12 17 41.4 58.6
Browns 12 16 42.9 57.1
Ravens 14 18 43.8 56.3
Dolphins 12 15 44.4 55.6
Cowboys 13 16 44.8 55.2
Colts 9 11 45.0 55.0
Panthers 11 13 45.8 54.2
Giants 13 15 46.4 53.6
Cardinals 14 15 48.3 51.7
Seahawks 11 11 50.0 50.0
Bengals 16 15 51.6 48.4
Rams 15 13 53.6 46.4
Bills 19 15 55.9 44.1
Texans 21 16 56.8 43.2
Niners 16 11 59.3 40.7
Raiders 20 13 60.6 39.4
Vikings 16 9 64.0 36.0
Jaguars 21 9 70.0 30.0
Totals 409 534 43.4 56.6

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.

Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) owners can take solace in some quantity at least early in games no matter how bad the Jaguars might be – and I think they are pretty bad.

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.

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