2014 Pass/Run Rate Projections

Mike Clay
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We all know the obvious ones.

The Cowboys and Falcons like throwing. The Seahawks and 49ers run a lot. Andy Reid has been trying to work play-action into the kneel for years.

Understanding a team’s offensive philosophy can be critical when determining who to choose on draft day. Some teams choose to operate a run-heavy offense, which provides a boost to their tailbacks, while limiting the ceiling of their quarterback and wide receivers. Other teams want to lean on the run, but consistently trailing on the scoreboard leads to a balanced, or even pass-heavy numbers.

The other day, I introduced an adjusted version of pass/run rates, which showed which teams actually are the run- and pass-heaviest in the league. Today, I’m going to take what I’ve learned from studying coach, coordinator, and team trends and apply it to the 2014 season.

Pass-Heavy

1. Falcons - 2014 Projection: 67% pass (2013: 69%)

Coach Mike Smith has transitioned quite a bit since taking over in Atlanta in 2008. After a run-heavy rookie season, his offenses were balanced for three years before a pass-heavy approach the past two seasons. Atlanta actually called a more balanced game in 2013 than they did in 2012, but trailing in the second half significantly more often led to the league’s No. 2 pass-heaviest pass/run rate. Smith and coordinator Dirk Koetter both have resumes that include run-heavy swings, but the last two seasons have made it clear that Matt Ryan will keep busy. The Falcons will be more competitive in 2014, but they remain the best bet to pace the league in pass attempts.

2. Cowboys - 2014 Projection: 65% pass (2013: 66%)

Coach (and, possibly not coincidentally, former quarterback) Jason Garrett has a long history of rolling with a pass-heavy offense. Last season, the Cowboys called pass a league-high seven percentage points above expected based on game flow. That’s despite leading on 45 percent of their offensive snaps, which was sixth-highest in the league. As if that wasn’t enough reason to project Dallas as pass-heavy, the club hired Scott Linehan as its offensive coordinator. While with Detroit, Linehan called plays for the league’s pass-heaviest teams in both 2011 and 2012. The Lions were more balanced last year, but still leaned on a pass-balanced offense. Be sure not to overlook Terrance Williams this season. He should be on your WR3 radar.

3. Lions - 2014 Projection: 65% pass (2013: 61%)

Coach Jim Caldwell has been all over the map in past years, utilizing a pass-heavy game as the head coach in Indianapolis in 2009 and 2010 before rolling with a run-heavy approach in 2011 and again as the Ravens offensive coordinator in 2012. Some simple dot-connecting leads to the obvious conclusion that he passed when had a good quarterback and ran when he didn’t. Coordinator Joe Lombardi will call the plays in Detroit and is bringing the New Orleans offense to town. The Saints have been a pass-first team during Lombardi’s time there, reaching as high as eight percentage points above expected in 2010 and 2011. The Detroit offense will be different than the one we’ve seen the past few years, but that doesn’t mean we’ll see less passing. With Matthew Stafford at the controls, Caldwell and Lombardi won’t be afraid to let it fly.

4. Chiefs - 2014 Projection: 64% pass (2013: 62%)

After years of running offenses on the extreme pass-heavy side of the league, coach Reid has added a shred of balance the past two years. The 2012 Eagles struggled, but Reid only passed slightly more than expected. The 2013 Chiefs went 11-5 and led on 53 percent of their snaps (fourth-highest), but still ended up as the league’s No. 12 pass-heaviest offense. Offseason movement suggests Kansas City will be worse in 2014, which means less leaning on the run in clock-killing situations. Expect the Chiefs to be among the pass-heaviest clubs in the league, which means some sleeper appeal for Alex Smith, Dwayne Bowe, and Travis Kelce.

5. Saints - 2014 Projection: 64% pass (2013: 64%)

Over his past five seasons as the head man in New Orleans, Payton’s offenses have called pass five percentage points above expected four times. With Drew Brees under center, that should hardly be a surprise. The Saints are usually competitive, which allows them to run in the second half, but Payton’s reliance on Brees has led to plenty of seasons among the league leaders in pass attempts.  

6. Colts - 2014 Projection: 63% pass (2013: 65%)

We’re now two seasons into Chuck Pagano’s regime as Indianapolis’ head coach. The Colts relied heavily on the pass during both seasons – and not just because of game flow. Indianapolis played with a lead plenty last season, but still called pass four percentage points above expected. The coordinator switch from Arians to Pep Hamilton last offseason actually led to a slightly more pass-friendly attack. With an improved and healthy supporting cast, Andrew Luck has his best shot for a breakout 2014 season.

7. Texans - 2014 Projection: 63% pass (2013: 63%)

Coach Bill O’Brien is new in town, but recent history suggests he’ll operate a pass-balanced offense. O’Brien called plays for New England from 2009 to 2011. He rolled with a pass-heavy approach all three years despite game flow suggesting that New England should’ve been among the league’s run-heaviest teams. With Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, the 2014 Texans seem destined for plenty of second-half deficits. Even if O’Brien tries to keep the ball out of Fitzpatrick’s hand early on, Houston figures to be forced into a pass-heavy approach down the stretch.

8. Giants - 2014 Projection: 63% pass (2013: 62%)

It may surprise you to know that the Giants have been a team slightly on the pass-heavy side of the league the past three seasons. Of course, after the disaster that was their 7-9 2013 season, changes were made. Coordinator Kevin Gilbride was replaced by Ben McAdoo. McAdoo comes from Green Bay where he’ll institute an offense similar to the one we’ve seen Aaron Rodgers operate the past few seasons. For the most part, Green Bay has been extremely pass heavy the past few years, but there was a movement towards a more balanced offense in 2013. McAdoo has no pro coordinator experience, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what he’ll do. That said, I’m projecting a slightly pass-balanced offense for a team that isn’t particularly good and has a tough schedule.

9. Bears - 2014 Projection: 62% pass (2013: 62%)

In his first year as the head man in Chicago, coach Marc Trestman instituted an offense that was slightly on the pass-balanced side of the league. The Bears were ahead during only 28 percent of their offensive snaps, which led to additional passing late in games. Chicago will lead more often in 2014, but the club’s pass/run rate shouldn’t change much with Trestman and coordinator Aaron Kromer calling the shots. The duo will want to keep Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett busy.

Balanced

10. Redskins - 2014 Projection: 61% pass (2013: 63%)

Washington hired Jay Gruden as its head coach this past offseason and he will call the team’s plays in 2014. In terms of pass/run rates, Gruden’s offenses have ended up right near league average while working as offensive coordinator in Cincinnati the past three years. An in-depth look at his play-calling, however, suggests a slight preference towards throwing the ball. Washington led on an atrocious and league-worst 11 percent of their offensive snaps last season. That led to a balanced pass/run rate despite a major effort to lean on the run. The Redskins will improve on that mark in 2014, but Gruden figures to call nothing less than a balanced game. Expect Washington to finish right near league average in the pass/run rate department this season.

11. Steelers - 2014 Projection: 61% pass (2013: 63%)

The Steelers have a stereotype as a defense-led, run-heavy franchise, but that hasn’t been the case with coach Mike Tomlin in control. The Steelers have called pass more than game flow suggested five of the past six seasons. After operating run-heavy offenses in Kansas City in 2010 and 2011, coordinator Todd Haley has actually brought some balance to the Pittsburgh offense the past two seasons.  

12. Jaguars - 2014 Projection: 61% pass (2013: 65%)

The award for the most-deceiving pass/run rate of 2013 belongs to the Jaguars. Thought to be instituting an attack similar to the one in Seattle, coach Gus Bradley’s team ended up throwing 65 percent of the time, which was the league’s No. 6 pass-heaviest mark. A deeper look at the play-calling, however, shows that coordinator Jedd Fisch actually called a run-heavy offense. Jacksonville only led on 22 percent of its offensive snaps – third-worst in the league. Game flow called for Fisch to call pass six percentage points above league average, but he actually was two points below expected. The Jaguars will look to lean on a Toby Gerhart-led running game this season, but – similar to the past few seasons – trailing on the scoreboard will mean extra pass attempts in the second half. The Jaguars will throw less in 2014, but not by a massive margin.

13. Cardinals - 2014 Projection: 61% pass (2013: 60%)

Coach Bruce Arians has a history of preferring to lean on the pass, and that doesn’t figure to change with Michael Floyd and John Brown emerging behind Larry Fitzgerald. Of course, Arians’ clubs also have a history of leading on the scoreboard quite a bit, which has led to game flow suggesting he run more than he does. Arizona went 10-6 last year and figures to be competitive in most games this season. Expect a relatively-balanced attack.

14. Broncos - 2014 Projection: 61% pass (2013: 61%)

The record-setting 2013 Broncos led on a league-high 60 percent of their offensive snaps. Game flow suggested they should call pass around 56 percent of the time (same as 2012), but instead they were at 61 percent.  As dominant as the Broncos were this past season, they actually threw the ball quite a bit more than they did in 2012. It was a clear scheme adjustment. The 2014 offense is sure to regress, so it’s conceivable to expect more passing this season. That’s especially the case when you consider Denver’s lack of depth at the tailback position. Of course, a highly-effective offense and much-improved defense will allow for plenty of late-game rushing opportunities. This offense will be very close to league average in the pass/run rate department this season.

15. Vikings - 2014 Projection: 61% pass (2013: 62%)

Mike Zimmer – the new head man in Minnesota – has a defensive background, which means coordinator Norval Turner will call plays for the Vikings this season. Turner spent six seasons spanning from 2007 to 2012 as the Chargers’ head coach. He called a fairly balanced game, leaning slightly towards the pass. Turner’s teams were usually pretty good, though, which resulted in a pass/run rates that favored his backs. Last season, however, Turner coordinated the Cleveland offense and put up the league’s pass-heaviest pass/run rate. The Browns were behind quite a bit, which boosted their rate, but Turner called pass six percentage points more than expected, which trailed only Dallas. That all being said, 2013 is really the outlier season on Turner’s recent resume. With defensive-minded Zimmer running the team and Adrian Peterson on the roster, it makes perfect sense for Minnesota to lean on the run. Of course, this is a club that went 5-11-1 last season and didn’t make drastic offseason improvements. A run-heavy approach coupled with plenty of second-half deficits will mean a fairly balanced pass/run rate.

16. Raiders - 2014 Projection: 60% pass (2013: 60%)

The play-calling resumes of coach Dennis Allen and coordinator Greg Olson show a similar trend. Both coaches seem to prefer leaning on the run, but have dealt with second-half deficits throughout their careers. The Raiders, of course, have struggled during Allen’s two years as head coach, while Olson spent 2009 through 2011 with Tampa Bay and last season with Oakland. The Raiders’ passing game is a weakness, but they did add Maurice Jones-Drew to a backfield that already included Darren McFadden. The goal in 2014 will be the same as in 2013: Run the ball as much as possible. Oakland will be forced to throw more than they want, but they’ll end up on the run-balanced side of the league.

17. Browns - 2014 Projection: 60% pass (2013: 70%)

Cleveland called pass 70 percent of the time last season, which made them the league’s pass-heaviest offense. They won’t be anywhere close to that figure in 2014. New coach Mike Pettine has a defensive background, which leaves Kyle Shanahan to call plays for the offense. Shanahan has spent the last six seasons coordinating NFL offenses, spending time in both Houston and Washington. He’s taken both pass-heavy (2009, 2010) and run-heavy (2012, 2013) approaches. It won’t be long until Johnny Manziel is under center in Cleveland, which means we can make comparisons to how Shanahan called plays with Robert Griffin III – also a skilled runner – in Washington. Shanahan called a run-heavy game each of the last two seasons, but the team’s pass/run rates were nine percentage points apart because the team went from leading 40 percent of the time in 2012 to a league-worst 11 percent in 2013. Especially with Josh Gordon suspended long-term, the Browns will look to lean on the run, but probable late-game deficits will mean a balanced pass/run rate by seasons end.

18. Titans - 2014 Projection: 60% pass (2013: 59%)

Following six years as the head coach in Arizona and one as the offensive coordinator in San Diego, Ken Whisenhunt has taken over as the head man in Tennessee.  Whisenhunt was notoriously pass-heavy while in control in Arizona. It made sense when Kurt Warner was under center in 2008 and 2009, but Whisenhunt continued to lean on the pass when Arizona was weak at the position.  Of course, it seems there was a major change to Whisenhunt’s philosophy in 2013. The Chargers leaned heavily on the run, finishing as the league’s No. 5 run-heaviest team. Whisenhunt has already stated that he will utilize a similar gameplan, including plenty of running, in Tennessee. The offense’s strength is its top-three wide receivers, however, so I don’t anticipate quite as much running as what we saw in San Diego. A combination of a run-balanced approach and plenty of second-half deficits will mean a fairly-balanced 2014 pass/run rate.

19. Panthers - 2014 Projection: 60% pass (2013: 56%)

As a team, Carolina progressively improved during the first three seasons of coach Ron Rivera’s tenure. As a result, the Panthers were expected to and did run the ball more often each season. But they aren’t quite as run-heavy as it may seem. If we combine the three seasons, Rivera’s Panthers have a pass/run rate only one percentage point below expected. What this really means is that, if Carolina struggles this season, we can safely expect Newton to throw the ball plenty.

20. Dolphins - 2014 Projection: 60% pass (2013: 67%)

Miami surprised the masses last season by calling pass on two-third of its offensive snaps, which made them the league’s No. 3 pass-heaviest offense. And it wasn’t a fluke. After operating a run-heavy offense during Joe Philbin’s first year as head coach, the Dolphins went pass-heavy in 2013. Miami also trailed a bit more often last year, which helped boost the pass rate even higher. With Bill Lazor now in as offensive coordinator, however, we can expect a return to a more run-balanced offense. Miami doesn’t figure to be particularly good this year, but a conceited effort to run under ex-Chip Kelly assistant Lazor will mean a big drop in Ryan Tannehill’s pass attempts.

21. Packers - 2014 Projection: 60% pass (2013: 60%)

The Packers 2014 pass/run rate might be the toughest to project in the league. Led by Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay was extremely pass-heavy from 2009 through 2012. The Packers started out pass heavy in 2013, as well, but switched to a run-heavy approach behind Eddie Lacy when Rodgers went down with a mid-season injury. When Rodgers returned, the run-first approach continued (albeit for two games). Reports suggest that Green Bay will continue leaning on the run, but it’s hard to imagine anything more than a balanced approach. The Packers figure to be a contender in 2014, which means a pass-balanced philosophy coupled with plenty of second-half leads. Expect Green Bay to be on the run-balanced side of the league.

22. Patriots - 2014 Projection: 59% pass (2013: 58%)

Coach Bill Belichick’s offenses have been fairly balanced throughout the years, but a main reason for that has been New England’s strong play. Some normalization for game flow shows that Belichick would throw it more if the Patriots weren’t leading as often as they have the last decade. With all their offensive woes, especially in the pass-catcher department, New England leaned harder on the run and still went 12-4 last year. With Rob Gronkowski expected back healthy, and Tom Brady’s stable of wide receivers improving, New England figures to return to a heavier reliance on its passing game in 2014.

23. Buccaneers - 2014 Projection: 59% pass (2013: 59%)

After a one-year absence, Lovie Smith is back at the controls of an NFL team. Smith has handed the keys to the offense to rookie coordinator Jeff Tedford. We obviously don’t have any Tedford numbers to reference, but Smith operated a fairly balanced offense in Chicago and the club has already stated an intention to run the ball. The Tampa Bay defense will keep them competitive in most games, so a scheme that leans on its backs will put the Buccaneers on the run-heavy side of the league.

Run-Heavy

24. Rams - 2014 Projection: 58% pass (2013: 58%)

Last season, the Rams came out the gate throwing the ball like crazy. They averaged only17.5 called runs per game over the first four weeks. Everything changed in Week 5, however, when they converted to one of the league’s run-heaviest teams. Coach Jeff Fisher has now operated either a run-heavy or run-balanced offense each of his last five seasons as an NFL head a coach. Brian Schottenheimer can say the same about his last five campaigns as an offensive coordinator. It’s very clear that this team will look to run the ball as much as possible in 2014, but it’s hard to expect them to be a major contender in the NFC West, which adds a bit to Sam Bradford’s plate in the second half of games.

25. Eagles - 2014 Projection: 56% pass (2013: 56%)

For the most part, Chip Kelly’s rookie-season play-calling was about as expected. He called pass 56 percent of the time, which was the league’s six-lowest mark. The Eagles went 10-6 and led on 44 percent of their snaps, so part of the run-heavy number was philosophy and some was game flow. The Eagles’ roster still has a few holes, but the Kelly offense will keep them ahead on the scoreboard or, at least, competitive in most games. Expect a run-first approach with a few extra rushing opportunities as a result of late-game leads.

26. Ravens - 2014 Projection: 56% pass (2013: 63%)

Much like the aforementioned Steelers, the Ravens are often categorized as having a run-first, beat-it-between-the-tackles offense. They’ve certainly gone that direction in the past, but they got away from it in 2013, ranking out as the No. 10 pass-heaviest offense in the league. Coach John Harbaugh has shown a willingness to operate a run-balanced attack, which probably explains a lot of why Gary Kubiak was hired to run his offense going forward. As the head coach in Houston the past eight seasons, Kubiak’s offenses were often among the league’s run-heaviest. That includes a run-first approach each of the past four seasons. The Ravens have a quality defense and its strength is certainly not the quarterback position. Utilizing plenty of ‘11’ personnel, Kubiak will look to hammer the ball home with Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett, and Lorenzo Taliaferro.

27. 49ers - 2014 Projection: 56% pass (2013: 53%)

The 49ers have been amongst the league’s run-heavy teams each of the three years Jim Harbaugh has been in charge. The club’s offensive philosophy has revolved around the run, but only at a rate a few percentage points below league average. Domination on the scoreboard thanks to an elite defense has been the main factor in why the 49ers have run the ball so often. Had the 49ers gone 24-24 instead of 36-11-1 the past three years, we would’ve seen a pass/run rate closer to 59 percent, rather than the 54 percent mark they actually put up. Offseason reports, coupled with the aging of Frank Gore and acquisition of Stevie Johnson, suggest the 49ers will work the pass into the gameplan more often this season. Of course, the defense is still very good and the team has a nice stable of tailbacks. Expect slightly more passing in 2014.

28. Chargers - 2014 Projection: 56% pass (2013: 55%)

The Chargers heavy reliance on its running game last season was a bit surprising, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. We were tricked a bit by Whisenhunt’s pass-heavy philosophy, and overlooked head coach Mike McCoy’s resume. As the offensive coordinator in Denver, McCoy called a balanced game in both 2009 and 2010 before Tim Tebow forced an extremely run-heavy attack in 2011. Peyton Manning joined Denver in 2012, but McCoy still called a balanced game. Finally in charge in San Diego last season, the Chargers were among the run-heaviest teams in the league. Whisenhunt is gone and Frank Reich is in as the team’s offensive coordinator. We shouldn’t expect much of a philosophy change. McCoy’s resume is clear: he wants to run the ball. And the Chargers will be competitive enough to do so early and often.

29. Bills - 2014 Projection: 56% pass (2013: 54%)

In Doug Marrone’s first year as Buffalo’s head coach, we saw a clear inclination to lean heavily on the running game. The Bills ended up calling pass 54 percent of the time, which ranked them as the league’s No. 3 run-heaviest team. Of course, had they been more competitive, no team would’ve called run at a higher rate. Adjusted for game flow, the Bills called pass seven percentage points below expected.  With an underwhelming quarterback (EJ Manuel) and a strong one-two-three punch at tailback (C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown), the Bills will, once again, contend for the league lead in rushing attempts.

30. Seahawks - 2014 Projection: 55% pass (2013: 52%)

The Super Bowl champion Seahawks ran the ball slightly more in 2013 than they did in 2012. The key word there is “slightly”, as we barely saw movement in their pass/run rate despite holding a lead on 58 percent of their offensive snaps, compared to 41 percent in 2012. Seattle actually tweaked their 2013 philosophy to lean more on Russell Wilson’s arm in his second season. After calling pass at a rate six percentage points below expected in 2012, Seattle was at three percent in 2013. This is a club that wants to lean on the run, but not as much as the raw numbers indicate. Seattle figures to be among the league’s top teams again this season, but this is a clear indicator that Wilson will be trusted to throw it plenty in competitive games.

31. Jets - 2014 Projection: 55% pass (2013: 55%)

Easily the coach with the run-heaviest mentality in the league over the past decade, Rex Ryan, once again, had his club near the league lead in rush attempts last season. The Jets have now called pass at a rate at least six percentage points below expected in five of the past six seasons. The Jets called pass 55 percent of the time in 2013 despite leading on just under one quarter of their snaps. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has a pass-heavy resume, but he adjusted to Ryan’s philosophy (not the other way around) in his first year as the team’s play-caller. New York improved its receiving corps during the offseason, but it also added Chris Johnson to the backfield and has a Riddler-sized question mark at the quarterback position. The Jets will undoubtedly rank amongst the league’s run-heaviest offenses.

32. Bengals - 2014 Projection: 55% pass (2013: 59%)

Marvin Lewis is set to return for his 12th season as Cincinnati’s coach, but the team made a drastic change at offensive coordinator during the offseason. Out is aforementioned Gruden and in is Hue Jackson. Jackson has a history of leaning heavily on his running game and has made it very clear that he will do so in 2014. As Oakland’s offensive coordinator in 2010, the Raiders called run at a rate four percentage points below expected. As Oakland’s head coach in 2011, the club was three points below expected. We expect a similar rate in Cincinnati this season. The Bengals’ defense is also very good, which, means the team will, once again, be in position to run the ball in the fourth quarter. This has all the makings for the Bengals to finish 2014 as the league’s run-heaviest offense. Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill should be adjusted in your rankings accordingly.