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Small situational sample size makes judging Redskins’ play calling difficult

Jun 15, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT


I was doing some research on the Redskins’ run-pass ratio last year and I stumbled across a number that I found to be both stunning and very, very revealing.

I was looking into play calls in situations where the Redskins were trailing in a game by seven points or more and compared that to both league averages and to what they did when they led by seven or more.

When they were trailing by seven or more, Jay Gruden’s play selection mirrored that of the league as a whole. The Redskins passed 68 percent of the time and ran 32 percent. The league as a whole passed 68.7 percent of plays and ran on 31.3 percent.

How about when leading by a touchdown or more? In those situations the league as a whole went with the pass on 47.2 percent of the snaps and ran 52.8 percent. Gruden was a bit more pass happy, going 50.5 percent pass to 49.5 percent run.

The surprising stat that I found was that the Redskins ran just 91 plays when they were up by seven points or more. That’s pathetic. The average NFL team ran 230 plays with a lead of a touchdown or more. But the Redskins ran just about five and a half per game.

But the average is deceiving. They ran 53 of those plays with a lead of a touchdown or more in Week 2 against the Jaguars. The other 38 snaps came in two other games, the Week 3 shootout in Philadelphia and in Week 9 in Minnesota. So in 13 games they didn’t take a single snap with a lead of at least seven points.

Gruden was indeed pass happy in his play calling last year, with 60 percent passes to 40 percent runs. But given that they rarely had a substantial lead to work with, even Chuck Knox, a.k.a. Ground Chuck, the former Bills and Seahawks coach known for strongly favoring the running game, would have found it necessary to throw a lot.

This doesn’t render any criticism of Gruden’s overall play selection last season null and void. But it does make it difficult to predict what the Redskins run-pass ratio will be this year if they manage to play with a lead some of the time. If the upgraded personnel improve the defense and if special teams can become a help and not a hindrance, perhaps the Redskins will run an average number of plays with a lead of seven points or more and we can see if the stated intentions to control the game with the run actually happen.

If, on the other hand, the Redskins again run fewer than 100 plays with a lead of a touchdown or better we won’t really know what the intentions of Gruden and company were. They will be forced to throw to catch up.

And we may never find out what Gruden’s offensive model looks like. If they can’t play with a lead a substantial amount of the time there may be a different coach developing the offensive philosophy in 2015.

  1. dcfaninecuador - Jun 15, 2015 at 1:36 PM

    Thank, Rich. This is what I’ve been saying to all these “experts” who criticized Gruden’s “pass happy” offense. As a team, they rarely had the opportunity to run first…pound the rock…whatever you want to call it. I also noticed stats that the overall run pass ratio put them 16th in the league…right in the middle of the pack. With more options and better personnel, we will see an entirely different offense this year. Think Seahawks.

  2. hk2000 - Jun 15, 2015 at 1:54 PM

    Why are you afraid to criticize this coach, Rich? It was obvious all year long that he was in way over his head. You say he took some of the blame, but in reality, he never did! He would talk forever about how bad the QB was, then at the end he’d say something like ‘I got to do better’ ….. but he says it in a matter-of-factly manner, not as something he really thought deeply about! because he turns around and makes the same play calls the next week. Hell he even makes the same boneheaded challenges that failed week after week. He runs a formation for one play call in first quarter and turns around and does the same exact thing late in the forth quarter- never mind the opponent figured it out the first time around, he’d still do it again as if the score is still 0-0 and they never tried it before!!!!! The guy has no scheming abilities whatsoever. He says he and McVay have the same mentality and agree on play calling but I doubt McVay would agree with that privately, of course he publicly agrees obviously, but I bet we’d be way better off with anybody else calling plays.

    • Rich Tandler - Jun 15, 2015 at 4:29 PM

      I criticize him when I think what he does warrants it. Look back through the last year on this blog, you’ll find plenty of examples.

      • hk2000 - Jun 15, 2015 at 6:24 PM

        I’m not talking about specific instances, I’m talking about overall performance. To be fair you’re not as guilty as most other writers- and commentators especially on their own radio station- who seem to give him a pass and always just piling on Griffin. Did these people forget about Zorn? Everyone of them was saying Zorn had too much on his plate, that he had to manage the whole team AND the play calling, they kept piling on him until the team ‘listened’ to them and brought in a the Bingo Caller- what ensued was a complete and utter disaster. Gruden meanwhile, is in the same exact situation, he lacks the fortitude or the necessary time to handle a successful offensive scheme, why not keep pointing out what a huge mistake it is to keep the status qou? We already have an OC, let’s take the training wheels off and see what he can do. Besides, Gruden was brought in to make something out of a raw but very talented QB, he was not brought in to analyze him and just give use his evaluation and call it a day! We already new he needed coaching and a “guru” to turn him into a successful pocket passer, that was why we brought him in. Wasn’t it?

  3. mr.moneylover - Jun 15, 2015 at 3:26 PM

    They kill they own drive before they get to run the ball…I seen alot of pass on first down and second down then decide to run the ball on third down or sometimes they throw the ball on all three down…hopefully if alfred Morris get the ball on first down and pickup some good yards they keep feeding him he gets better and better as the game goes on….its all about game management if they cant do that the game can get out of control fast and thats what happen last year…run the ball and manage the game …game clock management is everything unless you run your offense like chip kelly witch jay gruden dont…its ok to say jay gruden was pass happy because he was

  4. jgd2016 - Jun 15, 2015 at 3:37 PM

    Very telling that they only won 1/3 of the games they had a 7 point lead in as well. Pathetic, as you said.

  5. xskulldog - Jun 15, 2015 at 5:22 PM

    Thanks Rich for the Information…Before commenting, let’s go back to the subject title…”Small situation sample size makes Judging the Redskins play calling difficult”.

    It’s not difficult to judge the Redskins play calling last year. It was simply terrible regardless of run to pass percentages. Let’s consider the plays he did call when he decided to pass.

    A good offensive coordinator should call plays that maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.

    Gruden has been saying that RGIII needs to be a better drop back passer. Everyone knows the offensive line was weak last year, not a strong area. With that having been said, why would you not call plays that move the pocket around to give the QB more time? Why not call more draw plays and screen passes to keep the defense off balance? More dump off passes to Morris on first and second down.

    Morris should practice catching the ball out of the backfield more so we can use this weapon on first and second downs, not on third down when the third down back comes in and the defense is looking for the dump off pass.

    The sad truth is that these techniques have been used for years. Joe Gibbs was great at adjusting to what the defense gives you. When Gruden fiqures this out and the players stop turning the ball over in critical situations, the offense might get better. A little luck would be greatly appreciated also.

    • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jun 16, 2015 at 10:10 AM

      Rich may hit on why there were not many dump-off passes when he reported not a single QB could throw a decent fade pass in the OTA practice (i.e. Joe Theisman). It’s good to know they are at least working on it with the QBs. I’m not sure if there was a focus on it last season.

  6. redskinsnameisheretostay - Jun 16, 2015 at 9:28 AM

    I think the telling point of the article Rich was alluding to was the few opportunities of establishing a lead beyond 7 points. Gruden has a history of “middle of the pack” statistics all the way back to the 4 years or so at Cincinnati. I think he is the Randy Edsall version of the NFL. While I never criticized the “pass happy” implications of Gruden’s offense I read here because I honestly don’t care how he gets it down. Some teams do it by passing more than running today while far fewer it’s vice-versa. So in some ways the one’s chanting run… Gruden …run are over simplifying the game time situations.

    When you are behind that much there is little opportunity for running. So honestly why even discuss the run-to-pass ratio. We can’t even maintain a competitive edge on the field long enough to evaluate if the team needs to run more. Overall, a coach that only manages this many opportunities for a lead is a coach not doing a very good job.

    When Gruden was hired with little choice for replacing the current staff that was a red flag about who really was making the decisions.
    When Gruden shows a history of average to below average success as a OC in Cincinnati that was a red flag.
    Now we see some revamping of the staff but one year too late.
    This is a coach IMO that doesn’t doesn’t have much control of his personnel. I don’t recall this approach ever working in the NFL. It certainly didn’t work at Dallas nor here w/ Zorn. So I doubt we’ll find little if any success here this season. We need a true to give or hire a coach who has real control of his position just like we supposedly did with our current GM.

    Great article Rich!

  7. bangkokben - Jun 16, 2015 at 10:22 AM

    Thanks Rich for the great work!

    Amazing how all your readers read the same piece but come to their very own preconceived conclusions as if this is evidence for those conclusions.

    To the lemmings that read a solid piece like this and jump to the woe-is-me-sky-is-falling lake of despair, don’t forget the massive changes this organization has undertaken since the last game of the season.

    -New GM
    -new defensive coordinator and staff (except Olivadoti) with new system
    -at least five new defensive starters
    -at least two new o-line starters
    -trimming the fat off the salary cap (Cofield, Bowen, Chester, Porter)
    -new o-line coach with new/different power running/ball control philosophy
    -a quarterback coach for our three-headed monster

    That’s at least 20 tangible changes! So take the ‘status quo’ and put it back in your bag of rhetoric and use it when and where it applies. Quit your complaining and your lamenting and get your face out of your black cloud of negativity. Call sports radio if you need to find co-conspirators to your misery. Here’s an idea, open your eyes to the change and let the off-season play out before you rush to judgement on how those changes worked out. A team that wins only 7 games in two years has a lot of things wrong with it – not just the coach and quarterback! Never mind how changing these two key ingredients at will has put us in this position!

    • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jun 16, 2015 at 10:36 AM

      Lemmings? I don’t see the justifications for attacking other fans perceptions. Negative opinions as well as positive opinions have equal rights on this website.

      I’ll use one of your actual statements to justify negative rhetoric. “A team that wins only 7 games in two years has a lot of things wrong with it”. You’re Absolutely correct. So focusing on the negative and where fans think that focus should be directed is fully expected. As long as there is some balance towards some the positive which is really hard to fine on this team, what’s your justification on attacking other fans? Also as a coach, criticism on wins and losses have more merit than any other position on the field. Disagree if you like and that’s fine but resort to name calling on other fans for their opinions is not

      • bangkokben - Jun 16, 2015 at 12:07 PM

        I stand by what I wrote AND I completely understand the negativity. And this can be an avenue of expressing it. There are reasons for feeling it. The passionate fan may think it is one singular reason but I say it is multiple reasons – not just one reason – but a litany of reasons. For these passionate Redskin fans it is the owner, the head coach, and/or the quarterback. Some have posted here their feelings ad nauseum. Every time an article is posted it somehow opens that wound of owner, head coach or QB. Result: ‘fire the coach’ ‘never going to change with Snyder.’

        I have read countless times the opinions of those that feel Gruden is a head coach deserving of firing. This idea is neither new nor in the realm of reality. We have seen the results of constant change of head coaches and Gruden has coached one year of a FIVE-year guaranteed contract. I have no problem with the displeasure fans have of Gruden’s actions – especially if we are talking current actions. What I have a problem with is their expectations. He has to either turn this titanic mess around right now or we need to replace him. Where’s the logic in that? At the same time, Gruden has to do this by either making Griffin the quarterback we all envisioned him to be (pre-injury) or scrap him altogether and start Cousins AND he has to start ‘the young guys.’ So Gruden not only has to win now but on our terms. Again, where is the logic to that?

        Then there’s mantra: the ONLY way for the Redskins to improve is an ownership change. THIS IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! You might as well post: the only way for the Redskins to improve is an alien invasion, a zombie apocalypse, or an animal uprising. Not going to happen. There is nothing that can be done about the ownership. You can continue to lament about the owner as much as I can continue to call out how much of a waste a time it is.

        So, I expressed my displeasure with these fans that redundantly post these ideas without any new or original thought and those fans that state that there has been no change whatsoever – contrary to the evidence. So I listed actual changes AND it is this reader’s opinion that these ideas (that the only way for this team to improve is to fire YET another head coach or change ownership) are IRRELEVANT! At this point in time they are not in the realm of possibility and to constantly post them irregardless of subject matter is the equivalent of the mindset of a small fury mammal standing on the edge of cliff waving to the others, “Come on in the water is warm.”.

        • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jun 17, 2015 at 9:36 AM

          I actually thought the zombie apocalypse ended after Vinny Cerrato left. And the alien invasion is old news with all the Cowboy Fans in the area. As for the animal uprising, why bring Philly Fans into this?

          Anyway, much of what you state is true. Some fans have established their villain in the organization. They’ll beat the straw man on almost every article Rich releases. However, I think you’ll only fuel the fire when you call them out. Maybe you had a plan and wanted to gather them all under one comment section to keep them from scattering. If so it looks like only I took the bait.

          Actually I don’t consider myself a negative about the direction of the team or anyone hired within. However I do throw a few zings at Gruden when I can because I simply think he wasn’t a good hire for this team. I’ll be glad to be proven wrong if we can return to some form of our past winning ways and replace by current jersey name to “Lemming” if Gruden becomes a success as our head coach.

        • bangkokben - Jun 17, 2015 at 10:55 AM

          I LOVE the Redskins. I have ever since I first saw them on the television when I was five. I learned everything I could about football and the ‘skins. More than 35 years later my children and wife agonize with how much time I devote to them. They can’t understand why every Sunday in December when the Redskins have already been eliminated from playoff contention that I still rather spend time with the ‘skins then them. I generally tell them that I won’t have the ‘skins for another nine months but occasionally I let them know that I’ve had a longer relationship with Redskins than my wife and kids. Pathetic, I know.

          So, I get the crazed passion. I just don’t get the banging of the drum for the straw men. Whether they realize it or not, these are efforts by fans to lead other fans down a path to misery and hopelessness. Screw that!

          I was against the Shanahan hire. But I was also against the idea of firing Shanahan – not because he didn’t deserve it (I was right all along) – but because how much was invested into making the team into Shanahan’s image. Despite solid rookie seasons by Griffin, Morris, and Reed; the team was in no position for another coach to succeed.

          Gruden, to me, seemed to be the hire the organization thought most likely to succeed with Shanahan’s team. If that was why he was hired, they were dead wrong. But so what. Gruden wisely got himself a guaranteed five year contract which theoretically should buy him two more years. (Even Snyder isn’t go to pay $15M for a coach not to coach.) So, now the team is being built for Gruden and McCloughan and in 2017 we’ll be hitting the reset button or enjoying the fruits of their labor. Bang the drum if you must and pat yourself on the back if like me you were right all along but just like you, I hope you’re wrong.

        • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jun 17, 2015 at 11:58 AM

          “I let them know that I’ve had a longer relationship with Redskins than my wife and kids”

          I actually like this explanation even though the relationship can be defined as mostly one sided for the last twenty years, the wife should be impressed with how with stick through mostly thin than thick; or is the thick the good part of the two?

          Anyway, I was for the Shanahan hire but also realized the hazard in bringing in someone who comes with a unorthodox blocking scheme. I feel the Gruden hire was mostly about the maturation of RG3 but you may have a point about Gruden maybe building off what Shanahan put in place. Archives

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