Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I’m really interested to see how often the Chiefs decide to pass the ball against the Bucs on Sunday afternoon.
Examine the pass rush ranking of the defenses the Chiefs have faced and their pass rate on early downs in the first 3 quarters, and I will separate these out by strength of pass rush and list in week order within those categories:
Strong pass rushes:
#10 Texans: 51% pass in week 1
#8 Ravens: 61% pass in week 3
#7 Bills: 38% pass (rain) in week 6
#9 Broncos: 55% pass in week 7
#3 Bucs: ??
Poor pass rushes:
#23 Chargers: 64% pass in week 2
#24 Patriots: 63% pass in week 4
#28 Raiders: 59% pass in week 5
#26 Jets: 79% pass in week 8
#25 Panthers: 79% pass in week 9
#28 Raiders: 58% pass in week 11
Clearly, against the Raiders, even though they have a poor pass rush, the Chiefs have been hesitant to pass often.
Was the Chiefs elevated pass rate in weeks 8 and 9 the result of facing the terrible pass rushes of the Jets and Panthers, or were they passing the ball more because, after being more run heavy earlier in the season, they want to ramp up the pass game at this point in the season?
Most teams pass more often against the Bucs than run.
Teams pass the ball on the Bucs on 56% of early downs on the first three quarters, which is the 3rd highest rate in the NFL.
This is because the Bucs have a really strong run defense and are more susceptible to passes than rushes.
But given how hesitant Andy Reid has been to pass the ball against strong pass rushes, I’m unsure how often he’ll air it out.
Reid may want to look at what the Rams did last week against the Bucs just last week, where Jared Goff dropped back to pass the ball 51 times and wasn’t sacked once, and the Rams starting RBs carried the ball only 8 times and 5 times per RB. The Rams scored 17 first half points and won on the road.
Also in favor of passing the ball will be the return of WR Sammy Watkins, who was previously injured and hasn’t played since week 5) and Mecole Hardman, who was on the COVID list and barely played in Week 11 (only 1 target).
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
The intrigue in this game lies with how often Titans OC Arthur Smith wishes to pass the ball.
Last week, the Titans went 63% run against the Ravens on early downs in the first three quarters.
Runs gained just 3.4 YPC with a 35% success rate.
And the Titans fell down in a 21-10 deficit.
The Titans are one of the most run heavy teams in the NFL. But they need to select their run/pass ratios based on strength of opponent’s run defense, not simply based on what they want to to do.
In their last 5 games, look at the Titans early down run vs pass ratio in the first half of the game, and examine the strength of those run defenses against early down runs on the season:
Week 7: 63% run vs the Steelers (#3 run defense)
Week 8: 63% run vs the Bengals (#15 run defense)
Week 9: 65% run vs the Bears (#1 run defense)
Week 10: 57% run vs the Colts (#7 run defense)
Week 11: 61% run vs the Ravens (#16 run defense)
Bear in mind that over the first half of the season (through week 6) the Titans were 52% run, which was the #6 most run heavy offense in the NFL.
That INCREASED from 52% run all the way up to 62% run, moving to #1 most run heavy offense, and a full 16% above league average (46%), despite the fact the Titans played three top-10 run defenses and zero run defenses that ranked outside the top half of the league.
In that first half of the season, the Titans went 5-0 and led at halftime by an average of 5.6 ppg.
Since that point, as they’ve ramped up their run rate despite facing strong run defenses, they are 2-3 and trailed at halftime by an average of 3.4 ppg.
The Titans must start to pass the ball more often on early downs against good run defenses. And the Colts are absolutely a good run defense.
Last week, the Packers wisely saw where the Colts were strong, and avoided it.
On early downs in the first three quarters, the Packers passed the ball 58% of the time and Aaron Rodgers was 15/18, 9.2 YPA, with 72% success and 3 TDs.
In the Titans last game the Titans passed the ball on every first down on their opening drive and scored a TD.
But after that, they ran the ball on 65% of their early downs and only scored 10 more points.
While the Titans entered halftime with a lead, it was completely fraudulent:
The Colts didn’t punt at all in the 1st half and drove 45+ yards every time, getting inside the Titans 30 each drive. The Titans should have trailed, but held a lead at halftime.
Thinking they were on the right track, the Titans turned up the run rate.
The Titans then went an insane 75% run on early downs in the 3rd quarter, but didn’t score a single point, and trailed by 11 entering the 4th quarter.
Incredibly, even down double digits in the 4th quarter, the Titans went an insane 60% runs on early downs as they were trying to comeback!
That’s 12 runs and only 8 passes, down double digits in the 4th quarter.
Collectively, early down runs in the first three quarters averaged just 4.4 YPC and 50% success.
I’ll be fascinated to see the strategy Arthur Smith decides to bring to Indianapolis on Sunday.
Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars
Over their last 3 games the weather has been insanely bad in Cleveland.
Due to weather, the Browns were the most run heavy team in the NFL on early downs the first 3 quarters.
They ran the ball on 62% of these plays, recording an NFL low 3.1 YPC with just a 39% success rate.
Somehow, in the high winds and rain, passes gained 8.3 YPA.
Over the first 7 weeks of the season, the Browns were still more run-heavy than average, but closer to a 50/50 split, which is only 3% below average instead of the 15% below average during these weather games
The Jaguars pass defense ranks #31 while their run defense ranks much better.
The Jaguars lost their lone defensive bright spot, pass rusher Josh Allen, who was having one of the best seasons in the NFL for pass rushers.
Also, they just put multiple starters in the secondary on IR and were without both starting CBs last game due to injury.
If you’re going to the playoffs, you’ll need to be able to pass to compete with the likes of the Steelers, Chiefs and other top teams in the AFC. You may fall behind in these games as well, and need to rally.
Browns HC Kevin Stefanski needs to give Baker Mayfield and the Browns passing offense the practice it needs.
This could be a day for Baker to have some fun, re-build some confidence in the passing game, before they take on the Titans and Ravens.