NFC South: shotgun formation

Matt Ryan thrives in shotgun formation

September, 19, 2012
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has been at his best out of the shotgun formation.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan has the league’s best Total QBR (98.6) out of the shotgun formation. Houston’s Matt Schaub (93.3) is the only other quarterback with a Total QBR above 90 out of the formation.

Ryan has completed 23 of 32 (71.9 percent) passes for 227 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions out of the shotgun formation.

Carolina’s Cam Newton hasn’t been as efficient out of the formation, but he’s used it more often and has put up a bigger yardage total. Newton has completed 33 of 48 (68.8 percent) passes for 517 yards and two touchdowns. But Newton also has been intercepted once and sacked four times. His Total QBR out of the shotgun formation is 66.4.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman has been somewhat efficient out of the formation, but he hasn’t used it as much as Newton or Ryan. Freeman has completed 15 of 25 (60 percent) for 184 yards and two touchdowns. But Freeman also has been intercepted once and sacked twice. His Total QBR out of the shotgun formation is 80.2.

Surprisingly, New Orleans Drew Brees, who usually leads all NFC South quarterbacks in most statistical categories, has struggled out of the shotgun formation this season.

Brees has completed 42 of 74 (56.8 percent) attempts for 537 yards and two touchdowns. But Brees has been intercepted three times and sacked three times. His Total QBR out of the shotgun formation is 49.6.

What to expect from Bucs' offense

February, 20, 2012
We won’t know what the new Tampa Bay offense will look like until the Buccaneers take the field in September. But we can get a little bit of a preview by looking at what’s in offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan’s background.

Before he was hired by the Bucs, Sullivan was the quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants. That doesn’t mean Sullivan will run the exact same offense the Giants use, but it’s a pretty safe bet that his system will be similar because the New York way is what he knows.

Let’s turn to ESPN Stats & Information to take a look at some of the things Sullivan may borrow from the Giants. The first thing that jumps out at me when I look at New York’s numbers from last season is what the Giants did on passes of 21 yards or more downfield.

New York quarterback Eli Manning led the league with 1,403 yards on such throws and also had 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. Manning also had a league-high 89 attempts of throws of 21 yards or more.

I think back to coach Greg Schiano’s introductory news conference in which he said several times he wanted an offense that takes shots downfield.

For the sake of comparison, Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman attempted only 34 deep throws last season. He completed only 12 of them (35.3 percent) for 393 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

There’s no question Freeman has the arm strength to get the ball downfield, and Sullivan is likely to emphasize that as he installs the offense. But Freeman will need his receivers to do a better job of getting separation.

I also would expect Sullivan to make frequent use of the shotgun offense. Freeman lined up in that formation 356 times last season and completed 64.6 percent of his passes. The Giants used the shotgun formation a little bit more as Manning attempted 364 passes. Manning’s completion percentage (60.2) wasn’t quite as good as Freeman’s. But Manning threw for 18 touchdowns out of the shotgun formation, while Freeman had only eight.

Play-action passing wasn’t a huge part of the Giants’ offense as Manning’s 101 attempts put him in the middle of the pack. Freeman had 89 attempts off play-action last season.

Screen passes were not a big part of the Giants’ offense. Manning attempted only 37 screens and completed 28 of them for 161 yards. Freeman completed 39 of 46 screens for 290 yards last season.

One area that really jumps out when looking at the Giants’ stats is receiving yardage after the catch. The Giants ranked No. 3 in the league with 2,136 yards after the catch. The Bucs were in the middle of the pack with 1,746 yards.

After looking at all this, it's pretty obvious the Bucs will need to make some adjustments to their personnel if they want this offense to truly resemble what the Giants do. They need to some receivers who can get open down the field. They also could use receivers (and a running back) that make things happen after the catch.

Shotgun formation and the NFC South

January, 5, 2012
NFC South quarterbacks fared very well out of the shotgun formation during the regular season with three of them ranking in the top 10 in completion percentage.

New Orleans’ Drew Brees led the NFL with a 70.3 completion percentage out of the shotgun formation, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Brees completed 256 of 364 passes for 3,164 yards with 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman was No. 4 in the league at 64.6 percent. Freeman completed 230 of 356 attempts for 2,350 yards with eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Atlanta’s Matt Ryan was No. 9 at 61.9 percent. Ryan completed 200 of 323 attempts for 2,308 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Carolina rookie Cam Newton wasn’t far from the top 10. He was No. 13 at 60.9 percent. Newton completed 218 of 358 attempts for 2,826 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Drew Brees by the numbers

November, 29, 2011
NEW ORLEANS -- It really doesn’t matter if you put Drew Brees in the shotgun formation or under center.

The New Orleans quarterback is going to hurt you either way. With lots of help from ESPN Stats & Information let’s look at what Brees did in Monday night’s 49-24 victory against the New York Giants.

Under center, Brees completed 13 of 19 passes. He averaged 9.9 yards per attempt and one touchdown per every 9.5 attempts. If Brees averaged those numbers over the course of a season, he’d lead the NFL in both categories.

It was pretty much the same story out of the shotgun formation. Brees completed 11 of 19 attempts. He averaged 9.2 yards per attempt and a touchdown on every 9.5 attempts. Both of those averages also would lead the NFL this season.

Shotgun formation not helping Falcons

September, 29, 2011
In theory, the shotgun formation is supposed to buy a quarterback a little bit more time.

In reality, that theory is not working for the Atlanta Falcons. When lining up in the shotgun formation, quarterback Matt Ryan has been sacked a league-high 10 times for a league-worst 77 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Ryan’s been sacked 13 times overall as the Falcons have been having all sorts of problems with their offensive line. But putting him in the shotgun isn’t doing anything to slow the pressure.

Ryan has completed 45 of 77 passes (58.2 percent) for 425 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions out of the shotgun. In that formation, his Total QBR is 36.7, which is well below the 50.0 rating that is considered average.

New Orleans’ Drew Brees is the NFC South quarterback having the most success out of the formation. Although he’s been sacked five times, Brees has completed 57 out of 80 passes (71.3) percent for 761 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Brees’ Total QBR out of the formation is 92.8, which ranks second in the league to Matt Hasselbeck’s 93.2.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman is close to Brees. Freeman has completed 52 of 68 passes (76.5 percent) for 464 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He’s been sacked three times and has an 84.1 Total QBR, which ranks fourth in the league.

Carolina’s Cam Newton has been sacked five times while in the shotgun formation. He’s completed 45 of 78 passes (57.7 percent) for 630 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His 25.4 Total QBR is No. 25 in the league.

NFC South QBs in shotgun formation

September, 22, 2011
Back before the NFL draft, there was a lot of talk about how Cam Newton had lined up only in the shotgun formation when he was at Auburn. Like that was a bad thing?

The Panthers have had Newton line up under center at times. But they’ve also used him in the shotgun formation. Through two weeks, Newton has attempted 54 passes out of the shotgun, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only five quarterbacks across the rest of the league have attempted more.

Newton’s completed 32 of those (59.3 percent) for 514 yards. That yardage total is second in the league to a guy you might have heard of -- New England’s Tom Brady (651 yards). But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Newton out of the shotgun. He’s thrown for one touchdown, three interceptions and been sacked five times. His NFL passer rating in those situations is 74.2, but his Total QBR is a meager 22.1.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman has been in the shotgun formation more than any NFC South quarterback and he’s thriving. Freeman has completed 44 of 57 passes (77.2 percent) for 411 yards and a touchdown. His NFL passer rating is 102.3 and his Total QBR is 86.2, which ranks sixth in the league.

New Orleans’ Drew Brees also is having success out of the formation. He’s completed 36 of 50 passes (72 percent) for 457 yards and a touchdown. Brees’ NFL passer rating is 106.8 and his Total QBR is 83.9.

Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has used the formation less than the other NFC South quarterbacks. He’s completed 26 of 44 passes (59.1 percent) for 227 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Here’s another stat that jumps out: Ryan has been sacked seven times when lining up in the shotgun. That’s a league high. Ryan’s NFL passer rating is 78.5 and his Total QBR is 40.9.
It seems like a lot of people are making a big deal of the fact that new Carolina quarterback Cam Newton didn’t line up under center very often in his one season at Auburn.

But I just looked at some numbers on how frequently NFL quarterbacks lined up in the shotgun formation last year and I’m thinking it might be a good thing that Newton is familiar with that system. It seems like most of the league’s top quarterbacks spent a lot of time in the shotgun formation and the Panthers could turn more in that direction going forward.

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning threw a league-high 510 passes from the shotgun formation last season. Guys like Drew Brees, Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan, Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers used the shotgun formation often and had success with it.

Let’s focus in on the quarterbacks for the other three NFC South franchises. Tampa Bay’s Freeman ranked sixth in the league with a 93.6 passer rating out of the shotgun formation. Freeman completed 170 of 279 passes (60.9 percent) for 2,006 yards with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions.

New Orleans’ Brees was No. 10 in the league with a 90.7 passer rating out of the shotgun formation. Brees completed 253 of 369 passes (68.6 percent) for 2,831 yards with 17 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Atlanta’s Ryan was No. 12 with a 90.0 passer rating from the shotgun. Ryan completed 201 of 325 passes (61.8 percent) for 2,099 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Carolina is the only NFC South team that didn’t have much success in the shotgun formation last season. Jimmy Clausen finished No. 39 in the NFL with a 63.2 passer rating in the formation. Clausen completed 96 of 175 passes (54.9 percent) with one touchdown and five interceptions.
One thing I wanted to get to Tuesday, but didn't -- thanks to the NFL schedule release and some other projects -- was this Hot Button debate. So let's turn our attention there now.

It’s between colleagues John Clayton and James Walker and they're asking which class of 2008 quarterback, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan or Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, will get to a Super Bowl first. There’s also an attached SportsNation poll where you can vote for Ryan or Flacco.

Let’s be clear that Clayton and Walker are friends of mine. Clayton’s been a mentor and Walker has become a good friend since we’ve been teammates on the ESPN blog network. I respect the opinions of both of these guys.

But I’m going to side with Clayton on this one. He says Ryan will win the race and cites Baltimore’s residence in the AFC as the reason because Flacco has to compete against some great quarterbacks and great teams. I see it as a little more than that.

No knock on Flacco, who is a very solid quarterback. But I think Ryan is flat-out better, even if their statistics are virtually the same. I think Ryan’s the kind of talent who could carry an offense to the Super Bowl.

I think it’s time for the Falcons to start letting him do that. While Ryan’s first three years have been very good, the Falcons have yet to totally turn him loose. Part of that is because they have a very good running game and like to keep balance in the offense.

But I think, when coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff sat down after the season and really thought about how to take the next step, they had to start thinking about putting more on Ryan’s shoulders.

They weren’t happy with their production of “explosive plays,’’ -- plays that go for 20 yards or more. Well, there’s a way to solve that. Let Ryan throw some more passes downfield. Let him work out of the shotgun formation more often and let him run the no-huddle offense more often. Every time Ryan runs the no-huddle it seems to work quite nicely. Also, stop wasting time having Ryan roll out. He doesn’t really like it, it’s not what he does best and it doesn’t accomplish much. Oh, and it also might be nice to add a speed receiver in the draft to go with Roddy White.

Walker’s argument in Flacco’s favor is that Ryan has yet to win a postseason game. That’s true and that knock is going to be with him until he wins one.

There’s one way to erase that knock. Simply turn Ryan loose and he’ll start winning postseason games and that’s how you get to a Super Bowl.
We’ve already shown you video clips of Jon Gruden and Cam Newton in Gruden’s QB Camp here and here.

Newton is one possibility for the Carolina Panthers if they choose to go with a quarterback at No. 1 overall in the draft. But Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert also is believed to be another possibility.

In this clip of Gabbert in Gruden’s QB Camp, Gruden asks the quarterback how he would adapt to the NFL after playing in a spread offense in college in which he usually lined up in the shotgun formation.

Gabbert gives a pretty solid answer, saying he threw the ball a lot in college and, with some adjustments, can do the same thing in the NFL.

By the way, you can check out the full 30-minute programs of Gruden with Newton and Gabbert at ESPN U. Newton’s segment airs Monday at 7 p.m. ET. Gabbert’s spot is scheduled to air in the same time slot Wednesday.


More on how the game is changing

April, 12, 2011
In this post Monday, we looked at how the National Football League has been turning more to the passing game the past three years.

We previously talked about how teams are throwing the ball more often, using the shotgun formation more frequently and turning to empty backfields more than ever. But there’s more to be factored in with all that.

The changes are making wide receivers and defensive backs more important, while teams are getting away from two-running back sets.

In 2010, teams used three or more wide receivers on 48.2 percent of offensive snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 2009, the percentage was 46.1 and it was 45.7 in 2008. The flip side of that is the use of two or more running backs on the field has declined in that same time frame. Last season, teams used two backs on 30.4 percent of plays. In 2009, the figure was 33.8 percent and 34 percent in 2008.

The offensive trends have made the nickel back almost like a starter on defense. In 2010, teams used formations of five or more defensive backs on 48.5 percent of all defensive snaps. In 2009, that figure was 44.9 percent and it was 43.4 in 2008.

Defenses also have tried to adjust by blitzing defensive backs more often. In 2010, defensive backs blitzed on 15.9 percent of all drop backs. That’s up from 13.3 percent in 2009 and 11.5 percent in 2008.
I’ve written several times in recent weeks that the Carolina Panthers are giving strong consideration to using the first pick in the upcoming draft on Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

One of the reasons I’m saying that is because I believe the departure of former coach John Fox and his offensive philosophy (control the ball with the running game, rely on the occasional pass and win with strong defense) have cause the organization to re-evaluate things. One of the reasons, Newton is getting this kind of consideration is because the Panthers believe that the league has changed and is now, more than ever, driven by quarterbacks.

What’s that mean? Well, it’s not too hard to visualize. Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have been having lots of success and so have their teams. Rules have changed and so have trends in play-calling, scheme and personnel in the past three years.

Want proof? Let’s turn to ESPN Stats & Information for some pretty strong evidence. Starting with the 2008 season (gee, that’s the last year Fox and the Panthers had a winning record) there has been a noticeable league-wide shift from the running game.

Last season, the pass/run ratio (based on play design) was 59 percent to 41 percent. In 2009, it was 58 percent to 42 percent. In 2008, it was 57.2 percent to 42.8 percent. Play design for passes includes plays that resulted in a pass attempt, a sack or a scramble.

The percentage shift might not seem like that big a deal, but let’s explore it a little further. The shift has been very pronounced when you look only at the pass/run ratio of playoff teams over the past three seasons. In 2010, the playoff teams passed on 58.9 of their regular-season plays while running on 41.1 percent of their plays. In 2009, the margin was 57.8 percent to 42.2 percent. In 2008, it was 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent.

A lot of critics are down on Newton and Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who also is in the mix to be Carolina’s choice, because both of them lined up in the shotgun formation frequently in college. Well, guess what? That might not be such a bad thing.

Lining up under center is still far more common in the NFL, but the shotgun formation has been used a lot more the past three seasons. In 2010, 38.3 percent of league-wide snaps came out of the shotgun formation, while 61.7 percent came from under center. In 2009, 37 percent of snaps came out of the shotgun formation and the figure was 32.3 percent in 2008.

Another trend has been for offenses to line up in empty-backfield sets and spread out defenses with five receivers. In 2010, the league average was 6.4 snaps per game with just a quarterback in the backfield. In 2009, that average was 4.8. In 2008, it was 4.7.

Bottom line: If the Panthers want to compete in the modern NFL, they’re going to have to scrap the offense Fox and offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson ran and new coach Ron Rivera and coordinator Rob Chudzinski need to use a more creative offensive scheme. It would help if they have a quarterback that allows them to be creative.
Let’s continue the flow of great stuff from ESPN Stats & Information with some numbers on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints that I think are pretty interesting.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the Saints haven’t been as productive offensively as they were last year. No argument here. However, there’s one area where Brees and the Saints are really shining.

That’s when they use the shotgun formation, where Brees has a league-best 119.4 passer rating. He also has thrown all seven of his touchdowns (and just one interception) out of that formation. Brees also is averaging 7.7 yards per attempt when the Saints throw out of the shotgun formation.

For comparison, let’s take a look at what Brees has done when lining up under center. His passer rating dips to 78.8. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown and has been intercepted once. He also is averaging 6.2 yards per attempt.

It would be easy to say the Saints should line up in the formation more often. But they’re already doing that. They have attempted 58 percent of their passes out of the shotgun formation. Last year, they threw 53 percent of their passes out of the shotgun formation.

Shotgun formation works in NFC South

September, 30, 2010
A recent survey, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, says that the shotgun formation works for three out of four NFC South teams.

Looking at numbers from the first three games of the season, New Orleans’ Drew Brees easily has been the league’s most productive quarterback out of the shotgun formation. He has a league-best 125.4 passer rating while completing 53 of 67 passes (79.1 percent). He’s thrown six touchdowns and one interception out of the formation.

Atlanta’s Matt Ryan ranks fourth in the league with a 108.5 rating out of the formation and only Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are between Ryan and Brees. Ryan’s completed 31 of 49 passes (63.3 percent) out of the formation with five touchdowns and one interception.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman also has been fairly effective out of the shotgun formation. He ranks No. 12 with an 87.7 passer rating. Carolina’s had mixed results with the formation while playing two quarterbacks so far. Matt Moore, who started the first two games, has a 104.8 passer rating in those situations and that puts him at No. 6 in the league.

But rookie Jimmy Clausen got his first start Sunday and didn’t have much success out of the shotgun formation, compiling a 55.6 rating.

Numbers on the Saints

September, 21, 2010
With some help from the fine folks at ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a look back at some numbers out of the Saints’ 25-22 victory against San Francisco on Monday night.
  • Drew Brees' numbers haven’t been quite as gaudy as we’ve seen the past two years in the first two games. But that’s largely because he’s gone against Minnesota and San Francisco defenses that are pretty good, and he had to deal with a strong wind in San Francisco.
  • One trend that has emerged is how good Brees has been out of the shotgun formation. Against Minnesota, he completed 75 percent of his passes out of the formation while averaging 6.1 yards an attempt with one touchdown, no interceptions and a 101.9 passer rating.
  • Against the 49ers, Brees completed 76.5 percent of his passes and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt. He also had two touchdowns and no interceptions while compiling a 139.3 passer rating.
  • Brees finished the San Francisco game with a 108.9 passer rating. That’s his sixth consecutive game with a rating over 100 and the 29th game he’s done that since 2007. That makes him the leader in the league (one game more than Philip Rivers) in games with passer ratings over 100 since 2007.
  • The Saints are 2-0 for the seventh time in franchise history, but it’s the first time they’ve done it in consecutive seasons.
  • We all know the New Orleans defense has been creating a bunch of turnovers since the arrival of coordinator Gregg Williams last year. On Monday night, the Saints had four turnovers. That’s the fifth time they’ve forced at least four turnovers in a game since the start of the 2009 season. No other team has done it more than four times.

Tales from training camps past

July, 27, 2010
As we count down the hours to training camp and, hopefully, get a few more draft picks signed Tuesday afternoon, I was just thinking of some of my favorite or most memorable stories of training camps past. Apologies to Atlanta and New Orleans fans –- I’ll try to include a story or two on your teams, but most of my newspaper days were spent covering the Panthers and Buccaneers, so I might be a little heavy on them.

  • Let’s start with an Atlanta tale while I’ve got one. If there was an omen for the Falcons in 2009, it might have come on one of the first days of camp as the Falcons were coming off an 11-5 season. For reasons beyond me, a bird flew into the closed glass door to the media room. It did not end well and some suggest that set the tone for an up-and-down season by the Falcons.
  • Sam Wyche was probably the most colorful coach I’ve ever covered. Lots of coaches like to yell out situations -- “It’s fourth down, there are five seconds left in the game and we’ve got the ball at their 32-yard line." Generally players go out and run the play and that’s the end of it. Wyche, who coached some pretty horrible Tampa Bay teams, had a knack for yelling things like “Wait, there was a penalty. Let’s try it again." He’d do that until the play ended well and that made for some very long practices.
  • I believe I witnessed Tony Dungy getting as mad as he’s ever been. It happened one day during a practice at the University of Tampa where linebacker Hardy Nickerson got into a fight with a team the Bucs were scrimmaging (I believe, but am not entirely certain, it was either the Dolphins or Redskins). Dungy, who usually looks very placid, dashed over to Nickerson and said something. He didn’t yell. But Nickerson quickly was on his way to the locker room and got the rest of the day off.
  • At Panthers’ camp, if you stand on the wooded side of the field that George Seifert used to refer to as the jungle, insects can be a problem. Carolina’s public relations staff is very generous in sharing insect repellent with members of the media. But there was a morning a few years back when the repellent couldn’t be found. A wise former co-worker I’ll call “Stan’’ gave this bit of advice: “The first line of defense is to pull up your socks." Of course Stan, who I believe parked cars at Woodstock, is one of those guys who always wears his socks just below his knees.
  • Fights are common in training camp, but the one I saw in Carolina two years ago was far from common. The offense and defense had just finished a session and the special teams came onto the field. Suddenly, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked and saw coach John Fox and quarterback Jake Delhomme jumping into a pile to try to pull the participants apart. If the coach and the quarterback are jumping in, you know it’s got to be bad and I knew right away Steve Smith had to be involved. He was. He had just slugged Ken Lucas.
  • The most painful moment I ever witnessed in a training camp didn’t take place on the field. It took place on the way to the Carolina locker room. Former Carolina defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who had various times weighed more than 350 pounds, somehow commandeered a golf cart and decided to back up. Carolina security director Gene Brown, a very pleasant man, happened to be standing behind the cart. Jenkins accidently ran him over. Luckily, Brown recovered and I haven’t seen a Carolina player get near a golf cart since.
  • This one actually happened before my time in Carolina, but it’s the stuff of legend. The life of a sports writer isn’t as glamorous as you might think. We spend a lot of time standing around and that can get the creative juices flowing. That’s what happened in Carolina when Dom Capers, a coach who did not believe in the shotgun formation, was still there. One day, a writer I’ll call “Newt’’ missed practice because of some car trouble. The other writers got quarterback Steve Beuerlein, who is as good a guy as you’ll ever meet, to play along with a prank. When “Newt’’ arrived, the other writers happily detailed how the Panthers had spent the entire practice installing the shotgun. One of the writers then handed “Newt’’ a tape recorder that had Beuerlein talking all about how the team was looking forward to the shotgun. “Newt’’ hurriedly began listening to the tape and writing his story. Seconds before he was about to send the story, the other writers finally informed him it was all a joke.



Sunday, 11/23
Monday, 11/24