Covering the Spread, Part Two
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Last week, we took a look at the NFL's best and worst shotgun quarterbacks. Now, it's time to expand that view and discuss the best and worst shotgun offenses and defenses overall. Certain teams are just outstanding through the air in shotgun sets -- you'll see the Patriots and Cowboys displaying particular efficiency with shotgun draws, where the quarterback delays the handoff to lure the oncoming defenders into over-pursuing, thus leaving open lanes for a back to jet through. According to Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, the following teams were most and least effective with overall offense out of the shotgun formation:
Washington's Clinton Portis led the NFL last year with 38 draws, followed by St. Louis' Steven Jackson, Dallas' Marion Barber, New England's Kevin Faulk, and Philly's Brian Westbrook. For the second straight season, the Patriots led the league in shotgun draws -- not surprising for the only team in NFL history to take snaps out of shotgun more than 50 percent of the time two seasons in a row. And with the trend going in favor of shotgun sets overall (as we pointed out in part one, the percentage of shotgun plays per season has gone up from 19.4 percent to 32.2 percent since 2006), here are the defenses most ahead of the curve, and the ones who need to adjust to the new circumstances (remember, because Defensive DVOA reflects the ability to take away points the metric is better when it's negative):
Teams with good gap control and the ability to make things happen in the middle defensive area without committing too many defenders have a better chance against the shotgun. On the other hand, defenses that over-pursue (the Cardinals may have been the most obvious offender in that category) will suffer in any offensive scheme deigned to upset defensive timing.
On offense, the San Francisco 49ers averaged 2.7 yards per play more in shotgun, which leads us to believe that they should run it more than 15 percent of the time. Following them in that line are the Saints at 2.2 yards per shotgun attempt over, and the Cardinals, Chiefs, and Ravens tied at 1.9 over. The Texans averaged 1.5 yards fewer per shotgun attempt, the Raiders were second-worst at 0.9, then the Browns (0.7), Jets (0.5), and Seahawks (0.2).
On defense, the Bengals (-0.8), Ravens (-0.3), Rams (0.2), and Vikings (-0.2) were the only teams to allow a lower yards per play average against shotgun sets, which brings us to the final point about the shotgun as a concept - the reason teams are running it more often is that they're more efficient when they do it. In 2008, the average run play from shotgun averaged 5.6 yards, compared to 4.1 yards on other carries. Schematic advantage is the key here, since teams are often playing pass against the shotgun. Offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per shotgun play overall in the last two seasons, and 5.1 with the quarterback under center. Football outsiders has discovered over time that even if you take out statistical anomalies like shotgun sets on obvious passing downs and situations. We've discovered that shotgun offenses are more efficient in any situation -- in the first half or second half, on every down, and pass or run.
Many teams are looking for the best way to bridge the gap between the requirements for NFL offenses and the personnel changes dictated by the college spread offense. In the end, it's the shotgun set that may be the key. Those who ignore its advantages now will be playing catch-up later on.
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