How Play-Calling Tendencies Affect Fantasy Football

How Play-Calling Tendencies Affect Fantasy Football

By TJ Hernandez (Associate Editor), last update Jul 27, 2017

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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.

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When projecting stats on the seasonal/weekly level, interpreting how a playcaller will impact the production of his players can be a bit nebulous. There are certainly play callers that clearly trend more towards either the pass or the run, but we also know teams that win more tend to run more, while teams that lose more usually pass more. 

The goal of this exercise is to examine play-calling tendencies in specific game script situations with hopes of quantifying exactly how sensitive each offensive playcaller is to game script, as well as how wins and losses might have affected each team’s pass/run splits, starting with the latter.

Play-Calling Tendencies in Wins/Losses

The following table illustrates how sensitive each active playcaller has been to game script, listing the percentage increase in run plays that they called in wins versus in losses:

Rush Rates in Wins vs Rush Rates in Losses, Active Playcallers 
Playcaller Team Rush % in Wins Rush % in Losses Rush % Wins Vs Losses
Hue Jackson Browns 53.6% 36.5% 17.1%
Mike Mularkey Titans 52.1% 35.5% 16.6%
Dowell Loggains Bears 52.4% 36.2% 16.2%
Doug Marrone Jaguars 52.4% 37.5% 14.9%
Marty Mornhinweg Ravens 52.2% 38.4% 13.8%
Ken Zampese Bengals 50.4% 36.9% 13.5%
Dirk Koetter Buccaneers 49.8% 36.6% 13.2%
Jay Gruden Redskins 47.7% 35.2% 12.5%
Doug Pederson Eagles 47.6% 35.3% 12.3%
Rob Chudzinski Colts 50.5% 38.3% 12.2%
Ken Whisenhunt Chargers 45.8% 33.6% 12.2%
Bruce Arians Cardinals 46.7% 34.7% 12.0%
Sean Payton Saints 43.2% 31.5% 11.7%
Darrell Bevell Seahawks 52.2% 41.1% 11.1%
League Average   46.1% 35.2% 10.9%
Bill O'Brien Texans 48.1% 37.4% 10.7%
Todd Haley Steelers 46.2% 35.6% 10.6%
Andy Reid Chiefs 46.1% 35.7% 10.4%
Ben McAdoo Giants 45.1% 34.7% 10.4%
Mike Shula Panthers 50.2% 39.8% 10.4%
Pat Shurmur Vikings 48.0% 37.6% 10.4%
Mike McCoy Broncos 45.7% 35.6% 10.1%
Mike McCarthy Packers 44.5% 34.8% 9.7%
Josh McDaniels Patriots 45.6% 36.3% 9.3%
Kyle Shanahan 49ers 46.8% 37.9% 8.9%
Adam Gase Dolphins 45.6% 37.2% 8.4%
Scott Linehan Cowboys 44.9% 36.8% 8.1%
Jim Bob Cooter Lions 39.1% 31.4% 7.7%
John Morton Jets N/A N/A N/A
Rick Dennison Bills N/A N/A N/A
Sean McVay Rams N/A N/A N/A
Steve Sarkisian Falcons N/A N/A N/A
Todd Downing Raiders N/A N/A N/A

Click header to sort. N/A denotes play callers without a full season of play-calling experience.

The table above doesn’t tell the entire story, though, because we need to know a baseline rate of how run-heavy a playcaller is to begin with which will allow us to determine his degree of game script sensitivity. Since the amount of time an offense plays with a lead or a deficit can vary from one year to the next, how a playcaller reacts in these situations can have a major impact on the amount of collective volume we should be projecting for the players on his team, especially at the weekly level.

Situational Rush Rates

By looking at a playcaller's rush rate both when his team is in a neutral situation (up/down by fewer than eight points) and when his team is up/down by eight points or more, we can get an idea of exactly what his baseline tendencies are in the first place, as well as an idea of exactly how he tends to adjust his game plan to specific conditions. For instance, does a playcaller that calls a high percentage of runs in wins actually do so at a higher rate than expected given positive game script, or is he also liable to call passes at a higher rate than expected given negative game script?

Below is a look at the difference between the rate each playcaller has a called a run while his team is leading by eight or more and the rate each playcaller has called a run while his team is trailing by eight or more:

Situational Rush Rates, Active Playcallers
Playcaller Team Neutral Rush % Rush % up by 8+ Rush % down by 8+ Rush % up 8+ vs down 8+
Doug Marrone Jaguars 43.6% 64.4% 26.7% 37.7%
Ken Zampese Bengals 40.0% 55.6% 23.4% 32.2%
Doug Pederson Eagles 38.8% 62.9% 30.8% 32.1%
Hue Jackson Browns 45.4% 59.0% 27.1% 31.9%
Mike Mularkey Titans 44.4% 58.2% 26.4% 31.8%
Todd Haley Steelers 41.3% 53.7% 26.9% 26.8%
Bruce Arians Cardinals 40.9% 53.7% 27.1% 26.6%
Ken Whisenhunt Chargers 39.6% 50.3% 23.9% 26.4%
Scott Linehan Cowboys 40.6% 53.9% 27.6% 26.3%
Jay Gruden Redskins 41.3% 53.6% 27.5% 26.1%
Rob Chudzinski Colts 42.6% 56.8% 31.0% 25.8%
Marty Mornhinweg Ravens 44.8% 55.8% 30.4% 25.4%
Adam Gase Dolphins 43.3% 51.1% 26.5% 24.6%
Darrell Bevell Seahawks 45.6% 56.0% 31.7% 24.3%
Bill O'Brien Texans 43.8% 55.1% 30.8% 24.3%
Dowell Loggains Bears 39.3% 54.3% 30.5% 23.8%
Pat Shurmur Vikings 41.6% 53.8% 30.1% 23.7%
Mike McCoy Broncos 38.8% 53.8% 30.1% 23.7%
League Average   40.5% 51.5% 28.0% 23.5%
Mike Shula Panthers 43.6% 57.0% 33.6% 23.4%
Sean Payton Saints 36.0% 50.8% 27.9% 22.9%
Dirk Koetter Buccaneers 43.0% 53.6% 30.8% 22.8%
Ben McAdoo Giants 39.7% 50.6% 28.1% 22.5%
Mike McCarthy Packers 38.4% 49.9% 28.0% 21.9%
Jim Bob Cooter Lions 36.4% 42.9% 21.1% 21.8%
Kyle Shanahan 49ers 40.5% 54.0% 32.3% 21.7%
Andy Reid Chiefs 39.7% 49.9% 29.0% 20.9%
Josh McDaniels Patriots 39.7% 50.1% 29.7% 20.4%
John Morton Jets N/A N/A N/A N/A
Rick Dennison Bills N/A N/A N/A N/A
Sean McVay Rams N/A N/A N/A N/A
Steve Sarkisian Falcons N/A N/A N/A N/A
Todd Downing Raiders N/A N/A N/A N/A

Click header to sort.

Takeaways

  • Play callers that are more run-heavy in neutral situations tend to be more game-script sensitive, as they are forced to deviate from their original game plan the most when playing from behind.
  • When using a play caller’s game script adjustments for fantasy projections, start with their tendencies in neutral situations, which will best represent how they generally want to run his offense. 
  • Vegas future win totals and weekly lines can be used as a guide to project how situational play-calling tendencies will play out on the field in the upcoming season or game, respectively.
  • Ken Zampese and Doug Pederson are the only play callers that have called passes at least 60% of the time in game-neutral situations and over 55% of the time with a lead of eight or more. Note that both of them only have one year of experience as a primary playcaller.
  • Adam Gase is the only playcaller that has called runs at a higher than average rate in game-neutral situations while calling passes at a higher than average rate both with a lead or deficit of eight or more.

Applying Game Script Sensitivity to Your Fantasy Football Research

In most cases, the talent level of a team's roster and the game scripts the team finds itself in will ultimately determine its playcaller's philosophy. By quantifying exactly how each playcaller reacts to specific circumstances, we can adjust our player projections accordingly.

Play-calling tendencies are just one piece of a giant puzzle, but the data outlined in this article should serve as an upgrade to basic pass/run splits and oversimplified narratives that tend to surround a team's expectation for the upcoming season. Combined with Vegas forecasts, the analysis of play-calling tendencies relative to game script can offer a major edge—both in preseason fantasy drafts and weekly lineup decisions, so be sure to use them in conjunction with our player projections (updated daily) and customizable cheat cheets.

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