Trevor Siemian could be a Worse Fit in Mike McCoy’s Offense than you Think

By Warren Sharp

Last year the Denver Broncos rarely used shotgun.  On average, teams used shotgun on 63% of their snaps.  The Broncos used it only 42% of the time, 21% less than average.  Much of the reason had to do with Gary Kubiak’s offensive scheme and preference.  But all of that will change this season.  And there are two key impacts it will have on this offense:  the team may get far more predictable on offense, and the passing offense may be even worse as Trevor Siemian struggles tremendously in shotgun.

First, let’s discuss predictability.  As mentioned, the Broncos used shotgun on only 42% of their snaps.  It was the second least in the NFL.  Here is the entire landscape of the 32 teams last season and their shotgun v under center rates, courtesy of the Snap Rates page at Sharp Football Stats:

DEN shotgun rate

Being close to a 50/50 split is not a bad thing.  After all, tremendous offenses like the Falcons, Patriots, Cowboys and Saints were all using shotgun less than average.  There is an inherent relationship between game script and shotgun usage, so some of the worse offenses use shotgun more when they are trailing, and don’t pass as often when lining up under center.  Still, we see that it’s a preference, as some teams who won a lot (Packers, Seahawks, Chiefs and Steelers) used shotgun well above average, and some teams who lost a lot of games (Broncos, Saints, Redskins and Rams) used shotgun well below average.

The problem for the Broncos last year was predictability.  When in shotgun, they passed the ball on 86% of their play calls (4th most).  They were far less predictable when under center, where they passed the ball on 41% of their play calls, but this was still the 3rd most “pass heavy” team from under center.  That makes sense, however, considering how infrequently they used shotgun.  If the Broncos were the 4th most pass heavy team in shotgun, but rarely used shotgun, they had to pass the ball a lot more often when under center.

So what could we see in 2017?  Well the new Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has emphasized the team’s desire to be more aggressive offensively, and that includes more shotgun.  His offense is more of a spread, pass-first offense.  They want to operate out of the shotgun more and sprinkle in more deep shots down the field.  The thought was that this would play more to Paxton Lynch’s strength, given that Lynch came from a shotgun offense in college.  Perhaps too many snaps under center (Kubiak’s 2016 offense) was what was holding Lynch back?  In training camp, Demaryius Thomas said this about Lynch:

“It’s totally different.  It’s something he’s more comfortable in. He’s used to being in the shotgun and seeing the defense instead of turning his back to the defense. I say that about every other quarterback that I have played with, the same with Peyton [Manning]. He [Lynch] was with an offense in college where he was in the shotgun all the time and he was comfortable with that, and he’s in it now. His confidence is way better than it was last year.”

But here is the problem:  Lynch didn’t win the starting quarterback job.  While all of the talk was good in May, June and July, in August Lynch lost the battle once again this summer.  Trevor Siemian is the Broncos 2017 starting quarterback.

And while Trevor Siemian said that every quarterback prefers to be in shotgun, he clearly is less sentient than most playing the position.  Because he struggles tremendously from shotgun, at least thus far in his career.

I prefer using visualizations to emphasize points and the visuals on the Receiving Success Rate Over Average (SROA) at Sharp Football Stats prove this point tremendously:

Siemian UNDER CENTER

Siemian Shotgun

While Siemian’s success wasn’t great under center, his success rate of 54% was still approximately the NFL average.  However, put him in shotgun and that success rate dips a full 10%, down to 43.7%.  And it now drops to nearly 5% below the NFL average.  As the above numbers show, even though the Broncos are going to become even more shotgun-heavy in 2017, they still used shotgun for the majority of their pass attempts in 2016, meaning the sample size is clearly worth analyzing.  And the results are troubling.

Inside the red zone, just 34% of Siemian’s pass attempts were successful, one of the worst marks in the NFL.  And the problem can be significantly attributed to Siemian’s struggles from shotgun.  Below I’ve outlined a great feature of this SROA tool, and that is segregating out field position (among many other filter capabilities).  In field goal range, when the Broncos are trying to score those elusive TDs instead of settling for field goals (Denver averaged less than 21 ppg last year), the problem was Siemian’s struggles in shotgun.

Here we see that Siemian was actually successful on nearly 60% of pass attempts when under center, 8% above league average.

Siemian inside opp 35 - under center

However, when in shotgun inside the opponent’s 35 yard line, Siemian’s struggles were evident.  His success rate dropped from nearly 60% down to 37%.  Even on shorter passes, his success rate was extremely poor.  Overall, he dropped from 8% better than average when under center to approximately 8% worse than average when operating out of shotgun.

Siemian inside opp 35 - SHOTGUN

To use more common, non-advanced stats, here is how Siemian compared inside the opponent’s 35 yard line last year:

  • Under center:  123 rating, 8.1 YPA, 70% completions, 5:1 TD:INT
  • From shotgun:  71 rating, 3.9 YPA, 54% completions, 8:5 TD:INT

This was not a case of the Broncos using shotgun only in detrimental situations, thus forcing these shotgun numbers to expectedly become worse.  This isn’t a case of 3rd and long situations from shotgun, focusing primarily on low efficiency RB passes.  Take a look at these numbers, under these parameters:

  1. Inside the opponent’s 35 yard line
  2. On early downs (1st and 2nd)
  3. On passes only targeting WRs and TEs

Here is what Siemian delivered last season:

  • Under center:  123 rating, 8.8 YPA, 69% completions, 5:1 TD:INT, 66% success, 13% SROA
  • From shotgun:  52 rating, 4.1 YPA, 58% completions, 2:3 TD:INT, 43% success, -5% SROA

Clearly this shows these numbers are not a factor of 3rd and hopeless and obvious passing situations from shotgun.  This was a big flaw in Siemian’s game last season.

Charting out Siemian’s critical game 3 of the preseason, he attempted all but 3 of his 22 passes from shotgun.  The team will run the ball far more from shotgun than they did in 2016, but they will also pass much more from shotgun.  Playing into the weakness of Siemian.  Additionally, my fear is that Denver’s run rate when under center will be predictably high, giving defenses another key and increasing their ability to stuff the run easier.

The Broncos traded up for Paxton Lynch in 2016, drafting him with the 26th overall selection.  They hoped he might be ready in 2016, but he was not.  They surely believed he would be ready in 2017, and one of the perks of new OC Mike McCoy’s offense was the shotgun style more familar to Lynch.  Unfortunately, that didn’t help Lynch and Siemian won the job (again).  And unfortunately for Denver, Siemian has showed that he struggles immensely from shotgun, particularly in scoring position.

What does that mean in 2017?  It means that for this marriage of McCoy’s offense with Siemian’s arm to see any hope for success, McCoy will have to get Siemian to perform better from shotgun.  It’s as simple as that.  There is absolutely no sugar-coating the situation.  If Siemian once again performs poorly from shotgun, the offense is doomed considering how often McCoy will get him to pass from shotgun.

I spoke with Benjamin Allbright, a Denver radio host and news insider, and he said:

“Denver brought McCoy and [Bill] Musgrave in for their experience in developing quarterbacks and adapting their offenses to them.”

The only alternative, if Siemian continues his struggles from the shotgun, is for McCoy to understand the weakness of his quarterback and get Siemian to take snaps from under center more often.  In either case, it will be fascinating to see the dynamic (and hopefully positive growth) in 2017 when Siemian takes snaps from shotgun.

About the author:  Warren Sharp (follow: @SharpFootball) owns and operates SharpFootballAnalysis.com and SharpFootballStats.com

70 Observations on how NFC Teams Must Improve Passing Efficiency in 2017

By Connor Allen

This is the second half of my “how to pass more efficiently series”, you can find the first one here:

The NFC seems to be no different than the AFC in the fact that elite tight ends are some of the most efficient pass-catchers in the NFL and “receiving-backs” are largely unsuccessful. The source for all of these observations is the Receiving Success Rate Over Average (SROA) tool at Sharp Football Stats.  Here are my findings for the NFC East:

NFC North

Packers

  1. Aaron Rodgers was best when throwing to the right, posting a 10% SROA short and 5% SROA deep. This was significantly better than the rest of the field where he was either exactly average or slightly below.
  2. Jordy Nelson was a highly efficient receiver when thrown to within 15 yards, especially short right where he posted a whopping 27% SROA in his most targeted area (65 times).
  3. If watching Packer’s games wasn’t enough to convince you, Jordy’s deep SROA (0% deep left, -23% deep center, and -4% deep right) makes it clear that he isn’t the deep threat he once was. He should remain the Packer’s premier target within 15 yards.
  4. Davante Adams overall SROA of 0.3% doesn’t tell the full story of his efficiencies. He is a rare example of a player that is clearly better in some parts of the field than others.4
  5. Despite having a “down” year in fantasy, Randall Cobb was one of the most successful receivers on the Packers posting a 7.7% SROA overall, grading positively in 5/6 zones.

Bears

  1. Cameron Meredith was highly efficient player on a relatively inefficient offense last season. He had an overall 6% SROA and only graded negatively short center (-1%)
  2. The loss of Alshon Jeffery will be a big one for the Bears as he absolutely dominated short right (25% SROA). This was also the area he was targeted most (28 times).
  3. Jordan Howard struggled as a pass-catcher last season with a -4.8% SROA only grading positively short center (6%).

Lions

  1. The Lions employ a “dink-and dunk” approach in the passing game with Matt Stafford and their SROA shows why they are successful at it.9
  2. Golden Tate wasn’t a consistent player and was much more successful to the left (12% deep, 6% short SROA) than the right (-18% deep, -7% short). Likely to play in the slot this season, Tate should be more efficient all over.
  3. Still only 24 years old with two NFL seasons under his belt, popular fantasy break-out candidate Eric Ebron has an SROA similar to other elite tight ends (10.8%).
  4. Ebron’s overall SROA is elite and within 15 yards he posted an SROA of 11% left, 21% center and 7% right. He should be targeted more short center, where he was the most efficient.
  5. Anquon Boldin will be missed this year especially in the Red Zone. Boldin was 21.6% more successful than the rest of the league when being targeted there.
  6. Marvin Jones was the most inefficient receiving option out of the Lions main targets last season posting a -1.5% SROA overall.
  7. Theo Riddick was a below average receiving option in 3/4 zones he was targeted in. He needs to be targeted more short center (10% SROA) instead of outside.

 

Vikings

  1. Adam Thielen was not consistent by zone but overall his SROA was 11.2%. He was especially successful when targeted deep posing a 34% SROA deep left and 35% SROA deep right.
  2. Stefon Diggs should be targeted as much as possible as he posted an insane 13.7% SROA overall. When healthy, Diggs is an elite WR who should lead the Vikings in receiving yards this season.
  3. With the addition of Dalvin Cook hopefully the Vikings won’t have to use Mckinnon in the pass game as much. He was below average in all three areas less than 15 yards with a -6.3% SROA overall.
  4. Sam Bradford was very efficient when throwing deep left (10%) and right (13%) but below average deep center (-5%).
  5. Bradford’s overall SROA (3.1%) was good and should only improve from last season where the Vikings had the most injured offensive line in the NFL.

 

NFC EAST

Falcons

  1. Matt Ryan was unsurprisingly extremely efficient in his MVP season posting an 8.3% SROA. It will be interesting to see how he does with the loss of Kyle Shanahan.
  2. TE Austin Hooper is a small sample size hero posting a gaudy 10.4% SROA. Hopefully he can be similarly efficient as his role grows in the offense this season.
  3. Devonta Freeman is very involved in the Falcons passing game and rightfully so. He had a 6.5% SROA overall grading positively in all short areas he was targeted.
  4. Julio Jones wasn’t targeted as much as previous seasons due to Shanahan’s creativity in 2017. When he was targeted he was 11.8% more efficient than the league and fantastic all over.24
  5. Tevin Coleman posted a -1.8% success rate last season, something that looks even worse when compared to Freeman’s 6.5% SROA.

Saints

  1. Drew Brees was highly efficient posting a 7.2% SROA especially excelling deep with 8% left, 15% center and 10% right.
  2. Michael Thomas’ SROA is a work of art. As a rookie Michael Thomas had the 2nd best success rate of every WR in the league and absolutely dominated all over.27
  3. Willie Snead was very efficient last season with a 10.9% SROA. He was over 20% more successful than the league average in 3/6 field zones and only graded slightly negative in one zone.
  4. Mark Ingram’s role on the Saints may be in question with the addition of Alvin Kamara and Adrian Peterson but within 15 yards he graded positively or average in all areas.
  5. For a player who had a terrible season in the minds of many, Coby Fleener still posted a 6.4% SROA. He should come closer to meeting his expectations this season in terms of yards, catches and touchdowns.

 

Panthers

  1. Cam Newton had one of his worst seasons in 2016 and his SROA reflects that. He was below the league average in all areas except deep center and posted a -3.8% all over.
  2. I thought his SROA may improve in games he was healthy. He was actually worse, with an overall -4.3% SROA.
  3. Greg Olsen was very efficient within 15 yards with an SROA of 1% left, 14% center and 18% right. The Panthers need to continue to utilize him as much as possible
  4. Kelvin Benjamin was unsurprisingly inefficient, similar to his entire career. Last season he posted a -1.0% SROA all over.
  5. Devin Funchess is playing a ton with the 1st team, but was horrible when being thrown to within 15 yards. He posted a -13% short left, 12% center and -20% right.
  6. Jonathan Stewart was painfully inefficient last season, the addition of Christian McCaffrey is a massive upgrade. Stewart not only graded negatively in all three areas but was 30.6% LESS successful than the league average.

 

Tampa Bay

  1. The Bucs are an interesting team to analyze. Weeks 1-4 they passed at the 6th highest rate in the league. The rest of the season they entirely switched approaches becoming the 5th run-heaviest team in the league.
  2. Jameis Winston’s SROA splits follow with the Buc’s intentions. Weeks 1-4 Winston wasn’t efficient with a -2.0% SROA. After week 4, Winston became much more efficient posting a 4.4% SROA.
  3. Cam Brate performed similarly to elite tight ends in terms of efficiency with a 10.1% SROA. Brate should still remain an important part of the Bucs’ offense as they will be near the league leader in two tight end sets.
  4. Charles Sims wasn’t very efficient in the passing game grading positively only short middle.
  5. Mike Evans isn’t known for being very efficient but his SROA says otherwise. He had a 4.1% SROA overall and was very good within 15 yards with a 14% short left, 4% short middle and 11% short right.

 

NFC WEST

Seattle

  1. Jimmy Graham was extremely good on passes greater than 15 yards with a 12% SROA left, 36% SROA center, 22% deep right. The Seahawks need to utilize Graham more often there as he wasn’t targeted in any deep zone more than 7 times.
  2. Doug Baldwin is another incredibly efficient wide receiver with a 9.2% SROA overall. His only negative SROA was short center with -2%. Baldwin has consistently answered the question of whether he can be a WR1 for a team with a resounding “Yes”.
  3. Russell Wilson’s superb passing efficiency is clear with his SROA of 4% overall, even though he was injured for a large portion of last season.
  4. On early downs Wilson was even more efficient with a 4.4% SROA. He was especially effective throwing deep left (14% SROA) and center (10% SROA).
  5. On 3rd downs Wilson was less efficient overall (3.4% SROA) and struggled mightily short center (-14% SROA) but this also happened to be his least-targeted area within 15 yards.

San Francisco

  1. The only important player who has remained intact from last season is Carlos Hyde. He wasn’t overly efficient in the passing game with a -1.2% SROA.
  2. Their current starting QB Brian Hoyer was acquired from the Bears in the offseason. He was actually fairly efficient (1.9% SROA) with a poor surrounding cast, similar to what he will have this season. His play with Shanahan previously was quite uninspiring but could improve with more time in the system.
  3. Pierre Garcon will make for a great addition to this offense. With Kirk Cousins Garcon posted a 10.9% SROA. If Garcon can post anywhere near the same efficiency, the 49ers passing offense won’t be as bad as many think.

LA Rams

  1. Looking at weeks 11-17 when Jared Goff was the starter he was horribly inefficient. He had a -16.1% SROA all over and within 15 yards he was -13% left, -27% center and -18% right. Goff was not only bad, he was worse than the league average by a wide margin. He did have two positive zones, deep left he was 7% better than average and 2% better deep center.
  2. Tavon Austin is likely to have a depressed role in the offense this season with the additions of Cooper Kupp, Kenny Britt and Robert Woods and for good reason. All over he posted a -9.9% SROA and within 15 yards, where he is targeted most, he posted a -1% left, -17% center and -16% right.
  3. Like the rest of the team, Todd Gurley was pretty poor in terms of success rate with a -13.3% SROA. Goff needs to improve dramatically for anyone on this team to be efficient.

 

Arizona

  1. When Palmer played he wasn’t as bad as the media portrayed in terms of success rate. He was actually .8% above the average and was better short than long which is a surprise in a vertical Bruce Arians offense. With a healthy arm and new practice regiment to keep him fresh, Palmer should improve his efficiency this season.
  2. Larry Fitzgerald needs to continue to be the focal point of this offense until he retires. He was very efficient grading positively in all areas except one and was 8.1% more successful than the league average overall.
  3. David Johnson was very average in the receiving game with a -0.1% SROA. He was surprisingly much more efficient to the left than all over though, posting a 10% SROA short left and 2% SROA deep left which are the two areas he was targeted most in each of their respective depths.

 

NFC EAST

Cowboys

  1. Dak Prescott was incredibly efficient as a rookie with a 5.3% SROA. However, he struggled when throwing to the middle of the field with a -8% SROA deep center and -3% short center. The Cowboys’ need to improve efficiency and target the center of the field more as it has the highest average success rate in the league.56
  2. Cole Beasley was one of the most efficient wide receivers in the NFL last season with a 19.1% SROA. On 3rd down he was the most successful receiver in the league with a 30.5% SROA.
  3. Dez Bryant was oddly much more efficient to the left than right. He had a 10% SROA short left and 22% SROA deep left compared to a -9% SROA short right and -21% deep right. Dez needs to be more involved in the Cowboy’s passing game for it to reach its full potential.
  4. Jason Witten remains a solid option after posting a 3.2% SROA overall. He was successful short right and short left, but struggled over the middle with a -15% SROA. Dak Prescott needs to improve there and may find more success by targeting Cole Beasley instead of Jason Witten in that area.
  5. Terrence Williams is hardly viewed as an average wide receiver by many, but his SROA of 14.5% says otherwise. Williams was incredibly efficient last season especially within 15 yards (23% short left, 10% short middle, 22% short right).

 

Eagles

  1. Carson Wentz needs to improve on his efficiency (-2.5% SROA), especially deep in 2017. He only graded positively in 2/6 total areas and that was short left (1% SROA) and short center (6%). The addition of Alshon Jeffery should help immensely in improving Wentz’s deep efficiency.
  2. Zach Ertz was a solid option in terms of efficiency with a 7.9% SROA overall. He graded positively in 4/6 areas with his only deficiencies short right (-6%) and deep center (-17%). Ertz should take on a heavier target load this season with the departure of Jordan Matthews if the Eagles want to be more efficient than last season.
  3. Nelson Agholor has gotten a lot of hype this offseason as the Eagles slot WR now that Jordan Matthews is gone. The Eagles better hope his efficiency increases as he posted a -10.5% SROA last season, grading negatively everywhere except short left (5%).
  4. Darren Sproles is arguably one of the best “pass-catching backs” there is, but he wasn’t very efficient last season with a -4.6% SROA overall.

 

Washington Redskins

  1. Kirk Cousins posted a 4.6% SROA overall and was especially good when throwing to the center of the field (11% SROA short, 17% SROA deep). The loss of both Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon is sure to hurt, but with Josh Doctson healthy and the addition of Terrelle Pryor, Cousins should still remain a respectable NFL QB in terms of efficiency.
  2. Jamison Crowder was surprisingly average on passes less than 15 yards last season. He had a 1% SROA short left, 1% short center and -5% short right. For being known as one of the better slot receivers in the league he didn’t perform up to expectations.
  3. Jordan Reed was one of the most efficient options on the Redskins last season with an 8.8% SROA overall. He feasted on targets to the right with a 17% SROA short right and 12% SROA deep right.

 

New York Giants

  1. Eli Manning’s SROA is as bad as you would think based on last year’s play. He graded negatively in all areas with a -3.4% overall. The additions of Brandon Marshall through free-agency and Evan Engram through the draft could help resurrect Eli this season.
  2. It’s very difficult for a player to be efficient on an inefficient team and OBJ was no different. He posted a -1.9% SROA all over and was especially poor deep center (-33%) and deep right (-20%).
  3. Shane Vereen is another pass-catching back who struggles to be efficient. His SROA was -18.1% last season.

About the author:  Connor Allen (follow: @ConnorAllenNFL) was crowned co-winner of the Sharp Football Stats 2017 Writing Contest.  He will share articles featuring his analysis throughout the 2017 NFL season.