• Vikings exploring significant 21 personnel usage
  • Packers strongly testing 2-WR formations
  • Jets shifting to much more 11 personnel
  • Dolphins testing heavier personnel groupings

When quarterbacks are barely taking reps and most coaches don’t care about winning, what can we take out of preseason games?

To answer that question, we must put ourselves in the position of the coaches.

What are they trying to accomplish?

First and foremost, to determine who will make the final 53-man roster and practice squad.

Second, and 1A, is to arrive in Week 1 with a healthy roster of starters.

Many key players are taking the preseason off, not just quarterbacks, because of the second point above.

2019 NFL Package

Best in Class NFL Betting Advice

learn more

2019 All-Access Package

Everything we Offer for One Price

learn more

Let’s jump to the offensive side of the ball. If the coach’s primary goal of preseason games is to evaluate the roster, odds are he is looking to watch what guys on their roster could do for them in the season.

So it’s important to put them in a similar position to what they’d be asked to do during the season.

Coaches will hide plays, sure. They’ll hide strategy, absolutely.

But if I’m a Baltimore Ravens team that will be going heavy and running the ball a fair amount during the regular season, does it behoove me to use a ton of 11 personnel in the preseason to evaluate my wide receivers? How will lots of pass blocking from 11 personnel help me evaluate my offensive line depth if I really need to know how these guys block from 12 personnel?

As such, try as they might to disguise their objectives, play-callers might have to tell on themselves with personnel groupings in the preseason. 

While it’s far from the perfect tool, I’d argue that one of the most likely things that would carry over to the regular season from a preseason play-caller would be a similar usage of personnel groupings.

I tracked all early down personnel groupings so far this preseason for each of the new play-callers this season and will compare to what their team used last year.

In some cases, the surprises won’t be shocking. For example, Arthur Smith in Tennessee publicly stated he planned to carry over what Matt LaFleur was implementing, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that Smith used 12 personnel 38% of the time so far this preseason, almost identical to the 36% that LaFleur used it last year.

In other situations, it might not mean as much. For example, the Vikings used 63% 11 personnel last year.  They used only 18% this year. That’s not a reasonable rate for 2019 and has a lot to do with resting their key wide receivers. That being said, it’s certainly reasonable to believe with a new offensive coordinator and Mike Zimmer’s professed desire to run, that the Vikings may be using 21 personnel a lot more than they did in 2018.

This information is just another tool to better understand coaching philosophy, and is useful for fantasy projections as well as for betting. 

Baltimore Ravens

  • 36%    11 Personnel   [42% Pass, 58% Run]  – used 51% last year
  • 28%    21 Personnel   [55% Pass, 45% Run]  – used 3% last year
  • 22%    12 Personnel   [50% Pass, 50% Run]  – used 27% last year
  • 11%    22 Personnel   [20% Pass, 80% Run]  – used 6% last year

Even in only Lamar Jackson starts last year, the Ravens still used 52% 11 personnel. Due to Marquise Brown’s injury, the team may have been testing their heavier personnel more, but the increase to 2-back 21 personnel has been interesting.

Green Bay Packers

  • 50%    11 Personnel   [44% Pass, 56% Run]  – used 72% last year
  • 25%    12 Personnel   [48% Pass, 52% Run]  – used 20% last year
  • 25%    21 Personnel   [35% Pass, 65% Run]  – used 1% last year

Matt LaFleur is getting very balanced with the offensive run/pass splits. Last year the Packers passed 68% of the time from 11. Once Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams are in the huddle, these rates will change, but my guess is the team will use less 11 than in 2018.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • 69%    11 Personnel   [69% Pass, 31% Run]  – used 58% last year
  • 23%    12 Personnel   [34% Pass, 66% Run]  – used 16% last year
  • 6%    21 Personnel   [14% Pass, 86% Run]  – used 11% last year

An increase in 12 personnel is exactly what John DeFilippo learned in Philadelphia, so this isn’t surprising to see him increase the 12 personnel. Hopefully, his run/pass splits become less predictable based on personnel groupings.

Detroit Lions

  • 53%    11 Personnel   [62% Pass, 38% Run]  – used 59% last year
  • 30%    12 Personnel   [56% Pass, 44% Run]  – used 19% last year
  • 12%    21 Personnel   [56% Pass, 44% Run]  – used 11% last year

Even heavier personnel in Detroit is not music to the ears of Lions fans who saw the team shift run-heavy and fall off the rails in 2018. That said, passing out of heavier formations is extremely valuable, and with a top tight end now on the roster, those passes could be some of Matthew Stafford’s most efficient.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • 60%    11 Personnel   [75% Pass, 25% Run]  – used 67% last year
  • 34%    12 Personnel   [46% Pass, 54% Run]  – used 20% last year
  • 6%    13 Personnel   [30% Pass, 70% Run]  – used 2% last year

It’s beautiful seeing more 12 in Tampa Bay. I’m really looking forward to seeing this offense under Bruce Arians in 12 personnel.

Denver Broncos

  • 45%    11 Personnel   [70% Pass, 30% Run]  – used 57% last year
  • 29%    21 Personnel   [43% Pass, 57% Run]  – used 15% last year
  • 16%    12 Personnel   [37% Pass, 63% Run]  – used 14% last year

Denver is easing Emmanuel Sanders back into the offense, so the odds are the team will use more 11 during the season, but nearly doubling the amount of 21 is certainly notable.

Dallas Cowboys

  • 76%    11 Personnel   [63% Pass, 37% Run]  – used 63% last year
  • 16%    21 Personnel   [35% Pass, 65% Run]  – used 8% last year
  • 6%    12 Personnel   [44% Pass, 56% Run]  – used 17% last year

Even with Amari Cooper sidelined, new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore ratcheted up the usage of 11 personnel.

Cleveland Browns

  • 85%    11 Personnel   [73% Pass, 27% Run]  – used 56% last year
  • 12%    12 Personnel   [31% Pass, 69% Run]  – used 21% last year
  • 2%    21 Personnel   [0% Pass, 100% Run]  – used 2% last year

Both of the Browns top wide receivers rested this preseason, but the team still used a tremendous amount of 11 personnel. When Freddie Kitchens took over for Hue Jackson, he increased 12 personnel. But now with Odell Beckham Jr on board, this offense might be operating from spread a lot more than in 2018.

Cincinnati Bengals

  • 77%    11 Personnel   [75% Pass, 25% Run]  – used 71% last year
  • 23%    12 Personnel   [39% Pass, 61% Run]  – used 21% last year

Very similar to 2019, despite new head coach Zac Taylor taking over the team.

New York Jets

  • 80%    11 Personnel   [57% Pass, 43% Run]  – used 53% last year
  • 18%    12 Personnel   [30% Pass, 70% Run]  – used 27% last year
  • 2%    13 Personnel   [0% Pass, 100% Run]  – used 10% last year

Adam Gase jacked up the usage of 11 personnel to an extreme amount. Last year in Miami, on early downs, he was at 71%, which was third-most in the NFL behind the Rams and Packers. This is very notable.

Minnesota Vikings

  • 35%    21 Personnel   [29% Pass, 71% Run]  – used 8% last year
  • 32%    12 Personnel   [55% Pass, 45% Run]  – used 23% last year
  • 18%    11 Personnel   [73% Pass, 27% Run]  – used 63% last year

When Kevin Stefanski took over the Vikings play-calling duties, he did so because their prior offensive coordinator was fired after passing too often. Stefanski quickly jacked up the 12 personnel sets in 2018 from 16% to 32%. In 2019, he is likewise at 32%. The Vikings played without their top receivers most of the preseason, but it’s very likely the Vikings will play far less 11 personnel than the above-average 63% in 2018.

Atlanta Falcons

  • 61%    11 Personnel   [60% Pass, 40% Run]  – used 55% last year
  • 13%    12 Personnel   [59% Pass, 41% Run]  – used 20% last year
  • 11%    21 Personnel   [39% Pass, 61% Run]  – used 12% last year
  • 11%    13 Personnel   [23% Pass, 77% Run]  – used 5% last year

Very similar to 2018, and Dirk Koetter is quite familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of this offense having coached them before.

Arizona Cardinals

  • 82%    11 Personnel   [71% Pass, 29% Run]  – used 64% last year
  • 16%    12 Personnel   [26% Pass, 74% Run]  – used 22% last year

No surprise here. The only surprise is the lack of 10 personnel, but there is no question Kliff Kingsbury is hiding things for the regular season. Expect a lot of wide receivers on the field in 2019.

Miami Dolphins

  • 43%    11 Personnel   [58% Pass, 42% Run]  – used 71% last year
  • 28%    12 Personnel   [48% Pass, 52% Run]  – used 14% last year
  • 24%    21 Personnel   [35% Pass, 65% Run]  – used 4% last year

In the Jets section, I mentioned how much 11 Gase used last year. Gase is gone, and in is former Patriot Chad O’Shea. The Patriots are near the top of the NFL in the usage of heavy personnel and the bottom of the NFL in 11 personnel, so this was a predictable turn. Expect far more 2-WR sets instead of the 3-WR sets we saw last year.

Tennessee Titans

  • 55%    11 Personnel   [63% Pass, 37% Run]  – used 47% last year
  • 38%    12 Personnel   [38% Pass, 62% Run]  – used 36% last year

New offensive coordinator Arthur Smith said he didn’t want to change much from 2018 because Marcus Mariota has seen too many coordinators. He didn’t. The problem? This offense wasn’t very efficient in 2018. Hopefully playing for his football life without a contract next year, Mariota’s performance will improve.