A quick rundown of key game plan strategies revolving personnel grouping deployment and their impact on Sunday’s games. Remember, personnel groupings are in RB-TE format. “12” personnel is 1 RB, 2 TE (and by default, 2 WR, as you take 5 minus the sum of each digit (1+2) to determine the number of WRs).
The Browns went back to Kitchens’s roots
The biggest mover was the Cleveland Browns. Prior to Week 4, the Browns used 11 personnel on 84% of their offensive plays, second-most in the NFL.
In Week 4 against the Ravens, a team that struggles against 11, the Browns used only 59% 11 personnel. Compare the rates and performance from Weeks 1-3 to Week 4:
From 11 (Weeks 1-3): 91% of all passes, 7.5 YPA, 36% success rate
From 11 (Week 4): 75% of all passes, 9.6 YPA, 46% success rate
From 12 (Weeks 1-3): 6% of all passes, 8.3 YPA, 71% success rate
From 12 (Week 4): 22% of all passes, 17.0 YPA, 71% success rate
From 11 (Weeks 1-3): 71% of all rushes, 4.5 YPC, 35% success rate
From 11 (Week 4): 41% of all rushes, 4.3 YPC, 33% success rate
From 12 (Weeks 1-3): 25% of all rushes, 3.2 YPC, 25% success rate
From 12 (Week 4): 48% of all rushes, 10.0 YPC, 57% success rate
The Browns called as many runs (17 att) from heavy sets (12 and 13 personnel) against the Ravens as they had called over the entire three prior games (17 att). And they were very creative with these runs. Prior success of runs from heavy sets produced a 24% success rate and 3.1 YPC. Against the Ravens, they produced a 59% success rate and 8.4 YPC on 17 rushes, with 3 rushing touchdowns.
Prior to week 4, the Browns’ problem when passing had been a reluctance to do what made them great under Freddie Kitchens in 2018, which was passing from heavy sets.
In 2018, the Kitchens-led Browns offense averaged a 46% success rate, 8.3 YPA and a 102 rating from 3+ WR sets. But it was ultra-dangerous passing from 12 (67% success, 9.6 YPA) and 13 personnel (67% success, 11.7 YPA).
So in Week 4, the Browns used 11 personnel to pass much less (75%, down from 91%). These passes were predictably more productive against the Ravens defense (which is bad vs 11) than prior weeks, but where the Browns really gashed the Ravens was from 12 personnel passes. They used it 22% of the time, much closer to 2018 levels, and gained 17.0 YPA with a 71% success rate.
Play-Action for Seattle
The Arizona Cardinals pass defense had struggled in two key spots: against passes from heavy personnel and against play-action from 11 personnel.
On the season, the Seattle Seahawks passed from 12 personnel 9 times with a 33% success rate and 6.7 YPA. Against the Cardinals, they passed 3 times from 12 and averaged 14.3 YPA, a 100% success rate, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
On the season, the Seahawks passed using play-action just 16 total times. These plays produced a terrible 25% success rate, averaging 8.7 YPA and Russell Wilson took 4 sacks on 16 play action drop backs. But Week 4, Seattle passed a whopping 10 times using play-action and recorded a 70% success rate, averaged 11.3 YPA and Wilson was sacked only once.
Jacksonville’s Key to Victory
On a windy day, the Jaguars’ passing offense was an utter disaster. They produced a 37% success rate and just 6.5 YPA, taking 5 sacks on 38 drop backs. However, they used the run game from 12 personnel to win.
On the season, the Jaguars had run from 12 personnel just 12 times (21% of all runs). They saw something on film with the Broncos run defense, because they dialed up 15 rushing attempts from 12 personnel against the Broncos. Those 15 attempts gained a whopping 12.2 YPC with a massive 73% success rate, which was vital because 11 personnel runs gained just 3.9 YPC and a 25% success rate (20 att).
If it were not for the Jaguars’ decision to run the ball more from 12 personnel, way above their YTD frequency, they would not have won on the road in Denver.
Atlanta Failed to Adapt
On the season, the Tennessee Titans’ pass defense held opponents to a mere 38% success rate and 6.2 YPA in 11 personnel and recorded 6 sacks in 87 drop backs (7%) with a 4:4 TD:INT allowed. But to 12 personnel, opposing offenses recorded a 71% success rate, 9.1 YPA, and a 144 passer rating, with a 3:0 TD:INT ratio.
Entering the game, the Falcons passing offense was mediocre from 11 personnel (49% success, 7.1 YPA) but very good from 12 (60% success, 8.4 YPA). On Sunday, despite this being a strength on weakness matchup should the Falcons use more 12, they actually used less 12.
They passed from 12 only 10% of attempts (YTD were at 12%). Passes from 11 produced a 48% success rate, with 7.3 YPA and 5 sacks on 46 drop backs (11%) while passes from 12 produced a 50% success rate with 7.7 YPA and 0 sacks on 6 drop backs.
Expanding the sample, all 3+ WR passes produced a 46% success rate and 7.3 YPA (with 5 sacks). All max-2 WR passes produced a 60% success rate with 8.2 YPA (and zero sacks).
Houston Missed the Same Boat
The Houston Texans must not be focusing in the right areas when trying to make life easier on Deshaun Watson, because they missed out on a huge opportunity on Sunday against the Panthers.
On the season, the Carolina Panthers defense has been one of the best in the NFL against 3+ WR sets. They’ve allowed a mere 35% success rate and a tiny 4.8 YPA, with a powerful 11% sack rate (12 sacks on 106 drop backs) and a 2:3 TD:INT ratio. But against multi-TE sets, the Panthers have allowed a 77% success rate, 8.8 YPA, a 2:0 TD:INT ratio and haven’t recorded a single sack.
Of their 40 drop backs, the Texans passed form 3+ WR sets in 30 of them. They were sacked on 6 of 30 drop backs (20%), produced a 33% success rate, 5.0 YPA, and a 68 rating.
But when passing out of multi-TE sets, the Texans recorded an 83% success rate and averaged 5.3 YPA, and importantly, were not sacked once. But Houston passed from multi-TE sets just 6 times.