Hue Jackson’s Fantasy Impact
Remember last year when Bills’ OC Nate Hackett said they would be “running Spiller until he throws up”? This little comment caught fire, dug into the fantasy hive mind and lit the fuse under Spiller’s meteoric rise into the stratosphere of pre-season fantasy rankings. That didn’t really work out for the prognosticators, did it? What we didn’t realize then is that he meant they would be running Spiller until his ankles gave out enough for a rested (therefore unusually healthy) Fred Jackson to do what he does best; move the chains at a steady 4.2 clip while keeping blitzers off a young QB.
This year, I’m seeing the same thing going in the other direction with a statement made by Hue Jackson in his opening press conference as the Bengals OC. “We want to run the football…” has become “The Bengals are abandoning the pass! Adjust your rankings accordingly!”
Now if we can just stop the over reactionary Twitterscape for a second, you might realize that Hue Jackson will not hurt A.J. Green’s value, or for that matter any part of the Bengals’ passing game.
Last year, Buffalo delivered on their promise to run, they just did it with two backs rather than one. In fact, the Bills ran it 51.12% of the time. They also did it despite losing, so the fans were the only ones puking. This makes the Bills a rarity. Of the 24 teams in the last 5 years who ran more than they passed, only 5 had losing records. The combined record for those 24 teams is 214-169. Remember, while winning teams usually run, running teams don’t necessarily win. The fact that teams with the best records usually have the most rushing attempts is classic correlation and not causation. You don’t run to win the game, but when you’re winning, you can run (out the clock). Conversely, losing teams abandon the run to save the clock and are forced into chucking it up late. This is a truth of football. It’s part of the lovely orchestra that dictates the ebb and flow of this most beautiful sport.
Of course, there are exceptions both ways. While the Bills were the only team in the top-5 in rush % with a losing record, the Saints were the only team of the top-5 in pass % with a winning record.[ad id=”Ad1″]
Last year’s Super Bowl provided an interesting contrast in styles. Seattle was the top team in rush %, while Denver was 10th in pass %. We know how that turned out. Seattle rode their defense and special teams to a huge lead and then burned clock with their run game, just as they had all year. Denver actually threw it more than they were used to while playing catch up; 77% of their plays were passes, while during the season only 59% of their plays were passes. Playing from behind changes everything. Playing from ahead lets you pound the ball to your heart’s content.
Understanding this very simple truth about the game of football should help you dissect the coach speak we’re getting inundated with this summer. Despite the upward trend towards passing, this is still a game played in the trenches and still fought by big men crashing into each other. Most coaches don’t want to just score… They want to move the chains, demoralize their opponent, burn the clock and keep their defense off the field.
When Hue Jackson says something like “we want to run the football…” it doesn’t mean your knee jerk reaction should be to drop A.J. Green and Andy Dalton down your rankings. He means he wants to be winning, just like last year. He wants to be running out the clock, just like last year, only this year he wants to be getting more than a measly 3.6 yards per carry. He wants to play faster and get a bunch more plays off. He wants to keep pressure off Dalton. He wants to make the opponent stack the line, so Green has more space. He wants to move the chains and keep his defense off the field so they’ll be rested and ready when they come back out.
Still, it’s the quote that sticks. It’s the quote that makes us drool over Gio Bernard, hesitate over A.J. and throw Dalton under a speeding bus. The quote that makes the rookie drafters go nuts over Jeremy Hill expecting 500+ touches out of the backfield, but pay attention to the full quote, “We want to run the ball and have talented players on the outside.” He’s talking about Green and to lesser extents Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones. Jackson’s not an idiot. He’s not going to limit his best players’ opportunities.
|Hue Jackson’s Fantasy Impact|
|Year||Position||Top WR||Prior Year Rank||Final Fantasy Ranking|
|2004||WR Coach||Chad Johnson||WR3||WR9|
|2005||WR Coach||Chad Johnson||WR9||WR4|
|2006||WR Coach||Chad Johnson||WR4||WR4|
Before Hue Jackson was the Running Back Whisperer, he liked to air it out. He was the Bengals WR coach from 2004-2006, when Chad Johnson was a top-4 WR and T. J. “Whose-your-momma” was a perennial top-20 and in the greatest fantasy football commercial ever. Before that he was the Redskins OC where he rushed it only 44% of the time. When he was the Falcons’ OC in 2007, he rushed it 41% of the time. He only went run happy in Oakland (50.7% runs) because his QBs were Jason Campbell, Bruce Gradkowski and Kyle Boller, while Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford were his top WRs. It’s no wonder he leaned so heavily on McFadden and Bush, but now he has options.
Jackson coaches to his players; he doesn’t shove players into a system. Yes, he wants to run, all coaches do. Trust me, Green will feast against weak opponents early in games and if they do find themselves in shootouts (Denver in Week 16!), he will be targeted late, just as he was last year. By the way, the Bengals ran it 45% of the time last year. They were fourth in the league in total plays and the latest word is that they want to speed things up and get even more plays in. If that 3.6 ypc becomes 4.2, that can happen as they move chains and hold leads.
As the season draws near, keep in mind that all coaches will say they want to run. More than likely, the games themselves (or the lack of a legitimate QB) will dictate whether they actually will have that opportunity. Remember to show caution as you get overfed tweets in this age of the 1,440 minute info cycle. Sometimes, the mind runs out of control, while the smart owner learns to read between the quotes.
Besides the Bengals passing game, I’m targeting the Colts running game this year. They have a cake (fantasy) schedule this year, opening @DEN, PHI,@JAX, TEN. I’m seeing 3-1 and racking up rushing attempts while playing from ahead. Their fantasy playoff schedule is @CLE, HOU, @DAL. I’m buying Trent Richardson at his ADP all day.
Jason is a fantasy football fanatic from the left side of the mitten state. His career in fantasy football began 17 years ago after coming home as an Army paratrooper and joining a league of school buddies in a 14-team, 2-QB league that’s still going strong. Jason is a data-driven computer geek by trade, and a sports fan by birthright, and fantasy football is the sweet-spot nexus ‘tween the two. His hobbies include photography, disc golf, trivia, and Al Bundy-like reminiscing about his high school record 24 tackles in one, glorious game. He’s soon to be married to a wonderful woman who shares his love for the Lions and Tigers, and tolerates his geeklove of Star Wars and fantasy football.