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InFocus: Figuring Out Celek's Role

Posted Aug 23, 2012

Fan-Demonium

I’m sure many of you are aware of Pro Football Focus, but if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, the tagline says it all: "Every Game. Every Player. Every Play." PFF has been my home over the last few years and it’s been an avenue to unique data football fans and analysts have never had access to. Throughout the season, you’ll see constant references to the data provided by my colleagues at PFF. Make sure to check out the PFF Fantasy section if you are looking to gain a winning edge this season.

Today, we’ll kick off our new feature InFocus with a look at offensive snap distribution data. To put it simpler, we’ll take a look at each of the team’s primary pass-catchers and split the snaps based on where player each lined up on the field.

Note: Playoff data is included. “Back” refers to any snap where the player lines up in the backfield. “Wide” refers to the split end and flanker position, or the outside receivers. “Slot” only counts snaps where the player is lined up in the slot. “IL” refers to snaps taken while lined up as an in-line tight end.

WR JEREMY MACLIN

Snap Distribution
General Total Left Right
Year Games Snaps/Game Back Wide Slot IL Wide Slot IL IL Slot Wide
2009 16 47 0% 86% 14% 0% 59% 7% 0% 0% 6% 27%
2010 17 58 0% 86% 13% 0% 42% 6% 0% 0% 7% 44%
2011 13 54 0% 86% 14% 0% 45% 8% 0% 0% 6% 41%

Let’s start with Michael Vick’s top target. We quickly notice plenty of consistency in Andy Reid’s usage of Maclin. In fact, he’s lined up out wide on exactly 86 percent of his snaps each of his first three NFL seasons. This is hardly a surprise when you consider the team’s heavy usage of Jason Avant in slot, which we’ll get to later.

Digging a bit deeper, we see Maclin’s split between lining up to the left and right of Vick is about even. He and DeSean Jackson each had their own “side of the field” back in 2009, but, since that point, they’ve all but stuck to their split end and flanker roles, respectively.

In 2011, Maclin lined up on the left side 53 percent of the time, 45 percent of which were wide left. This is where Maclin was most productive. He hauled in 31-of-40 targets (78 percent) for 420 yards and all five of his touchdowns on the year. It’s worth noting that his average depth of target (a stat you’ll see me refer to often) was lower here that it was in the slot or wide right. His aDOT was 10.4 yards on the 40 targets, compared to 12.9 yards on his other 54.

WR DeSEAN JACKSON

Snap Distribution
General Total Left Right
Year Games Snaps/Game Back Wide Slot IL Wide Slot IL IL Slot Wide
2009 16 49 2% 80% 18% 0% 21% 10% 0% 0% 9% 59%
2010 15 53 1% 85% 13% 0% 47% 6% 0% 0% 7% 38%
2011 15 55 0% 88% 12% 0% 40% 7% 0% 0% 5% 47%

Opposite the solid, reliable Maclin, we have the volatile, big-play Jackson.  Although his distributions aren’t quite as consistent as Maclin’s, we do seem some trends. Like his counterpart, Jackson plays almost exclusively out wide, handling slot duties only 12 percent of the time over the last two seasons.

As foreshadowed earlier, Jackson’s left/right split is essentially a mirror image of Maclin’s. He was on the right side 52 percent of the time in 2011 after seeing 45 percent of his work there in 2010.

Despite not lining up in the slot often, Jackson certainly finds the ball quite a bit when he’s inside. Consider that he was targeted on 20 percent of the 99 snaps he took from the slot last season. That’s compared to 10 percent on the 721 snaps he saw out wide.

Interestingly, Jackson’s depth of target, catch rate and yards-per-reception marks were all but equal when comparing slot to wide. Generally, you’ll see lower depth of target and YPR marks and higher catch rates on slot targets. Three of Jackson’s four touchdowns came while lined up out wide.

Head coach Andy Reid may actually want to keep Maclin on the left and Jackson on the right more often. We already discussed Maclin’s strong efficiency on the left side, and Jackson was better on the right in 2011. Three of his four touchdowns were scored when he lined up to the right. He had a better catch rate despite being used on deeper routes, as well, when to the right of Vick and Co.

WR JASON AVANT

Snap Distribution
General Total Left Right
Year Games Snaps/Game Back Wide Slot IL Wide Slot IL IL Slot Wide
2009 17 40 2% 16% 81% 1% 6% 39% 1% 1% 42% 10%
2010 17 46 2% 23% 75% 1% 9% 39% 0% 1% 36% 14%
2011 16 43 1% 15% 84% 0% 8% 42% 0% 0% 42% 7%

One of the game’s most underrated slot receivers, Avant’s prowess at the position has allowed Maclin and Jackson to focus on making plays on the outside. Avant has seen, at least, three-quarters of his snaps from the slot each of the four seasons we’ve tracked him. That includes a 2011 campaign that saw him lined up inside on 84 percent of his reps. He could not have been much more consistent in terms of left/right splits, either. Of the 84 percent, exactly half came on each side of the line.

Looking closer at the right/left splits, we don’t see anything overly-telling. Avant scored his only touchdown from the right slot, but caught more of his targets (69 percent to 62 percent) and was more productive after the catch (4.3 to 2.6 YAC/Rec) when on the left side.

TE BRENT CELEK

Snap Distribution
General Total Left Right
Year Games Snaps/Game Back Wide Slot IL Wide Slot IL IL Slot Wide
2009 17 53 1% 3% 28% 68% 1% 7% 18% 51% 20% 2%
2010 16 55 1% 2% 12% 84% 1% 6% 41% 44% 6% 1%
2011 16 57 2% 3% 8% 87% 1% 4% 39% 48% 4% 2%

Many have attempted to try and figure out why Brent Celek has yet to repeat the dominant pass-catching campaign he put up in 2009. Digging deeper into the data, there are some answers. What will stand out from the chart shown is the decline in Celek’s usage in the slot from to 2009 to each of the last two seasons. During his breakout season, Celek lined up in the slot 28 percent of the time. Forty-one of his 111 targets and four of his eight touchdowns came on those snaps. He hauled in an exceptional 80 percent of his targets while in the slot.

In 2010, Celek was in the slot on only 12 percent of his targets and that figure fell to eight percent in 2011. Although he saw only 17 targets when in the slot last season, Celek was targeted on 22 percent of his slot snaps. That compares to just nine percent when his hand is in the dirt.

What’s tricky about tight ends is that many are unable to help out much in the passing game if they need to help pass protect. Plain and simple, it’s just another example of why being strong up front is so key to a football team’s success. The Eagles figure to have one of the league’s better lines this season, but the loss of left tackle Jason Peters and recent trends suggest Celek figures to spend about the same amount of time blocking as he has recently.

Since 2008, Celek has been in the game 2,031 times when the Eagles called a pass play. He’s been asked to block on 22 percent of those snaps. That includes 24 percent in 2008, 15 percent in 2009, 23 percent in 2010 and 25 percent in 2011. You’ll notice that his lowest mark came during the breakout 2009 season. It’s not an overly significant difference, but it’s notable nonetheless. There is truth to the theory that his receiving is down because he’s being asked to stay in and block more often.

Finally, we’ll take a quick look at left/right splits. Celek sees substantial targets on both sides of the field, but is clearly utilized more on the right side. That makes sense when you consider our previous note that flanker DeSean Jackson is usually on the right side, as well. Celek worked the right side on 54 percent of his snaps last season, which was up from 51 percent in 2010, but way down from 73 percent in 2009.

RB LeSEAN McCOY

Snap Distribution
General Total Left Right
Year Games Snaps/Game Back Wide Slot IL Wide Slot IL IL Slot Wide
2009 17 35 90% 5% 5% 0% 2% 4% 0% 0% 1% 3%
2010 16 53 93% 2% 5% 0% 1% 3% 0% 0% 2% 1%
2011 15 56 95% 3% 2% 0% 1% 2% 0% 0% 0% 2%

We’ll wrap up our snap distribution study by taking a look at standout tailback LeSean McCoy. In his three NFL seasons, McCoy has been highly productive while primarily lining up in the backfield. That’s not going to sound shocking, as it’s the case for most tailbacks, but not many backs have a 78-catch season on their resume.

Speaking of McCoy’s receptions, it’s fair to wonder why he saw a 30-catch drop from 2010 to 2011. For starters, it had little to do with his snap distribution. He lined up in the backfield 93 percent of the time in 2010, compared to 95 percent in 2011. He ran a pass route on 60 percent of the team’s pass plays, which was down only slightly from 2010 (63 percent).

The main difference was really just a combination of Michael Vick’s decision-making and the offensive gameplan. Vick targeted a running back on 21 percent of his throws in 2010, but that fell to 15 percent in 2011 (NFL average is 19 percent). Over a full season, some quick math tells us that works out to a drop of about 30 targets. McCoy’s catch rate was also down to 79 percent this past season after an impressive 90-percent showing in 2010. Taking both those changes into account, it makes sense that his reception total was down significantly.

Finally, there isn’t much to comment on in terms of left/right splits since McCoy primarily lined up in the backfield. He was directly behind the quarterback 55 percent of the time, to his left on a quarter of the snaps, and on the right side the other 20 percent.

Well, that about wraps up our first in-depth look at the Eagles. This post was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the analysis you’ll see here throughout the season. I’ll be tracking the coverage units; analyzing unique offensive statistics like pass routes and depth of target; breaking down quarterback trends; studying the team’s usage of different packages on both side of the ball; as well as, taking an in-season weekly look at the team’s snap trends.

Football is the most complicated sport on the planet, but new statistical categories – like the ones provided by Pro Football Focus – give us an understanding of the game we’ve never had before. Check out InFocus throughout the season and you’ll find the most comprehensive Eagles analysis on the web.

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