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InFocus: The Truth Behind Cel Block 87

Posted Nov 15, 2012

Fan-Demonium

Brent Celek isn’t doing as much as a receiver because he’s staying in to pass block more often as a product of the team’s struggling offensive line.”

How often have you heard some variation of that phrase over the last three years?

I know I’ve heard it well over a hundred times since Celek’s production as a receiver during the 2010 season.

Although it seems to make sense on the surface, the fact remains that it’s all based on speculation. Think about it: has anyone ever presented this hypothesis with statistical evidence?

The answer is no, at least not that I’ve seen.

In this week’s article, I’ll be examining each game Celek has appeared in since the start of the 2009 season to see if there is any correlation between his targets and pass blocking assignments.

The conclusion may surprise you.

The 2008 playoffs were essentially a coming out party for Celek. Following a 16-catch rookie season in 2007, and a 27-catch 2008 regular season, it didn’t appear that Celek was going to be a major pass-catching force. That changed during a three-game playoff run that saw him haul in 19 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns. That was it in Philadelphia for incumbent starting tight end L.J. Smith, which left Celek in line for a breakout 2009 season. Celek hauled in 79 passes for 1,027 yards and eight touchdowns in 17 games, which includes the team’s one playoff game.

Celek's 2009 Season
Week Snap % Pass Route % Target % Pass Block %
1 84% 72% 25% 7%
2 84% 65% 20% 19%
3 87% 72% 27% 7%
5 81% 57% 23% 26%
6 92% 74% 18% 19%
7 98% 69% 21% 29%
8 94% 81% 21% 9%
9 88% 68% 18% 15%
10 86% 75% 19% 9%
11 89% 62% 16% 23%
12 91% 79% 28% 6%
13 82% 81% 16% 14%
14 96% 80% 31% 14%
15 88% 68% 17% 14%
16 95% 68% 15% 23%
17 80% 71% 27% 3%
WC 89% 71% 14% 18%
Total 89% 71% 21% 15%

Celek played 89 percent of the offensive snaps during the 2009 season, running 71 percent of all possible pass routes. He ranked among the top tight ends in terms of the percentage of the team’s targets he received. Celek was targeted by Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb on 21 percent of their throws. He saw, at least, 13 percent of the targets in all 17 games that season. That’s big (and consistent) production for a tight end.

The column we are going to be looking at the closest is "% Pass Blk," which shows the percentage of time Celek had a blocking assignment when he was on the field for a pass play. For example, in Week 1 of the 2009 season, Celek blocked only seven percent of the time when he was on the field for a pass play. That means that he ran a pass route on the other 93 percent of his snaps.

During his breakout 2009 season, Celek pass blocked only 15 percent of the time. As we’ll see later on, this is a very low figure for Celek. He was an important part of the Eagles’ passing attack and was not needed as a blocker very often with Winston Justice and Jason Peters holding down the fort at right and left tackle, respectively. Note that Celek was asked to pass block less than 10 percent of the time during six games. Combining the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons, he’s done that on only three occasions since.

At least in terms of his production as a receiver, the 2010 season was much different for Celek than his 2009 season. He saw his targets fall from an average of 6.5 per game to 4.8 per game. The result was 44 receptions, 536 yards and four touchdowns – nearly half of his 2009 production.

So, what happened?

We see in our 2010 chart that Celek started out the season pass blocking very much like he did in 2009. He was asked to pass block only nine percent of the time in Week 1. Of course, he handled only 12 percent of the targets in that game. You may recall this game as the one that saw Michael Vick replace an injured Kevin Kolb against Green Bay. Over the next few weeks, with Vick predominantly under center, Celek was asked to block a lot more than he had previously in his career, eclipsing 23 percent four games in a row. He had done that only twice during the entire 2009 season. Oddly, his targets were up, too, as he saw 16-plus percent of the targets in all four games.

Celek's 2010 Season
Week Snap % Pass Route % Target % Pass Block %
1 75% 67% 12% 9%
2 84% 63% 16% 25%
3 86% 61% 20% 24%
4 96% 70% 16% 24%
5 92% 67% 29% 27%
6 94% 77% 25% 21%
7 86% 68% 10% 19%
9 90% 55% 4% 34%
10 84% 56% 12% 26%
11 78% 38% 0% 44%
12 83% 71% 18% 13%
13 90% 70% 23% 24%
14 84% 57% 4% 26%
15 83% 60% 10% 23%
16 87% 73% 29% 13%
WC 75% 50% 11% 25%
Total 80% 59% 14% 23%

From that point on, Celek’s production as a receiver and his pass blocking assignments were all over the place. He was targeted fewer than twice in three games, but more than six times in three other contests. His blocking followed a similar trend as, from Week 7 on, there was a clear, direct correlation between the two. In Weeks 9, 11 and 14, Celek combined for just two targets over the three games. Those weeks also happened to account for three of the four games where his blocking responsibility was the highest. On the other hand, Celek was targeted the most in Weeks 12 and 16. He blocked exactly 13 percent of the time in both affairs.

At the end of the year, the numbers were convincing. Celek had run only 59 percent of all possible pass routes (albeit in one fewer game) – a drop from 71 percent in 2009. His targets were down significantly from 21 percent in 2009 to 14 percent in 2010. On the other hand, his pass blocking responsibility was up to 23 percent, from 15 percent in 2009.

The 2011 season is where Celek’s production started to get very unpredictable – at least on a week-by-week basis. Over the team’s first six games, he was asked to pass block at least 23 percent of the time in each game. His targets, however, were all over the place, ranging as low as seven percent (twice) and as high as 29 percent. From Week 6 through the rest of the season, Celek’s targets rose rapidly. After averaging 4.0 targets per game during the first five games, he was targeted an average of 6.7 times per game the rest of the way. Not coincidentally, he was pass blocking 30 percent of the time in the first five weeks, but on just 22 percent of pass plays going forward.

Celek's 2011 Season
Week Snap % Pass Route % Target % Pass Block %
1 100% 65% 11% 35%
2 85% 52% 19% 33%
3 94% 71% 7% 23%
4 87% 66% 7% 23%
5 88% 52% 14% 38%
6 89% 65% 29% 27%
8 93% 81% 32% 9%
9 89% 67% 24% 24%
10 88% 65% 23% 22%
11 92% 69% 17% 21%
12 90% 63% 13% 30%
13 79% 75% 14% 7%
14 89% 56% 21% 31%
15 74% 62% 32% 22%
16 88% 67% 15% 20%
17 85% 68% 26% 30%
Total 88% 65% 18% 25%

As good as that sounds on the surface, there were only a few games that really correlated well. For every game like Week 8 with low blocking (nine percent) and high targets (32 percent), we had a handful like that of Week 11 where the targets remained low (14 percent) despite almost no blocking (seven percent). Celek blocked 30-plus percent of the time in Weeks 14 and 17, but still averaged 24 percent of the targets in those games.

By year's end, Celek had played 88 percent of the snaps, ran a route on 65 percent of the snaps and handled 18 percent of the targets. All three numbers were increases from what he saw in 2010, but still below his 2009 production. The only stat that continued in the same direction was that of his pass blocking. Celek blocked one-quarter of the time on pass plays during the 2011 season. That was up two percentage points from 2010 and seven from 2009. He ended up with 62 receptions, 811 yards and five touchdowns.

All in all, the three seasons spanning from 2009 to 2011 showed some signs of a correlation between Celek’s blocking and receiving, but not enough to comfortably make projections for his future production.

The first 10 weeks of 2012, however, have thrown a wrench in the previous thinking.

Celek's 2012 Season
Week Snap % Pass Route % Target % Pass Block %
1 93% 72% 16% 23%
2 95% 63% 38% 29%
3 84% 51% 17% 38%
4 91% 72% 19% 21%
5 95% 61% 14% 35%
6 86% 50% 20% 40%
8 85% 72% 15% 16%
9 92% 72% 24% 21%
10 88% 70% 8% 14%
Total 90% 65% 18% 26%

Celek has pass blocked 26 percent of the time so far, already eclipsing 28 percent in four of nine games. The problem is that his targets have been all over the place, and have not correlated with his pass blocking assignments. In Week 2, for example, Celek blocked 29 percent of the time, but saw a career-high 38 percent of the team’s targets. In Week 6, he was asked to block 40 percent of the time (second-highest mark over the four-year span), but still managed to see 20 percent of the targets (his third-highest mark of 2012). Finally, in Week 10, Celek blocked a season-low 14 percent of the time, but was targeted on only eight percent of Vick/Nick Foles’ throws. 

After some slight indications of indirect correlation between the two items earlier in his career, the numbers have not matched up in 2012. This is a clear sign that Celek’s blocking assignments had/have little to do with his production as a pass-catcher. For every game that saw him put up poor receiving numbers because of a block-heavy gameplan, there was another that saw him see heavy usage as both a blocker and pass catcher.

Although we’ve seen some relationship between the two over long spans, the results have been too inconsistent to draw definite conclusions. At the end of the day, Celek remains a threat for targets, even when he’s spending a lot of time helping protect the quarterback.

That’s a wrap for this week. Check out InFocus throughout the season for the most comprehensive Eagles analysis on the web.

Mike Clay, @MikeClayNFL on Twitter, is the Director and Managing Editor at Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He also works as an NFL Writer for NBC's Rotoworld.com.

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