Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Season in Review: First Down

We are going to continue our look at the 2007 season, and the seven seasons that came before it, by hopping back over to the offensive side of the football. Specifically we want to look at what, if anything, changed in Bruce Arians' first season as offensive coordinator. After all much was made of how Ben Roethlisberger's input was incorporated into the offensive playbook, so what imapact did it have? Here's a look at a breakdown on play calling (i.e. run v. pass) on first down over the last eight seasons:

20002001200220032004200520062007
Rushing Plays247295273235292286252256
Passing Plays182167214199147142214168
Total Off. Plays, First Down429462487434439428466427

So many numbers . . . what stands out to us is that the 2007 season featured the fewest number of first down offensive plays in any of the last eight seasons, despite having the fourth highest number of first downs (298 -- that information is not included here, just take our word for it!) in the last eight seasons.

What also is noteworthy is that, despite the changes in offensive coordinator over the years (granted, for the time period we're looking at Kevin Gilbride was the coordinator for the 2000 season, Ken Whisenhunt was the coordinator from 2001-2006, and the Bruce Arians era began in 2007), and a change at the head coach position the mix of run-to-pass in quite similar. Here's a look at the percentage of run-to-pass, on first down, over the last eight seasons:

20002001200220032004200520062007
Rushing Plays57.5863.8556.0654.1566.5166.8254.0860.66
Passing Plays42.4236.1543.9445.8533.4933.1845.9239.34

The final question we have is whether or not there are any differences, qualitatively, in the plays. In other words, how much yardage was gained, on average, by these running and passing plays. For that we offer this graph:


As the graph shows, other than 2001, the rushing yardage on first down has been fairly consistent (though the 2007 was the first decline after four consecutive seasons of improvement), and it is the passing yardage that has shown the most change; indeed the average yardage gained on first down passes has steadily declined over the last four seasons.

For all the talk at the beginning of the season about change, it seems that the Steelers' offense is still very much a run first attack. However, the downward trends in average yardage gained on first down -- in both rushing and passing -- is (no doubt) making things tougher on second and third down.

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