Since we have had Manning at QB our passing offense has been our major weapon that we have used to move the ball and to score. In the past three seasons our offense has scored 135 TDs through the air and 46 on the ground (roughly 3:1). While this ratio had been going up slowly over the past twenty NFL seasons, the entire league over the past three seasons has almost exactly a 2.0:1.0 ratio (2368:1191). Since we have had the same QB, but different receivers, let's look at who Manning has chosen to throw to over the past three years (excluding guys with 10 or fewer targets) through the lens of three stats:
1. YAC% = (yards after the catch)/(total receiving yards). Our offense has been predicated on a lot of YAC
2. Catch% = (receptions)/(targets). The guys with the highest catch % are generally the guys that Manning has confidence in because he knows they have the best chance of catching the ball if he throws it to them.
3. 1DN% = (receiving first downs)/(receptions). This number will be lower for guys who catch short balls on 1st and 2nd own, but generally you want the guys with the higher numbers here because the have the ability to move the chains on 1st, 2nd AND 3rd down.
Broncos Receiving Stats 2014
To refresh your memory here are stats that our receivers put up last season (all data is from pro-football-reference.com unless otherwise stated).
Keep in mind that RBs generally have YAC% that is significantly greater than WRs or TEs. So we see from above that DT and ES combined for 61% of the receiving first downs that we gained last season. WW had the best catch% last season while Caldwell's was one of the worst in the league. The 12 TD catches from JT are going to be difficult to replace, particularly if you look specifically at red zone targets below (RZ data from NFLsavant.com)
|Name||Team||Pos.||Completions||Targets||Comp %||TDs||Target %|
JT only got 13% of the RZ targets (15) but he caught 13 of those targets leading to 9 TDs. One of our TEs will need to prove to Peyton that he can be this type of a weapon in the redzone for our offense to as effective at scoring in the red zone next season.
Three Season Aggregate Receiving Numbers
So who has PFM had the confidence in over the past three years - noting that we don't have many guys who got targets in all three seasons - see below. Only stats accumulated with the Broncos shown
So there is a lot to pick through in that table above. The first thing that should jump out is that almost every one of our receivers was better at getting yards after the catch in 2013 than in 2014. The other interesting thing to note is how much lower the 1DN% for many of our receivers in 2014 relative to 2013.
Does what Kubiak did in 2014 in Baltimore tell us anything about our 2015 passing offense?
This is debatable since while Joe Flacco is elite (that joke never gets old), he is very different from Peyton Manning. We don't know how much influence Kubiak is going have over the offense since Dennison is the OC (some with still contend the Manning is the OC).
It's key to note that BAL lost their best pass-catching TE (Pitta) to a season ending-injury early in the year so that might have changed their target distribution. Owen Daniels appears to have stepped-up admirably as their main receiving TE. I do like the fact that the FB was targeted 28 times. Baltimore threw the ball 112 times to their RBs last season (20% of total passes thrown) compared to 98 RB targets for us (16% ot total passes thrown).
Now let's compare RZ targets:
|Name||Pos.||Completions||Targets||Comp %||TDs||Target %|
While Manning threw the ball 54% of the time towards Demaryius and Emmanuel in the red zone, Flacco last season spread the ball around a lot more. That being said our RZ target distribution was fairly similar if you break it down by position group. Below is a comparative chart by position group of RZ targets in 2014
Comparative 2014 position group RZ target%
The Ravens last season threw a few more balls to the TE in the RZ than we did, but they threw more to the TEs overall compared to us last season (20% to 16%)
Comparative overall target% by position group 2014
PFM threw 2 out of 3 balls to our WRs last season. So let's get back to the discussion of who he threw to on critical plays (3rd and 4th downs).
Going further back in Time
From 2010-2013 Kubes was the HC in Houston with Dennison as his OC. Let's look at their target distribution by position group over those 4season.
Houston Target Distribution under Kubiak/Dennison
Again we have to remember the this was mostly Matt Schaub operating the offense and that who he chose to target may be very different from who Manning would have chosen to target had he been in Houston for these four seasons. That being said, it would appear that if history is our guide, then we will be throwing more to the RBs and the TEs next season and less to the WRs. The supposition here is that we will be running an offense similar to the offense that Kubes and Dennison ran in Houston and that may not be the case, but we will see.
Manning's most trusted receivers in 2014
We threw the ball 176 times on 3rd or 4th down last season - looking at who Manning threw to in those situations is informative.
Conversion% is (1DN or TD)/(targets)
|Name||Targets||Catches||Catch%||Yards||1DN or TD||TDs||Conversion%|
Manning got sacked 7 times on 176 drop-backs on 3rd and 4th down. While DT had more targets on 3rd or 4th down, his catch rate with below a lot of the other receivers on the team (Was PFM trying to get him more difficult passes on 3rd down than the others?). 76 of these passing plays on 3rd or 4th down last season resulted in a first down or a touchdown (43%). If you focus on the conversion% we see that JT and ES were our best "clutch" receivers last season (of the guys who got a lot of targets). Now we will most likely throw the ball less next season (Baltimore has 568 passing attempts while we had 607), but with J. Thomas, Welker, Tamme and (not yet) Caldwell not coming back next season, that's 54 targets in clutch situations that will need to be replaced by Latimer, Daniels, Green or someone else.