BGA Weekly: Farewell, Seminole?

During the offseason, I’ll be looking back at certain aspects of the Jets’ season by analyzing data compiled from all nineteen games, rather than watching film. I will be tackling as many diverse topics as possible, but welcome your suggestions or requests in the comments.

This week’s BGA focuses on the Seminole formation. With Brad Smith’s departure, I’ll be looking at how successful this formation was and recommend whether or not they should continue to use it.

In doing so, I’m going to investigate whether or not the assumption that using the Seminole formation throws the offense and/or Sanchez out of rhythm is accurate. I’ll also try to determine how much of the success or otherwise of plays made in the Seminole formation was down to Smith.

Once again, this article has used data exclusively provided to us from the guys at PFF. Our thanks, as ever, go out to them.

Introduction

Fortunately, I don’t need to do all the legwork this week. PFF recently did a study on teams that run the Wildcat formation – and variations thereof – and you might be surprised at the results of their findings:

While most NFL fans are familiar with Ronnie Brown and Josh Cribbs, the best wildcat quarterback in 2010 was by far the lesser-known Brad Smith. The backup receiver ran the ball from the wildcat 30 times for 212 yards and a touchdown … 7.1 yards per run. Half the time he handed the ball off, and the Jets other rushers had 4.0 yards per carry and a touchdown.

The league average for a Wildcat play was 4.3 yards per carry, just above the average for “normal” running plays. Smith was the only player to account for over 100 yards in the whole NFL.

The Jets were unquestionably very successful from this formation, which ties in with my own findings:

Here is the breakdown of the success of each formation over the course of the regular season:

Pro Set – 155 carries, 638 yards, 4.1 average
Seminole – 48 carries, 288 yards, 6.0 average
3 WR – 80 carries, 372 yards, 4.7 average
2 TE – 197 carries, 882 yards, 4.5 average
3 TE – 27 carries, 96 yards, 3.6 average

Immediately, we can see that the Seminole formation was the most successful. However, it was boosted by a several big gains in the meaningless final game of the year against the Bills. Entering that game, the average was 5.3 yards per carry, which is perhaps a more realistic number to quantify the success of that play.

In addition, I later calculated how successful they were from this formation if you omit plays of over 10 yards. The average was 3.5 yards per carry, which was still higher than every other formation the Jets ran from.

If the Seminole was so successful, why did many people still want to get rid of it during the season and why are many people glad that Brad Smith left, because his departure likely signals the phasing out of this formation?

The reason most often given is that whenever they use it, it breaks the momentum of the offense and/or Sanchez. Okay, let’s see if that’s true…

Does the Seminole Break the Offense’s Momentum?

Let’s find out the answers to a series of questions that will help us contemplate this. Please note that due to Smith’s injury in the postseason, I only analyzed the regular season.

1. How do the Jets fare on the play immediately after Brad Smith leaves the game following a Seminole formation?

47 plays, 315 yards. An average of 6.7 yards per play. This included 10 plays that gained at least ten yards and five that went for a loss.

On this basis, I’d say that the effect of any immediate momentum loss is more than counteracted by any confusion caused in the opposing defense.

2. How often do drives stall immediately after the Jets use the Seminole formation?

When Sanchez re-entered the game after the Jets used a Seminole formation, the Jets failed to get a first down on their next series on 17 occasions. They picked up a first down and kept the drive going on 26 occasions. That’s a 60% success rate, although 12 of those 17 failures came in the second half of the season, so the success rate was higher earlier in the year.

3. How often did the Jets score on a drive where they used the Seminole formation at least once?

13 Touchdowns (30%)
10 Field Goals (23%)
14 Punts (32%)
6 Turnovers (14%)
1 Missed Field Goal (1%)

How does that compare with how well they performed for the regular season as a whole?

34 Touchdowns (18%)
30 Field Goals (16%)
84 Punts (45%)
30 Turnovers (16%)
9 Missed Field Goal (5%)

Once again, they seemed to fare demonstrably better when they did use the Seminole, compared with when they didn’t use it.

Does the Seminole Break Sanchez’ Momentum?

Well, he said it does, so it must do…right? Or, does he actually calm down as a result of coming out of the game and make better decisions when he re-enters? These are Sanchez’ numbers for passing the ball having re-entered the game following a Seminole formation play, for the remainder of that drive:

39-for-72, 477 yards, six touchdowns, three interceptions

Hey, that doesn’t seem too bad. In fact, it’s a marked improvement upon his regular season numbers. The completion percentage is about the same, the average yards per throw is better and he has a better TD/interception ratio. Overall, it translates to a QB rating of 85.2, almost ten points higher than his regular season total.

Once again, the evidence seems to suggest that using the Seminole doesn’t have a negative effect upon Mark’s performance.

One thing I did notice while compiling the data for this section was that Sanchez was sacked FIVE times on the play immediately after re-entering the game following a Seminole formation. If anything, that suggests that maybe it was the offensive line whose momentum was affected by the differing blocking requirements of the multitude of Seminole formations and these sacks could have been the result of some confusion. Without those sacks, the numbers on plays immediately after a Seminole play would have been even better. (Note: When I say Sanchez re-enters the game, sometimes he didn’t leave the game, instead lining up out wide, but I mean that he returns to the Quarterback position, just to make that distinction.)

How Much of the Seminole’s Success is Attributable to Brad Smith?

We’ve established that the Seminole was a successful play and didn’t seem to negatively affect the Jets’ chances of scoring on a given drive. However, if you remove Brad Smith from the equation, could you expect the formation to be anywhere near as successful with someone else at the Quarterback position?

We saw first hand that this isn’t a “Plug ‘n’ Play” situation during the postseason last year. With Smith out injured, the Jets inserted LaDainian Tomlinson in his place and tried to use the Seminole formation twice. The results were a fumbled snap and a delay of game penalty.

Obviously, there is an inherent advantage in having a Seminole Quarterback with experience of actually playing the Quarterback position. The familiarity with taking a snap and reading the defense cannot be overlooked. However, it’s worth remembering that the formation was initially designed for Leon Washington (and many of the other Wildcat teams over the last few years have used non-QB’s to take the snap).

One other apparent advantage is the threat of a pass. However, as I’ve often said on TJB, Brad Smith doesn’t have anywhere close to an NFL-caliber arm with his slow, upright release, floating passes and questionable accuracy. I’d go as far as to say that any of the running backs or receivers offer just as much of a threat in that area. You don’t need the Seminole QB to be a great passer anyway. The most effective plays are usually just dumped over the top to a wide-open leaking-out tight end.

There’s no question that Smith was responsible for many of the successes running the ball. Many times he turned a short gain into a longer one by breaking a tackle, or used his elusiveness to get back to the line of scrimmage to prevent a loss of yardage. Overall, he averaged one broken tackle every six carries and 3.1 yards per carry after contact. (Note: This includes end-arounds). Not bad numbers, but perhaps not irreplaceable when you consider that Shonn Greene achieved similar numbers in 2009 (one missed tackle every eight carries and 3.3 yards per carry after contact).

Smith was also to blame for a few of the failings of the Seminole, notably when he fumbled against the Packers and when he made a bad read on 4th and one against Miami.

Conclusions

The Seminole formation worked. Brad Smith may well have been the primary reason for that, but there is evidence to suggest that using it had a positive effect on the Jets’ ability to score. Now that he is gone, it is up to the Jets to decide whether it is worth continuing to use the formation and whether there is anyone on the roster capable of performing anywhere close to as well as Brad Smith did.

I’ll leave you to discuss who – if anyone – you would employ in this role in 2011 in the comments.

This is the final BGA Weekly of the offseason. I may squeeze in one more BGA Nano before Monday night and then I will put up a bumper links post summarizing everything I looked at this offseason. Preseason BGA returns next week! Thanks for reading.