The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Bill Callahan’s Play-Calling History, Tendencies

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At Dallas Morning News, I revisited Bill Callahan’s history as a play-caller.

In Callahan’s first year as the Raiders’ offensive coordinator, Oakland posted poor offensive statistics. They checked in at 21st in the NFL in points, primarily because they turned over the football more often than all but two teams. They also ranked only 18th in rushing efficiency and 25th in passing efficiency.

By Callahan’s second season, however, the Raiders were on their way to creating an offense that would be among the league’s best in a number of categories for the next four seasons. From 1999 to 2002, Callahan’s Raiders averaged the following ranks:

  • Net yards-per-attempt: 6th (Best: 3rd, Worst: 8th)
  • Yards-per-carry: 12th (Best: 3rd, Worst: 26th)
  • Points: 4th (Best: 2nd, Worst: 8th)
  • Giveaways: 6th (Best: 2nd, Worst: 12th)

Those are some pretty darn good numbers over a four-year period; the Raiders never ranked worse than 8th in points or net-YPA. In his final season in Oakland, however, Callahan’s offense took asteep drop. They finished 29th in net-YPA—down from 3rd just one year prior—13th in YPC, 26th in points, and 11th in giveaways.

In charting Callahan’s ranks while in Oakland, it’s easy to see that he led an above-average offense for quite some time. Callahan’s tenure in Oakland was bookended by two poor showings, likely leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Raiders fans and even those around the league.

It’s also interesting to see just how closely the Raiders’ rank in net-YPA resembles their final rank in points. If you recall, I’ve argued on numerous occasions that net-YPA is the most important individual stat in all of football. It’s actually a better predictor of future points even than past points scored, which is remarkable. It’s not really too much of a surprise that as the Raiders’ passing game thrived, they scored points. Meanwhile, Oakland ranked 26th in YPC in a season in which they scored the fourth-most points in the NFL and 13th in a season when they ranked second in points.

So yeah, let’s keep saying the Cowboys need to blindly run the ball.

In addition to his successes as a play-caller, I also examined some of Callahan’s tendencies:

54.1: Percentage of first downs on which the Raiders ran the ball

The Raiders ran the ball quite a bit on first down from 2000 to 2003. Their first-down run rate was even higher than the league average of 52.4 percent during that time. The Raiders’ first-down run rate through three quarters (54.5 percent) was even greater, suggesting Callahan really does like to attack on the ground early.

55.9: Raiders’ pass rate in all situations

In general, though, the Raiders passed the ball about as often as the average NFL team. Their overall pass rate through the first three quarters of games (56.3 percent) was slightly higher.

17.3: Raiders’ pass rate on 2nd and 1

Few coaches realize the value of 2nd and 1—a down and distance that holds maximum upside without much risk. Smart teams like the Saints often run play-action and throw deep on 2nd and 1 because they realize that the downside of an incompletion is minimal. Callahan is one of the coaches who has tended to run on 2nd and 1 to pick up the “sure thing.” From 2000 to 2003, the Raiders faced 75 plays on 2nd and 1 and passed on just 13 of them.

68.8: Percentage of 2nd and 10 plays on which Oakland passed

When a team faces 2nd and 10, it’s often because they threw an incomplete pass on first down. A lot of play-callers tend to run the ball on 2nd and 10 following an incompletion because they think they’re “mixing it up.” In their futile attempts to randomize their play-calling, however, coaches actually become quite predictable on 2nd and 10. In 2003, NFL teams passed the ball only 55.8 percent of the time on 2nd and 10; that’s around the same as the overall rate in a situation in which teams should be passing a whole lot more often, regardless of the previous call.

Callahan’s Raiders passed the ball much more frequently on 2nd and 10 than most teams, though, suggesting Callahan could be superior to Jason Garrett as a “randomizer” of plays.

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