Todd Haley Likes Using Running Backs In The Passing Game

Since the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Florida running back Chris Rainey in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft, one really can\’t help but to think that new offensive coordinator Todd Haley plans to use him the same way that he used Dexter McCluster when he was the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. It got me wondering just how much Haley used his running backs in the passing game dating back to his time as the offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals so I pulled the stats for all 32 teams dating back to 2007. I have included the running back targets and receptions in the numbers to go along with total plays, attempts and a few more stats as you can see in the sortable table below.

What is interesting is that in the last five years that Haley has coached, running backs have been targeted 21.40% of the time in attempted passes. That resulted in 24.20% of all passes completed that were thrown in total to wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. In his nearly three full years with Chiefs, Haley threw to the running backs no less than 20.1% of the time. The most was nearly 30% in 2010. Even dating back to his time with the Cardinals, running backs were thrown to right around 18% of the time when passes were attempted.

One of the biggest knocks on former Steelers offensive coordinator was that he did not use the running backs enough in the passing game and the stats support that claim. Dating back to 2007 the Steelers averaged throwing to the backs 14.40% of the time of all pass attempts. 2011 was the least of all five years Arians was in Pittsburgh as the backs were targeted just 11.9% of the time. So basically judging by the last five years of stats, offenses under Haley threw to the running backs 7% more than Arians coached offenses did. The average for the league over that span of time was 19.6% and Haley is clearly over that number.

One thing the data also shows us is that Haley has a higher pass/run ratio overall than Arians did during that span. Now of course playing from behind could play a large part in that, but Haley did have Kurt Warner as his quarterback while with Arizona. Over the last five years Haley offenses have passed 56.60% of the time compares to 54.30% for Arians. Another thing that the data shows us that quarterbacks have only been sacked 5.60% of the time they have dropped back in Haley offenses, compared to 8.50% for the Steelers under Arians. The league average during that span was 6.1% and I do not need to tell you how big of a beating that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has taken over that span of five seasons.

While both Haley and Arians both had pretty comparable yards per reception and yards per attempt numbers when throwing to the running backs over those years, you can see that in 2010 the Chiefs running backs had a nice 6.2 yards per attempt and a 9.3 yards per reception that season. That was thanks to both Jamaal Charles and McCluster as the Chiefs entire group of running backs combined for nearly 100 receptions that season.

Now these stats do not tell you everything and they certainly do not rival anything like what DVOA type stats do as they are raw numbers and percentages and do not take into account down and distance, field position and score. One thing that I think we take away from these stats is that Haley will have Roethlisberger using the running backs more in the passing game. This will be good news for players like Rainey and that is probably exactly why they drafted him. Do not forget that second year running back Baron Batch also played in a spread offense at Texas Tech and he too is a pretty nifty receiver out of the backfield. Batch also showed a knack in college for being able to pick up the blitz as well, something that Rainey likely will not be asked to do very much. Using the running backs more in the passing game should help keep Roethlisberger off his back more than usual in addition and that is always a good thing.

Have some fun with these stats and post your own observations below.

TMYRPLSRSHSCKATTCMPRB ATTRB CMPYDSYPCYPARB ATT %RB COC %SCK %PASS %
ARI2007101640224590356105655208.004.9517.8%18.3%3.9%60.4%
ARI200899834028630418118816047.465.1218.7%19.4%4.3%65.9%
ARI200998536526594392131987277.425.5522.1%25.0%4.2%62.9%
ARI20109313205056128589503637.264.0815.9%17.5%8.2%65.6%
ARI20119933895455030772494829.846.6913.1%16.0%8.9%60.8%
ATL200798738547555336108715517.765.1019.5%21.1%7.8%61.0%
ATL200810115601743426583585259.056.3319.1%21.9%3.8%44.6%
ATL200910484512757033287695858.486.7215.3%20.8%4.5%57.0%
ATL201010974972357736198735307.265.4117.0%20.2%3.8%54.7%
ATL201110734532659436597705688.115.8616.3%19.2%4.2%57.8%
BAL2007104244639557341102855206.125.1018.3%24.9%6.5%57.2%
BAL2008105859233433261120836047.285.0327.7%31.8%7.1%44.0%
BAL20091014468365103211511159328.106.1729.6%35.8%6.6%53.8%
BAL2010101848740491308125977297.525.8325.5%31.5%7.5%52.2%
BAL20111036459335443141511048568.235.6727.8%33.1%5.7%55.7%
BUF20079194482644526378574878.546.2417.5%21.7%5.5%51.3%
BUF200895643938479309116876517.485.6124.2%28.2%7.4%54.1%
BUF200991142446441256105806047.555.7523.8%31.3%9.4%53.5%
BUF20109544013451929699624206.774.2419.1%20.9%6.1%58.0%
BUF201199239123578356123887638.676.2021.3%24.7%3.8%60.6%
CAR20079894513350528590614156.804.6117.8%21.4%6.1%54.4%
CAR20089385042041424661392085.333.4114.7%15.9%4.6%46.3%
CAR200910235253346526491584888.415.3619.6%22.0%6.6%48.7%
CAR201096242850484256104745727.735.5021.5%28.9%9.4%55.5%
CAR20119994453551931293665768.736.1917.9%21.2%6.3%55.5%
CHI2007103542343569327120866938.065.7821.1%26.3%7.0%59.1%
CHI200899143429528304106846107.265.7520.1%27.6%5.2%56.2%
CHI20099713733556334090675117.635.6816.0%19.7%5.9%61.6%
CHI20109364145646627695706769.667.1220.4%25.4%10.7%55.8%
CHI201197845649473268118837218.696.1124.9%31.0%9.4%53.4%
CIN200710084161757537396755347.125.5616.7%20.1%2.9%58.7%
CIN20089844205151330379523616.944.5715.4%17.2%9.0%57.3%
CIN200910115052947728681614427.255.4617.0%21.3%5.7%50.0%
CIN201010464282859036580613926.434.9013.6%16.7%4.5%59.1%
CIN201110154552553530876533496.584.5914.2%17.2%4.5%55.2%
CLE2007100444019545305102695908.555.7818.7%22.6%3.4%56.2%
CLE200892140924488238108715407.615.0022.1%29.8%4.7%55.6%
CLE20099714983044321997633966.294.0821.9%28.8%6.3%48.7%
CLE20109274133647829697756008.006.1920.3%25.3%7.0%55.4%
CLE201110244153957032094654516.944.8016.5%20.3%6.4%59.5%
DAL20079754192553134286735407.406.2816.2%21.3%4.5%57.0%
DAL20089794013154732896776198.046.4517.6%23.5%5.4%59.0%
DAL200910204363455034783614777.825.7515.1%17.6%5.8%57.3%
DAL2010103542831576379102826297.676.1717.7%21.6%5.1%58.6%
DAL2011101740839570376111835786.965.2119.5%22.1%6.4%59.9%
DEN20079764293251532681594237.175.2215.7%18.1%5.9%56.0%
DEN200810193871262038661434139.606.779.8%11.1%1.9%62.0%
DEN200910324403455834189634727.495.3015.9%18.5%5.7%57.4%
DEN2010101839840580334100726789.426.7817.2%21.6%6.5%60.9%
DEN201110175464242921784544237.835.0419.6%24.9%8.9%46.3%
DET20079653245458736894704786.835.0916.0%19.0%8.4%66.4%
DET20089133525250928188684706.915.3417.3%24.2%9.3%61.4%
DET2009103740943585316130908439.376.4822.2%28.5%6.8%60.6%
DET20101064404276333831561108797.995.6324.6%28.7%4.1%62.0%
DET2011105835636666423116877989.176.8817.4%20.6%5.1%66.4%
GB200798538819578383115875566.394.8319.9%22.7%3.2%60.6%
GB200810124373454134381644056.335.0015.0%18.7%5.9%56.8%
GB200910424385155335786655147.915.9815.6%18.2%8.4%58.0%
GB201010004213854135281675197.756.4115.0%19.0%6.6%57.9%
GB20119883954155237692746368.596.9116.7%19.7%6.9%60.0%
HOU200796841722529346111875346.144.8121.0%25.1%4.0%56.9%
HOU200810194323255536796765387.085.6017.3%20.7%5.5%57.6%
HOU20091043425255933991251008388.386.7021.1%25.1%4.0%59.3%
HOU2010102942332574365114847679.136.7319.9%23.0%5.3%58.9%
HOU20111046546334672881027175010.567.3521.8%24.7%6.6%47.8%
IND200710204462355135584604848.075.7615.2%16.9%4.0%56.3%
IND200896937014585393107786107.825.7018.3%19.8%2.3%61.8%
IND20099803661360140289705608.006.2914.8%17.4%2.1%62.7%
IND201010883931667945078574277.495.4711.5%12.7%2.3%63.9%
IND20119513823553430252392185.594.199.7%12.9%6.2%59.8%
JAX200710225223146928889615689.316.3819.0%21.2%6.2%48.9%
JAX2008100542642537335114948088.607.0921.2%28.1%7.3%57.6%
JAX2009101044744519315103744896.614.7519.8%23.5%7.8%55.7%
JAX201010195123846929199756118.156.1721.1%25.8%7.5%49.8%
JAX2011100248944469240102665257.955.1521.7%27.5%8.6%51.2%
KC2007100138355563335102704406.294.3118.1%20.9%8.9%61.7%
KC20089573793754131084614176.844.9615.5%19.7%6.4%60.4%
KC2009101943845536296108775467.095.0620.1%26.0%7.7%57.0%
KC2010106355632475274141948749.306.2029.7%34.3%6.3%47.7%
KC2011102148734500299113805366.704.7422.6%26.8%6.4%52.3%
MIA2007989389425583181321028598.426.5123.7%32.1%7.0%60.7%
MIA200896544826491330118887748.806.5624.0%26.7%5.0%53.6%
MIA2009108850934545331120835947.164.9522.0%25.1%5.9%53.2%
MIA2010104044538557335109725367.444.9219.6%21.5%6.4%57.2%
MIA20119904695246928077624146.685.3816.4%22.1%10.0%52.6%
MIN200796449438432249966669110.477.2022.2%26.5%8.1%48.8%
MIN2008101451943452267118835706.874.8326.1%31.1%8.7%48.8%
MIN2009105446734553377128978929.206.9723.1%25.7%5.8%55.7%
MIN20109824413650530593705908.436.3418.4%23.0%6.7%55.1%
MIN201110074484951028665494038.226.2012.7%17.1%8.8%55.5%
NE200710584512158640384625839.406.9414.3%15.4%3.5%57.4%
NE2008109551348534339107807349.186.8620.0%23.6%8.2%53.2%
NE2009107646618592390105746088.225.7917.7%19.0%3.0%56.7%
NE20109864542550733185616099.987.1616.8%18.4%4.7%54.0%
NE201110824383261240258373639.816.269.5%9.2%5.0%59.5%
NO20071060392166524401891468776.014.6429.0%33.2%2.4%63.0%
NO20081047398136364131661229447.745.6926.1%29.5%2.0%62.0%
NO20091032468205443781391067737.295.5625.6%28.0%3.5%54.7%
NO20101067380266614501351116676.014.9420.4%24.7%3.8%64.4%
NO201111174312466247218014311417.986.3427.2%30.3%3.5%61.4%
NYG2007104146928544302109634507.144.1320.0%20.9%4.9%54.9%
NYG200810215022849129887595138.695.9017.7%19.8%5.4%50.8%
NYG200910174433254233875464299.335.7213.8%13.6%5.6%56.4%
NYG201010354801653933982634487.115.4615.2%18.6%2.9%53.6%
NYG2011102841128589359121906617.345.4620.5%25.1%4.5%60.0%
NYJ200710114465351231086644306.725.0016.8%20.6%9.4%55.9%
NYJ200898142230529347110845636.705.1220.8%24.2%5.4%57.0%
NYJ200910306073039321067362867.944.2717.0%17.1%7.1%41.1%
NYJ2010108753428525288116785487.034.7222.1%27.1%5.1%50.9%
NYJ2011103044340547310125888159.266.5222.9%28.4%6.8%57.0%
OAK2007100050841451260120886707.615.5826.6%33.8%8.3%49.2%
OAK200891945939421222108746188.355.7225.7%33.3%8.5%50.1%
OAK200994441049485255105766108.035.8121.6%29.8%9.2%56.6%
OAK201010395044449127913293105311.327.9826.9%33.3%8.2%51.5%
OAK20111015466255243151189293910.217.9622.5%29.2%4.6%54.1%
PHI20071047421495773501531119198.286.0126.5%31.7%7.8%59.8%
PHI2008105642723606362121927798.476.4420.0%25.4%3.7%59.6%
PHI200997538438553335115806297.865.4720.8%23.9%6.4%60.6%
PHI20101038428495613481281077777.266.0722.8%30.7%8.0%58.8%
PHI201110364503255433079523446.624.3514.3%15.8%5.5%56.6%
PIT200710005114744228277554247.715.5117.4%19.5%9.6%48.9%
PIT200810154604950630375523787.275.0414.8%17.2%8.8%54.7%
PIT200910144285053635171534839.116.8013.2%15.1%8.5%57.8%
PIT20109934714347929873564327.715.9215.2%18.8%8.2%52.6%
PIT201110154344253934164473337.095.2011.9%13.8%7.2%57.2%
SD200798048524471281120835506.634.5825.5%29.5%4.8%50.5%
SD20089244212547831213810510219.727.4028.9%33.7%5.0%54.4%
SD200997242726519338127979329.617.3424.5%28.7%4.8%56.1%
SD20101039457385443591541279987.866.4828.3%35.4%6.5%56.0%
SD20111048436305823661651239777.945.9228.4%33.6%4.9%58.4%
SEA2007105643036590371122866757.855.5320.7%23.2%5.8%59.3%
SEA20089274173647426293594537.684.8719.6%22.5%7.1%55.0%
SEA20091045395416093721471097737.095.2624.1%29.3%6.3%62.2%
SEA201096438535544324102715127.215.0218.8%21.9%6.0%60.1%
SEA2011100344450509299104714796.754.6120.4%23.7%8.9%55.7%
SF200792535755513274108846337.545.8621.1%30.7%9.7%61.4%
SF200896139755509309111797339.286.6021.8%25.6%9.8%58.7%
SF200993937140528312115765377.074.6721.8%24.4%7.0%60.5%
SF201094540144500282110716338.925.7522.0%25.2%8.1%57.6%
SF20119934984445127762383238.505.2113.7%13.7%8.9%49.8%
STL2007102640448574333118845626.694.7620.6%25.2%7.7%60.6%
STL200898241745520292122837258.735.9423.5%28.4%8.0%57.5%
STL200999841144543312112784706.034.2020.6%25.0%7.5%58.8%
STL201010534293459035482644877.615.9413.9%18.1%5.4%59.3%
STL201110134095554929286594607.805.3515.7%20.2%9.1%59.6%
TB2007975449364903161471037777.545.2930.0%32.6%6.8%53.9%
TB2008104545132562355137986636.774.8424.4%27.6%5.4%56.8%
TB20099614043352427994684877.165.1817.9%24.4%5.9%58.0%
TB20109554313049430692695187.515.6318.6%22.5%5.7%54.9%
TB201196634632588365121936707.205.5420.6%25.5%5.2%64.2%
TEN200710375433046428874553626.584.8915.9%19.1%6.1%47.6%
TEN20089735081245326596674576.824.7621.2%25.3%2.6%47.8%
TEN20099904991547627192655969.176.4819.3%24.0%3.1%49.6%
TEN20109074062747427383653865.944.6517.5%23.8%5.4%55.2%
TEN2011984376245843531381017137.065.1723.6%28.6%3.9%61.8%
WAS2007105249829525319116856808.005.8622.1%26.6%5.2%52.7%
WAS200810264783851031888645188.095.8917.3%20.1%6.9%53.4%
WAS200997039146533340106847679.137.2419.9%24.7%7.9%59.7%
WAS2010100235146605349139877528.645.4123.0%24.9%7.1%65.0%
WAS2011103240041591346120917137.845.9420.3%26.3%6.5%61.2%
NFL07-1116092470084555785283518331674312153951817.835.6819.6%23.4%6.1%56.4%

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • PoKey21

    I think Haley times his running plays better than Arians does. With Arians everyone could tell by the formation it was either pass or run. And 3rd and long we would throw a screen. Haley mixes its up better, which leads to him being less predictable, and a better Offense.

  • Grw1960

    I am very much interested to see how Haley designs and implements the new Steelers offense.
    Also how well Ben adapts to it.I worry in the early part of the season that Ben will struggle throwing to the RBs.
    Timing is every thing when throwing outs to the RBs.
    Ben will have to break his own tendency to look down field to long before throwing the shorter passes.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NXON22FQSDCCSA2WHZIRTHQWTU Greig

    Any idea how often Haley used personnel groups, with multiple backs. I’d be curious to see how often he used 21 and 22 personnel.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I could almost name the play ,especially when we were in the 4th quarter, everytime before they lined up…Arians could be very tranparent at times….when he wasnt we would be very successful

  • Jb

    Sir, this article/thought is spot on. But, I am of the thought that the main issue with Arians was not simply his play calling, no! the number one problem was that he became an enabler for Ben. Many have watched Ben play long enough that they should understand that passing down field is his “passion”. Even sometimes, bravely or stupidly, at the cost of his own body. I swear that in some games the only reason Ben throws to running backs is to get the coaches, and fans, off his back… it’s a token gesture. Another example, sure there’s times when a defense of the opposing team can’t cover our TE’s (obviously speaking of Heath Miller here) – but, I place the majority of blame on Ben, for the Steelers TE’s lack of passing opportunities over the years.

    I was surprised after the Pittsburgh loss in their last SB that there were no articles, that I noticed, that spoke to the fact when Ben was throwing those incompletions to Wallace during the Steelers final drive of that game, several times Heath was clearly open underneath. Now a completion to Miller may have been only a 12 yard gain instead of a possible 20 yard advance for Wallace, but the chances of a completion were “much” greater. Of course, Ben is real good, but for him to go to an even higher/greater level as an NFL QB he needs to learn how to be much more consistent in the short passing game. Really sucking in the defenses, before tossing the bomb down field.

    I have always thought that Joe Montana was so great, because he understood this principle. I remember watching those 49’ers teams of the 80″s, and Joe would throw 3, 4, 5 passes to his RB’s or FB’s in a row. Toss in some passes to the TE’s and then “BOOM” big pass down field to a receiver. He did this time and time again. I hope the Steelers new OC realizes this and can have success helping BR to do the same.

  • JAMESH

    What he said.

  • Frankthebuc

    Haley’s offense is going to make the offensive line look like pro bowlers. Arians scheme put a lot of pressure on the offensive line and made them look bad. Steeler fans are about to see first hand just how important an offensive line friendly scheme is to the performance of the line.

    Offensive Linemen are simply not as important as people want to believe. The offensive scheme and play calling can make a line look good or bad. RB, QB, TE and WR are where you need to put your money.

    I correctly predicted last year that the Steelers would suffer injuries on the defensive line. This year those injuries are coming to the WR’s and Cb’s. Just watch.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ESU2VFZHEUTQEPJ7AWSN7ODBPQ Emac2

    That extra 7% is even bigger then it seem when it represents a 50% increase in throws to running backs (21% vs 14%)

    The fact the league is at about 20%, Haley is at 21% and the Steelers are at 14% means the title probably should have been about Haley bringing a little more normalcy to the Steelers offence. The only outlier in the equation is the Steelers.

  • SteelersDepot

    You can predict injuries? What about lottery numbers?

  • dgh57

    How will both Rainey and Batch be used in Haleys offense? Both seem like similar backs.
    When Batch was drafted I thought he was the back they throw to after Moore was gone. Now
    we have Rainey. Then of course the other backs.

    Great article! Gives me hope for a improved offense this season and makes me even more anxious for this season to START!!!

  • SteelersBall

    Interesting article. I am more interested in what the championship teams do as opposed to what all the teams do on average. In other words, attempting to be like the average team is not a good idea (I know you are not suggesting that). If there are 3 WR, 1 TE, and 1Rb = 5 ball catchers then equal distribution is 20% each. So the RB get 20 % of the catches plus the touches when running the ball. Seems to me that throwing the ball 20% of the time to the RBs is too much, given that the RB also run the ball. Wonder what the league average is for running backs touching the ball (catches and runs). Ditto for the championship teams concerning how often their RB touch the ball. Maybe there is no difference between the winners and losers.

  • JAY STEW

    I BLAME BEN AND ARIENS FOR THE STEELERS POOR GAME MANAGEMENT ALSO BEN IS A JOCK AND NOT A STUDENT OF THE GAME

  • Wdmason

    Maybe our backs can catch more passes if they arent needed to block on every play.

  • Dave

    No guarantee that Batch makes the final 53, IMO.

  • SteelersBall

    Yes that Seems reasonable

  • PoKey21

    Good thoughts JB, I do believe Heath does need to be utilized more. Good thoughts about Ben. And I think it may be a potential issue between him and Haley. at least a few ruffled feathers.

    Not only has Miller been underutilized, I believe we have wasted a lot of Mendenhalls talents also. When he came into the league he was only 20. We had him running up the middle instead of throwing a swing pass to him or even letting him run a route. When or if he did Ben never got him the ball. Hi first 3 years in the league (excluding his rookie year) his reception total has went down. In 2009, his first full year he had 260 receiving yards with a 10YPC! both stats decreased in 2010 and 2011.

  • Jprankster2005

    This is why I think we can be a better team with Haley, Less QB sacks….. And that number should def. drop with the OL we got now….. And I think Rainey and Batch if healthy can make some big plays…… I can’t wait till the season……. I was wondering in Haley’s offense did they use a FB much? Just wondering if our FB will even make the team……. I like the TE’s would of loved a more of an upgrade like Fleener or Egnew but they added a TE so that’s all that matters and one that can block as well…….

  • Jprankster2005

    Wallace better get that long term contract before he get’s injured then lol….. Any player can have a season ending injury at anytime…… It’s just the nature of the game…… Especially CBs with ACL’s and Knee and Achilles injurys… Because they plant there feet alot and sometimes it’s just the wrong way…… As well as WR and all RB’s and mostly all positons…. But I don’t know how u can predict something…. That’s just stupid