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The Power of 12 (Not a Tom Brady Article)

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Keith Bistodeau  | November 26th, 2019

Back in 2013, James Dudko at Bleacher Report started a conversation about the efficiency rating of certain offensive personnel sets, and whether or not teams that favored one particular set had more efficient and productive offenses.


The 12 set, or the set in which two tight ends are deployed on the field, was not heavily used in a lot of offenses heading into the 2012 season, but that all changed once the Patriots started to exploit a particular mismatch that the set creates. As a result, 2013 became the first NFL season where we saw a drastic spike in the use of this formation. Looking at the Personnel usage so far in the 2019 season, it is safe to say that the 12 set has become the new defining offensive personnel package that can drastically indicate the success or demise the football team on any given Sunday.

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The 12 personnel grouping has seen the largest increase in usage out of any personal grouping in the NFL since the 2013 season (the 11 personnel set is still the most common package for over 75% of the league, but the 12 set falls in the top three in usages for all teams in the league). Some may argue that this is due to the balance this personnel set offers, but truthfully, the underlying reason is most likely the ease at which offenses can disguise plays within this set. Generally, in the 12, one tight end is more of a pass-catcher and the other has a bit better blocking ability. The presence of the pass-catching tight end helps create those ever-important mismatches, where a base defensive alignment will be vulnerable to the pass, while a nickel or dime package will be weak against the run. This was once regarded as more of a running formation, but teams can find balance out of the 12 personnel set. 

The potential the 12 package offers is being used by teams that have a strong running threat as well as tight end squads that can both block and catch passes even more so in 2019 than league-wide in 2018  (20% in 2019 vs. 17% in 2018). While some teams run this package out of personnel needs as a result of holes in their offensive personnel (Houston and Tennessee – both considered run-heavy teams) they will not be considered in this analysis due to their usage not resulting from a change in offensive focus/play calling. In order to understand the power shift this package offers we will look at the top two squads in terms of overall usage of the 12 package since 2018 (Philadelphia and Kansas City) for positive change in offensive production and to the two squads most benefiting from an increase in 12 package usage (San Francisco and Minnesota) to isolate why this package should honestly be examined more within offenses throughout the league.

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Philadelphia (2018 – 36%, 2019 – 40%)

The shift to an increased usage of the 12 personnel set has been a huge relief for Carson Wentz. This is mainly due to the shift to using this set as a run package in 2019. This has allowed the overall success of this package to not only increase for the Eagles, but this change has also been attributed to an overall increase in offensive production. Looking at the statistics below, this has been a key reason for the increased offensive efficiency for the Eagles, which has helped them be a lot more aggressive with their offensive play selection in other personnel sets this season. It may not always lead to more wins, but a more efficient offense is always a good thing.

                                                2018        2019

Overall Success Rate:              50%     vs     51% 

Pass Rate:                                    61%     vs     48%

Pass Success:                              51%     vs     51%

Passer Rating:                           101.7     vs     106.0

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Pass TD:                                          15     vs     8

Pass INTs:                                        7     vs     1

Run Rate:                                       39%     vs     52%

Run Success:                                 49%     vs     53%

Rush TD:                                           5     vs     7

 

Kansas City (2018 – 28%, 2019 – 31%)

This is an interesting sample to consider as the impact has not been seen on the scoreboard for the Chiefs this season, but it has been seen in their ability to control the ball more and wear down opposing defenses. The Chiefs have seen an increase in the total time of possession this season compared to the last few seasons. This seems to be an ongoing focus for the team and was very noticeable while Patrick Mahomes was injured. As a result, the Chiefs defense (ranked 20th in the NFL) has been on the field less, which may help to explain some of the success the Chiefs have been having this season.

                                              2018        2019

Overall Success Rate:             52%     vs     53% 

Pass Rate:                                   62%     vs     61%

Pass Success:                             50%     vs     55%

Passer Rating:                          108.9     vs     99.8

Pass TD:                                           14     vs     3

Pass INTs:                                          4     vs     1

Run Rate:                                       38%     vs     39%

Run Success:                                 55%     vs     49%

Rush TD:                                              7     vs     3

 

San Francisco (2018 – 10%, 2019 – 31%)

This is where things get really interesting due to the DRASTIC increase in set usage this season. While the overall success rate of this set has been lower than past seasons, there are two interesting impacts to consider that help to explain the success the 49ers are seeing this year: time of possession and a clearly improved defense. Since the 49ers have turned this formation into a run-first set (65% of plays have been run plays in this formation) they have been chewing up the clock in their games. This has limited the total number of possessions teams have and has also allowed their defense to play very aggressive this season. This change has lead them to become the #2 ranked defense in the league. While other teams on this list are discussed due to offensive increases with the 12 set, the 49ers seem to be using this package with their personnel to highlight their advantages from the defensive side of the ball.

                                                2018        2019

Overall Success Rate:               54%     vs     41% 

Pass Rate:                                     41%     vs     35%

Pass Success:                               61%     vs     46%

Passer Rating:                             128.7     vs     81.0

Pass TD:                                               4     vs     1

Pass INTs:                                            2     vs     2

Run Rate:                                        59%     vs     65%

Run Success:                                  49%     vs     39%

Rush TD:                                               1     vs     2

 

Minnesota (2018 – 19%, 2019 – 29%)

The 12 set is the most used personnel package by Minnesota in 2019, making them the only team in the league to use this personnel package more often than the 11 set.  As a result, the Vikings have become what we expected them to be in 2019, a run-first offense with the ability to beat you in the air when needed. We have seen this come to light a lot in the past two weeks as teams have figured out how to slow down the Vikings running attack. This highlights one of the biggest advantages of the 12 set that the Vikings exploit all the time: it hides audibles from run to pass plays very well. This is because NOONE needs to move. In other sets when teams audible players have to shift positions. That is almost never seen in the 12 set and may help to explain the crazy stats Kirk Cousins has posted since week 4 (2,020 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 1 interception).

                                                          2018        2019

Overall Success Rate:                            52%     vs     49% 

Pass Rate:                                                  46%     vs     62%

Pass Success:                                            60%     vs     51%

Passer Rating:                                         119.2     vs     101.0

Pass TD:                                                           6     vs     5

Pass INTs:                                                        1     vs     1

Run Rate:                                                     54%     vs     38%

Run Success:                                               45%     vs     44%

Rush TD:                                                           3     vs     1

The key element to remember here is that the personnel needs to work within the package. Just become a team runs this set a lot does not guarantee an overall improvement in production numbers. But the data above helps to illustrate a clear improvement in offensive production for these four teams, and in some cases better results through just over half a season compared to all of the 2018 season. Time will tell how these results will be impacted by defenses responding to this shift, but for now, these teams should enjoy a noticeable offensive advantage.

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