Run Rookie Run

Dear Fellow Buffalo Bills Fans,

With all the question marks surrounding the new coaching staff, I thought it would be prudent to take a quick look at recently successful rookie head coaches. I think a lot of us fans are especially curious about the offense that Marrone and Hackett will be employing. We obviously can start our research and subsequent speculation by looking over the Syracuse and New Orleans teams and systems. I will refer you to MagillaGorilla's fanpost for the formations and match-ups because it gives us a great idea of what to look for in that regard. What I intend to do here is to simplify it down even further to run vs. pass numbers and percentages.

I came across this idea while writing my last fanpost comparing the 2008 Ravens to the 2013 Bills and I now have the time to break those numbers down. I chose the following rookie head coaches because of their success and in some cases their ties to Marrone and/or Pettine.

Sean Payton - Age 49

Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints became the head coach in 2006 and guided the team to a Super Bowl victory in the 2009-2010 season. Prior to becoming the head coach, the Saints had a 3-13 season and in his first year led the team to a 10-6 record and first place in the division. Let's look at his passing percentage breakdown over the years (you can do the math on the running):

2006: 56.98% (11th highest in the NFL)
2007: 63.02% (2nd)
2008: 61.99% (4th)
2009: 55.16% (24th)
2010: 65.04% (2nd)
2011: 62.36% (3rd)

Of particular note here is that Marrone was the Offensive Coordinator from 2006-2008. Also I thought it was interesting that the year they won the Super Bowl was the year that they passed the least percentage wise. So I decided to look a little deeper into the numbers and found that they were winning after the 3rd quarter in ten of those games. I am going to assume that those numbers were skewed because of their winning ways in that season. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of those numbers by quarter but I only found these numbers by year. You can click the link here to look for yourself and if anyone has further breakdown by quarter, I would be interested to see those numbers. Let me know in the comments if you have them, thanks :) For the purpose of this article, my assumption is enough for me.

John Harbaugh - Age 50

John became the coach of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2008 season and led them to a Super Bowl victory last season. Prior to becoming the head coach the team was 5-11 and in his first year they went 11-5 and a wild card in the playoffs.

2008: 44.4% (32nd)
2009: 52.34% (27th)
2010: 52.57% (27th)
2011: 55.43% (24th)
2012: 55.91% (20th)

It's interesting to note here that they actually passed their highest percentage of the time in their Super Bowl season. Unlike the Saints however, they were not dominating teams in the regular season. Other than that, they kept a pretty even, albeit increasing, percentage. Also, Pettine was on staff in the 2008 season.

Rex Ryan - Age 50

Now, many people kinda chuckle when thinking of the Jets and Ryan but in his first two seasons he guided the team to the AFC championship game. Not too shabby for a rookie head coach. Also, Pettine was the defensive coordinator here from 2009-2012.

2009: 40.78% (32nd)
2010: 50.87% (30th)
2011: 56.99% (18th)
2012: 52.22% (27th)

I find it particularly interesting that 2009 and 2010 had the lowest percentages. I know that when you are winning, you tend to run the ball more to kill the game clock, so again I am curious of the quarter-by-quarter breakdown. However, it can not be denied that they were successful the first 2 years.

Jim Harbaugh - Age 49

Brother of John and has had the 49ers in the NFC championship game and Super Bowl in his first 2 years of head coaching at the NFL level. Let's see if he asked his brother how to get a leg up on the NFL chess board...

2011: 50.98% (30th)
2012: 48.49% (30th)

While this is certainly a smaller sample size than the coaches listed above, I think you might have started to realize a pattern here.

Mike Tomlin - Age 41

When Mike led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a Super Bowl victory in the 2008 season, he became the youngest head coach to ever win.

2007: 50.00% (28th)
2008: 54.01% (23rd)
2009: 57.79% (13th)
2010: 52.27% (28th)
2011: 57.80% (17th)
2012: 59.73% (12th)

Interestingly enough in the 2010 AFC championship season, Tomlin reverted back to a more run reliant offense. Again this may be due to them running out the clock on opponents to end the game.


As you can see all of these rookie head coaches are fairly young in the head coaching ranks. For your information, Marrone is 48 years old. He certainly fits in their age range. If I were Marrone, I would be taking a look into these head coaches and their game plans, especially in their rookie seasons. It's worth noting here that, in general, these coaches ran the ball more in their rookie seasons. I'm assuming that this is because:

a) It's a safer way to play

b) It's more difficult to implement effective passing plays on offense.

While I think it's safe to assume that Marrone will try to emulate Sean Payton's offense the most, I think he will also take the conservative approach and focus on a solid running game in his first season. Even in Payton's case, he passed the least during his rookie season (except the SB year) and then began passing more and more as the offense understood and then executed his designs on offense. It's also interesting to note that in that SB season, they promoted Carmichael to offensive coordinator, so the passing percentage may have dipped as players adjusted to his schemes.

With the emergence of Clifford Spiller Junior and the still productive Fred Jackson on the roster, I think it's safe to assume Marrone will follow the approach these coaches took. I also think that it is a safe assumption that the Bills will be looking to add a running back to the roster and even use one of their 6 draft picks to do so. It was painfully obvious to most Bills fans that we should have been running the ball more last year and I think Marrone would also agree.

I also think that with a run heavy approach, it will allow the defense to rest more and thus be more effective when they are on the field. Pettine may agree with that theory as well...

Using these assumptions, I also think that is why the Bills have shown little to no interest in wide receivers and tight ends in the free agent market. If it is going to take at least a year or two to implement an effective passing game, you might as well bring in younger rookies rather than teach a veteran another new system.


What do you think Bills fans ? As always thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments below. If some of you have more information to support or dispute this research, please let me know :)

Just another great fan opinion shared on the pages of

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