By Erik Frenz
Cold, Hard Football Facts Open-Field Runner
If you're still wondering why Atlanta took out a second mortgage for a "shiny hood ornament" in the 2011 NFL draft, trading five picks to Cleveland to get Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones, we have some answers.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was paired with the least elusive collection of pass catchers in football last year. At least's that what we discovered with our newest indicator, Average Yards After Catch: Atlanta pass catchers averaged a paltry 3.97 YAC in 2010, easily the worst production in the NFL.

Earlier, we looked at the receivers with the highest average yards after catch (AYAC). We left off tight ends and running backs intentionally. The sole focus was on finding the most athletic receivers with the right combination of speed, strength, system and agility to make a defense pay for not swarming them with tacklers. This list, however, looks not at individual players, but at offenses overall to determine which are best at creating yards after catch.

A lot of factors go into a team's ability to efficiently create YAC: Tendencies of the quarterback, pass-catching running backs in the backfield, offensive linemen that can block in space, and the offensive system are just a few of the bigger factors. Many times, these things work in unison to create one monster YAC attack. It would be pretty hard to argue that New England's success after the catch isn't attributed to the entire offensive system, from the hogs to the quarterback to the running backs and everything in between.

Which teams are best at earning those yards after the catch?

Team YAC Total receptions Team AYAC % total rec. yds. After catch
1 San Francisco 49ers 1968 282 6.98 54.47
2 Oakland Raiders 1928 279 6.91 55.55
3 San Diego Chargers 2372 359 6.61 49.98
4 New England  Patriots 2049 331 6.19 50.94
5 Dallas Cowboys 2315 379 6.11 55.01
6 Washington Redskins 2124 349 6.09 49.85
7 Green Bay Packers 2132 352 6.06 48.96
8 Detroit Lions 2311 383 6.03 57.76
9 Philadelphia Eagles 2076 348 5.97 49.25
10 Kansas City Chiefs 1635 274 5.97 51.27
11 Houston Texans 2136 365 5.85 48.88
12 Chicago Bears 1583 276 5.74 46.64
13 Pittsburgh Steelers 1686 298 5.66 43.34
14 Denver Broncos 1869 334 5.6 43.39
15 Minnesota Vikings 1697 305 5.56 51.01
16 Tampa Bay Bucs 1690 306 5.52 47.42
17 St. Louis Rams 1933 354 5.46 48.12
18 Baltimore Ravens 1671 308 5.43 46.05
19 Carolina Panthers 1354 256 5.29 51.38
20 Jacksonville Jaguars 1529 291 5.25 45.56
21 Cleveland Browns 1553 296 5.25 48.49
22 Buffalo Bills 1531 296 5.17 45.42
23 New York Jets 1431 288 4.97 41.84
24 Seattle Seahawks 1608 324 4.96 45.48
25 New York Giants 1645 339 4.85 41.1
26 Cincinnati Bengals 1721 365 4.72 43.15
27 New Orleans Saints 2109 450 4.69 45.49
28 Miami Dolphins 1565 335 4.67 41.68
29 Indianapolis Colts 2003 450 4.45 42.62
30 Tennessee Titans 1164 273 4.26 35.51
31 Arizona Cardinals 1193 285 4.19 36.55
32 Atlanta Falcons 1433 361 3.97 38.47

The 49ers need a game manager
Averaging 6.98 YAC is a pretty impressive number for a team that finished 24th in the NFL in scoring. What's more disturbing than that, though, is that San Francisco still managed to rank 31st in the league with just 149 passing first downs. At 6.98 AYAC, they should have been able to pick up a first in just two dump-offs, but at a coin-flip completion rate of 56.4% (29th in the league), it becomes much more difficult to pick up first downs through the air.

San Francisco's quarterbacks averaged less than one interception per game and got plenty of help from their friends, yet still managed to finish with a 79.4 percent passer rating.

With Frank Gore (10.39 AYAC) and Vernon Davis (8.16 AYAC) in the mix, even Stevie Wonder playing quarterback should be able to put up better numbers. How hard is it to find a quarterback capable of completing a consistent checkdown, quick slant or bubble screen?

For San Francisco, a turnaround similar to the one the Oakland Raiders underwent from 2009 to 2010 will mean either a) finding a more efficient quarterback to run the offense, b) finding better Offensive Hogs, or c) hope Joe Montana or Steve Young uncover the fountain of youth and come back to the 49ers' family.

Atlanta just can't do it in the air
Well, maybe a few Falcons are members of the Mile High Club, but that's not what we're talking about. 
The Falcons had big-time problems with their pass attack last year. They ranked dead last in AYAC, leading to an average of 6.5 yards per passing attempt (26th). Atlanta insiders will tell you that quarterback Matt Ryan earned every bit of praise for his stellar 2010 season, because he wasn't getting an awful lot of help.

The only receiver that poses a big threat to defenses is Roddy White, and the lack of a threat on the other side of the field has him double- and triple-covered at times. But for all of his production, White did most of his work before the catch, averaging just 3.3 YAC on 12.1 yards per reception. Tony Gonzalez averaged 9.4 yards a catch, worst in his career.
And while most teams have a running back with big-time YAC, which boosts their average a bit, the Falcons almost never throw to Michael Turner (23 catches in three seasons!), leaving only Jason Snelling (120 YAC) and Ovie Mughelli (110 YAC).
It all goes toward the Falcons' thinking in mortgaging the future for a shot at the present in Julio Jones.

Oakland Raiders: So that's how they did it...
Oakland's astronomic increase in offensive production gets a bit more appreciation here. It was due to higher-efficiency passing, and getting the most out of their receivers out of the backfield: Michael Bush, Marcel Reese, and Darren McFadden. The three backs accounted for 1,057 yards worth of YAC and a whopping 11.74 AYAC. Have they ever considered just putting those three guys on the outside?

With those gaudy numbers, it's clear that their bread and butter on offense was using the running backs in the passing game - 30.45% of their total receiving yards came in their running backs earning yards after the catch.

Jason Campbell needs to continue to play efficient football by finding those running backs and trusting them to make a play. We got a glimpse into Campbell's capabilities in the final five games of the season. He went 90 of 139 (64.7%) for 1,065 yards, 7.7 YPA, 6 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and a 96.4 passer rating against three quality teams and two playoff teams. He's not going to light up the scoreboard, but he's going to keep you in the game. Oakland went 3-2 in that span. Campbell completed less than 60% of his passes just one time in that five-game stretch, and neither of their losses were by more than a touchdown.

Don't get it twisted: 3-2 in the last five games isn't excellent. And of course, it helps when you're getting a tremendous season from Darren McFadden, running like a Razorback. He even got help from Oakland's defensive hogs, which ranked seventh in the league in 2010. If Campbell can build on that finish and can get even better, they have a legitimate shot at a winning record.
Brady vs. Manning — Again?
Perhaps the Brady vs. Manning diatribe is best left for another day, but this should be a good amount of grass in the proverbial pipe of Manning apologists. His Colts only relied on YAC for 42.64% of their passing yardage, and ranked 29th in the league in AYAC with just 4.45. Tom Brady's New England Patriots, on the other hand, racked up 50.94% of their passing yardage on the ground, and were the fourth-ranked AYAC offense with 6.19. The belief has long stood that Brady is the benefactor of great YAC receivers, while Manning does most of the work on his own. This chart quantifies that sentiment.

It should be noted, though, that Austin Collie ranked higher than any Patriots receiver in AYAC last year with 5.41. If the Colts can get him the ball more than 58 times, and if he can stay concussion-free, Collie could be the next Wes Welker (though you should ask Chan Gailey about that).