The 5.0 Club: run defense in '11 lit up like hippies in '69

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 10, 2012



By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts ra-stat-afarian


You already know that pass defenses in 2011 were lit up like filthy hippies at Woodstock.
 
Here’s something you may not know: turns out things were not much better for run defenses, either. These units may not have glowed as brightly as pass defenses or as the freaky bright orange girl who so mesmerized you at the Grateful Dead show at Foxboro in ’89.
 
But both were embarrassingly ugly in retrospect – or so your jealous friends tell you many years later.
 
The story about the trouble for pass defenses last season is fairly well known. Green Bay and New England, for example, surrendered more passing yards than any teams in history. Minnesota’s Defensive Passer Rating, meanwhile, was the second worst in history.
 
The story about the trouble for run defenses is less well known. But it’s just as intriguing for those of you who drop statistical knowledge the way that Wavy Gravy doused brown acid at Woodstock.

Offenses don't run the ball as often as they once did. So total rushing yards and rushing yards allowed are well below record levels. But when offenses did run the ball in 2011, many defenses were historically ineffective at actually stopping them. Perhaps the heavy focus on pass defense has made it easier for offenses to run the football.
 
We published something called the 5.0 Club after the 2009 season. These were the 19 defenses in the entire history of the NFL (dating back to 1920) that were gashed for more than 5.0 yards per attempt on the ground.
 
It's pretty tough to suck that bad on defense. Generally speaking, a defense is so weak and inept that it gets stomped for more than 5.0 YPA only about once in every four and a half years. Nobody joined the 5.0 Club in 2010. But that club is a lot larger today after the 2011 season. In fact, the ignominious 5.0 club welcomed three new members in its chubby, lethargic fold this off-season:
  • The 2011 Lions surrendered 5.00 YPA
  • The 2011 Buccaneers surrendered 5.01 YPA
  • The 2011 Raiders surrendered 5.07 YPA
How bad was it? Well, 2011 marked the first campaign in which three different defenses were each shredded for more than 5.0 yards every time an opponent ran the ball.

Here's a look at the 22 teams in history that surrendered more than 5.0 yards per rush attempt. It's a fairly broad list of teams that produced varying levels of success, from the pathetic and long-lost winless Cincinnati Reds of 1934, the worst run defense in history, to the Super Bowl champion 2006 Colts, the seventh worst run defense in history.

The 5.0 Club: Worst Run Defenses in NFL History (through 2011)
  Team Record Attempts Yards YPA
1 1934 Cincinnati Reds 0-8 255 1,631 6.40
2 1950 N.Y. Yanks 7-5 434 2,445 5.63
3 1950 Colts 1-11 514 2,857 5.56
4 1959 Redskins 3-9 404 2,214 5.48
5 1961 Vikings 3-11 493 2,667 5.41
6 1958 49ers 6-6 380 2,038 5.36
7 2006 Colts 12-4 519 2,768 5.33
8 1965 Oilers (AFL) 4-10 507 2,683 5.29
9 1955 Bears 8-4 398 2,100 5.28
10 1951 Bears 7-5 372 1,958 5.26
11 1953 Colts 3-9 445 2,315 5.20
12 2003 Chiefs 13-3 453 2,344 5.17
13 1976 Chiefs 5-9 555 2,861 5.15
14 2008 Lions 0-16 536 2,754 5.14
15 1956 Packers 4-8 512 2,619 5.12
16 1961 Raiders (AFL) 1-13 478 2,440 5.10
17 1973 Patriots 5-9 560 2,850 5.09
18 1969 Bengals (AFL) 4-9-1 523 2,651 5.069
19 2011 Raiders 8-8 430 2,178 5.065
20 1960 Cowboys 0-11-1 447 2,242 5.02
21 2011 Buccaneers 4-12 498 2,497 5.01
22 2011 Lions 10-6 410 2,050 5.00
 
Clearly, most of these teams wer fairly bad. But there were a number of decent and highly competitive teams on the list, too. The fact that you can suck in rush defense and still compete supports the notion that the ground game in the NFL is not as important as the passing game, and never has been. Hell, one third of the worst run defenses in history belong to teams that went .500 or better.

There are plenty of interesting teams to note:

The 1934 Cincinnati Reds - These winless bums were even worse on offense than they were on defense. The scored just 10 points all season, surrendered 243 on defense, and folded at the end of the year never to play again. Their lone touchdown all season, ironically, came against the powerhouse 13-0 Chicago Bears in a 41-7 loss.

The 2003 Chiefs - This team was a dream for anyone who suffers the misfortune of human emotion and loves the ground game. Not only did they field one of the most porous run defenses in history, they rushed for 32 TDs on offense (fourth most by one team), led by 27 rushing scores from Priest Holmes. His mark was an individual record at the time, but now tied for second most in history.

The 2006 Colts - What can you say? Peyton Manning did in fact win a championship with the worst run defense ever to go that far. Even Manning's legions of Kool-Aid drinking devotees probably don't know that Cold, Hard Football Fact about him. Of course, the defense did stiffen up considerably in the postseason. But the regular-season peformance was among the worst ever by a defense.

The 2008 Lions - Detroit posted the worst record in history (0-16) for a reason, folks. They fielded the worst pass defense in the history of football (110.9 Defensive Passer Rating), a fact we've noted numerous times. Well, they also fielded one of the worst run defenses in the history of football, too (5.14 YPA). Put those factors together and you have a defense that surrenders 517 points, the second highest total allowed by any team.

The 2011 Lions - There are a lot of big names now on that defensive front. But the reality is that these big names sucked badly against the run last year. We realize Ndamukong Suh was suspended late in the year. But he was on the field for most of it ... and this team could barely contain the run at any point in the season. The Saints offense trashed them with 36 rushing attempts for 167 yards and 3 TDs in Detroit's playoff loss back in January.

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