Icy Issues: busting football's greatest myth

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 13, 2007



By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Zeus of geek mythology
 
With their Icy Issues this week, the Cold, Hard Football Facts wonder why the 2007 Vikings aren't the greatest team of all time.
 
Icy Issue: What's the greatest myth in football?
Icier Response: The belief that teams need to run well on offense and stop the run on defense to be successful.
 
The Cold, Hard Football Facts have been pounding the rock of analysis on this issue for nearly two seasons, while silencing conventional wisdom and the pigskin "pundits" in the process: running well and stopping the run do not, and will not, make you a great team and probably won't  help you win games.
 
We have a textbook case study in the futility of this fallacious piece of conventional wisdom this season, thanks to the 2007 Vikings. Minnesota ranks:
  • No. 1 in rushing offense (172.2 YPG)
  • No. 1 in average per rush (5.49 YPA, nearly a full yard better than No. 2 Philadelphia, 4.57 YPA)
  • No. 1 in rushing defense (70.7 YPG, more than 100 yards fewer per game than Minnesota generates on offense)
  • No. 2 in average per rush allowed (3.03 YPA, behind only 4-9 Baltimore at 2.78 YPA).
More impressive than the way Minnesota stacks up this year is the way it stacks up historically.
  • Minnesota's average of 5.49 YPA is No. 2 in the Super Bowl Era, behind only the Barry Sanders-led 1997 Lions (5.51 YPA).
  • Minnesota's average of 5.49 YPA is No. 5 in the history of the NFL, behind only the 1963 Browns (5.74), 1954 49ers (5.65), 1963 Chargers (5.57) and 1997 Lions.
  • Minnesota's average of 3.03 YPA allowed makes it the seventh stingiest run defense of the Super Bowl Era.
In other words, if running the ball well and stopping the run were the foundations of pro football success, the 2007 Vikings would be one of the best teams in football this year. In fact, they'd be one of the best teams ever.
 
Instead, the 2007 Vikings are 7-6 and scratching and clawing for a playoff spot, and clearly outclassed by the NFC's great passing teams: Dallas and Green Bay.
 
But what about Minnesota's great four-game win streak? Hasn't the great ability to run the ball and stop the run had some impact on this streak?
 
No.
 
Naturally, it's the elevation of the passing game that's been the great difference for the 4-0 Vikings of the last four games and the 3-6 Vikings of the first nine games.
 
Second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has averaged 10.8, 8.5, 7.8 and 6.5 yards per pass attempt during the four-game win streak. Those numbers stand as the first-, second-, third-, and fifth-most effective passing days of his 11 career starts.
 
Minnesota, like every NFL team, wins when its quarterback plays well, not because it runs the ball well on offense and stops the run on defense.
 
And if you're looking for a single-game example of the myth of running the ball and stopping the run, simply look at last week's Pittsburgh-New England AFC clash. Before the game, every "pundit" but the Cold, Hard Football Facts told you, like a series of cliche-spewing automatons, that the key to victory for Pittsburgh was to establish the run on offense and keep the ball out of Tom Brady's hands.
 
Well, the Steelers did exactly what the "pundits" called for them to do: They ran the ball 32 times for 181 yards and a nifty 5.7 average per attempt. They held the Patriots to 22 yards on 9 attempts, a woeful 2.4 average per attempt.
 
New England won, 34-13.
 
The Cold, Hard Football Facts, of course, told you in last week's Icy Issues that the key to victory for Pittsburgh was to pass the ball well. Naturally, the Cold, Hard Football Facts were correct and the passing game proved the big difference in the game: The Patriots averaged 8.7 yards per pass attempt. The Steelers averaged just 4.8 yards per pass attempt.
 
So here's some advice: next time you hear some pigskin "pundit" tell you that Team X needs to "establish the run" on offense and "stop the run" on defense, turn the channel. Because that person has no idea what they're talking about and is simply spouting an old, meaningless cliché to fill time and airspace.

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