NFL Balance: The Most Effective Offenses Since 1970

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jul 02, 2013



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)

 

 

People love to talk about NFL offenses having balance between the run and the pass. That way you give opponents multiple dimensions to defend.

That’s all good in theory, but most offenses do not come close to exhibiting balance on a consistent basis. More often than not, you have to stick with what you do best. For most teams in today’s NFL, that is the passing game.

In the last six seasons (2007-12), only 26 teams have run the ball at least 500 times. In 1978, the first year with a 16-game season and the debut of the “Mel Blount Rule,” all 28 NFL teams had at least 500 carries.

We are in the most pass-happy era in history.

With a NFL moving towards more specialized roles and packages, there may be no better time to thrive without being balanced.

For true balance, we must not get caught up with the ratio of play calls, but focus on the effectiveness of the run and pass. It helps no one (but the opponent) to keep running into a brick wall for two yards. Falling behind in the down/distance will make passing harder.

This is not the time or place to debunk the dependency of the run and pass. We just wanted to find out which teams have been effective at both since the merger. However, this hunt has led to quite a bit more worth sharing today.

NFL teams do face a balancing act between the run and the pass, but only a select few excel at doing both.

 

Recent Examples of Balance Misconceptions

Last season we watched a few teams lean heavily in one offensive direction, but the presence of a great player did not yield effective results for the other style of attack like we are led to believe happens with great frequency.

An elite quarterback is rarely an advantage to your team’s running game. We know the Green Bay Packers under Mike McCarthy hardly ever bother putting the ball into the hands of someone not named Aaron Rodgers, and for good reason. It’s similar to the Miami career of Dan Marino in that regard.

We can also look at the Indianapolis Colts of recent years and how their running game performed (non-quarterback runs from only the regular season):

Colts' Running Game (Non-QB Carries)

Season

QB

Carries

Yards

YPC

2008

Peyton Manning

345

1,245

3.61

2009

Peyton Manning

344

1,303

3.79

2010

Peyton Manning

375

1,465

3.91

2011

"Kerry Paintsky"

357

1,483

4.15

2012

Andrew Luck

378

1,416

3.75

Was it that fear of Peyton Manning spreading the ball around or the vertical attack of Andrew Luck that produced the best running game in Indianapolis in the last five years? No, it was the 2011 season when the holy trinity of Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky started that the Colts actually had their most yards and best rushing average.

When a team has such a deficiency in the passing game, the run has to be there to overcompensate for it or else you end up with one of the worst offenses in NFL history.

The Minnesota Vikings have done an incredible job of running the football the last two seasons. In 2011, their 5.17 yards per carry ranked as the 13th highest since the 1970 merger (19th in NFL history). Last season, led by Adrian Peterson’s 2,097 yards, the Vikings averaged 5.42 yards per carry, which is the fourth-highest average since 1970.

Yet did we still not see quarterback Christian Ponder average 6.08 yards per pass attempt? Include the sacks and that average falls to 5.34, or 0.08 worse than the average Minnesota rushing play. Where were the supposed benefits of a great running game?

Then again, it was in 2009 when Peterson averaged a career-low in YPC (4.4), despite having the best passing game and quarterback of his career with Brett Favre’s season. Sure, he had a career-best 18 touchdowns, but that’s what playing with an elite quarterback really does. It provides more scoring opportunities.

Better efficiency on the ground? Not quite, unless you plan to be an all-time juggernaut, but those don’t come around every year.

Minnesota was not even the most egregious example from 2012. Running back Jamaal Charles also returned from a torn ACL. Despite a horrific Kansas City passing game with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn at the helm – they averaged 5.27 yards per pass and committed 27 turnovers – on a 2-14 team, Charles still rushed for 1,509 yards and averaged 5.29 yards per carry.

Where the lines blur between the run and pass come with the play-action pass. However, teams that possess a poor running game still usually do well in this regard, because defenses are so instinctively likely to bite on the fake.

We gathered play-action data from Pro Football Focus for the 2012 season. Though it is only one season, here are some correlation coefficients of interest. Sacks were excluded for all comparisons.

Play-Action (PA) Passing Correlations (2012)

Stat comparison

Correlation coefficient

Play-action YPA vs. Rushing YPC

0.09

Play-action YPA vs. Passing YPA

0.62

Play-action YPA vs. Non-play-action YPA

0.05

Play-action passes vs. Rushing attempts

0.48

Here we find no strong relationship at all (0.09) between a team’s yards per attempt using play action compared to how efficient their running game is based on yards per carry. We do find that teams who run the ball often tend to throw more play-action passes (0.48). That makes sense, though the numbers prove there is no guarantee it will be efficient.

In fact, the strongest correlation here is between play-action passing and all passes (0.62), which again goes back to the importance of the quarterback and overall passing game.

The correlation of play-action passes to non-play-action passes is the weakest of them all (0.05), which speaks to how effective this type of play is regardless of how bad your quarterback or running game is.

Even the Arizona Cardinals, with a horrible quarterback situation, pathetic offensive line and the worst running game in the league averaged 8.13 yards per attempt last year on 71 play-action passes. That ranked 17th in the league.

Want to know which team ranked next to last in YPA on play-action passes?

It was Minnesota. You know, the one with the MVP running back having a career year? Ponder’s 6.30 average was only under-classed by the Eagles (6.14).

We would love to look at more seasons of play-action data, but so far, it’s not looking good for the “run sets up the pass” myth.

 

The Best Balanced Offenses Since 1970

 

Taking a big-picture look, we gathered regular-season data from Pro-Football-Reference on all 1,253 teams since the 1970 merger. League averages for yards per pass (including sacks) and yards per carry were calculated for each season. You can see the progression of them here:

We again see that familiar climb through today with a little lull in the early ‘90s. The passing average over the 43 seasons is 5.88 with a range of 5.18 (1977) to 6.32 (2011). The rushing average is 4.03 with a range of 3.72 (1994) to 4.29 (2011).

Disclaimer: While scoring and turnovers are no doubt important, this study wanted to focus on the ability to move the football through the air and ground. So yards-per-play averages are the measure here.

There was a thought to exclude each team from the league average when calculating the differences, but it did not prove to significantly change things, so the average is based on every team.

For each team, we subtracted the league averages for yards per pass (YPP) and yards per carry (YPC) from their averages in each stat. A negative number would indicate below league-average performance.

Then the two numbers were added together to get a total for yards per play above average. This is the main number the teams were ranked by. The following are the top 40 offenses since 1970 (league averages for that season are “AvgYPP” and “AvgYPC):

Top 40 Offenses in Yards Per Play Differential (Since 1970)

Rk

Team

Year

Rec.

YPP

YPC

AvgYPP

AvgYPC

Pass-Diff.

Run-Diff.

Total

1

RAM

2000

10-6

8.29

4.81

5.85

4.08

2.45

0.73

3.18

2

SD

1982

6-3

8.36

4.20

5.84

3.82

2.52

0.38

2.90

3

RAM

2001

14-2

7.89

4.87

5.87

4.06

2.02

0.82

2.83

4

CIN

1988

12-4

7.93

4.81

5.93

4.01

2.00

0.81

2.81

5

RAM

1999

13-3

7.73

4.78

5.85

3.90

1.89

0.88

2.76

6

MIA

1984

14-2

8.56

3.96

5.90

4.02

2.66

-0.06

2.61

7

SF

1993

10-6

7.70

4.61

5.81

3.89

1.89

0.72

2.61

8

CLT

2004

12-4

8.55

4.34

6.14

4.14

2.40

0.20

2.60

9

CIN

1986

10-6

7.54

4.86

5.88

3.94

1.66

0.93

2.59

10

SF

1992

14-2

7.58

4.80

5.78

4.03

1.80

0.77

2.57

11

MIA

1972

14-0

7.41

4.83

5.66

4.14

1.75

0.69

2.44

12

SF

1998

12-4

6.99

5.18

5.89

3.99

1.10

1.19

2.29

13

MIN

2000

11-5

7.23

4.97

5.85

4.08

1.39

0.89

2.28

14

KC

2002

8-8

7.20

5.15

5.88

4.22

1.32

0.93

2.25

15

BUF

1975

8-6

6.63

5.06

5.45

4.01

1.18

1.05

2.23

16

CLT

1976

11-3

7.50

4.08

5.28

4.08

2.22

-0.01

2.21

17

RAI

1976

13-1

7.47

4.10

5.28

4.08

2.19

0.02

2.20

18

NYJ

1972

7-7

7.63

4.36

5.66

4.14

1.96

0.22

2.19

19

MIN

1998

15-1

7.76

4.30

5.89

3.99

1.86

0.32

2.18

20

SF

1984

15-1

7.46

4.62

5.90

4.02

1.56

0.60

2.16

21

NO

2011

13-3

7.79

4.94

6.32

4.29

1.47

0.64

2.11

22

SF

1989

14-2

8.15

3.99

6.12

3.95

2.03

0.04

2.07

23

WAS

1991

14-2

8.10

3.79

5.97

3.93

2.13

-0.13

1.99

24

NE

1978

11-5

6.76

4.72

5.54

3.95

1.23

0.76

1.99

25

MIN

2004

8-8

7.55

4.71

6.14

4.14

1.41

0.57

1.98

26

RAM

1973

12-2

6.88

4.44

5.29

4.06

1.59

0.38

1.97

27

PIT

1979

12-4

7.04

4.64

5.76

4.00

1.29

0.64

1.92

28

WAS

2012

10-6

7.20

5.22

6.25

4.26

0.96

0.96

1.92

29

CRD

1975

11-3

7.03

4.33

5.45

4.01

1.59

0.32

1.90

30

DAL

1971

11-3

7.09

4.39

5.57

4.02

1.52

0.37

1.89

31

DEN

1998

14-2

7.02

4.70

5.89

3.99

1.13

0.71

1.84

32

BUF

1991

13-3

7.03

4.71

5.97

3.93

1.06

0.79

1.84

33

PHI

2006

10-6

7.20

4.77

5.97

4.16

1.23

0.61

1.84

34

MIA

1986

8-8

7.22

4.43

5.88

3.94

1.34

0.49

1.83

35

NO

1979

8-8

7.08

4.49

5.76

4.00

1.32

0.49

1.82

36

NO

2009

13-3

7.72

4.50

6.17

4.24

1.55

0.26

1.81

37

MIN

2003

9-7

7.03

4.75

5.84

4.16

1.19

0.59

1.79

38

NE

2007

16-0

7.79

4.10

6.05

4.06

1.75

0.04

1.79

39

SF

1994

13-3

7.62

3.86

5.98

3.72

1.64

0.14

1.78

40

KC

2004

7-9

7.43

4.61

6.14

4.14

1.29

0.48

1.76

This stat just loves “The Greatest Show on Turf” Rams from 1999-01 as they make up three of the top five teams. They were most deadly in 2000. Kurt Warner only played 11 games, but averaged 9.88 yards per attempt. The closest any quarterback has come to that mark since was Aaron Rodgers in 2011 (9.25). You have to go back to Tommy O’Connell (11.17) in 1957 to find a better average.

The ground game was strong too with Marshall Faulk averaging 5.4 yards per carry in a MVP season. The overall ground game was 0.73 above the league average in YPC, which was actually the lowest of these three St. Louis teams.

That was such a unique team in 2000. They scored 540 points, but allowed 471, which ranked last in the league and is the highest total ever for a playoff team and a 10-win team. The 2000 Rams still own NFL records for wins in a season when allowing at least 20 points (10), 24 points (8) and 28 points (5). They nearly came back from a 31-7 deficit in the fourth quarter in the playoffs against New Orleans, but Az-Zahir Hakim fumbled a late punt with the Rams down 31-28.

Eleven of these 40 teams won a Super Bowl. Five more lost the big game.

It’s probably not that surprising to see an Air Coryell San Diego team (1982) make it in the No. 2 spot, or the efficient 1988 Bengals with Boomer Esiason’s MVP season and Ickey Woods’ outstanding rookie campaign in the top five.

No team makes the top 40 as often as San Francisco (six), which included four teams primarily quarterbacked by Steve Young to only two by Joe Montana.

The only 2012 team is the Washington Redskins, but more on last year’s teams later.

What may be the big surprise is the 2007 Patriots coming in 38th, but nearly all of their above-average play came from the strength of the passing game. The running game was only 0.04 YPC above average. The 1978 Patriots actually come in higher at No. 24.

Three teams on the list were below average in rushing YPC: 1976 Colts (-0.01), 1984 Dolphins (-0.06) and 1991 Redskins (-0.13). They still make it because of how dominant the passing game was.

Though that does not speak well for the concept of balance. We sorted the list again, but this time focused on only teams who were above average at both the run and pass.

Of the 1,253 teams, only 316 (25.2 percent) were above average at both the pass and the run.

Which team just made the cut by the slimmest of margins? None other than the 2012 Super Bowl champion Ravens, who were a miniscule +0.006 in the pass and +0.018 in the run for a total of +0.02.

Of the 1,253 teams, only 226 (18.0 percent) were at least 0.10 above average at both the pass and the run. Only 57 teams (4.55 percent) were at least half a yard above average at both the pass and the run. Here are those 57 teams:

NFL Balance: 57 Offenses Averaging +0.5 Yards per Play (Run and Pass)

Rk

Team

Year

Rec.

YPP

YPC

AvgYPP

AvgYPC

P-Diff.

R-Diff.

Total

1

RAM

2000

10-6

8.29

4.81

5.85

4.08

2.446

0.730

3.18

2

RAM

2001

14-2

7.89

4.87

5.87

4.06

2.016

0.816

2.83

3

CIN

1988

12-4

7.93

4.81

5.93

4.01

2.004

0.808

2.81

4

SFO

1993

10-6

7.70

4.61

5.81

3.89

1.886

0.721

2.61

5

RAM

1999

13-3

7.73

4.78

5.85

3.90

1.885

0.879

2.76

6

SFO

1992

14-2

7.58

4.80

5.78

4.03

1.800

0.775

2.57

7

MIA

1972

14-0

7.41

4.83

5.66

4.14

1.750

0.690

2.44

8

CIN

1986

10-6

7.54

4.86

5.88

3.94

1.660

0.926

2.59

9

SFO

1984

15-1

7.46

4.62

5.90

4.02

1.561

0.597

2.16

10

NOR

2011

13-3

7.79

4.94

6.32

4.29

1.471

0.642

2.11

11

MIN

2004

8-8

7.55

4.71

6.14

4.14

1.410

0.572

1.98

12

MIN

2000

11-5

7.23

4.97

5.85

4.08

1.385

0.892

2.28

13

KAN

2002

8-8

7.20

5.15

5.88

4.22

1.317

0.931

2.25

14

PIT

1979

12-4

7.04

4.64

5.76

4.00

1.285

0.640

1.92

15

PHI

2006

10-6

7.20

4.77

5.97

4.16

1.227

0.612

1.84

16

NWE

1978

11-5

6.76

4.72

5.54

3.95

1.226

0.764

1.99

17

MIN

2003

9-7

7.03

4.75

5.84

4.16

1.194

0.593

1.79

18

BUF

1975

8-6

6.63

5.06

5.45

4.01

1.184

1.045

2.23

19

DAL

2009

11-5

7.34

4.82

6.17

4.24

1.173

0.583

1.76

20

KAN

2005

10-6

7.07

4.58

5.90

4.01

1.165

0.575

1.74

21

DEN

1998

14-2

7.02

4.70

5.89

3.99

1.131

0.714

1.84

22

CAR

2008

12-4

7.28

4.84

6.16

4.20

1.117

0.630

1.75

23

DAL

1995

12-4

7.08

4.45

5.96

3.93

1.114

0.515

1.63

24

SFO

1998

12-4

6.99

5.18

5.89

3.99

1.096

1.194

2.29

25

CIN

1974

7-7

6.44

4.44

5.35

3.88

1.089

0.566

1.65

26

WAS

1999

10-6

6.91

4.40

5.85

3.90

1.066

0.505

1.57

27

BUF

1991

13-3

7.03

4.71

5.97

3.93

1.055

0.786

1.84

28

DAL

1978

12-4

6.59

4.45

5.54

3.95

1.052

0.500

1.55

29

DAL

1993

12-4

6.85

4.41

5.81

3.89

1.043

0.524

1.57

30

SEA

2005

13-3

6.90

4.73

5.90

4.01

0.999

0.728

1.73

31

WAS

2012

10-6

7.20

5.22

6.25

4.26

0.958

0.958

1.92

32

DEN

2008

8-8

7.07

4.81

6.16

4.20

0.915

0.606

1.52

33

DAL

1970

10-4

6.40

4.41

5.51

3.83

0.889

0.573

1.46

34

DET

1995

10-6

6.84

4.53

5.96

3.93

0.883

0.599

1.48

35

HOU

1992

10-6

6.66

4.61

5.78

4.03

0.881

0.578

1.46

36

DEN

1974

7-6-1

6.21

4.44

5.35

3.88

0.859

0.559

1.42

37

DAL

1982

6-3

6.66

4.44

5.84

3.82

0.825

0.613

1.44

38

GNB

2003

10-6

6.59

5.05

5.84

4.16

0.749

0.886

1.64

39

RAI

2000

12-4

6.57

4.75

5.85

4.08

0.727

0.668

1.40

40

RAM

1980

11-5

6.68

4.55

5.96

3.97

0.724

0.579

1.30

41

DEN

2005

13-3

6.61

4.68

5.90

4.01

0.709

0.679

1.39

42

PHI

2011

8-8

7.01

5.06

6.32

4.29

0.690

0.765

1.46

43

PIT

1975

12-2

6.13

4.53

5.45

4.01

0.679

0.519

1.20

44

SEA

2012

11-5

6.92

4.81

6.25

4.26

0.673

0.548

1.22

45

HOU

2010

6-10

6.84

4.83

6.17

4.21

0.672

0.617

1.29

46

DEN

1997

12-4

6.38

4.57

5.70

3.98

0.671

0.595

1.27

47

MIA

1971

10-3-1

6.24

5.00

5.57

4.02

0.668

0.976

1.64

48

SFO

2012

11-4-1

6.91

5.06

6.25

4.26

0.667

0.798

1.47

49

SDG

2006

14-2

6.60

4.94

5.97

4.16

0.629

0.781

1.41

50

JAX

2007

11-5

6.66

4.58

6.05

4.06

0.610

0.520

1.13

51

MIA

1973

12-2

5.88

4.97

5.29

4.06

0.595

0.910

1.51

52

CAR

2011

6-10

6.91

5.41

6.32

4.29

0.588

1.118

1.71

53

DEN

1995

8-8

6.52

4.53

5.96

3.93

0.562

0.603

1.17

54

PIT

2001

13-3

6.42

4.78

5.87

4.06

0.544

0.726

1.27

55

DET

1981

8-8

6.54

4.69

6.02

4.02

0.515

0.671

1.19

56

DEN

2007

7-9

6.55

4.56

6.05

4.06

0.506

0.501

1.01

57

DAL

1974

8-6

5.85

4.53

5.35

3.88

0.505

0.648

1.15

Next we take a glimpse into the 25 worst offenses since 1970 as ranked by the worst added total:

The 25 Worst Balanced Offenses Since 1970

Rk

Team

Year

Rec.

YPP

YPC

AvgYPP

AvgYPC

P-Diff.

R-Diff.

Total

1

HOU

2002

4-12

4.25

3.18

5.88

4.22

-1.630

-1.039

-2.67

2

DET

1988

4-12

4.09

3.18

5.93

4.01

-1.840

-0.826

-2.67

3

CRD

2012

5-11

4.51

3.42

6.25

4.26

-1.735

-0.842

-2.58

4

NE

1970

2-12

3.65

3.11

5.51

3.83

-1.852

-0.719

-2.57

5

SEA

1992

2-14

3.27

3.97

5.78

4.03

-2.504

-0.058

-2.56

6

TB

1977

2-12

3.44

3.06

5.18

3.85

-1.739

-0.787

-2.53

7

CIN

2008

4-11-1

4.27

3.62

6.16

4.20

-1.894

-0.586

-2.48

8

NO

1975

2-12

3.47

3.55

5.45

4.01

-1.974

-0.466

-2.44

9

CHI

2004

5-11

4.08

3.78

6.14

4.14

-2.060

-0.362

-2.42

10

TB

1976

0-14

3.53

3.47

5.28

4.08

-1.753

-0.613

-2.37

11

JAX

2011

5-11

4.25

4.03

6.32

4.29

-2.076

-0.264

-2.34

12

ATL

1974

3-11

3.22

3.73

5.35

3.88

-2.130

-0.147

-2.28

13

ATL

1976

4-10

3.55

3.59

5.28

4.08

-1.729

-0.491

-2.22

14

NE

1992

2-14

4.00

3.70

5.78

4.03

-1.782

-0.329

-2.11

15

CLT

1991

1-15

4.53

3.30

5.97

3.93

-1.437

-0.626

-2.06

16

CRD

1999

6-10

4.65

3.05

5.85

3.90

-1.198

-0.851

-2.05

17

CHI

1973

3-11

3.47

3.84

5.29

4.06

-1.814

-0.218

-2.03

18

CLE

2000

3-13

4.67

3.23

5.85

4.08

-1.170

-0.853

-2.02

19

NYJ

1995

3-13

4.38

3.50

5.96

3.93

-1.578

-0.427

-2.01

20

DET

1977

6-8

3.47

3.56

5.18

3.85

-1.713

-0.288

-2.00

21

HOU

1972

1-13

3.98

3.82

5.66

4.14

-1.681

-0.315

-2.00

22

MIA

2004

4-12

4.80

3.49

6.14

4.14

-1.338

-0.651

-1.99

23

RAI

2006

2-14

4.36

3.86

5.97

4.16

-1.614

-0.302

-1.92

24

SF

2007

5-11

4.08

4.14

6.05

4.06

-1.962

0.077

-1.89

25

NYG

1979

6-10

4.25

3.65

5.76

4.00

-1.509

-0.345

-1.85

Every single team on here lost double-digit games except for the 1977 Lions (6-8), who might have if the season was longer. Some of the usual suspects show up like the days long before Peyton Manning and Tom Brady when the Colts (1991) and Patriots (1992) were on par with the miserable Seahawks (1992). Speaking of jokes, the 0-26 expansion Buccaneers (1976-77) make the top 10.

The 2012 Cardinals (-2.58) were a few more Ryan Lindley starts away from claiming the worst average in 43 years. Instead it goes to the 2002 Texans, who as an expansion team not only watched David Carr take 76 sacks, but they averaged a pathetic 3.18 yards per carry on the ground.

In between the two comes a bit of a under the radar team in NFL lore: the 1988 Lions at No. 2. Make no mistake about it though, this was a horrible offense. They ranked last in the league in average pass (4.09) and run (3.18) while scoring the fewest points. At least the reward was drafting Barry Sanders in 1989.

Here are the 2012 stats with the pass/run ratios included. The average 2012 pass was 6.25 yards. The average run was 4.26 yards.

2012 Offensive Stats

Rk

Team

Rec.

Run%

Pass%

Run Rk

Pass Rk

YPP

YPC

P-Diff.

R-Diff.

Total

1

WAS

10-6

52.21

47.79

2

31

7.20

5.22

0.96

0.96

1.92

2

SF

11-4-1

50.77

49.23

3

30

6.91

5.06

0.67

0.80

1.47

3

SEA

11-5

55.03

44.97

1

32

6.92

4.81

0.67

0.55

1.22

4

CAR

7-9

46.76

53.24

8

25

7.00

4.52

0.76

0.26

1.01

5

NO

7-9

34.68

65.32

29

4

7.17

4.26

0.92

0.00

0.92

6

NYG

9-7

42.25

57.75

16

17

6.84

4.55

0.60

0.29

0.88

7

DEN

13-3

44.13

55.87

12

21

7.44

3.81

1.20

-0.45

0.75

8

NE

12-4

43.91

56.09

13

20

6.98

4.18

0.73

-0.08

0.65

9

TB

7-9

41.27

58.73

19

14

6.73

4.42

0.48

0.16

0.64

10

BUF

6-10

44.96

55.04

10

23

6.04

5.02

-0.20

0.76

0.55

11

MIN

10-6

48.55

51.45

5

28

5.34

5.42

-0.90

1.16

0.25

12

HOU

12-4

46.61

53.39

9

24

6.58

4.18

0.33

-0.08

0.25

13

ATL

13-3

37.02

62.98

26

7

7.01

3.70

0.77

-0.56

0.20

14

GB

11-5

41.55

58.45

18

15

6.65

3.93

0.40

-0.33

0.07

15

DET

4-12

33.71

66.29

32

1

6.41

4.13

0.16

-0.13

0.03

16

BAL

10-6

42.61

57.39

14

19

6.25

4.28

0.01

0.02

0.02

17

DAL

8-8

33.84

66.16

31

2

6.81

3.56

0.57

-0.70

-0.13

18

PHI

4-12

38.28

61.72

25

8

5.69

4.54

-0.55

0.28

-0.28

19

TEN

6-10

39.50

60.50

24

9

5.74

4.46

-0.51

0.20

-0.31

20

RAM

7-8-1

40.92

59.08

20

13

6.00

4.18

-0.25

-0.08

-0.33

21

CIN

10-6

42.32

57.68

15

18

6.11

4.06

-0.14

-0.20

-0.34

22

KC

2-14

49.26

50.74

4

29

5.27

4.79

-0.98

0.53

-0.45

23

RAI

4-12

36.43

63.57

27

6

6.23

3.78

-0.02

-0.48

-0.50

24

MIA

7-9

44.85

55.15

11

22

5.88

4.10

-0.36

-0.16

-0.53

25

IND

11-5

39.68

60.32

23

10

6.17

3.80

-0.08

-0.46

-0.54

26

PIT

8-8

40.27

59.73

21

12

6.20

3.73

-0.05

-0.53

-0.58

27

CHI

10-6

47.05

52.95

7

26

5.67

4.19

-0.58

-0.07

-0.65

28

CLE

5-11

39.68

60.32

22

11

5.71

4.02

-0.54

-0.24

-0.78

29

SD

7-9

41.60

58.40

17

16

5.71

3.55

-0.54

-0.71

-1.25

30

JAX

2-14

36.02

63.98

28

5

5.38

3.82

-0.87

-0.44

-1.31

31

NYJ

6-10

47.78

52.22

6

27

5.35

3.84

-0.89

-0.42

-1.32

32

CRD

5-11

34.58

65.42

30

3

4.51

3.42

-1.73

-0.84

-2.58

No real surprises here. Seattle was the most run-heavy offense in 2012, running the ball on 55.0 percent of its plays.

Only seven of these teams were above average at both the run and pass. That includes a top four led by mobile quarterbacks: Seattle (Russell Wilson), Carolina (Cam Newton), San Francisco (Colin Kaepernick) and Washington (Robert Griffin III).

Finally, we find that the correlation coefficient for rushing YPC and passing YPA from 1970-12 is just 0.18. If using the adjusted averages, it is 0.15. If we only focus on this pass-happy era (2004-12), it falls to 0.10. That’s just not strong at all, folks.

Meanwhile, the correlations to winning percentage speak clearly:

Winning Percentage Correlation (1970-2012)

Stat comparison

Correlation coefficient

Rushing YPC

0.17

Passing YPA

0.59

Adjusted-Rushing YPC Differential

0.17

Adjusted-Passing YPA Differential

0.61

Total Yards per Play Differential

0.59

Efficiency on the ground still pales in comparison to the pass. While the total differential stat has a decent 0.59 correlation to winning, most of that is due to the passing game.

 

The Most Unbalanced Teams

The following looks at the teams with the biggest disparity between their rushing YPC and passing YPA (both adjusted for league average).

The first table includes the 20 teams who were most dependent on the passing game:

Top 20 Pass-Dependent Offenses

Rk

Team

Year

Rec.

YPP

YPC

AvgYPP

AvgYPC

P-Diff.

R-Diff.

Total

DIFF

1

MIA

1984

14-2

8.56

3.96

5.90

4.02

2.665

-0.056

2.61

2.72

2

SD

2009

13-3

7.96

3.33

6.17

4.24

1.792

-0.908

0.88

2.70

3

SF

1970

10-3-1

7.48

3.35

5.51

3.83

1.969

-0.479

1.49

2.45

4

TEN

2003

12-4

7.36

3.34

5.84

4.16

1.523

-0.820

0.70

2.34

5

GB

2011

15-1

8.30

3.94

6.32

4.29

1.980

-0.349

1.63

2.33

6

WAS

1991

14-2

8.10

3.79

5.97

3.93

2.127

-0.134

1.99

2.26

7

CLT

1976

11-3

7.50

4.08

5.28

4.08

2.220

-0.008

2.21

2.23

8

CLT

2004

12-4

8.55

4.34

6.14

4.14

2.403

0.199

2.60

2.20

9

NYG

2011

9-7

7.67

3.47

6.32

4.29

1.349

-0.821

0.53

2.17

10

RAI

1976

13-1

7.47

4.10

5.28

4.08

2.186

0.018

2.20

2.17

11

SD

1982

6-3

8.36

4.20

5.84

3.82

2.523

0.375

2.90

2.15

12

ATL

1971

7-6-1

7.14

3.45

5.57

4.02

1.571

-0.575

1.00

2.15

13

HOU

2009

9-7

7.53

3.47

6.17

4.24

1.363

-0.770

0.59

2.13

14

CLT

2005

14-2

7.66

3.66

5.90

4.01

1.753

-0.343

1.41

2.10

15

SF

1989

14-2

8.15

3.99

6.12

3.95

2.030

0.036

2.07

1.99

16

NO

2006

10-6

7.47

3.73

5.97

4.16

1.494

-0.426

1.07

1.92

17

CLT

2009

14-2

7.35

3.54

6.17

4.24

1.185

-0.705

0.48

1.89

18

NO

1992

12-4

7.21

3.59

5.78

4.03

1.428

-0.442

0.99

1.87

19

CIN

1975

11-3

6.94

3.65

5.45

4.01

1.494

-0.367

1.13

1.86

20

WAS

1974

10-4

6.40

3.07

5.35

3.88

1.048

-0.809

0.24

1.86

All 20 teams had a winning record.

Here we find eight seasons with a quarterback winning MVP: Dan Marino (1984 Dolphins), John Brodie (1970 49ers), Steve McNair (2003 Titans), Aaron Rodgers (2011 Packers), Bert Jones (1976 Colts), Peyton Manning (2004, 2009 Colts) and Joe Montana (1989 49ers).

The Manning brothers actually make this list four times with three of Peyton’s teams and Eli’s 2011 Super Bowl-winning effort coming largely on his arm.

These are the top 20 run-dependent offenses since 1970:

Top 20 Run-Dependent Offenses

Rk

Team

Year

Rec.

YPP

YPC

AvgYPP

AvgYPC

P-Diff.

R-Diff.

Total

DIFF

1

CIN

2000

4-12

3.85

4.67

5.85

4.08

-1.999

0.593

-1.41

-2.59

2

SEA

1992

2-14

3.27

3.97

5.78

4.03

-2.504

-0.058

-2.56

-2.45

3

BUF

1973

9-5

4.09

5.10

5.29

4.06

-1.200

1.042

-0.16

-2.24

4

ATL

2006

7-9

5.12

5.47

5.97

4.16

-0.853

1.316

0.46

-2.17

5

PHI

1999

5-11

3.98

4.12

5.85

3.90

-1.862

0.219

-1.64

-2.08

6

MIN

2012

10-6

5.34

5.42

6.25

4.26

-0.905

1.158

0.25

-2.06

7

CIN

1992

5-11

4.05

4.35

5.78

4.03

-1.730

0.324

-1.41

-2.05

8

SF

2007

5-11

4.08

4.14

6.05

4.06

-1.962

0.077

-1.89

-2.04

9

ATL

1974

3-11

3.22

3.73

5.35

3.88

-2.130

-0.147

-2.28

-1.98

10

CAR

2010

2-14

4.29

4.31

6.17

4.21

-1.880

0.103

-1.78

-1.98

11

PHI

1998

3-13

4.09

4.16

5.89

3.99

-1.803

0.170

-1.63

-1.97

12

NYJ

1976

3-11

3.67

4.39

5.28

4.08

-1.615

0.308

-1.31

-1.92

13

MIN

2011

3-13

5.29

5.17

6.32

4.29

-1.034

0.881

-0.15

-1.91

14

SD

1991

4-12

5.03

4.84

5.97

3.93

-0.939

0.916

-0.02

-1.86

15

WAS

1993

4-12

4.44

4.36

5.81

3.89

-1.368

0.477

-0.89

-1.85

16

BUF

1984

2-14

4.16

4.13

5.90

4.02

-1.735

0.109

-1.63

-1.84

17

PHI

1986

5-10-1

4.11

4.01

5.88

3.94

-1.767

0.076

-1.69

-1.84

18

SEA

1994

6-10

4.77

4.34

5.98

3.72

-1.210

0.620

-0.59

-1.83

19

JAX

2011

5-11

4.25

4.03

6.32

4.29

-2.076

-0.264

-2.34

-1.81

20

SD

1988

6-10

4.79

4.66

5.93

4.01

-1.142

0.655

-0.49

-1.80

Last year’s Vikings make the list at No. 6. They join the similar O.J. Simpson mega-effort with the 1973 Bills (No. 3) as the only teams on the list to have a winning record. Despite the rushing success, these 20 teams managed to throw 251 touchdowns against 373 interceptions.

No surprise we see the dominance of the pass again. The top 20 pass-dependent teams still went a staggering 230-69-2 (.767) with six Super Bowl appearances in spite of their imbalance. Meanwhile the top 20 run-dependent teams only went 93-220-1 (.298) with the 2012 Vikings being the lone playoff appearance. They went one-and-done with back up Joe Webb pretending to play quarterback.

If you are going to be one-dimensional, it pays to be the one that matters most in football.

 

The Run and the Pass: Like Watching Two Different Sports?

Maybe this data is not all that surprising when we look at the basic physical elements of the average run and the average pass in the NFL. After the center snaps the ball, it’s almost like watching two different sports.

The pass play starts with the quarterback, yet on a running play he’s pretty much negated to handing the ball off. Rarely will you see a quarterback throw a block for his running back. Russell Wilson did it in the Wild Card playoffs, but the run is usually 11-on-10 ball, which is why the Wildcat gained some popularity a few years back to make up for that disparity. Then again, some quarterbacks are worthless in that situation.

It’s all eyes on the running back with the ball in his hands, yet on most passes, he’s in there to block first, go out for a dump pass second. Only when the ball gets into his hands is when he starts to play the game the same way he does on a running play.

Wide receivers are mostly paid to run routes and catch balls. You still need them to block in the running game, though not everyone is as willing as Hines Ward. You see lazy blocking effort all the time, but lazy route-running will kill an offense more. Also, if offensive pass interference was actually called legitimately, no receiver would ever block on a pass play before the ball is caught, though we know it happens quite a bit, especially on screens.

Traditionally the tight end would see the smallest change from a run to a pass, but in today’s game the première tight ends might as well be big wide receivers, moving around often to catch passes.

Then for the offensive line, everything moves in the opposite direction for a pass. Instead of getting downfield and showing how physical you can be on a run, pass blocking requires one to stand his ground and thwart the incoming rusher. Most linemen probably love screen passes as they allow them to show off those downfield blocking skills instead of being in a defensive retreat position so often.

We will continue studying the balance of the run and the pass, but it’s clearly not the dependent relationship we have been taught to believe in all these years.

Any offense who wants to excel in both areas cannot afford to have a weakness. The quarterback, offensive line, backs and receivers better all be talented and it also helps to have a coach willing to try different things.

Still, it’s not like sticking with what works won’t win you a lot of games, especially if what’s working is the pass.

 

Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.


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