Shhh! Philly ground game quietly rewriting history

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 19, 2010



The Big Play Eagles are the talk of the football world today after a truly improbable 38-31 win over the Giants. The last-second victory essentially saved the season for Philalelphia and all but wrapped up the Glamour Division crown (once again) for the senior circuit's best team of the past decade.
 
If we suffered the weakness of human emotion, we'd still be basking in the afterglow of their thrilling statistical mindf*ck. The Eagles in a three-hour period of afternoon delight provided an endless wave of thrilling data that continues to send shivers of joy through our roly-poly bodies.
 
You know the basics by now: DeSean Jackson's jaw-dropping 65 yarder was the first walk-off punt return TD in NFL history, while Philly's 28 fourth-quarter points were the most in franchise history.
 
We told you before the game that Philadelphia was the best Big Play team in football. And we wrapped up their tour de football force in some shiny Cold, Hard Football Facts ribbons and bows after the game.
 
But the Eagles quietly did one other thing during their victory that launched them into the statistical stratosphere in one very interesting indicator: Philly has queitly claimed the No. 1 spot on the list of most explosive rushing teams of the Super Bowl Era, based upon our preferred measure, rushing YPA.
 
(Remember, the Cold, Hard Football Facts are all about efficiency indicators, not volume indicators. Efficiency indicators win real football games on Sunday, volume indicators win those imaginary fake football games with your barroom buddies.)
 
The 2010 Eagles, after running roughshod over New York's mighty Defensive Hogs in the fourth quarter, are now poised to go into the history books as the most explosive running attack in modern NFL history.
 
Philly, thanks largely to Michael Vick, ran the ball just 21 times against the Giants for a tremendous 197 yards. That's an incredible average of 9.38 YPA, for those of you keeping score at home.
 
As a result, their average per rush attempt jumped from an awesome 5.32 YPA Sunday morning to an even more awesome 5.54 YPA Sunday night.
 
Here's how the 2010 Eagles stack up – with two games to play – against the best rushing teams of the Super Bowl Era.
 
10 GREATEST RUSHING OFFENSES of SUPER BOWL ERA (by YPA)
 
Team
Record (result)
Att.
Yards
Avg.
1
2010 Eagles
10-4 (tbd)
378
2096
5.54
2
1997 Lions
9-7 (lost WC)
447
2464
5.51
3
2006 Falcons
7-9
537
2939
5.47
4
2007 Vikings
8-8
494
2634
5.33
5
2002 Vikings
6-10
473
2507
5.30
6
1984 Rams
10-6 (lost WC)
541
2864
5.29
7
1990 Lions
6-10
366
1927
5.27
8
1966 Browns
9-5
415
2166
5.22
9
1998 49ers
12-4 (lost div. playoff)
491
2544
5.18
10
2002 Chiefs
8-8
462
2378
5.15
 
How does Philly rank historically? How 'bout the No. 4 rushing attack in all of AFL-NFL history. Yup, that's right: No. 4 in 91 seasons of pro football play, for those of you still keeping score at home.
 
10 GREATEST RUSHING OFFENSES in NFL HISTORY (by YPA)
 
Team
Record (result)
Att.
Yards
Avg.
1
1963 Browns
10-4
460
2639
5.74
2
1954 49ers
7-4-1
442
2498
5.65
3
1963 Chargers (AFL)
11-3 (won AFL Title)
395
2201
5.57
4
2010 Eagles
10-4 (tbd)
378
2,096
5.54
5
1997 Lions
9-7 (lost WC)
447
2464
5.51
6
2006 Falcons
7-9
537
2939
5.47
7
2007 Vikings
8-8
494
2634
5.33
8
1958 Browns
9-3 (lost div. playoff)
475
2526
5.32
9
2002 Vikings
6-10
473
2507
5.30
10
1984 Rams
10-6 (lost WC)
541
2864
5.29
 
Two stories leap off these lists:
 
The Michael Vick factor – You'll notice that the explosive quarterback played for two of the top three rushing teams of the Super Bowl Era, the 2006 Falcons and the 2010 Eagles.
 
His performance with the Falcons in 2006 was one for the record books. Vick averaged 8.45 YPA on the ground (123 attempts for 1,039 yards), breaking one of the oldest records in North American sports along the way. The  previous record of 8.44 YPA on the ground was set by Bears rookie Beattie Feathers way back in 1934.
Vick, by the way, averages a tremendous 6.66 YPA here in 2010 (92 for 613).
 
He's also on pace to go down as the single most explosive career runner in history. Vick has run the ball 645 times in his career for 4,567 yards, an average of 7.08 YPA on the ground. The current "official" record is held by another quarterback: Randall Cunningham averaged 6.36 YPA in his career (775 for 4,928). So Vick blows Cunningham's mark out of the water.
 
Vick needs to run the ball 105 more times to qualify for official records (min. 750 attempts). But he appears poised to reach that milestone sometime in 2011.
 
How's this? Philly's quarterback, as far as we know, will go down as the only qualifying player in history with a higher average per rush attempt (7.08 YPA) than average pass attempt (6.92 YPA).
 
Wrap your brain matter around that one, you fine-feathered fans of the statistical mindf*ck.
 
Now, understand, quarterbacks have an unfair advantage when it comes to padding their rushing stats. If a quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage it's counted as a sack and goes against his passing yards. If a running back is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, it's a loss against his rushing yardage.
 
So we're not exactly comparing apples and apples here when we compare quarterbacks to running backs. We understand that, folks. But it doesn't change the fact that Vick is running like no other player – quarterback or otherwise – in the history of the game.
 
Running well does not = wins – So Vick's rushing numbers are unprecedented. So, too, are the numbers being put up by the Philly ground game here in 2010.
 
But with all that said, take a closer look at the top 10 running teams in all of AFL-NFL history. You'll notice that four of them had losing records, and the only one of the 10 won so much as a single playoff game. And it wasn't even an NFL team. It was the AFL champion 1963 Chargers.
 
If you look at the 10 best rushing teams of the Super Bowl Era, meanwhile, they also combined to win a single playoff game (a wildcard-round win by the 1998 49ers).
 
So much for "establishing the run" and "enforcing your will" on your opponents. All the teams on these lists did both of those things better than any other clubs in history. They have zero to show for it.
 
All of which brings up back to the 2010 Eagles.
 
The explosive rushing numbers are nice. But they're not the reason the Eagles are winning. The Eagles are winning for the same reason that every team in NFL history has won: because they're winning the battle of the passing game.
 
Vick, as you know, is having a career year passing the football.
 
His 103.6 passer rating is the third best in the NFL this year and easily the best of his eight-season career. His incredible average of 8.4 yards per pass attempt is second in the NFL, behind only Philip Rivers (8.9 YPA), and again the best of his career.
 
It adds up to a team of rare explosiveness: the most exciting runner in history, passing the ball as well as any quarterback in the game today while surrounded by game breakers such as LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and Sunday's hero DeSeasn Jackson.
 
It's a team, as we saw Sunday, that's a threat to score at any time and a threat to win any game, no matter how hopeless it may look.

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