Troll attack! A "legit" list of great running teams

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jun 29, 2008



Ed. Note: CHFF reader Mark Wald has his panties in his bunch over the Cold, Hard Football Facts maxim that it is more important to pass the ball well than it is to run the ball well. In response, he launches a two-pronged statistical and personal attack upon the Cold, Hard Football Facts and our chubby leader. 
 
 
However, Part 2 below, is shorter and more interesting, with more personal attacks upon us. Plus, it gets to the nut of his argument, with his list of the best running attacks in history, based upon the criteria he finds most important: rush attempts. Our list of best running attacks is based upon yards per rush attempt. We found the 1963 Browns, with an average of 5.74 yards everytime they ran the ball, the best ground game in history. Wald's list, which looks at rushing attempts, says its the 2004 Steelers.
 
The spreadsheet he repeatedly references is literally too big for us to upload into our system. But we're working to get it in right now and will add it ASAP.
 
In any case, here's his argument below.
 
See Part 1 of his argument, a true statistical bonanza, right here. At the end of the day, though, great passing teams are still more successful than great running teams, no matter how you define "great running team."
 
***
 
By Mark Wald
The great builder of massive spreadsheets
 
Taking my cue from CHFF's "Myth-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius," which stacked up passer-rating leaders based relative to each season's average passer rating, I ranked every team of the Super Bowl era in the following four categories based on the league-wide rating or average for a given season5:
  • Rush Attempts
  • Rush Yards
  • Average Yards Per Rush
  • Yards Per Pass Attempt (YPPA)
I also combined the three rushing categories and ranked them by the average, like CHFF does in its Hog Indexes.
 
My goal was to produce a list of the greatest rushing teams with stats that show a direct correlation to winning.
 
Spreadsheet, tab 7 (note buttons for sorting) ranks 1,194 Super Bowl era teams. The top 25 in each category look like this:
 
Top 25 Teams of the Super Bowl Era
Category
Record in SB
SB Win Pct.
No. of Playoff Teams
Overall Win Pct.
Rush Attempts
5-2
.714
24
.758
YPPA (% league)
7-5
.583
21
.756
YPPA straight up
6-5
.545
21
.745
Overall rush rank
2-3
.400
20
.705
Rush yards
2-3
.400
20
.702
Rush average
2-2
.500
11
.549
 
YPPA placed more teams in the Super Bowl overall than any other category, I'll tip my cap to that.  But in every other category – Super Bowl win percent, number of playoff teams, overall winning percent—the  teams with the most overall Rush Attempts relative to other teams in the league the year they played have the greatest winning correlation. 
 
Teams ranked by Average Yards Per Rush Attempt, the category CHFF uses as evidence of the ineffectiveness of the running game, placed last. 
 
A guy can really have fun with this spreadsheet ... such as using it to dispel the myth that Rush Attempts is not a good measure of running success because it's a byproduct of passing success. If that were true, you'd see many of the top 25 YPPA teams among the list of top 25 Rush Attempts teams.  But there are only two (the '72 Dolphins and '69 Cowboys). 
 
In fact, out of 1,194 teams ranked, the top 25 teams in terms of Rush Attempts have an average YPPA rank of 272.  These are not the same teams we're talking about.
 
Of course, there is some truth to the assertion that many of these rushing teams were very effective passing teams. 
 
Just like many of the great passing teams were very effective running teams.
           
Here's my take on the top 25 Greatest Ground Attacks of the Super Bowl Era:
 
Team
Playoffs
SB
Record
Win Pct.
Attempts
Att. PG
League Avg.
%
> League
1
2004 Steelers
x
 
15-1-0
.938
618
38.63
28.18
137.1%
2
1984 Bears
x
 
10-6
.625
674
42.13
30.83
136.6%
3
1973 Rams
x
 
12-2
.857
659
47.07
35.54
132.5%
4
2001 Steelers
x
 
13-3
.813
580
36.25
27.55
131.6%
5
1966 Vikings
 
 
4-9-1
.286
551
39.36
30.23
130.2%
6
1977 Raiders
x
 
11-3
.786
681
48.64
37.37
130.2%
7
1972 Dolphins
x
W
14-0
1.000
613
43.79
33.67
130.0%
8
1975 Raiders
x
 
11-3
.786
643
45.93
36.26
126.7%
9
1976 Steelers
x
 
10-4
.714
653
46.64
36.89
126.4%
10
1997 Steelers
x
 
11-5
.688
572
35.75
28.41
125.8%
11
1986 Bears
x
 
14-2
.875
606
37.88
30.15
125.6%
12
1985 Bears
x
W
15-1
.938
610
38.13
30.44
125.3%
13
1992 Bills
x
L
11-5
.688
549
34.31
27.44
125.1%
14
1969 Cowboys
x
 
11-2-1
.786
532
38.00
30.45
124.8%
15
1996 Bills
x
 
10-6
.625
563
35.19
28.32
124.2%
16
2007 Titans
x
 
10-6
.625
543
33.94
27.32
124.2%
17
1990 Bears
x
 
11-5
.688
551
34.44
27.77
124.0%
18
2000 Titans
x
 
13-3
.813
547
34.19
27.57
124.0%
19
1983 Redskins
x
L
14-2
.875
629
39.31
31.72
123.9%
20
1993 Giants
x
 
11-5
.688
560
35.00
28.31
123.6%
21
1991 Redskins
x
W
14-2
.875
540
33.75
27.41
123.1%
22
1994 Cowboys
x
 
12-4
.750
550
34.38
28.02
122.7%
23
1969 Chiefs
x
W
11-3
.786
522
37.29
30.45
122.4%
24
2005 Steelers
x
W
11-5
.688
549
34.31
28.08
122.2%
25
1994 Steelers
x
 
12-4
.750
546
34.13
28.02
121.8%
 
Not saying this is the definitive list.  For one thing, it only goes back to 1966.  But at least it's the start of a conversation, and it's a hell of a lot better than the abomination you call the Greatest Ground Attacks in NFL History.  You need to "take it behind the woodshed to be shot". 
 
For the sake of argument, let's go with CHFF's premise that rushing attempts come later, after a team has built a lead by passing.6  So what?  If a component is critical to the functioning of something—if you don't see victories without lots of rushing attempts—does it really matter what comes first or second?  This article proved that without significant rushing attempts teams lose more than they win whether they pass well or not.  That makes rushing the football critical to winning.   
 
It's unfortunate that a website supposedly dedicated to uncovering NFL truths lost its  way over either an apparent unwillingness to complete the detailed game by game research necessary to uncover them or was seduced by the media attention that comes with boldly going against popular logic (which I have no problem with, provided it's based in fact). 
 
Must the readers of CHFF continue to be subjected to statistical generalizations or oversimplifications about the running game week after week because the site owner has a thirst for fame (did someone say beer?) and a crooked hair for Merrill Hoge?
 
CHFF once said "there are a lot of folks out there who believe that pure rushing attempts is a great measure of ground game efficiency.....We're not going to have that debate today." 
 
Well, I've been waiting, and as CCR once sang, someday never comes.7
 
Then again, why go through the trouble of all that painstaking research when it's easier to come up with a bold sacred-cow-busting premise, travel the radio talk-show circuit and reap the spoils of the media chumps you otherwise claim to despise? 
 
After all, there are other revolutionary observations to write about such as how much better games are on TV than in person8 or that next mailbag to write where you publish fawning letters from readers like Mike Stickles9 juxtaposed with a few cherry-picked negative letters seemingly tailor-made for you to pick apart point by point, making you appear greater still.
 
CHFF once said, "Pound the ball at the opposition, enforce your will upon them at the line of scrimmage and good things will follow.  It makes sense.  It really does.  But everywhere we look, we find little evidence to support this theory." 
 
You didn't look in the right place: the box scores. 
 
You owe Jeff Chadiha an apology.
 
***
Footnotes:
 
1 - Regular season and playoff games.  1934 Bears excluded.  My database only goes back to 1946.
 
2 - Includes games where complete Rush/Pass stats were available and games in which at least 1 pass was thrown.  Tie games were excluded.
 
3 – Similar to Shit Beer, the Qwest for Mainstream Success, and Kerry Byrne, where you an advantage in one of these stats, you're likely to find an advantage in the other, although we're not sure which begets which.
 
4 - Why am I ignoring the fact that teams with a lower rushing average and a higher YPPA won 68% of the time?  Because piling up rushing attempts in a game tends to reduce rushing average.   And since teams with an advantage in Rush Attempts and YPPA win 91% of the time, the first statistic is really kind of buried in the second.
 
5 - Rush attempts per game and average rush yards per game has declined over the years, much like the passing game has evolved over the years.  As you noted in your passing rankings, ranking relative to the league in a given year is a much fairer comparison.  Average per carry has not declined over the years, though.  However, in order to remain consistent, I also adjusted it for league average that year.
 
6 – Strictly being the devil's advocate here.  I don't actually believe it to be true.  I previously illustrated a correlation to winning based on teams' first-half rushing stats in a previous article submitted to CHFF.
 
7 - Kerry, Bob Seger once covered a Creedence song.  Just making sure you're comfortable, big fella.
 
8 - Gee, I didn't figure that out two minutes into the first game I ever attended when I couldn't see shit. 
 
9 - aka "The Agree-er".  Pat Summerall was also known by this moniker.

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