Why EvilBanner Is Wrong (Or, Running The Ball Is Not The Key To Winning Football Games)

Remember that time when EB wrote responded to one of my fanposts with a fanpost entitled "why Justin F. is wrong."  Now I am a man with a sense of humor, I can take a joke and I am not afraid to engage in an intelligent discussion with people.  But at the same time, those that dish it out also must be prepared to receive.  For those that have not yet seen it,  I will kindly link to EB's post where he asserts that winners run the ball.

There is one problem with that argument:  it is not true.  Actually, quite the opposite is true.  Winning teams win by establishing the pass early on in games and running the ball late in games to kill the clock.  There have been multiple studies on this matter, and I will gladly share some of them with you.  Take for instance, the establishment clause of Football Outsiders.  I have stated the conclusions above, but I will break down how exactly we got there and why EB is wrong.

In the above linked establishment clause for FO, they use data from 2002.  EB also has 2002 figures in his post, so while the numbers may seem dated and irrelevant, they are not as much as you think so.  Not to get ahead of myself, but you will soon see that 2002 is not an anomaly.  Anyways, 2002 was the season that the Buccaneers broke the Eagles hearts, just to give everyone a point of reference, as painful of one as it is.

EB asserts that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran the ball 42 times and passed 34 times in a complete blowout.  He also says that overall, they ran the ball 414 times and passed the ball 348 teams. The Buccaneers ran the ball 54.33% of the time.  A Super Bowl team that runs the ball 54.33% of the time!  That's 10% above of   Yet in 2002, Tampa Bay was not one of the top 10 teams in rushing yards.  Those teams were #1 Miami (2143 rushing yards; 9-7 overall; no playoffs), #2 Denver (2053 rushing yards; 9-7 overall; no playoffs), #3 Kansas City (1887 rushing yards; 8-8 overall; no playoffs), #4 New York Giants (1844 rushing yards; 10-6 overall; Trey Junkin lol wild card loss), #5 San Diego (1831 yards; 8-8; no playoffs), #6 San Francisco 49ers (1811 yards; 10-6 overall; divisional round loss); #7 Minnesota Vikings (1798 yards; 6-10; no playoffs); #8 Green Bay Packers (1783 yards; 12-4 overall; wild card loss); #9 Jacksonville Jaguars (1749 yards; 6-10; no playoffs); #10 Washington Redskins (1682 yards;  7-9 record; no playoffs Steve Spurrier lol). (NOTE on the data:  These numbers do not include QB sneaks; fake punts/FGs, etc.)

For those that lost count, of the top 10 teams in rushing yards in the 2002 season, only 3 made the playoffs, and none of them made it to the Conference Championships.

So where does that Tampa team rank in rushing yards?  That same Tampa team that ran the ball 414 times to 348 passes?  27th overall!  In fact, if you keep in WRs reverses, fake punts/FGs, and QB sneaks/draws/etc., the Buccaneers still only amassed 1557 yards on the ground that season.  And their QBs combined totaled for more than 100 yards on the ground, so you can subtract from that number.  So why again does this Tampa team have the feel of a running team from EB's stats?

Of Tampa's 414 carries, only 84 of them came in the 1st quarter.  That's 20.29% of quarter.  That does not seem like a team that is running the ball to me.  What does that say?  It says they are running the ball, all right, but they are running the ball when they already have the lead.  When leading by 14 more in the 3rd quarter, and 7 or more in the 4th quarter, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had 422 yards on the ground.  That was good for 4th in the NFL.  2 other notable teams in the Top 3 of that list:  Tampa's Super Bowl opponent the Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles.  The Eagles also led the league in overall 4th quarter rushing attempts that season (minus QB sneaks and fakes and end arounds) with 124.  If you think I am making this up, read the establishment clause of Football Outsiders and check out the 2002 NFL Standings from Pro-Football-Reference.

Unfortunately, I do not have the time to do a lot of math so fakes, QB draws/sneaks, and end arounds are included in this data, but here are the top 10 rushing teams in terms of yards in 2010. (SOURCE: pro-football-reference)

1.  Kansas City Chiefs

2.  Oakland Raiders

3.  Jacksonville Jaguars

4.  New York Jets

5.  Philadelphia Eagles

6.  New York Giants

7.  Houston Texans

8.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers

9.  New England Patriots

10.  Minnesota Vikings

Notice who is missing from that list?  You're 2 Super Bowl teams:  Green Bay and Pittsburgh.  Now unfortunately, I do not have the time, technology, or patience to break down when these yards came, much to the detriment of my argument and this post, but it is pretty telling that of the 2 Super Bowl teams this year, none of the them are in the top 10 in overall rushing yards.  Think about this, though.  Rodgers and Roethlisberger are both QBs who pick up a lot of yards on the ground.  This chart includes those rushes and those yards. 

Let's take a look at those Super Bowl teams and how they stacked up to the league in rushing.  The following Super Bowl teams were amongst the top 5 rushing teams in their respective season.  This will go back to the Ravens-Giants Super Bowl, much like EB's list, though I will include this year's Super Bowl.

2007 New York Giants (#4), 2006 Chicago Bears (#3), 2005 Seattle Seahawks (#3), 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (#5), 2001 St. Louis Rams (#5), 2000 Baltimore Ravens (#5).  TOTAL:  6 of 22.  And that's not even getting into the context of when these yards came, or that surely a lot of rushing yards came towards the end of games when teams were running out the clock.  I mean, The Greatest Show On Turf made this list for cripes sake.  And the highest ranking of any team on this list, is #3, both teams that ultimately lost the Super Bowl.

What this does not say, is that some teams that made the Super Bowl were at the bottom of the league in rushing.  Both the Cardinals 2 years ago and the Colts last year ranked 32nd in terms of running the football.  The point?  Success running the ball does not yield championships.  Now let's do the same thing with the top 10 passing teams in the season.

2010 Green Bay Packers (#5), 2009 Indianapolis Colts (#2), 2009 New Orleans Saints (#4), 2008 Arizona Cardinals (#2), 2007 New England Patriots (#1), 2006 Indianapolis Colts (#2), 2002 Oakland Raiders (#1), 2001 St. Louis Rams (#1).  TOTAL:  8 of 22.  But you will also notice that 6 of these 8 teams were either #1 or #2 overall in passing yards.  It's like I said, the number of running carries is only high because these pass happy teams ran the ball more in the 2nd half.  Also, take a look at the QBs on here.  Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, P. Manning again, Rich Gannon, and Kurt Warner again.  All of these guys at the point in time they went to the Super Bowl were franchise QBs.

Let's go back and illustrate the point that establishing the run does not correlate to winning football games.  Admittedly, 3 games is a small sample size, but it illustrates what I am talking about when winning teams run the ball, they run the ball at the end of game, thus inflating their overall total.  We've been over Tampa already, they ran the ball 40 out of 74 times for 54.05% of the time (*Note, one of those runs was by Martin Gramatica and another by Brad Johnson; those are not being counted).  Now let's go quarter by quarter and see how many run and pass plays Tampa called in which quarter.  (Source)

1st Quarter

Tampa pass plays:  13

Tampa run plays:  7

Score after 1:  3-3

2nd Quarter

Tampa pass plays:  11

Tampa run plays:  12

Score after 2:  20-3 Bucs

3rd Quarter

Tampa pass plays:  6

Tampa run plays: 9

Score after 3:  34-9 Bucs

4th Quarter

Tampa pass plays: 4

Tampa run plays:  12

FINAL:  48-21 Bucs

Now let's look at the 2 Conference Championship games from Sunday night, where the Packers beat the Bears and the Steelers beat the Jets and once again focus on the winning teams, Green Bay and Pittsburgh.  First up, Green Bay.  Not including runs by Rodgers, the Packers ran the ball 24 times and called 31 pass plays in this game (Rodgers was sacked once; still a pass play, but it will not show up in Rodgers' stat columns) (Source)

1st Quarter

Green Bay pass plays: 10

Green Bay rush plays:  7

Score after 1:  7-0 Packers.

2nd Quarter

Green Bay pass plays:  6

Green Bay rush plays:  6

Score after 2:  14-0 Packers

3rd Quarter

Green Bay pass plays:  10

Green Bay rush plays:  7

Score after 3:  14-0 Packers

4th Quarter

Green Bay pass plays:  5

Green Bay rush plays:  4

FINAL:  21-14 Packers

Green Bay spent the majority of the game passing, even when they were ahead, and won.

Now for a team whose overall play-calling looks totally different than Green Bay's against Chicago.  Pittsburgh against the Jets.  19 passes to 32 non-Roethlisberger runs.  But when did we see the passes?  (Source)

1st Quarter

Pittsburgh pass plays: 5

Pittsburgh run plays:  11

Score after 1:  7-0 Pittsburgh (*NOTE:  Pittsburgh started out on pace for 28 pass plays)

2nd Quarter

Pittsburgh pass plays: 8

Pittsburgh run plays:  10

Score after 2:  24-3

3rd Quarter

Pittsburgh pass plays:  5

Pittsburgh run plays:  11

Score after 3:  24-10

4th Quarter

Pittsburgh pass plays:  2

Pittsburgh run plays:  3

FINAL:  24-19

Again notice, the majority of Roethlisberger's passes come in the 1st half when the game is still competitive.  In the 2nd half, when the Steelers are trying to run out the clock, they run the ball considerably more.

And now, one last example that perfectly illustrates inflating one's carries by running the ball in the 4th quarter to kill the clock, last week's Green Bay-Atlanta game.  Green Bay passed the ball 36 times and had 28 non-QB runs.  That's good for 55%.  Seems fairly balanced, right?  Well......(Source)

1st Quarter

Green Bay pass plays:  5

Green Bay run plays:  6

Score after 1:  7-0 Falcons

Now look what happens once Green Bay starts passing the ball more.

2nd Quarter

Green Bay pass plays:  15

Green Bay run plays:  5

Score after 2:  28-14 Packers

3rd Quarter

Green Bay pass plays:  11

Green Bay run plays:  8

Score after 3:  42-14 Packers

Now watch what happens in the 4th Quarter

Green Bay pass plays:  6

Green Bay run plays:  9

FINAL:  48-21 Packers.

Average it out over larger sample sizes, and you will see that the teams that have success are the teams that run the ball the most in the 4th quarter.   Those that run it the most in the 1st quarter are inherently doomed for failure and at best mediocrity.  This folks is not the opinion of some guy stuck in his mother's basement, but trends of football proven multiple times with large sample sizes.  And yes, this is why EvilBanner is wrong when he asserts that "Winners run the ball."

For further reading, check out this article from

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