Twenty-seven days to the Hall Of Fame Game and the unofficial start of the 2019 season. Today I look at the run game. The idea for this post came while looking for a 27 topic. The number 27 would be the jersey number for a running back or defensive back. Thereby the correlation as one rushes and the free safety defends the run.
In 2018 seven of the eight teams that won their division were in the top ten teams for highest run play selection percent. It went from Dallas at ten with 43% up to the Ravens at three with 48.2%. The league average was 41%. For the division winners the percentage of rushing touchdowns to total touchdowns went up from the league wide 34% to 38%. Six of the eight division winners were in the top ten for percent of rushing attempts that made 1st down. Five of the division winners were the top five teams in defensive least rushing yards allowed per game and in smallest opponent rushing average. Though a passing league the top teams still value the run game.
Four teams that for the last five seasons have valued the run game are the Bills, Bears, Cowboys and Titans. The Bills have a current streak of four seasons of 450+ rush attempts per season. There have been 100 streaks of 450+ rush attempts in NFL history but only seven that ended in this decade. The Bills have been in the top four teams each of the last four seasons in percentage of plays rushing the football. Dallas has been in the top ten each of the last four seasons. Of those four teams only the Titans have been in the bottom ten teams once for rush play selection over the last five years. Another team that came close to the top four teams is the Carolina Panthers, The Panthers ended a six year streak of 450+ rush attempts per season in 2017.
The teams that have been in the bottom ten teams in run play selection over the last five seasons are the Browns, Lions, Packers and Giants. Of those four the Giants had the least number of times in the top ten with only one out of the five seasons. The Giants have been in the bottom ten each of the last three seasons.
The Tennessee Titans had the second highest percent of rushing plays in 2018 (48.5%). For running backs with 800+ rushing yards Derrick Henry had the seventh best yards per attempt (4.93) and the third most rushing touchdowns (12). The Titans play a smashmouth offense that values the run game. The Titans had the seventh least use of the traditional 11 personnel which uses 3 wide receivers, 1 tight end and 1 running back. They mixed it up with other formations more geared towards run plays. They had the fourth most use of 12 personnel (26%) which has 1 running back, 2 tight ends and 2 wide receivers. They ran 60% of the time in that formation with a 47% success rate. The Titans had the second most use of the 13 personnel (13%) which has 1 running back, 3 tight ends and 1 wide receiver. They ran on 82% in that formation with a 35% success rate. They used a 21 personnel only 2% of the time but had a 71% success rate running in that formation. The 21 personnel uses 2 running backs, 1 tight end and 2 wide receivers.
The Panthers were in the top ten teams in run play selection for three of the last five seasons. In 2018 the Carolina Panthers had the least amount of negative runs and they were in the top ten for least negative runs in every direction. The Patriots were the only other team that achieved the same. Both teams had 24 negative runs and the league average was 39. After week three Panthers running back McCaffrey had carried for 46 attempts and 271 yards at 5.89 yards per attempt and he had only one carry that lost yards. His nfl.com draft profile said – “Won’t dance on short runs — gets it downhill. Feet constantly in motion”. McCaffrey was one of 10 backs over the last four seasons that have rushed for 1000+ yards at 4.5+ yards per carry in one of their first two years. The Panthers have the second highest success percentage (60%) on run plays from 11 personnel which they are in 73% of plays and run in that formation 31% of the time.
The 2018 wildcard team Seattle Seahawks were the top team in run play selection percent with 52.4%. They were in the top ten teams in the number of 10+ yard rushes and 1st down rushes in all directions. The Seahawks were number one in total 10+ yard rushes. Running Back Chris Carson is one of only 80 backs in NFL history to have 1,000+ rushing yards at 4.5+ yards per carry in their first two years. He joins Christian McCaffrey as one of 10 over the last four seasons to accomplish those metrics in one of their first two seasons. Carson was a seventh round pick in the 2017 draft who never broke 600 yards rushing in college. Seattle called a run-run-pass sequence more than any other team in 2018 at 26%. They were successful at it 41.2% which was slightly less than the league average for that sequence (43.4%).
The Ravens were the third highest team in 2018 run play percent at 48.2%. They were the only team in the top ten in power runs in all directions. A power run is defined as rushes on 3rd or 4th down with 2 or fewer yards to go that achieved a first down or TD. Also includes rushes on 1st-and-goal and 2nd-and-goal from the opponent’s 2-yard line or closer. They had 75-80% success on power runs. Pro Football Focus listed Ravens rookie running back Gus Edwards as the top back on rushes off the right guard. He was running towards Pro-Bowler Guard Marshall Yanda. Edwards averaged 5.2 yards per carry overall which was fifth in the league. The Ravens had a league high five games of 200+ rushing yards. The next team was the Seahawks at three and that was followed by the teams with two. The ability of quarterback Lamar Jackson adds to the rushing threat as he led the league in quarterback rushing yards (695) and attempts (147).
An informative site that provided the personnel data in this post is sharpfootballstats.com.