By Julie Buehler
I know the Royals are lighting up baseball and the San Francisco Giants are looking to do that whole “Every 2 Years” run at a World Series and while I’m a blossoming NHL fan, watching games as much as I can this early season, something has me entirely captivated about this early NFL season.
Teams that are winning; ARE RUNNING THE FOOTBALL!!!!!!!
No, my key did NOT get stuck on the exclamation mark. That was intentional.
This is fantastic boys and girls.
If you’re an old-school football fan, the kind that still LOVES Guinness over Michelob Ultra and brats over veggie burgers than you have to be as elated as I for the resurgence of the running game.
Even as a huge Niners fan, I’m very impressed with what the Cowboys are doing as a team and it starts with their devotion to running the football through uber-talented running back DeMarco Murray.
For the first time in a decade, the Cowboys took a trip to the Pacific Northwest and didn’t come back in a sullen heap of excuses. Rather, they came back, chests puffed out, with another win checked and a 5-1 record, leading the NFL with the longest winning streak at five games.
I’ve been shouting from the rooftop for the past 3 years the ONLY way to beat the Seahawks, whether in Seattle or on the road, is to run the football. And regardless of how many yards gained, just keep running.
The Cowboys ran the ball 37 times. Both teams averaged the same 4.4 yards per carry, but the Cowboys, despite an early 10-0 deficit, more than doubled the attempts of the Seahawks. Result? A 30-23 win.
The San Diego Chargers did the same to beat the Seahawks in San Diego in September. The Chargers rushed 37 times between 4 sets of legs and only averaged 2.7 yards per carry, but keeping the defense guessing gave Philip Rivers the time he needed to find Antonio Gates all day. Result? 30-21 final.
In fact, all last year, during the Seahawks amazing championship season, teams that ran more than they passed saw a collective +3 point differential against Seattle (both home and away). Teams that tried to pass more than run saw a collective -118 point differential.
Such a wide swing in the pendulum of success would make you think NFL coaches see this too. But as rules soften on receivers and offenses spread defenses out, more and more teams dedicated their resources to the passing game. Made sense for a while, the numbers were gaudy and consistently impressed any fan base with quarterbacks shattering all-time records that had previously stood for decades year after year. Additionally, smaller receivers led to smaller defenders who could cover sideline to sideline and keep up with the “little piss-ants” as one long-time coach Mouse Davis called them.
But the NFL is cyclical as every team, every coaching staff is constantly striving to gain competitive advantage and now, after seeing record number of passing touchdowns from Peyton Manning last year and record passing yardage from Drew Brees it seems every year, the running back is once again becoming the key figure, perhaps not in correlation to how many points are scored, but far more importantly, to how many wins are amassed.
Consider this: Currently, the teams in the Top 5 of rushing attempts per game combined record is 21-8, or a winning percentage of 72.4%. Meanwhile, the teams that are in the Bottom 5 of rushing attempts, combined record is 4-25, or 14% and include the 2 winless teams.
Among the Top 5 teams, not in rushing yardage, but rushing attempts all have a winning record and are in first place in their division, tied or within one game (Dallas, Cleveland, San Fran, San Diego, Indy).
Conversely, the 5 teams in the bottom of the league in rushing attempts per game are in last place or within a game of the cellar (Washington, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Oakland). A rather inglorious distinction for sure.
You might be saying, “But Jules, those teams have terrible defenses, thus, are constantly playing from behind and can’t afford to run the ball.” Ahhh, I see your point and appreciate your correct usage of the word thus, by the way.
But I pointed out the Cowboys early deficit to the Seahawks for a reason. Dallas trailed by 10 in the first quarter. Conventional wisdom would rely on the pass to get a team back in the game. Rather, Dallas used a brilliantly choreographed set of plays, with a balanced attack to do just that, attack the Seattle defense.
Let’s look at the past couple of years to see if a trend emerges…
Last year, teams in the top 5 of rushing attempts per game, had an average record of 10-6 and 7 of the Top 10 teams in rushing attempts/game made the playoffs.
Teams in the bottom 5, suffered an average record of 5-11. Only the Cowboys were at .500 despite their pass-heavy attack, the other 4 teams amassed 4 wins apiece.
In 2012, the top 5 teams in rushing attempts went, on average, 9-7, with the Romeo Crennel led Kansas City Chiefs at 2-14 dragging that average way down. (I should write a whole other column about how woeful a head coach Crennel was, but I digress). 7 of the top 10 teams made the playoffs and the 10th ranked Bears went 10-6 and missed the playoffs that year, would have made it 8 of 10 had they snuck in.
The bottom 5 teams, you guessed it, average record of 5-11. And once again, only the Cowboys saw .500 despite a terribly one-dimensional approach.
In the last 5 years, teams that commit to running the football, on average have a winning record.
In fact, we pointed out the Jags and Raiders early on and they are not good football teams now, but it wasn’t too many years ago, 2010, each team sniffed 8-8 as the #3 and #4 teams, respectively, in rushing attempts per game.
In total, of the bottom 5 teams in rushing attempts over the past 5 years, only 10 finished at .500 or better. Less than half.
Meanwhile, of the 25 examined top 5 teams of the past 5 years, only 5 failed to reach .500 or better.
So enjoy the Chargers and Cowboys catching up to the Niners and Seahawks and making the rest of the NFL take notice.
This is football at it’s best ladies and gentlemen!
Julie Buehler hosts the Coachella Valley’s most popular sports talk radio show, “Buehler’s Day Off” every day from 3-6 on 1010 KXPS, the valley’s all sports station. She can also be seen every morning between 6-7am on KMIR sharing the coolest stories in sports. She’s an avid gym rat, slightly sarcastic and more likely to recite Steve Young’s career passing stats than American Idol winners. Tune in M-F 3-6 pst at www.team1010.com or watch “Buehler’s Day Off” on Ustream and KMIR.com for her sports reports.