Why Running the Football is the Redskins Way

September 8, 2013 in Redskins Personnel

While in general we think of the NFL as a "passing league" due to the sheer number of passing attempts, but does that mean you have to throw the ball to succeed? The short answer is no of course not, but it may be surprising just how little you need to throw to win.

Last year the top three teams in terms of attempts (Lions, Saints, Cowboys) all missed the playoffs. In fact six of the top 10 teams in passing attempts and 10 of the top 16 saw their season end by the last week of the regular season. Not only did they miss the playoffs, but many missed the playoffs pretty badly. Of those 10 teams six of them (Jags, Raiders, Eagles, Lions, Browns and Cards) finished with 5 or fewer wins and made up the 2nd-7th picks of last April's draft. On the flip side four (Seahawks, 49ers, Redskins, Vikings) of the bottom five teams in passing attempts went to the playoffs.      alfredmorris

Compared to teams leading in rushing attempts it is no contest. The top four rushing attempts leaders (Seahawks, Patriots, Redskins, Texans) all made the playoffs. Seven of the top 10 teams made the playoffs, and another one the Chicago Bears won 10 games (only team to have double digit victories and miss the postseason last year). Of the top half of the league 10 of the 16 teams leading in rushing attempts advanced to the playoffs. That means 83% of the playoff teams were represented in the top half of the league in rushing. At the bottom of the league all five teams missed the playoffs (Falcons were 6th worst in rushing attempts).

Now some may point to the read-option as the reason for the success for running teams last year, but that is short-sighted. The 49ers were a top 10 team in rushing attempts well before they made the move to Colin Kaepernick. Seattle and Washington would have run significantly behind their star running backs even if their quarterbacks were immobile (though they wouldn't have ranked as high). Also, the Patriots, Texans, Vikings, and Broncos are also in the top 10 and none of them are ever going to be confused for read-option teams.

The fact is running the football can be beneficial to teams even when you aren't very effective at it. The Broncos, Colts and Packers were all in the top 16 in rushing attempts, despite the fact that all three of them as a team averaged under 4.0 yards per carry. Those are without a doubt passing teams first with better quarterbacks and receivers than running backs, but they still find quite a bit of value in running the football. In general it helps eat the clock and secure victories. Also it forces teams to at least recognize and respect the ground attack as part of the overall offense.

For the Redskins the ground game was a huge advantage for them. It opened up huge holes in the defense that Robert Griffin III took advantage with in the play action passing game. It also played to the strength of their players, as their run blocking is better than their pass blocking, and many of their receivers/tight ends are accomplished down field blockers.

This is why it is okay for the Redskins to be such a run centric team, and why even if RGIII isn't scrambling, we should expect the Redskins to continue to focus on the run. It's also why it is so important to focus on adding running back depth behind Alfred Morris and blockers along the line and at tight end.

 

Now many people think the Redskins will throw the ball more with Griffin this year, but looking at Mike Shanahan's track record, that doesn't seem likely (nor is it a good thing for the Redskins chances for success).  Below I will list his team's rushing attempts, passing attempts, the percentage of each, where they ranked in the league and finally how they did that season, from every season since he started in Denver.

 

1995:

Passing attempts: 594

NFL Rank: 7th Offensive Percentage: 57.44%

Rushing attempts: 440

NFL Rank: 16th Offensive Percentage: 42.66%

Finish: 8-8, 3rd in AFC West, missed the playoffs

 

1996:

Passing attempts: 536

NFL Rank: 16th Offensive Percentage: 50.5%

Rushing attempts: 525

NFL Rank: 2nd Offensive Percentage: 49.5%

Finish: 13-3, 1st in AFC West, made playoffs

 

1997:

Passing attempts: 513

NFL Rank: 20th Offensive Percentage: 49.66%

Rushing attempts: 520

NFL Rank: 6th Offensive Percentage: 50.44%

Finish: 12-4, 1st in AFC West, made playoffs and won the Super Bowl

 

1998:

Passing attempts: 491

NFL Rank: 21st Offensive percentage: 48.32%

Rushing attempts: 525

NFL Rank: 2nd Offensive percentage: 51.68%

Finish: 14-2, 1st in AFC West, made playoffs and won the Super Bowl

 

1999:

Passing attempts: 554

NFL Rank: 10th Offensive percentage: 54.36%

Rushing attempts: 465

NFL Rank: 9th Offensive percentage: 45.64%

Finish: 6-10, 5th in the AFC West, missed playoffs

 

2000:

Passing attempts: 569

NFL Rank: 9th Offensive percentage: 52.44%

Rushing attempts: 516

NFL Rank: 4th Offensive percentage: 47.56%

Finish: 11-5, 2nd in AFC West, made playoffs

 

2001:

Passing attempts: 511

NFL Rank: 20th Offensive percentage: 51.5%

Rushing attempts: 481

NFL Rank: 6th Offensive percentage: 48.5%

Finish: 8-8, 3rd in AFC West, missed playoffs

 

2002:

Passing attempts: 554

NFL Rank: 14th Offensive percentage: 54.79%

Rushing attempts: 457

NFL Rank: 11th Offensive percentage: 45.21%

Finish: 9-7, 2nd in AFC West, missed playoffs

 

 

2003:

Passing attempts: 479

NFL Rank: 26th Offensive percentage: 46.86%

Rushing attempts: 543

NFL Rank: 2nd   Offensive percentage: 53.14%

Finish: 10-6, 2nd in AFC West, made playoffs

 

2004:

Passing attempts: 521

NFL Rank: 16th Offensive percentage: 49.38%

Rushing attempts: 534

NFL Rank: 2nd Offensive percentage: 50.62%

Finish: 10-6, 2nd in AFC West, made playoffs

 

2005:

Passing attempts: 465

NFL Rank: 25th Offensive percentage: 46.17%

Rushing attempts: 542

NFL Rank: 2nd Offensive percentage: 53.83%

Finish: 13-3, 1st in AFC West, made playoffs

 

2006:

Passing attempts: 454

NFL Rank: 26th Offensive percentage: 48.19%

Rushing attempts: 488

NFL Rank: 9th   Offensive percentage: 51.81%

Finish: 9-7, 2nd in AFC West, missed playoffs

 

2007:

Passing attempts: 515

NFL Rank: 21st Offensive percentage: 54.55%

Rushing attempts: 429

NFL Rank: 18th   Offensive percentage: 45.45%

Finish: 7-9, 2nd in AFC West, missed playoffs

 

2008:

Passing attempts: 620

NFL Rank: 3rd Offensive percentage: 61.56%

Rushing attempts: 387

NFL Rank: 28th Offensive percentage: 38.44%

Finish: 8-8, tied for 1st in AFC West, missed playoffs

 

 

2010:

Passing attempts: 605

NFL Rank: 4th Offensive percentage: 63.28%

Rushing attempts: 351

NFL Rank: 31st Offensive percentage: 36.72%

Finish: 6-10, 3rd in NFC East, missed playoffs

 

2011:

Passing attempts: 591

NFL Rank:  5th Offensive percentage: 59.63%

Rushing attempts: 400

NFL Rank: 25th Offensive percentage: 39.37%

Finish: 5-11, 4th in NFC East, missed playoffs

 

2012:

Passing attempts: 442

NFL Rank: 30th Offensive percentage: 45.99%

Rushing attempts: 519

NFL Rank: 3rd Offensive percentage: 54.01%

Finish: 10-6, 1st in NFC East, made playoffs

 

Summary:

Finished in the top 10 in the league in rushing:

11 seasons out of 17 combined seasons between the Broncos and Redskins

When finishing in the top 10 in rushing:

116-60 record (.659 winning percentage), eight playoff appearances, just one losing season

When finishing out of the top 10 in rushing:

43-53 (.447 winning percentage), zero playoff appearances, three losing seasons (out of 6)

Finished with at least 50% rushing attempts:

7 times in 17 seasons. Made the playoffs in six of those seasons and finished above .500 every season. (Note this does not count: 1996 where they were just half a percentage point away from having 50% rushing attempts)

Finished top 10 in the league in passing attempts:

Six times they finished in the top 10 in the league in passing attempts with a record of: 44-52 (.458 winning percentage), with just one winning record and playoff appearance.

Final Thoughts:

While much of the league may be in pass first mode, it is pretty clear that for the Mike Shanahan system to work the Redskins must remain a run focused team. He has never made the playoffs when his team has run the ball less than 47.5% of the time and seven of his eight playoff appearances his team has run the ball at least 49.5% of the time. So the idea that the Redskins are going to be throwing the ball 60% of the time and winning football games should end for as long as Mike Shanahan is at the helm. That might work for some other teams and coaches in the league, but it's not going to work here with Mike Shanahan. Running the football this much may not seem as flashy or exciting, but for Mike Shanahan it is a way of life.

The fact that the run is so important to his offense, shows just how key the health and production of Alfred Morris is to this team's success. In many ways he's as important as star quarterback Robert Griffin IIII. The depth behind Morris is very crucial since, if he goes down, another back has to be capable of producing similar numbers or the Redskins chances for success plummet.

 

 


  • deg0ey

    Does it not follow that the teams with the highest percentage of pass plays will likely be bad teams. If you're a bad team and are therefore behind toward the end of games, you have to keep throwing the ball to stop the clock. Conversely, good teams are, more often than not, ahead in the fourth quarter and go back to the run in order to use up the rest of the time and secure the win.
    I'm not sure that you can conclude that running the ball more helps you win, so much as teams that are winning run the ball more.