Jan 9, 2020 - Sports

Running the ball is back in the NFL

Data: NFL; Table: Axios Visuals
Data: NFL; Table: Axios Visuals

Driven by rule changes and schematic innovations, as well as a correlation between pass-happy offenses and winning, the NFL is in the midst of an aerial revolution. And yet — most of the remaining playoff teams love to run the ball.

By the numbers: For the first time since 1970, the top four passing teams by yards (Buccaneers, Cowboys, Falcons, Rams) missed the playoffs, while the top four rushing teams (Ravens, 49ers, Titans, Seahawks) made it, per FiveThirtyEight.

  • The eight remaining playoff teams gained 36.9% of their yards on the ground this season, while the league's other 22 were decided more passing-oriented, gaining just 30.8% of their yards on the ground.
  • The Chiefs ranked fifth in passing yards during the regular season, but the other seven playoff teams all finished outside the top 12: 49ers (13th), Seahawks (14th), Texans (15th), Packers (17), Titans (21st), Vikings (23), Ravens (27).

Between the lines: Despite gaining so many rushing yards, the divisional-round's best rushing teams look nothing like the "ground-and-pound" offenses of yesteryear (outside of maybe the Titans).

  • Rather, they utilize spread-based attacks where the QB is a threat to run at any given moment.
  • Five of the eight longest runs last weekend were by QBs.

The bottom line: The golden age of superstar RBs has clearly passed, but dual-threat QBs like Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson are all the rage, and its changing how we think about rushing offense.

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