Running on Empty?
You have to run the ball to win in the NFL, yes?
Well, maybe not, according to Tuesday Morning Quarterback’s AFC preview column on ESPN.com. According to the column:
“The National Football League is all about running the ball, right? That’s what you hear. Yet for two consecutive seasons, the last-ranked rushing team made the Super Bowl — Arizona in 2008 and Indianapolis in 2009 reached the ultimate game despite having the league’s worst rushing offense those seasons. True, both lost, but 30 of the 32 NFL franchises gladly would have traded places with the team that lost the Super Bowl. And last season, the AFC’s two best teams, winning the first-round byes — San Diego and Indianapolis — were 31st and 32nd overall, respectively, in rushing.
“Thus you don’t have to run the ball well to win at football. … In 2008, only seven NFL teams rushed more often than they passed. In 2009, the number fell to just four — Carolina, Cincinnati, Jersey/B and Tennessee. Maybe this is because, as the Football Outsiders website long has contended, establishing the pass has more tactical value (because of more yards gained per attempt) than establishing the run.
First off, we have to point out that last year the Browns ran the ball 498 times and passed it 443. So it was actually more than four teams in 2009.
Plus, in the Browns season-ending four game win streak, they ran the ball 181 times compared to just 65 pass attempts. That late-season surge helped the team finish eighth in the NFL in rushing – and only 19 yards behind Super Bowl champion New Orleans.
So while running the ball may not be a guaranteed path to victory, it doesn’t mean you can’t be successful with a solid ground attack. It seems likely that the positives of a top-notch running game – keeps the ball away from the other team, limits the possibility for mistakes by the QB, helps immensely in cold/bad weather – outweigh any perceived negatives.
But having NFL-caliber play at the quarterback position certainly can’t hurt. Mike Holmgren has gone on record as saying the Browns can’t consistenly win the way they did at the end of last season. Which is why the team worked hard in the off-season to fix last year’s mess – Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn – and upgrade to Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace.
TMQ’s preview column missed the point on those moves as well, writing:
“What is it that new Browns president Mike Holmgren saw on tape of Jake Delhomme that no one else sees? Holmgren traded away Brady Quinn, passed on Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen in the draft, and handed the Cleveland starting quarterback’s job — plus $7 million guaranteed in 2010 — to Delhomme, who has thrown 35 interceptions over the past two seasons. Carolina immediately got better when Delhomme was benched in 2009. And the $7 million guarantee, it’s nice that Holmgren is generous, but he wasn’t bidding against anyone: Delhomme might have signed for the veteran minimum.
“Cleveland has been the trade capital of the NFL in recent seasons. Eric Mangini conducted a series of trades with his old team, the Jets, netting Cleveland several decent players but surrendering Mark Sanchez, who would look mighty good in Tootsie Rolls colors along about now. Holmgren has continued the yard-sale ethos. The net is that Cleveland has surrendered two recent first-round choices (Quinn and defensive end Kamerion Wimbley), plus fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round draft choices, for Sheldon Brown, Peyton Hillis, Chris Gocong, Seneca Wallace, third- and sixth-round choices and a conditional pick from Denver in 2012. That’s an awful lot of roster turbulence.”
Yes, by all means, let’s not have any “roster turbulence” on a team that has only won more than six games once in the past seven years.
TMQ does make a valid point about the Browns possibly overpaying for Delhomme, but it’s really not that bad. Plus, Quinn hasn’t really shown much in Denver so far in the preseason, so lamenting his loss is a bit much.
Since 2002, the Browns have only run the ball more than they’ve passed in two seasons – last year and 2004 – and we haven’t been swamped with any victory parades through downtown.
Maybe bucking the trend and going with an old school philosophy is the way to go for what could be an up-and-coming team this season.