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Teams choosing to take a pass on running the ball are doing just fine

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Dec 16, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Establishing the run is like wheeling in the catapult. It’s like breaking out the battering ram. It’s like limbering up the longbow.

    It’s a tactic from another time, rendered obsolete by modern weaponry. The running game is no longer the meat-and-potatoes of professional football, but a diversionary side dish or, ideally, a dessert course.

    It provides a healthy balance and an effective time-management tool, but it is probably not as essential as some suspect.

    Fact: The Chargers have the least productive running game in the NFL, averaging a puny 3.2 yards per attempt.
    Fact: The Chargers’ run defense ranks a mediocre 19th out of 32 teams, yielding 4.3 yards per carry.
    Fact: The Chargers have won eight games in a row.

    “I think you have to run the ball,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said. “Do you have to have great success running it? Maybe not. (But) if you don’t have great success (running), you’d better have a guy like Philip Rivers or a guy like Peyton Manning.”

    Quarterbacks are the most important members of any football team. Always have been. But a series of rules changes designed to promote passing and a generation of coaches committed to first-strike capability have shifted the sport’s emphasis away from frontal assaults and toward flanking maneuvers.

    Not since 1977 have NFL teams gained more yards on the ground than through the air. That same year, the league outlawed the head slap, a favorite ploy of pass rushers, and limited defenders to one pre-pass hit on eligible receivers.

    The latter rule was revised a year later to confine contact to within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, and another new rule was introduced to liberalize pass blocking.
    Ownership’s message was unambiguous — throw the ball, blockhead — and the result has been a profound shift in how the game is played. By 1994, the NFL’s pass-run yardage ratio exceeded 2-1, and what was then a breakthrough has since become a benchmark. Passing has accounted for nearly 65 percent of NFL total offense over the past 15 years, and it has represented more than 75 percent of the Chargers’ attack this season.

    The position of the local pendulum reflects Turner’s airborne orientation, but also the specific personnel at his disposal. LaDainian Tomlinson won his second straight NFL rushing title in 2007, Turner’s first year as the Chargers’ head coach, but his role has diminished along with his effectiveness. Formerly the Chargers’ unchallenged star, LT is now a supporting actor headed ever closer to his exit scene.

    Today’s Chargers are built around Rivers, who stands to repeat as the AFC’s most statistically efficient passer, and a cast of receivers capable of significant downfield damage. The essence of this offense is not ball-control, but bombs. Turner’s running game exists, in part, to allow his receivers to rest between 40-yard dashes.

    “I think there are different ways to define ‘establishing the run,’ ” Rivers said. “I do think it’s necessary to be able to run in football to be the complete team you need to be during the course of a season. That can mean many things throughout a game and throughout a season.

    “I don’t think you have to establish it in the first quarter to open up the rest of your game plan. But certainly you have to be able to run the ball in this league to get through a 16-game season.”

    The importance of running the ball is most pronounced when the playing field becomes compressed near the goal line, as the Dallas Cowboys were reminded on Sunday, and when the team that’s ahead becomes more interested in killing the clock than padding the scoreboard.

    Backs as brilliant as Tennessee’s Chris Johnson command extra carries, of course, but it’s worth noting that none of the NFL’s six-best rushing teams (as measured by average yards per attempt) is a division leader. The bottom six, by contrast, include both the 10-3 Chargers and the 13-0 Indianapolis Colts (29th).

    The Chargers, Colts and Philadelphia Eagles — all of them division leaders — were the only three NFL teams to win last weekend while being outrushed by their opponents.

    “It’s funny,” Turner said. “ ’Cause if you look at Indianapolis and us, statistically we’re not real high. Our statistics are diminished because the first month of the season, we were hurt and LT wasn’t playing.

    “But I know for us to be as good as we can be on offense, we need to run the ball. I watched Indianapolis play and a lot of that passing game comes off the fact that they are capable of running. They may not run it for a lot of yards, but all that play-action and everything (has an effect).”

    Rush defense might seem a more reliable indicator of a team’s success, except it tends to be a self-fulfilling statistic. The teams that yield the fewest rushing yards are often those whose opponents are compelled to throw the ball while playing from behind.

    On a per-carry basis, though, there’s no obvious correlation between stopping the run and winning the game. Witness the league rankings of the NFL’s eight division leaders: 5, 6, 12, 15, 19, 21, 22 and 26.

    “The hardest thing is there are more teams that are willing to play an eight-man front and put everybody up in there and say, ‘Hey, you’re not going to run the ball.’ ” Turner said. “We still get it.

    “Obviously, if you look at us, you say, ‘Gosh, they’re last in average per attempt. Why would people stand up there and leave Vincent Jackson and (Antonio) Gates and Malcom (Floyd) singled up?’ But we still get it. They’re not going to let us take the ball and run it.”

    Some of this defensive deployment, Turner said, owes to the flexibility of the eight-man front, which can be used to disguise blitzes as well as to blunt running games.

    “You’ve got to pressure the quarterback,” Turner said. “It kind of goes hand in hand with stopping the run.”

    Keep that pressure off your quarterback, and the running game doesn’t matter so much.


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