Tuesday, September 25, 2007

They Have to Run the Ball, Blah, Blah, Blah

I'm not saying the Packers actually can run the ball, but I'm sick to death of the ridiculous idea that passing a lot is, on it's face, bad. You can feel the tone in any Packers report on the San Diego game-- "well, they're 3-0 but they've done it only by passing. If they were a real team, they'd run the ball."

All this criticism is based on the old-school theory that running the ball is the superior method of offense. And there's some merit to that-- (A) a running play generally uses up more clock than a passing play, because an incompletion stops the clock, so successfully running the ball deprives the other team of time to score; (B) running plays don't tire out offensive linemen like passing plays-- probably something to do with charging forward as opposed to back-peddling-- so when a team passes a lot their offensive line might start getting tired toward the end of the game, whereas the opposite is usually true with running; (C) a running play is less likely to produce a negative play than a passing play, whether through fumbles, interceptions, incompletions, or loss of yards via a sack. However, in retort (A) a controlled passing game can keep the clock moving about as well as a rushing attack, particularly one that depends on runs toward the sidelines; (B) offensive linemen can probably be reconditioned to have more back-peddling stamina; and (C) these risks can be minimized and the chances of a big gain are greater on pass plays.

Furthermore, ultimate success in the NFL, particularly in comparison to college football, is more dependent on the pass. Look at the Super Bowl winners since the late 80s-- with the exception of Mark Rypien, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson, every other winning team had a Pro Bowl level qb, and most teams had a far more talented passer than runner. (The only glaring exceptions being Emmitt Smith over Aikman and Jamal Lewis over Dilfer.) Further, as Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently noted (Packer Insider subscription only), running the ball doesn't even guarantee you success in the regular season. Only three of the NFL's top ten rushing teams made the playoffs last season. All three, San Diego, Kansas City, and the Giants, were immediately eliminated. The NFL is a passing league.

So the idea that a team is always "forced" to pass because it would rather run the ball is moronic and antiquated. Twenty-five years of the West Coast offense should have cleared it up by now. To put it plainly-- You Can Be A Good Team And Pass Most Of The Time. In fact, if your quarterback is is significantly better than your running back, you'd be a fool not to. A good coach lets puts the game in the hands of his most talented players .

A good coach also looks at match-ups. The Packers wisely noted that San Diego's rushing defense was significantly better than its pass defense, and that its personnel got worse the more defensive backs it put on the field. So the Packers played to their strengths--Favre's arm and decent pass protection-- and played against San Diego's strength-- forcing them to sub out several members of their talented front seven and sub in several less talented defensive backs. Thus, passing that often was a wise move, and the Packers should keep doing it, especially against top-tier rush defenses, like Minnesota. Maximize your special players (Favre & Driver) and minimize the other teams' (Pat and Kevin Williams).

This theory does work in the opposite direction-- for example, when the Packers play the Broncos later this season, who have held opposing quarterbacks to a 59.8 passer rating so far thanks to Champ Bailey and Dre Bly, it looks like they might be wise to run the ball a bit more. But passing most of the time against the Chargers was the right move, and generally will be the right move considering the strengths of this offense-- Favre, Driver, Jennings, Jones and the offensive line's pass protection.

There are some excellent folks out there, like Silverstein, who recognize this. But it sure seems a lot of pundits have failed to figure out the difference between being forced to pass and choosing to pass. But I guess that would require some more analysis besides just looking at the box score. Everyone's fired.


BratsNBeerGuy said...

It took me a while to get this idea through my think skull, but I'm glad someone else recognizes this. As long as it's working, keep passing the ball.

Randy Moss said...


Papa Sal said...

Mr. Man has made a solid argument. There is, in fact, nothing wrong with passing most of the time. However, if you look at most Super Bowl champion teams (as per Andy's argument), they had a 1,000 yard rusher. I'm not suggesting the Pack is a SB team yet, but it would be nice to know that we could run if we wanted to. Until I'm convinced of that fact, I will be somewhat worried.

All that said, the Packers need to be 5-1 at a minimum going into their bye week.

Mr.Man said...

"Need"? Why do they need to be 5-1? Does the schedule after that suck?

Papa Sal said...

They need to be because I want them to be. Not a desperation imperative, rather an expectation imperative.