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-01-10-2005 #1RamTime Guest
Martz may have been just slightly ahead of his time.
Running away from an NFL trend
By Pat Kirwan
(Jan. 10, 2005) -- I have been in and around football for my entire adult life. Like many people who have worked in football, I believed that the ability to run the ball was the foundation of a good football team. I still believe it, but the game is changing. There is a trend that showed up last year in the playoffs and it is right back in the picture this season.
So what is it? In seven of the 11 playoff games in 2004, the winning team did not have a 100-yard rusher. Not that 100 yards is a benchmark for running the ball, but it was passing yardage that determined winning more than a 100-yard rusher.
Well, with four playoff games in the books for 2005, not one winning team (Jets, Colts, Vikings or Rams) had a 100-yard rushing performance. In fact, not one winning team had anyone rush for more than 66 yards. The Vikings' leading rusher was Daunte Culpepper with 54 yards. Imagine a scrambling QB -- who wanted to throw the ball but couldn't find an open receiver -- was his team's leading rusher! Curtis Martin led the NFL in rushing this year with 1,697 yards, which is better than a 100-yard-per-game average, but in the Jets' playoff win against the Chargers, he only gained 66 yards. Marshall Faulk had 55 yards to lead the Rams, and Edgerrin James accounted for 63 yards.
So in the last 15 playoff games over a two-year period, 11 of the 15 winning teams did not produce a 100-yard rusher. This piqued my interest. I decided to go back and look at the 2003 playoffs to see if things were different two years ago.
In 2003, there were 11 playoff games and in only two of them was there a 100-yard rusher for a winning team. So after the last 26 playoff games, 20 of the 26 winning teams did not produce a 100-yard rusher. Clearly, establishing a running game was not the most critical factor to winning in the playoffs in recent history.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2003 and did not even have a 1,000-yard rusher! In 2004, the Patriots won the Super Bowl and did it without a 1,000-yard back. I don't know if this year's winning team will have a 1,000-yard back on its roster or not, but there's a pretty good chance he will not rush for 100 yards in any of the playoff games, especially when you consider 77 percent of the winning playoff teams don't produce a 100-yard rusher.
The question is, why don't winning teams do it, and how are they winning?
I asked a few NFL coaches why teams don't seem to run the ball very well in the playoffs but still win games. One offensive coordinator said, "Only the best quarterbacks are left when we get to the playoffs, and they have a better chance of beating you with their arm than by handing off." A defensive coordinator suggested, "We are so wired to a team's running game after 16 games that we are very well prepared to stop most good backs." A personnel man offered, "You get against a team like Indianapolis or Minnesota and you can't score fast enough on the ground to stay with them."
All interesting points of view. That led me to think that the game has really changed and it's okay to think the NFL really is a pass-to-set-up-the-run league.
A couple of teams still alive in this year's playoffs look like they can run the ball if they want to, but may shy away from it in the next round. The Jets ran for 120 yards on 20 carries on just first downs as they beat the Chargers, but now they face the No. 1 ranked run defense in the NFL in the Steelers. The Steelers love to run the ball, which protects young Ben Roethlisberger very well, but a few early scores by the upstart Jets and they may be tempted to abandon it. As good of a running team as the Panthers were last year, even they only cracked the 100-yard rushing mark in one of their three playoff games.
Could the Jets limit Curtis Martin's carries against the Steelers?
The Colts don't have a very good run defense, but their offense scores so fast. That often means that opponents are taken out of their run offense and have to play catch up. The Colts scored on their first possession in 10 of their 16 regular-season games and have scored on their second possession in seven of their 16 games. Before you know it, you could be losing 14-0 to Peyton Manning and it's catch-up time.
Heck, I think Michael Vick, Culpepper and maybe even Donovan McNabb without Terrell Owens have the best chance to crack the century mark scrambling around looking to pass the ball and running instead.
The game is changing, and the wild-card winners this past week are a good reminder of how the game is being won these days. Remember when the old addage was, "Most passing records are set in losing efforts?" The four winning quarterbacks combined for 1,333 yards, or an average of 333 yards. Throwing it more than ever seems to be the formula to winning in the playoffs.
Re: Martz may have been just slightly ahead of his time.
It does'nt matter how you win,just win baby