By Kyle Soppe
We’ve been hearing that 2011-2012 is the “year of the quarterback” from various sport shows and analysts. We’ve seen ESPN specials based around this premise, and it is accurate to state that we are seeing the position played at an all time great level by a few select individuals. But I believe we are over generalizing due to the media exposure of Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady. In fact, I’ll argue that running the football is still the way to succeed in the NFL, especially if you don’t have one of the aforementioned signal callers.
The spread offense, five receiver sets, and the undefeated Packers are all great story lines and make for entertaining television. This NFL season opened with a shootout between Rodgers and Brees, in which the duo combined for 731 yards and six touchdowns. The season opening MNF game Tom Brady embarrassed the Dolphins to the tune of 517 yards and four scores. Since then, a national audience has been treated to countless great performances by one of these three, highlighted by a primetime dismantling of the Colts and Giants by Brees. In stand alone games, the Saints QB orchestrated flawless offensive execution, totaling 111 points scored and grabbing national headlines. Today’s media focus on the elite performers tells us that that is what wins in “new era” of the NFL. But is it really true? Do you need a QB that is capable of putting up video game type numbers to lead your team?
These three quarterbacks do succeed, but it’s because they are rare talents that happen to be playing at the same time. This is still your dad’s NFL; a successful running game more often than not determines the result of the football game. Take the last four weeks (60 games) as a reasonable sample size. I also prefer weeks 10-13 because teams have established offensive identities; what works for them and what doesn’t. Over that time span, there have been 28 running backs to rush for at least 100 yards, as compared to 22 quarterbacks who eclipsed 300 yards. The fact that more teams have run for the respective benchmark indicates the importance of a stable and consistent ground game.
Not sold? Didn’t think so.
What if I told you that the teams that featured a running back who gained at least 100 yards won 79% of their games? By the same token, teams with a QB totaling over 300 yards won only 55% percent of the time. The excuse can be made that teams tend to pass when digging themselves out of a hole, and that’s true. But the same teams (take the Colts against the Patriots last week for example) run the ball early in an attempt to shorten the game.
Those numbers include the remarkable success of the Packers, Patriots, and Saints. In the past four weeks, the terrific trio has won all seven games in which their signal caller accounted for at least 300 yards through the air. This means that if an NFL team throws for 300 yards, but doesn’t call Green Bay, New England, or New Orleans home, they have won only 29% of the time over the last month.
You can call it the year of the QB all you want, but I’m thinking of it as the same NFL, just with three exceptional talents. Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points a game in a season, but was the NBA all of a sudden a league that featured no defense? The Texas Rangers led the league in hitting categories, but was this past MLB season the year of the batter?
“SportsCenter digs the long ball [pass], but the rushing attack wins games.”