During the Titans vs. Patriots game, NBC aired a simple statistic: “This year, the four teams that threw the football the most all missed the playoffs. The four teams that ran the football the most all made the playoffs.”
Simple enough, right? Throwing a bunch will lead to losses, and establishing the run is the key to win. No. Not at all. That sentence is so wrong on so many different levels, and I can explain why.
This phenomenon is what Ben Baldwin calls the “rush to win fallacy.” When you look at the statistics above, it looks like throwing the ball is the key to failure in the NFL. This is not true. The “rush to win fallacy” states that teams do not win games by running the ball, but they run the ball because they are winning games.
In other words, think about this. The Cardinals are down 28-7 at halftime. What will their second half offense look like? It will contain a large amount of throws because they have to erase that deficit. The Seahawks are up 28-7 at halftime. What will their second half offense look like? Conversely, they will tend to run more in order to burn the clock and ice the game.
Who is more likely to win? Probably the team up 28-7 at half, right? In this hypothetical game, the Seahawks got a big lead, ran the ball and iced the game, and walked out with a win. They ran the ball more than the average team because they were ahead late. For the Cardinals, they ran the ball much less than the average team because they spent the entire second half playing catch-up. The Cardinals will end this game with a loss, and plenty of pass attempts to go along with that.
So what does this mean? The truth is that losing teams pass more because they are, well, losing. The same goes for running and winning teams. Does this mean that passing the ball is useless? No, not at all.
The key is to look at passing efficiency. Throwing a lot probably means that the team is losing a lot. However, throwing efficiently is a great way to see team success. Let’s just switch “four teams that passed the most” to “four teams that passed the most efficiently.” Who are those four teams? None other than the Seahawks, Saints, Chiefs and Ravens. Those teams won an average of 12.5 games this year and are four of the best overall offenses in the league.
In other words, the teams that throw well are teams that win games. These four teams are not winning because they throw less, rather they are winning because they throw the ball so effectively.
The same can be said for teams that struggle to pass well. The five least efficient teams throwing the ball this year were the Jets, Panthers, Steelers, Redskins and Bengals. The average record of those teams was 5-11.
Yes, it is true that the four teams with the most carries all made the playoffs. However, think about it like this. Nearly every team that does a QB kneel in the 4th quarter wins the game. Right? They are kneeling because they have a lead, and the game is over. If we looked at what teams kneeled the ball the most, I am sure that they would all be in the playoffs as well. Does that mean that kneels are the key to success? Should Lamar Jackson go out and kneel the ball on the first play of the game this Sunday? Of course not. The same goes for running the ball.
Teams are not winning because they run the ball, teams are running the ball because they are winning. Total carries tells us as much as total QB kneels: both of them happen because the team is already likely to win.
One more thing: let’s go back to the original statistic. We will take a look at the four teams that have ran the ball the most. They are the Ravens, 49ers, Seahawks, and Vikings. Now, if rushing was all that mattered, none of these teams would be very good at passing the ball. However, all of them are top ten teams in terms of passing effectiveness, and both the Ravens and Seahawks are both in the top 5. While they may have ran the ball the most this year, it is quite clear that they only did so after building leads from none other than a strong passing game.
Max Thompson is a freshman majoring in business management and journalism and electronic media. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @The_Out_Route on Twitter for high-quality NFL analysis!
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