A true balance in all phases of the game is generally the focus of a good or solid win in the National Football League. Looking over data in the first part of 2010 season, it is very clear that the passing game is the focal point of the offense over the running game.
Thus far in this early season, parity has taken a strong hold on the NFL with no undefeated teams going into Week Six. The early part of my research of data shows that the offense is much more important than the defense or special teams. The difference maker is how the offense takes care of the football. Turnovers play a huge part in the outcome of any and all games, and several would and could argue that the defense has a lot to do with that. Where teams can overcome a fumble, a fumble for a touchdown or an interception for a pick six (touchdown) usually results in a loss, if late in the game.
Legendary coach Bear Bryant coined the phrase “Offense wins ball games, but Defense wins Championships.” The data shows that while you need a stout defense, a team’s ability to sustain offensive ball control with a solid run game, winning the possession part of the game. That trend is changing.
Maintaining the importance of a balanced attack on offense and defense and winning games in the end with a potent kicking game. The bottom line in any sport – especially football – is wins and losses. That is how greatness is measured. Offense vs. Defense and within the offensive side of the ball is ability to produce wins while passing or running the ball.
The data on the passing game’s effect on winning compared to the running game’s effect on winning would lead people to believe that a strong running game is vital and the main reason that football teams win more games than they lose can be related directly to the number of seasonal wins. The correlation between total rushing yards and winning games is a moderately strong indication of how many games a team would win. The total passing yards compared with total rushing yards shows that total passing yards is less important in terms of winning games. This is what most coaches, fans and football junkies notice when watching games or when hammering through stats. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean that passing is less important than running at any level of football.
A good example: How many times have you heard a Color Analyst say, “When the running back rushes for 100 yards or more, the team wins.” Well this is generally not true on the total number of wins. The clear implication is that the teams should give their opponents a steady dose of the running game, and this will cause his team to win. The same could be said of a quarterback “When a quarterback passes 45 plus attempts, they win.” That isn’t true and here is why.
The negative for pass attempts generally means that the more times a team passes, the less likely there are to win. The correlation of rush attempts weighs heavier than the total rushing yards. A very interesting result where most analysis starts to lose its backbone.
With a heavy run game and a win comes to this conclusion: All fans and the football community would assume the running game was the direct cause for the win. The problem is it usually doesn’t. It’s the winning that causes the running. Teams that are ahead, and likely to win, run the ball to grind time off the clock and minimize the risk of a turnover. Teams that are behind and likely to lose abandon the run in favor of the pass to strike quickly.
So the question is this: How can you measure the passing and running games as they both contribute to winning? Let’s see if I can get this right. The answer is football’s equivalent to the MLB batting average efficiency stats. If we want to know how good a team is at running, look directly at the “rush attempt yards.” The “Yards per pass attempt” is calculated by pass yards divided by pass attempts. Passing efficiency turns out to be strongly correlated with winning. When a team has a lead in a game, it points at a team’s passes have been more successful (based on statistics). I can safely say that passing efficiency leads to winning.
The third phase of the game is Special Teams. This phase is an inconsistent phase when measuring big plays on a consistent basis. Even though a Punt return or Kick return for a touchdown is a critical play and a game changer, deciding the outcome of the game rarely happens on the final play. I’m not suggesting that special teams units be ignored. A good unit can give their team an advantage in adding their offense or defense and the importance of kickoffs, punts, return yards, field position, and field goal percentages are all dwarfed in relation to things like running, passing, and even turnovers.
Keep in mind a high average net punt yards is not good for a football team’s success. It rarely reflects on winning or losing and the odds start to drop off. The better the team is at punting, the fewer wins it can expect. I believe this is misleading because teams with good offenses would be able to kick more ‘inside the 20 yard line’ punts than teams that often kick from their own 30 yard line.