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10 Aug 2012

DVOA 7.0: Best Teams by Pass and Run

by Aaron Schatz

In Football Outsiders Almanac 2012, and recently on the website, we introduced the latest iteration of our DVOA formula, which we are calling DVOA v7.0. The biggest change in the new formula is that all years are normalized so the league average equals 0%, and that moves players and teams up and down our all-time rankings depending on how strong offense was league-wide that season. Today, we're going to continue looking at what the new version of DVOA does to our all-time rankings by looking at the best teams split into offense and defense by run and pass. As a reminder, we ran the list of top teams overall, top overall offenses, and top overall defenses back in the first piece that introduced the new version of DVOA on August 1.

Best Pass Offense DVOA, 1991-2011
DVOA v6.0   DVOA v7.0 (NEW)
YEAR TEAM PASS OFF x YEAR TEAM PASS OFF
2007 NE 75.4% x 2007 NE 72.7%
2011 GB 73.3% x 2004 IND 67.6%
2010 NE 72.5% x 2011 GB 67.6%
2004 IND 69.1% x 2010 NE 67.5%
2009 SD 63.7% x 1991 WAS 65.0%
1991 WAS 62.7% x 2009 SD 59.6%
2011 NE 61.0% x 2006 IND 55.4%
2009 NE 57.0% x 2011 NE 55.3%
2006 IND 56.9% x 2003 TEN 54.7%
2011 NO 55.6% x 2009 NE 53.5%
2008 SD 54.9% x 1998 DEN 52.5%
1995 DAL 52.4% x 1992 SF 51.8%

Normalizing each season to 0% has a big effect on the three great offenses from 2011, which was the best passing year in NFL history. The Packers and Patriots each lose about five percenage points off their DVOA ratings, and the Saints actually drop out of the top ten. (They rank 17th.) Otherwise, the top passing games pretty much rank as the top passing games. Pretty remarkable that the Patriots have a top ten all-time passing DVOA in four of the past five seasons. 

Here's a list of the best running games by DVOA. Remember that rushing DVOA includes both running backs and quarterbacks, a big reason why the 2011 Panthers had the top run offense DVOA in the previous version of our metric. With the new metric, they've been passed by the 2000 Rams.

Best Run Offense DVOA, 1991-2011
DVOA v6.0   DVOA v7.0 (NEW)
YEAR TEAM RUN OFF x YEAR TEAM RUN OFF
2011 CAR 35.5% x 2000 STL 36.5%
2000 STL 34.4% x 2011 CAR 32.1%
2002 KC 32.0% x 1998 DEN 31.4%
2003 KC 28.6% x 1993 SF 30.5%
2010 PHI 27.8% x 2002 KC 29.3%
2006 SD 27.5% x 2003 KC 28.9%
1998 DEN 27.1% x 1998 SF 27.8%
2010 NE 27.1% x 2006 SD 27.2%
2004 KC 26.6% x 2005 DEN 26.8%
2005 DEN 26.3% x 2000 PIT 26.4%
1993 SF 25.4% x 2003 SD 26.1%
2003 SD 25.2% x 1999 WAS 25.5%

There's more moving up and down here than on the passing table, because the leaguewide "raw VOA" of the running game was a lot lower back in the late 90's. Teams may be running less now, but they are running much more efficiently. You'll notice that the 2010 Eagles and 2010 Patriots both fall out of the top dozen altogether once we've normalized for each year. (The Eagles are now 16th, the Patriots 17th.)

Best Pass Defense DVOA, 1991-2011
DVOA v6.0   DVOA v7.0 (NEW)
YEAR TEAM PASS DEF x YEAR TEAM PASS DEF
1991 PHI -53.1% x 2002 TB -51.9%
2002 TB -52.5% x 1991 PHI -48.6%
1999 TB -38.4% x 2009 NYJ -36.5%
1992 NO -36.8% x 2004 BUF -34.7%
1991 NO -36.6% x 1991 NO -33.1%
2004 BUF -35.1% x 2008 PIT -32.8%
2009 NYJ -34.2% x 1999 TB -32.2%
1991 WAS -33.4% x 1992 NO -29.9%
2003 BAL -32.1% x 2000 MIA -29.7%
2000 MIA -31.6% x 2003 BAL -29.5%
1992 PHI -31.3% x 1991 WAS -28.9%
1996 GB -31.1% x 1998 MIA -27.6%

Passing games have been so good in recent years that it shouldn't surprise anyone to see recent teams like the 2009 Jets, 2008 Steelers, and 2008 Ravens (who rank 13th) rising up the ranks with normalization. Yet we still end up with three different 1991 defenses in the top dozen. It's funny, but since the current DVOA database goes from 1991 through 2011, it ends up with two mirror image seasons on each end. 2011 was dominated by three offenses which were far better than the others in the league, particularly with the pass. 1991 was dominated by three defenses which were far better than the others in the league, particularly against the pass.

When it comes to defending the run, of course, it is still all about those 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

Best Run Defense DVOA, 1991-2011
DVOA v6.0   DVOA v7.0 (NEW)
YEAR TEAM RUN DEF x YEAR TEAM RUN DEF
2000 BAL -40.6% x 2000 BAL -36.6%
1991 PHI -39.4% x 1991 PHI -34.9%
1998 SD -37.3% x 1998 SD -32.9%
1995 KC -31.6% x 2006 MIN -30.5%
1999 SD -31.4% x 1995 KC -30.5%
2006 MIN -31.1% x 2010 PIT -29.0%
2000 TEN -30.9% x 2008 BAL -28.6%
2000 SD -30.3% x 2000 TEN -27.4%
2007 BAL -28.1% x 2007 BAL -27.3%
2010 PIT -27.7% x 2000 SD -26.6%
1995 SF -27.3% x 2011 CHI -26.5%
1994 MIN -26.9% x 2011 SF -26.1%

However, the recent defenses really climb the rankings dramatically once we have normalized for each year's offensive environment. In the older version of DVOA, the 2011 Bears ranked 23rd and the 2011 49ers ranked 29th. Now they are in the top dozen. Meanwhile, the 1999 Chargers have dropped from fifth to 13th.

Special teams ratings didn't really change extensively with the new version of DVOA, but for the sake of completion, let's take a look at the current list of the best special teams units in DVOA history:

Best Special Teams DVOA, 1991-2011
YEAR TEAM ST DVOA
2002 NO 12.2%
2007 CHI 11.2%
1994 CLE1 10.1%
1996 CAR 9.8%
2009 CLE 9.7%
1998 DAL 9.2%
2001 PHI 8.9%
1997 DAL 8.9%
2000 MIA 8.8%
2005 BUF 8.8%
2004 BUF 8.7%
2006 CHI 8.7%

Next week, we'll take a look at the worst teams of the DVOA era according to the new DVOA formula. In the meantime, it's time for a bit more housekeeping, as we continue to finish cleaning and updating all our pages.

  • FO Premium is now updated with the new version of DVOA, including all the splits for 1991 (although a couple of views, like DVOA as of a Specific Week, are not yet updated).
  • FO Premium is also updated with the 2012 schedule, so you can use the matchup view to check out 2011 DVOA splits for teams that play each other early in 2012.
  • Player pages are now up for "skill players" whose careers ended in 1991. For example, you can now find Mike Rozier, Gerald Riggs, and Stephone Paige.
  • Player pages have now been updated with proper VOA ratings for 1999-2001. We still have incorrect VOA ratings listed for 1992-1998 and we're working on fixing that.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 10 Aug 2012

85 comments, Last at 17 Aug 2012, 10:11pm by chemical burn

Comments

1
by Will Allen :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 6:32pm

I'll be an old fogey like in the Packers' thread, and say the constant pressure to change or reinterpret the rules to make passing easier results in a game that is more qb dependent than I would like. Not as bad as a mediocre NHL team with a hot goalie in the playoffs, but moving in that direction more than I would like.

Strangely, the Competition Committee has yet to contact me.

2
by Vincent Verhei :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 6:38pm

I agree 100 percent.

12
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 9:04pm

Well Will, i guess counting the people below this makes about eight of us.

It pains me how close we came to a Flacco vs Smith super bowl.

Just as s general question do you guys th.ink 2011 was an aberration in terms of passing stats? To me I say yes. I still think passing numbers will trend up, but I doubt three or even two quarterbacks throw for 5000.

As a person who is a rare Colts fan that loves defense, 2011 was a sad year. I want to think that 2011, due to the lockout, was a perfect storm. I'm getting scared though that the NFL is becoming a more popular version of the NBA, where one player can have a disproportionate impact.

16
by Danny Tuccitto :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 3:22am

As a person who is a Colts fan, 2011 was a sad year. #fyp

18
by dmstorm22 :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 11:27am

It might be because I was slightly drunk at the time, but I got way too excited to see Dan Orlovsky and the Colts beat the Texans in Week 16. As Bunk would say, "Sad how far we done fell" as Colts fans in 2011, but it was oddly liberating to enjoy a win and not think about playoff ramifications, and Manning's legacy.

4
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 6:47pm

I'm with you too, and subscribe to your proposed changes from the other thread too. The Competition Committee needs to get in touch with you.

5
by Lance :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 6:49pm

I'm with you, Will. I sort of liked when you could win with a power running game or with a passing attack. The current focus on passing turns classic NFL football into backyard football.

6
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 6:52pm

Agreed, I'd like to see the running game still matter. I don't want the whole of the league to start using the run as an afterthought like the Pats and Packers do, even though chucking the ball all the time is clearly more effective.

That the Pats have a top ten passing DVOA in four of the past five seasons seems odd to me. They're good but I don't think they're that good. The team I was looking for was the 1994 49ers, who I still regard as being one of the greatest units in NFL hitory. However, they started slowly that year, the mechanical consistency of the Pats is rather impressive, they really know how to execute. I'd also suggest that their (relative to earlier NFL history) abandonment of the run would boost their efficiency.

FAO Editor: In the second paragraph the word you are looking for is percentage.

8
by BD :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 7:04pm

Will, I totally agree too. In fact, I think it's worse than the hot NHL goalie, because at least that changes from year to year.

Right now the ticket to having a successful dynasty is to win the quarterback lottery. That's probably always been the case, but it's become more the case now than ever. Look at these DVOA numbers. The top offenses today have quarterbacks who outperform the league average by 60+%!

I prefer to see a game where defenses can consistently affect the outcome.

Time to move to 1st down chains to 15 yards?

9
by tuluse :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 7:52pm

That would just further punish teams that have poor offenses.

19
by jontemple :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 1:11pm

And I thought I was the only one lamenting this! Any of my friends who are NFL fans I have brought this exact problem up to. It is a little disturbing to me.

I should note, the only rule changes I really complain about pertaining to this problem are the DB contact rules changed many years ago. I endorse rule changes designed to promote player safety and I don't really think defenseless DB/QB rule changes have all that much to do with the passing explosion, contrary to the consternation displayed by many current players and commentators

20
by tuluse :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 2:15pm

We've discussed this before, and I think there is a way to make both sides happy, and solve some current problems in the NFL as well.

Relax holding rules immensely so that everything that falls under the old adage "you could call holding on every play" is not true anymore. All the stuff that refs rarely or simply don't call anymore, make it legal. This way, 1) we refs' jobs easier, 2) we make holding calls way more consistent no more getting made because of phantom holding calls or borderline calls where you think "that never gets called anymore", 3) this would reduce the importance of pass blocking, which would increase the options a team has when constructing their line, and thus offense. They could go with a good run blocking line, knowing that the pass blocking would be good enough since it has been made easier.

Combine this with the 10 yard jam rule, and I think you make a more varied and interesting NFL, and increase parity, and decrease frustrations from officiating.

22
by fb29 :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 5:17pm

seems to me this would slow the game down. suddenly all QBs have 5 seconds to throw. there's something exciting to me about that countdown to getting mauled by a 300lb sack of flour.

24
by tuluse :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 10:23pm

It wouldn't change anything on 80% of the plays because they don't call it anyways.

23
by Karl Cuba :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 7:58pm

I'm not sure about a ten yard jam rule. My idea is for defenses to be given a free rein if the offense runs a rub or pick. If the offense is deliberately interfering then the entire rule should be thrown out and defenses should be allowed to knock the crap out of the receivers involved.

I would also like to see offensive pass interference enforced more rigorously and more punitively.

You might have a point on the offensive line holding calls but wouldn't your proposal boost the offense even more?

25
by tuluse :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 10:24pm

One rule for offense, one for defense.

It would change the nature of offense, it might lead to more, but I think it would be more interesting to watch. It would also lessen the need for a QB who is HoF caliber.

35
by JonFrum :: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 7:22pm

I bet you want to watch baseball players bunt. ;-) This is very simple - you're in a small minority. Put on a ground control game against a wide open passing game, and the run-heavy game will get crushed in the ratings. And then the next day, comment sections will be full of people saying they wish for the old days.

Personally, I love watching a special running back do his stuff, but there aren't many of them. Most teams that featured the run went three yards between the tackles all day. Personally, I'd rather see an 25 yard pass that goes incomplete than a 3-4 yard run between center and guard. At least there's the potential of something big happening while the ball is in the air.

36
by Will Allen :: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 10:26pm

You've put forth a false dichotomy, and please note that I never claimed that I wasn't in a small minority.

One of the aspects I've loved about the game is how interdependent the players are. The emphasis on making passing ever easier allows the qb to dominate the game more easily, with a lesser contribution from his teammates. I don't like that as much, but I don't have any illusions that anything within shouting distance of a majority of fans agrees with me.

73
by chemical burn :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 2:23pm

I think more agree with you than you think. There's a few teams that are somewhat artless in their passing game, but the rules are on their side and they have superior athletes so they put up huge numbers. I watch those teams and think, "what is the point? This doesn't even look like football." I love defense and I love strategy and those elements are less in play in the current wide-open version of the game. You're also right about making a good QB too important and reducing the team element... Anyway, almost every fan I'm friends with (except for all the Saints fans in my family) would agree with the honorable Will Allen here...

3
by Vincent Verhei :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 6:42pm

Looking at the list of top rushing offenses, most of the top teams/players jumped off the list. You've got the Terrell Davis Broncos, Priest Holmes Chiefs, LaDainian Tomlinson Chargers, etc. And then there's the 93 49ers. Ricky Watters led the team with just 950 yards, but he averaged 4.6 yards per carry. The next two top rushers were Steve Young (407 yds, 5.9 avg) and Marc Logan (280 yds, 4.8 avg.) As a team they averaged 4.6 yards per carry and scored 26 rushing touchdowns.

7
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 6:59pm

Vince, I'd just like to point out that this 49er team, which has great run DVOA, was a pass first team. As ever, football is holistic.

Another thought is that when I think of those Broncos I think of the system, when I think of the Chiefs my thoughts are of that amazing line but when I think of Tomlinson he is the focus. How did such an amazing runner pass under the radar? (relatively)

10
by tuluse :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 7:54pm

I think you're overestimating the degree to which Tomlinson was under the radar. He was widely considered the best running back for years.

32
by Mr Shush :: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 3:48pm

Right. I mean, Tomlinson's a no-brainer first ballot Hall of Famer, league MVP, uncontested best back of his generation, probably consensus all-time top 10 at the position (or at worst just outside it) - I don't really see how he's under the radar. He's rated very, very highly, and fairly accurately, as best I can judge.

37
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 6:21am

I did say relatively under the radar. I didn't think that he acquired the prominence of a Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders or Marshall Faulk, perhaps I'm wrong.

38
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 9:10am

He didn't, but he wasn't as good as them, either.

Tomlinson has sort of an Eric Dickerson profile -- high, but not top-echelon. He does better in name recognition than Terrell Davis, Shaun Alexander, Priest Holmes, and Larry Johnson, though.

39
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 10:48am

Well now you have made my point. I do think he was as good as those others and considerably better than the last four you have named.

43
by Mr Shush :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 2:37pm

I'd say he was as famous as Faulk without being quite as good, less famous than Smith while being roughly as good, and less famous than Payton or Sanders due to not being quite as good. To me, that seems like Tomlinson being appropriately rated, Faulk being slightly under-rated because so much of his value was as a receiver, and Smith being slightly over-rated because he played for the Cowboys, won three Superbowls and holds the career rushing record.

11
by Kal :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 8:25pm

It's funny that we talk about this notion of the old school 'defenses rule' and how a defense can't get to the top any more, or how the running game was so dominant before and now it's all about the QB and receivers.

Really? Alex Smith and the 49ers have a dominant QB? Trent Dilfer was a dominant QB? Rex Grossman was a dominant QB? Joe Flacco is a dominant QB?

Having one helps, but if you go back and look at winners of the superbowl you have a few things that stand out:
-QBs really matter (Montana, Aikman, Young)
-Defenses really matter (Bears, Giants, 49ers)
-Running games haven't mattered much at all since, oh, the 70s at best. And even then - how many superbowls did OJ win? How many championships did Payton win? The best argument is for Emmit Smith, but he also had Aikman, Irvin and a great D as well.

I also think it's interesting how great NE looks at this despite not having the most insane year to year success. That passing offense has resulted in two trips to the superbowl - but two losses as well. The other two years their record wasn't particularly insane. In all 4 years of that absurd passing offense the team lost in the playoffs or the superbowl to a team that had a significantly better defense (Baltimore, NYJ, NYGx2).

So how exactly is defense languishing here? When the team known for one of the most dominant offensive abilities loses consistently to the team with a strong defense, I'm not sure that the numbers are saying what y'all think they are.

13
by Will Allen :: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 10:02pm

Ask Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells whether the running game mattered in the 80s. Ask Jimmy Johnson about the 90s. Hell, even in the Walsh West Coast, the running game mattered.

I have mega-respect for Peyton Manning, but the strict enforcement of the 5 yard contact zone with receivers has changed the game for the worse, for someone like me that enjoys offensive line play.

14
by Red (not verified) :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 1:13am

If offensive levels had risen so high through the natural evolution of strategy and athleticism, I would have no problem with it. But knowing that the passing explosion is an artifically created phenomenon aimed to increase TV ratings just drives me crazy. I understand the NFL's efforts to promote player safety by limiting hits on defenseless receivers and quarterbacks; that's fine. What I don't understand is why we have to slant all the non-safety related rules in favor of the offense as well.

The first rule I'd change is to turn the 5-yard contact zone into a 10-yard contact zone. That would at least give DB's a fighting chance to distrupt the receivers routes without getting flagged. Speaking of flags, I would increase emphasis on offensive PI, since it seems as though WR's get away with a hell of a lot more pushing and bumping and armbars than the DB's currently do. I would also consider putting slight limitations on what the offensive linemen can do with their hands - not pre-1978 rules, but a little more restrictive than what we have now. Basically what I'm saying is that I don't care who wins between offense and defense, I just want it to be a fair fight.

15
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 2:46am

Better yet, Ask Dan Marino.

\Or Elway

42
by Kal :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 1:51pm

Similarly, Will - ask the Steelers if the running game mattered in the last 10 years. Ask the Pats in 2001 and 2003 and 2004. Ask the Giants. Ask the Ravens or the Rams. Ask Marshall Faulk.

It matters. It's just not the biggest deal. If you have a great defense or a great QB you can get by with an average running game. If you don't have one of those things you can't get by with a stellar running game. And that's been true for Joe Gibbs or Bill Parcells (both of which had great defenses), of Jimmy Johnson (who had a great QB and often great defenses), of Bill Walsh (the 49ers had a really underrated defense and, of course, amazing QB play).

If you can point me to a team that didn't have one or the other, I'd be curious. And even then, they'd still not be the dominant team; they'd be the exception.

61
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 1:26am

The 2006 Colts had neither a great D nor a great rushing attack. We could argue about the 2009 Saints, too.

71
by Kal :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 1:40pm

They both, however, had a great passing attack. And that was my argument. They fit that perfectly.

74
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 3:49pm

The existence of passing-only teams winning anything is both recent and rare.

The real odd-ball is the 2001 Pats, who on paper weren't great at anything.

17
by KB (not verified) :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 6:29am

Very well put. I have always enjoyed watching defense but do enjoy these new high powered offenses(especially the Packers). What Rodgers and the Packers offense did last year was probably the most amazing thing I have ever seen in any Sport. I have never seen a system ran that precise(Makes me wish I was more than a Peewee coach and could steal some of MM's plays). The scary thing for the other teams in the NFL is the Packers are just now entering their prime.

Looking back at 95% of dominate teams they all had good to great QB's. This league has for a long time been about the quarterback. Their is a big difference between the NFL and NBA though. The Quarterback can't play defense like a superstar in the NBA can. He needs help and if he doesn't get it he isn't winning a ring. Championships are still won by Defenses people!

Hopefully this all makes sense. Just worked 14 hours straight and it is very early in the morning. I chose not to even attempt to use good grammar.

26
by Lance :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 11:18pm

Re It's funny that we talk about this notion of the old school 'defenses rule' and how a defense can't get to the top any more, or how the running game was so dominant before and now it's all about the QB and receivers.

Really? Alex Smith and the 49ers have a dominant QB? Trent Dilfer was a dominant QB? Rex Grossman was a dominant QB? Joe Flacco is a dominant QB?

Have you been paying attention to passing numbers for the last decade? Here's the top seasons by passing yards in the NFL. Notice how the top is dominated by players playing in the past 10 years or so. Something has happened in the last 10-15 years to slant the game towards passing.

No one is saying that your list of sub-par QBs are dominant. But what they're saying is that when a guy like Matt Stafford has thrown for more yards in a season than Dan Fouts ever did, something's out of whack.

aving one helps, but if you go back and look at winners of the superbowl you have a few things that stand out:
-QBs really matter (Montana, Aikman, Young)
-Defenses really matter (Bears, Giants, 49ers)
-Running games haven't mattered much at all since, oh, the 70s at best. And even then - how many superbowls did OJ win? How many championships did Payton win? The best argument is for Emmit Smith, but he also had Aikman, Irvin and a great D as well.

I think you're wrong, led in part by the fact that you limit yourself to Super Bowl winners. Yeah, that's the goal. But let's agree that a Super Bowl win is somewhat determined by luck. What you really want to do is look at what was happening in the 80's and 90's, and you'll see that the best teams had a solid run-pass balance-- something you simply don't see now.

I'm looking at Pro Football Reference, and checking out various years at random. In 1980, the top 7 teams averages 2499 yards rushing and averaged 10.3 wins. In 1983, those numbers were 2571 and 9. Fast forward to 2009, and we have 2355 and 7.9. In 2012, those numbers were 2337 and 8.

This is, again, just a small sample taken blindly from the early 80's and then from the past few years-- perhaps a larger examination would show my above data points to be not representative. But what my numbers do show is that a) teams ran more in the 80's and b) the top-rushing teams were doing better.

You bring up OJ Simpson and Walter Payton and suggest that their having only 1 Super Bowl ring among them (Payton's in 1985) is proof that a running game didn't matter even in its perceived heyday. But come on-- there's more to a team's success than just one player's contribution. And one can counter that with guys like Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris, Franco Harris, Tony Dorsett, John Riggins, Roger Craig, and so on.

Indeed, most of the most prolific passing teams of the 80's that never won were criticized precisely because they lacked a running game-- Marino's Dolphins, Elway's Broncos, Houston's Run-and-Shoot offense led by Warren Moon, to name a few. Contrast that with the modern NFL, where no one would claim that Peyton Manning's failure to win more Super Bowls was because he needed more of a running game in Indianapolis. Ricky Watters-- Ricky Watters!-- was thought of as a major contributor to the 49ers success in the early 90's. (Just watch a replay of the Dallas-49ers NFC Championship from 1994 and listen to John Madden.) Would anyone think that a guy like Watters playing on a modern NFL team with an elite QB (trade Aaron Rodgers for Steve Young, for example) was a major factor?

As for the Patriots, you're again pinning too much on Super Bowl wins. The reality is that this insane passing offense of New England is putting them in a position to win Super Bowls in a way that prolific pass offenses from previous decades simply weren't able to do.

27
by tuluse :: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 1:39am

I have to disagree with your last statement. A prolific offense always put a team in contention, not matter how they got there. The problem isn't that being great at passing leads to success, the problem is that either passing greatly or stopping the pass greatly seem to be the only 2 ways into contention.

For contrast, I would point to the mid 80s Ram or late 70s early 80s Oilers. Those two teams were pretty much RB + Def, and that was it. The closest thing to that in the last 15 years has been the Ravens, but really the running game has not been constant for them, and I don't think it can be with current conditions.

28
by Lance :: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 1:57am

Sorry, tuluse, I didn't mean to imply that in the past it was running that led to success, where passing was an afterthought. My point was just what you said: there were several paths a team could go, and forming an offense around a dominant running game was one of them. That has changed in the last 10 or so years such that having an elite runner (e.g. Adrian Peterson) is no longer a viable option for a team to form an offense around. Or at least, it's much more difficult than before.

The earlier poster was arguing that running hasn't been a big deal since the 70's. I disagree and vividly recall when having a solid running game was an important part of many dominant teams. Nowadays, however, even mediocre teams feature QBs throwing for 4,000+ yards, and tossing 30+ TDs in a season expected for the league's best.

30
by PackersRS (not verified) :: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 11:27am

To me it's more than one thing.

The first one being the rule changes, or rather how the rules are called. Teams could not throw for so many yards because the middle of the field was considered no man's land. You could cover a WR with a LB, because he would simply kill the WR if he tried to catch it over the middle. You couldn't play a 5'9", 180lbs receiver.

But looking solely at the rules is simplistic. The Walsh 49ers won so much because they were ahead of their time in terms of offensive philosophies. You don't have to go much further to see teams picking QBs solely on arm strenght. There weren't option routes, dependant on coverage in the 80's. There weren't so many dome venues as there are today.

And there's also the factor of athleticism. Players nowadays are much more athletic than back then, specially on defense. They can cover ground much quickly, which makes running the ball much harder today than it was back then. A 280 pound DL can run as fast as a 200 pound receiver could in the 70's.

Another thing is the exponential increase in passer rating as a whole. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/222790-did-nfl-passer-ratings-spike-i... . Put you prejudice aside and actually read the article. Average QB rating has increased from decade to decade (except for the 70's), so it's only natural for the league to shift towards the passing game as it gets more effective. But what I found interesting was that the margin of increase has actually decreased . The shift from the 80's to the 70's was 9.3 points, but from the 90's to the 00's was 3.3.

So I don't think saying the current changes in the passing game are solely synthetical is right. There is a degree to it, no doubt, but I see it as a natural progression of the sport.

34
by Lance :: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 6:07pm

Re Another thing is the exponential increase in passer rating as a whole. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/222790-did-nfl-passer-ratings-spike-i... . Put you prejudice aside and actually read the article. Average QB rating has increased from decade to decade (except for the 70's), so it's only natural for the league to shift towards the passing game as it gets more effective. But what I found interesting was that the margin of increase has actually decreased . The shift from the 80's to the 70's was 9.3 points, but from the 90's to the 00's was 3.3.

I don't see why the league needs to facilitate passing more with rules tweaks when there's already a natural progression towards improved passing.

40
by PackersRS (not verified) :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 12:46pm

Maybe the natural increase is not enough for their view of what the game should be.

Maybe teams benefit the most (money) from superstar QBs, so inflating their stats and protecting them is their priority.

I can only speculate, but the natural progression, from what I gather, is there.

31
by eddy (not verified) :: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 12:17pm

I think you are quite mistaken about the Colts and Peyton Manning. First, their best years coincided with edgerrin james. After he aged and left for Arizona, do you remember the first round picks of Donald Brown and Joseph Addai? A lot of blame goes to the defense, but the colts run game was something the organization at tried to address, and their failure to consistently do so was a factor in their defeats. So, yes many people would claim that the lack of a run game hampered Peyton's SB goals.

33
by Lance :: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 6:02pm

Sure, in retrospect-- among people who remember the days when a running game was an important part of the NFL. But having been an avid NFL follower since the late 80's, I never recall the sports media elite talking about the Colts' lack of a running game as being a factor in their failure to win more in the play-offs during Manning's tenure. There was a lot of talk about defense, and a lot of talk about stuff like "clutch" and whatnot, but I don't recall much talk at the time about "if only they had a quality running game..."

41
by Kal :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 1:31pm

Again, who cares about passing numbers by decade? We're talking about what makes teams dominant. What is the big trend. And the big trends haven't changed significantly. We have the teams that have elite QBs and those teams do well - just like they did in the 80s and just like they did in the 90s. We have teams with elite defense that do well. What we don't have is teams that have elite running games dominating - but those teams haven't dominated since the 70s at best.

"As for the Patriots, you're again pinning too much on Super Bowl wins. The reality is that this insane passing offense of New England is putting them in a position to win Super Bowls in a way that prolific pass offenses from previous decades simply weren't able to do."

I don't see why. Dan Marino was considered to be a failure because of his lack of superbowl wins, but the Dolphins were otherwise massively dominant. If you want to throw them out of the 80s, you have to throw the Pats out now. Otherwise it's exactly like it was before - a team with amazing offense and star QB loses to defense-minded teams with strong balance overall.

I mean, we say how amazing the Pats have been - but their biggest successes have come not from the offensive side of the ball but from the defensive side. Their three superbowl wins came from a team with a strong defense, period - and they beat the team that was the offensive juggernaut in Peyton Manning!

Now, you can say that you object to the numbers increasing, and I guess that's fair; overall points scored are higher than they were before. But trending wise it's exactly the same as it has been for the last 30 years or so: dominant defenses win quite often. Great QBs win quite often. Dominant running attacks have not been by themselves particularly strong since the 70s. You may quibble about the numbers, but the results? The same thing.

44
by dryheat :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 3:44pm

It's damn hard to win a Super Bowl, no matter how talented the team is. You have to win, at minimum, three games against the best of the league. In the case of the recent Packers and Giants title teams, significantly more. There is such a small sample size of Super Bowl winners, it's futile to proclaim defense beats offense of vice versa, especially in a best-of-one format. To offer that the Patriots dominant offense has lost twice to the Giants better defense is a bit wacky. If a career special teamer doesn't make one of the great catches in the history of the league, the dominant offense completes an undefeated season -- one in which they beat the Ravens, Eagles, and Giants (albeit all closely) off the top of my head. If Welker holds onto a pass he almost always catches, or if Manningham doesn't hold on to a pass he almost never does, then the Patriots are 2-0 against the better defensive team -- and the Giants defense figured into none of those plays directly. Both times, the Giants held the Patriots offense to their season low in points, but both times the Patriots offense played well enough to win the game.

Injuries also happen, often an inopportune times. First Brady, then Gronkowski suffered significant injuries in the AFCG, both of which had a major effect on the way the Super Bowl played out.

I guess in sum, A great defense beats a good offense, or other similar platitudes that get thrown around, might not be true.

46
by Kal :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 5:22pm

Sure - but at the same time, crowning the Pats after having 4 amazing offensive seasons when they didn't actually win the big one is a bit silly too. That those offensive teams consistently got beat by very good defensive ones is an interesting sidenote to it.

I'm not saying that defense beats offense. I'm simply saying that the thought that dominant defense is dead is clearly wrong. And it is. Having a great QB is one way of likely getting yourself a chance at a SB win. So is having a dominant defense. But running games? Not so much.

49
by BJR :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 7:00pm

The Saints had the best running game in the league by DVOA in their Super Bowl year just recently. It went under the radar because they did it by committee, and Drew Brees was the star of the team. But it did happen.

62
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 1:31am

The 2007 Ravens were 5-11. Miami (1-15) beat them. That's a low hurdle.

45
by Will Allen :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 4:14pm

Joe Gibbs won Super Bowls in the 80s and 90s with Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien at qb, and, yes, an elite running game. Bill Parcells won a Super Bowl in 1990 with Jeff Hostetler. Since the 5 yard rule became a point of emphasis after that 2004 Patrtiots/Colts playoff game, in which the Patriots took a very physical approach to the Colts receivers, no team has won a Super Bowl without a qb who has a decent chance to go to the HOF. Just prior to that (within a few years) we had Super Bowl winners with Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer at qb. Now, it is possible that the 8 year run of SB winners with qbs who have a decent chance to get to the HOF (Brady, Manning I, Roethlisberger, Manning II, Rodgers) is an aberration like the eight year run from '92 to '99 (Aikman, Young, Favre, Elway, Warner), but the fact is Aikman's Cowboys DID have an elite rushing attack, as did Elway's Broncos. I think it is extremely odd that the dominant team of the '90s has the leading rusher of all time, and yet you don't think they were an elite rushing team.

47
by Kal :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 5:28pm

Joe Gibbs won superbowls in the 80s and 90s with a dominant defense. The running game was good. From DVOA:
http://www.footballoutsiders.com/dvoa-ratings/2012/1991-dvoa-ratings-and...

The Redskins had a -21.1% defensive DVOA. That's a stellar DVOA by standards. Their offensive DVOA? 27.2. Which is very good, but not great.

What's funny is if you look at the offensive breakdown: their passing DVOA was 65%. Their running DVOA? 5.9%.

WAS 27.2% 28.6% 2 65.0% 1 5.9% 9 26.0% 62.8% 5.4% 5.0% 6 -1.3% 11

So even your example doesn't hold up.

"Since the 5 yard rule became a point of emphasis after that 2004 Patrtiots/Colts playoff game, in which the Patriots took a very physical approach to the Colts receivers, no team has won a Super Bowl without a qb who has a decent chance to go to the HOF"

And how many superbowls were won prior to that with a QB that didn't have a decent chance to go to the HOF? Let's see - we had Brady, Warner, Favre, Elway in the last 10 years - the two that differ there are what, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson? That's not exactly a great sample size, nor is it particularly fair; you're comparing 7 years with 37 and seeing that the 7 year sample doesn't have bad QBs in it.

48
by Will Allen :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 6:06pm

1991 is not in the 1980s, right, and the 1991 Redskins did have the ninth best, by DVOA, rushing attack in the league.

Now, again, will you care to explain to me that the team with the most championships in the nineties, with the all time leading rusher, was not an elite running team? Or that the Elway/Terrell Davis Broncos championship teams were not?

50
by Kal :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 7:02pm

Wait - you're completely ignoring the fact that they had the best passing DVOA and claim that their running attack really mattered? Really?

And I claimed that Dallas had an elite passing offense. Which they did. They were #1 in both passing and rushing in 1995. They were #2 in both in 1994 and 1993. They were #2 in passing and #6 in rushing in 1992. So that still doesn't pass the test above; they were simply great everywhere.

As to Denver, you're right - 1997 they had a stronger rushing attack than passing attack by DVOA. However, they went back to being the #1 passing offense in 1998 as well as being the #1 rushing offense in 1998. So again...not so much. And in 1997 Denver had the #2 defense by DVOA as well. And in 1998 they had the #1 defense.

So yes, I'll happily explain to you that given the commonalities between other teams it was more important that Dallas had a great QB or a great defense than it was a great running game. I'll happily say the same about Denver. Since statistically, that's absolutely true.

Also doesn't do a whole lot to your argument about 'only a HOF QB' thing - Elway and Aikman both qualify there.

51
by Will Allen :: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 9:51pm

Perhaps you could diagram this sentence......

"We have teams with elite defense that do well. What we don't have is teams that have elite running games dominating - but those teams haven't dominated since the 70s at best."

....because it seems as if we are not speaking the same language.

Also, I already noted, when I raised the sublect, that Elway and Aikman qualified. Yes, we are necessarily talking about a small sample, given the change in emphasis on contact with receivers started only 8 years ago. However, in eight years we have had not only teams which were poor at running the ball win titles, but poor to mediocre at pass blocking as well, and not because they had elite defenses. Hell, the Colts almost won twice with that formula, the Giants were a poor blocking team overall this year, with an excellent defensive front and mediocrity behind it. The Packers were not above average at pass blocking. A team really doesn't need much at offensive line, running or passing, with great qb play, compared to when contact with receivers was not as strongly enforced.

Now, if offensive line play holds little appeal to you, fine. It does appeal to me, so this is not a positive change. There is no objective reason why anyone should share my preferences, of course, but please don't try to tell me that the importance of offensive line play has not declined, relative to other factors in winning football games, since the emphasis on contact with receivers was changed.

53
by Kal :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 3:27pm

"....because it seems as if we are not speaking the same language."Okay. Here's my contention: a team that is only average at defense and only average at passing will not win. A team must be great at one or the other. Now, they'll be better if they have a great running game - but you cannot have a team with just a great running game and mediocre passing and a mediocre defense do well.

We have examples of teams winning the superbowl with basically a great passing game and nothing else.
We have examples of teams winning the superbowl with basically a great defense and nothing else.
What we don't have - at least since the 70s - are examples of teams that have basically a great running game and nothing else. We don't have this in the 80s, the 90s or any time this century. The running game has always been paired with either defense or passing (and often both).

I love offensive line play. I think it matters a hell of a lot. But I think it matters differently than it used to. Cut blocks and getting multiple seams, zone blocking, multiple blocks - these things matter a whole lot more than simply a guy beating another guy up.

I would contend strongly that the best teams - especially the best passing teams - have often had very good offensive lines. With at least one standout. NE has Mankins, NO had Nicks, Indy had Saturday. We've seen major regressions in their performances when those teams have lost their players. GB doesn't have a great standout, but the line functions well as a core. The one team that has been good from a passing standpoint with a shitty OLine has been Pittsburgh, but even they've been a good running OLine - just not a great passing one.

Put it another way, Will - whether or not you think the OLine is important or not, the value put on the Oline by the checkbooks has increased MASSIVELY since the 70s. The LT is now an elite position. Star Guards (hah! try saying that in the 70s)are getting 7-9million a season - this is the same as elite running backs. Centers like Max Unger are getting 6m a season. Linemen are routinely drafted in the first round with the expectation that they will make a difference - and in FO's result column they often do make a huge difference. If the OLine play isn't important, well, the owners and GMs certainly disagree with you in that regard.

55
by Will Allen :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 4:26pm

If you had said that to begin with, I wold not have disgareed with it. However, this sentence......

"What we don't have is teams that have elite running games dominating - but those teams haven't dominated since the 70s at best."

.....is not even close in meaning to......

"a team that is only average at defense and only average at passing will not win."

If you think the Colts were a good pass blocking team the last 5 years Manning started for them, we will have to disagree. They lived off of Manning's ability to get rid of the ball quickly, either throwing it away, or more often than not, finding a receiver who is far less subject to physical contact than was the case previously. The Steelers team that lost a fairly close Super Bowl to the Packers was bad at pass and run blocking. The Giants offensive line last year performed poorly, even in the playoffs (I think Justin Smith just knocked Diehl on his ass again), but it didn't prevent them from getting the trophy, because a QB who gets rid of the ball quickly, in an environment where receivers are shielded from contact, more than was the case before, trumps bad pass blocking. The Packers are average at best pass blockers.

I cannot believe you are going to compare salaries from an era in which there was no free agency to today's situation, as means of evaluating relative value. As to today's situation compared to 10 years ago, there was chatter this year that Kalil was not a good pick at the 3 spot, because a dominant left tackle just is not as valuable as was the case when receivers had to work harder to get open. We are going to see the market for great o-linemen, relative to other great players, change, because the Giants, Colts, Steelers, and Packers have established that above average o-line play is no longer very important to winning championships. Hell, the Cards only lost a Super Bowl in the closing moments, and they stunk on the offensive line, passing and running. The had a great qb who got rid of the ball quickly, however, and receivers who could abuse d-backs who had to play soft by historical standards.

To believe your theory one has to buy one of two things. Either A) the emphasis on calling illegal contact with receivers has made no difference with regard to the ability of a receiver to get open, or B) what is required from an offensive line does not change with the ability of receivers to get open quickly, given a qb who locates the right receiver quickly, and throws quickly. Just as a matter of logic, why would one believe this was the case? Why isn't Belichik having his d-backs play the same way they did in 2003? Why would it not make a difference in what a pass blocker has to do, if receivers get open quickly more easily, and he is protecting a qb with a fast release and fast recognition?

58
by Kal :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 7:42pm

I'm sorry you took it that way, Will Allen; I figured you might be charitable in interpretations. Clearly I was wrong and I needed to be more precise. To be clear:
-a team has had the highest amount of success when they only had an elite defense and had average (or worse) running games and passing games
-a team has had the highest amount of success when they only had an elite passing game and had average (or worse) running games and defense
-no team has had the highest amount of success (or really much success at all) when they only had an elite running game and had average (or worse) passing games and defense.

Is that more clear?

As to the OLine - Saturday was a pretty good player. The Colts haven't had the best line, that's true - but it's certainly been decent. It was also very good for a while in doing schematically what it was supposed to. And without Saturday they especially suffered.

I already granted you the Steelers having a fairly suck OLine, though I would disagree about the run blocking - though the iteration that was playing and lost in the Superbowl was also injured.

"I cannot believe you are going to compare salaries from an era in which there was no free agency to today's situation, as means of evaluating relative value. "
I'm fine comparing it to 10 years ago if you like. LTs might be overvalued now, but the rest of the line has increased in value significantly. Compare at any point in free agency that you like - offensive line salaries are at an all-time high both in overall dollars and in percentage of available money. We had how many guards sign record deals in the offseason this year? How many high draft picks have been OLinemen (and not just tackles)? The notion that the OLine is not valued is simply on its face factually incorrect.

As to the market - if you like, you can use the GIants, Colts, Steelers and Packers as counterarguments as to the OLine importance - though that's entirely guessing what value there will be. I can also use the Pats, Saints, Ravens, Falcons, Jets, Texans, and to a lesser extent the Eagles as examples that you're wrong. Or I can point to teams that didn't value their line as much (Bears, Hawks) that you're wrong. Ultimately that's guessing, but the trend is inarguable - the value of the OLine as a whole has gone significantly up and is at an all-time high.

"To believe your theory one has to buy one of two things. Either A) the emphasis on calling illegal contact with receivers has made no difference with regard to the ability of a receiver to get open, or B) what is required from an offensive line does not change with the ability of receivers to get open quickly, "
First off, it's not a theory; again, the value of the OLine is at an all time high. That is actual fact. As to the theory that it'll keep going up, there's another thing to argue, which is that the ability to get open quickly is possessed only by a very small set of receivers, and the majority of teams have to take longer because of their talent.
Furthermore, the current style of most effective defense is to put pressure on the QB - guess what the most effective way of beating that has been?

60
by Will Allen :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 8:45pm

Kal, it wasn't a matter of charity. Words are not infinitely flexible in their meaning. Your first statement to me was that there not any dominant teams since the '70s with elite running gamnes. There is no possible way to interpret that statement, under a reasonable intepretation of the English language, as accurate. If you've retracted that assertion, fine.

Next you seem to be positing market efficiency in offensive linemen, by saying that because they are paid more today, relatively and absolutely (btw, do you have cite that establishes that they are paid more today than ever before, relative to other positions?), it proves that they are more valuable. It's not a crazy theory, but there is really no reason to think that the market for offensive linemen is efficient, especially over as short a time frame as 8 years.

As to your last question, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Roethlisberger, and Warner have established over the past 8 years that excellent offensive line play is definitely NOT the best way to neutralize pressure on the QB. That was my point.

64
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 1:56am

"We have examples of teams winning the superbowl with basically a great defense and nothing else.
What we don't have - at least since the 70s - are examples of teams that have basically a great running game and nothing else. We don't have this in the 80s, the 90s or any time this century. The running game has always been paired with either defense or passing (and often both)."

87 Skins
83 Raiders

Even more aberrant, the 01 Pats weren't great at anything.*

Now, if you just want teams that made the SB:
94 Chargers
95 Steelers
99 Titans
03 Panthers
05 Seahawks

We can argue about the 88 Bengals and the 98 Falcons.

So it's tricky, but you can ride a great rushing game and decent passing/defense into a Super Bowl appearance. Considering the 99 Titans lost by 3 feet, the 03 Panthers lost by special teams, and the 05 Seahawks lost because they forgot to pay the refs...

*except cheating

68
by InTheBoilerRoom :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 11:59am

I didn't look up all of your suggestions for teams that supposedly made the Super Bowl with great rushing, but not passing or defense, but I can tell you that DVOA does not agree with you on the '03 Panthers or the '05 Seahawks. I single these two out primarily for personal reasons (Panthers fan that lives in Seattle), but those two cases prove Kal's point more than yours.

The '03 Panthers had a pretty average offense overall, and actually ranked higher passing than rushing. They were 18th in overall offense, 17th in passing offense, and 19th in rushing offense. They also had a top 10 defense, which tells me they relied more on defense than anything else, which is how I remember that team.

The '05 Seahawks were the 1st overall offense, 3rd in passing, and 4th in rushing. They had the 16th ranked defense. That puts them in the great passing and rushing, average defense category.

And just to check on the others anyway:
- '94 Chargers were the 6th overall offense, 7th passing and 7th rushing
- '95 Steelers were the 12th overall offense, 11th passing and 17th rushing
- '99 Titans were the 3rd overall offense, 5th passing and 3rd rushing

I'm not sure how any of those qualify as great running offenses with nothing else.

I intentionally didn't mention the Redskins or Raiders, since we don't have DVOA for those years. And yes, the '01 Pats basically excelled at nothing.

75
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 3:52pm

The mistake is using DVOA.

Here's an example: The Paul Johnson Georgia Tech offense has an amazing passing DVOA and an average rushing one. That's because they throw 5 Hail Marys per game and run the ball 60 times.

According to you (and DVOA), that's a great passing team.

78
by chemical burn :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 8:45pm

If you can complete 5 Hail Marys a game, that's some pretty goddamned efficient passing. Every throw you launch up is a 60 yard TD? I'm with DVOA - that is one effective passing attack.

80
by tuluse :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 9:26pm

Yes it is effective, which is what DVOA measures. It doesn't measure the quality.

83
by chemical burn :: Fri, 08/17/2012 - 2:05pm

Ha! Let me know how to "measure" quality sometime. I'll be working on calculating the number of angels that can fit on a pinhead. If you want to argue that completing 5 60 yard TD passes a game with no incompletions is a low-quality offense, have at it. Every single team in the NFL, college and the arena league would be happy to field an offense of such low quality.

Just kidding. you're wrong. Quality in a football offense is measured in the amount of points it generates set against the number of plays needed to generate those points. 35 points on 5 plays is high quality.

84
by tuluse :: Fri, 08/17/2012 - 2:37pm

1) That isn't a realistic example

2) And if all 11 opposing defenders are withing 2 yards of the line of scrimmage because they're deathly afraid of the running game, which is the only reason the offense can complete *any* passes, which is of better quality, running or passing?

85
by chemical burn :: Fri, 08/17/2012 - 10:11pm

1) You are indeed correct that is not a realistic example. However, it was an example someone used to make their point. That's their fault, not mine.

2) You might notice this example is also unrealistic.

63
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 1:39am

The 1991 Skins lead the NFL in rushing attempts and were 3rd from last in pass attempts. They were the most heavily run-skewed team in 1991. The 1991 Skins passed rarely, and it worked when they did. Think of the recent Pats teams, but opposite. DVOA punishes increased attempts and rewards scarcity.

Also, in the adjacent seasons, their passing offense resembled opponents passing offense against the Skins defense. In a normal season, they were so bad at passing that even when doing so on a surprise basis, it didn't work. The early 90s Skins were clones of the mid-80s Bears -- stellar D, good to great running, and often NAIA-level QBing.

67
by Eddo :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 10:57am

You don't think the fact the '91 Redskins frequently had large second-half leads drove that run/pass imbalance?

69
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 1:28pm

A little, but their run/pass breakdown wasn't markedly different in their close games versus their blowouts in 1991, and was reasonably consistent with their profile in their less successful 1990 and 1992 seasons. They seemed like a team that ran when they wanted to and passed when they needed to. But they were fully capable of rushing in situations when the defense expected the rush.

Contrast that to the mid-2000s Colts, Pats, Packers, and Saints. Those teams didn't run even when they had a huge lead. Hell, the 2006 Colts ran more in close games than they did in blowouts.

The Pats had games were they were +15 passes in a game won by 59, +12 in a game won by 46, and +6 in a game won by 45.

The 1991 Skins were -6 in a game won by 2, -1 in an OT game, +7 in a 2 point loss, and +16 in a 3 point loss. They were -4 in a 39 point win, -21 in a 45 point win, and -18 in a 34 point win. This was a team that tried to run, and if that didn't work, passed. Modern teams pass, pass when that doesn't work, and then if all else fails, punt. If punting isn't working, they'll try a draw.

82
by Mr Shush :: Thu, 08/16/2012 - 11:40am

"Modern teams pass, pass when that doesn't work, and then if all else fails, punt. If punting isn't working, they'll try a draw."

Mostly true, although the 2011 Texans did play a number of games like this, even when Schaub was still vertical. Nearly twice as many runs as passes, and more yards per rush than yards per pass. That game's the most extreme example, but there were several others.

52
by Lance :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 11:47am

Re Again, who cares about passing numbers by decade? We're talking about what makes teams dominant. What is the big trend. And the big trends haven't changed significantly

Uh, that's the point of the discussion: that the NFL is becoming more of a passing league to the exclusion of running. So in fact, passing numbers by decade are exactly what we want to see.

This doesn't change when we look at "dominant" teams, and I don't know how you can claim otherwise. You argue that "dominant running attacks have not been by themselves particularly strong since the 70s" but this simply isn't true. Many of the major teams of the 80's featured strong running games-- Chicago with Walter Payton, or Roger Craig of the 49ers. The Giants featured a strong running game. So did the Rams. Hell, the Vikings traded away a small fortune just to get a dominant running back. Would anyone do that in today's NFL?!? This continued into the early 90's to a great extent: the Cowboys, obviously. Barry Sanders almost single-handedly took Detroit to the Super Bowl. Even though we think of the Bills as a pass-first team, they had a great running game, too. Ricky Watters was considered an important part of the 49ers' success in the early 90's.

Once the NFL began enforcing more strictly the no-contact-after-5-yards rule in 1996, teams offenses began to take advantage and shifted more and more to a pass-first philosophy. This was made even more dramatic with it was emphasized again after the 2004 season. The end result is what we see today: quarterbacks regularly throwing for more than 4000 yards in a season, the virtual demise of the fullback, the notion that tight ends are simply pass catchers, etc., etc., etc.

Look at the Dallas Cowboys-- a team with a long history of great QBs. But who has the single-season record for most yards in a season? It's Tony Romo. Indeed, Romo has the top 3 seasons. Say what you will about Romo (I happen to like him), but when every one of his seasons are among the top 10 in traditional statistics, you know that this isn't the same NFL as the one we saw 15 or 20 years ago.

54
by Kal :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 3:31pm

Do you really think that the Bears without a strong defense would have made the superbowl? Or won it?

Do you really think that the 49ers won primarily because of Craig and not primarily because of Montana?

I'm sure it's not the same as it was before. However, the same trends have continued for the last 30 years. There's more passing, less rushing, but rushing never was the reason teams won by itself. Wanting more of it I guess is fine, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking that there was some golden age of rushing where OLinemen were the most amazing thing ever and that a team could just win with rushing. OLinemen used to be the least paid players on a team. The list of great RBs without any superbowl rings is pretty long.

56
by tuluse :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 4:44pm

I'm pretty sure no one here has said that, and you're making a strawman argument.

57
by Kal :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 7:27pm

No, I'm not.

I'm responding to the point about Payton and the Bears or Craig and the 49ers. I'm totally willing to state that they had dominant running games; what I'm also stating is that this wasn't why they were dominant.

And bringing them up? Just occludes that point. Yes, they had great running games. But in the Bears' case, it was their defense that won them a superbowl and made them dominant in the 80s. In the 49ers case, it was their passing offense. In both cases the running game was not the primary show, and point of fact they did fine when they didn't have that running game. Same thing goes with Dallas - while Dallas had a great running game they also had a great passing game; my argument is that if you take away the passing game they are nothing special. If you take away the running game they still do fairly well.

Again, please point to a team that had an average defense and passing game but a great running game that had success in the last 30 years. Just one. I can point to several teams with shitty running games and shitty defense that did well. I can point to several teams with shitty passing and running games that did well. The running game just hasn't mattered as much. And it's been that way for a while.

59
by tuluse :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 8:00pm

The Bears are not dominant without Payton. I would definitely assert that. Yes the defense was almost other worldly, but without Payton I don't see how they score points.

What about the Rams, Bills, and Oilers, want to tackle how good those teams would have been without their running games?

65
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 2:06am

Walter Peyton was good enough that the 1986 Bears managed to go 14-2, and 7-0 with Mike Tomczak as the starting QB.

He of the 2 TD 10 INT 49% 50.2 rating. That's JaMarcus Russell/Ryan Leaf territory.

66
by Eddo :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 10:56am

You don't think the #1 scoring defense of all time, until the 2000 Ravens, had something to do with that 14-2 record?

70
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 1:33pm

I think it did. Basically, the 1986 Bears passing offense made every other defense look like the 1986 Bears. But the other rushing offenses didn't have Walter Payton.

But take a look at the 1991 Eagles to see what a historically good defense looks like when it has Bears-like passing and doesn't have a great running attack to go with it.

72
by Kal :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 1:49pm

Or the 2000 Ravens.

Wait, that actually argues against what you're saying. Sorry!

76
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 3:56pm

The 2000 Ravens were actually competent at passing the ball. A long way from good, but not "hide the children" bad, like the 1986 Bears. The 1986 Bears offense resembled an offense from 1946.

This probably argues more for how good that defense was, but the 1986 Bears are maybe a 9-7 team with an average running game with that set of QBs. But please, continue to elaborate on how no teams in the 80s or 90s could run to success.

77
by chemical burn :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 8:42pm

The 2000 Ravens were actually -16.2% in passing DVOA, which is not like unholy or anything. I know you've expressed in a thread up there skepticism of DVOA, but the 2000 Ravens didn't reach "competency" at passing by either traditional or advanced stats. They were bad, if not among the all-time worst. I highly doubt the '85 Bears were among the all-time worst either, though.

79
by tuluse :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 9:05pm

I'm going to guess that McMahon has positive DVOA for most of his career.

81
by t.d. :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 10:42pm

yeah, mcmahon also didn't lose a game (including playoffs) from mid 1984 through late 1987. those bears teams definitely were better with a decent passing game

21
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 2:28pm

Wow, I never realized how good the '98 Chargers run defense was. Makes me wonder what that team could have accomplished with relatively competent quarterbacking instead of the Leaf-Whelihan two-headed monster.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

29
by Andrew Milne (not verified) :: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 9:32am

Normalizing averages helps a lot, but have you considered normalizing variances too? It would be especially important for top-ten lists like this.