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DVOA has finally climbed on board the Wentz Wagon! The Eagles move into the No. 1 spot, but they aren't the only strong, well-balanced team in the NFL this year. New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and the Los Angeles Rams make this one of the best seasons ever for multiple teams over 30% in DVOA, and Minnesota isn't far behind.

29 Jun 2017

Run Offense By Number of Backs, 2016

by Rivers McCown

You know the deal. This is another of our stat posts breaking down information from the 2016 season.

Today we're looking at how offenses performed running with either one or two backs in the backfield. Did you know that once upon a time, teams used to use two running backs as a base formation? It's true. Jurassic Park was popular, and Mike Alstott was considered a big name because he got some goal-line carries.

For the purposes of this analysis, we're considering rushing attempts by any player who was lined up in the offensive backfield but was not at the quarterback position. Single-back formations mean one player other than the quarterback was lined up in the backfield and ran the ball; two-back or multiple-back formations mean more than one player other than the quarterback was in the backfield, and one of those players ran the ball. The numbers include direct snaps to a player who was lined up as a running back, but do not include:

  • scrambles;
  • quarterback keepers;
  • wide receiver or tight end end-arounds or reverses;
  • or "Wildcat"-style plays.

Only runs by a player who was lined up as a running back at the snap are counted.


2016 OFFENSE: Running with 1 or 2 RB in FORMATION (not personnel)
OFFENSE Pct 2+ RB Rk 1 RB Rushes 2 RB Rushes Difference
Runs Y/A DVOA Rk Runs Y/A DVOA Rk Y/A DVOA Rk
BUF 57% 1 154 4.6 7.4% 1 201 5.7 24.4% 3 -1.1 -17.0% 28
NE 51% 2 199 4.2 -1.8% 9 209 3.8 -2.1% 13 0.4 0.3% 18
GB 45% 3 166 4.8 2.6% 5 135 3.7 -17.9% 21 1.0 20.5% 6
CAR 44% 4 196 4.3 -21.9% 25 151 3.4 -16.3% 19 0.9 -5.7% 23
ATL 43% 5 214 4.6 -6.0% 15 164 4.8 5.4% 6 -0.2 -11.4% 25
TEN 40% 6 242 4.5 -8.5% 16 163 4.2 4.3% 7 0.4 -12.8% 27
DEN 40% 7 221 4.0 -26.9% 28 147 3.5 -17.8% 20 0.4 -9.2% 24
MIN 38% 8 199 3.4 -28.5% 29 124 2.4 -32.1% 28 1.0 3.6% 14
IND 34% 9 215 3.9 -0.5% 8 110 3.6 -10.6% 17 0.3 10.1% 10
HOU 31% 10 285 4.3 -29.8% 30 130 3.9 -9.6% 16 0.4 -20.2% 29
LARM 31% 11 218 3.4 -32.3% 31 99 3.0 -30.2% 25 0.4 -2.1% 20
PIT 29% 12 265 4.6 3.7% 4 109 4.2 2.0% 10 0.4 1.7% 16
CIN 28% 13 281 4.1 -2.9% 10 108 3.3 -8.8% 15 0.8 5.9% 12
CLE 28% 14 199 4.8 -5.3% 14 76 5.1 6.3% 5 -0.3 -11.6% 26
CHI 25% 15 264 5.2 -3.3% 11 88 3.2 1.5% 11 1.9 -4.7% 22
BAL 24% 16 247 3.7 -22.8% 26 80 4.9 7.4% 4 -1.2 -30.2% 30
OFFENSE Pct 2+ RB Rk 1 RB Rushes 2 RB Rushes Difference
Runs Y/A DVOA Rk Runs Y/A DVOA Rk Y/A DVOA Rk
NO 22% 17 289 4.7 3.8% 3 83 4.0 3.6% 8 0.7 0.2% 19
KC 22% 18 263 4.3 -12.5% 21 74 4.0 -31.1% 27 0.3 18.7% 8
SD 22% 19 296 4.1 -10.1% 18 82 3.4 -30.4% 26 0.6 20.4% 7
TB 22% 20 308 3.9 -24.2% 27 85 2.6 -26.2% 24 1.2 2.0% 15
SEA 20% 21 248 4.1 -13.6% 22 62 2.5 -24.5% 23 1.6 11.0% 9
DAL 18% 22 349 4.9 5.4% 2 77 3.6 -0.9% 12 1.3 6.2% 11
DET 17% 23 253 4.0 -16.3% 24 51 1.9 -51.0% 29 2.1 34.7% 3
NYJ 15% 24 316 4.3 -11.7% 19 54 3.3 -15.9% 18 1.0 4.2% 13
OAK 14% 25 330 5.0 0.2% 6 53 2.8 3.3% 9 2.1 -3.1% 21
WAS 9% 26 311 4.5 -3.8% 12 31 6.3 57.4% 1 -1.8 -61.2% 32
NYG 8% 27 342 3.8 -15.6% 23 30 2.6 -54.5% 30 1.2 38.9% 2
MIA 7% 28 333 4.8 -4.6% 13 26 2.3 -5.4% 14 2.4 0.8% 17
JAC 5% 29 307 3.9 -34.2% 32 16 1.3 -60.8% 31 2.6 26.7% 4
PHI 4% 30 366 4.4 0.1% 7 15 1.5 -23.6% 22 2.9 23.8% 5
ARI 4% 31 353 4.1 -9.4% 17 14 4.1 47.5% 2 -0.1 -56.8% 31
SF 3% 32 336 4.1 -12.4% 20 11 1.2 -62.8% 32 2.9 50.4% 1
NFL 25%
8,565 4.3 -10.3%
2,858 3.8 -8.1%
0.8 1.1%

Volume Comparisons

In 2015, the average team ran from a two-back set 29 percent of the time. In 2016? 25 percent of the time. In 2015, our beloved St. Louis Rams ran the ball with two backs 61.7 percent of the time. Last year, the Buffalo Bills were the leaders with 57.8 percent of their runs coming with two or more backs. Without Jeff Fisher to buttress their numbers, I'm not sure how the league will stay at 25 percent next year.

Only four teams have run with two backs 40 percent of the time over each of the last two years: Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina, and Green Bay. For Buffalo, things will likely stay the same. Sean McDermott has hired an offensive coordinator (Rick Dennison) who has a history of using two-back sets, and the team also signed away Pro Bowler Mike Tolbert from Carolina. Green Bay will also probably stay similar with fullback Aaron Ripkowski.

Atlanta lost fullback Patrick DiMarco, and Carolina, obviously, lost Tolbert. Both offenses could see some form of a shakeup if their UDFAs don't immediately pan out. Carolina did sign Darrel Young, formerly of Washington.

The three biggest dropoffs from 2015 were the Lions, Jets, and 49ers. The Lions fell from 45 percent to 17 percent, as they drastically cut the playing time of Mike Burton. This may have been a philosophical decision, the next step after trading out Joe Lombardi for Jim Bob Cooter at offensive coordinator halfway through the 2015 season. The Jets replaced Tommy Bohanon's 268 snaps with just three for Julian Howsare. Neither team seems likely to use much fullback next season either, though new Jets offensive coordinator Chad Morton has brought some to camp.

Moving from whatever you want to call Jim Tomsula's offensive philosophy (Harbaugh-ish?) to Chip Kelly made the 49ers drop from 47 percent two-back carries to a league-low 3 percent.

The biggest increases? The Patriots went hard in on James Develin this year, letting the Brown product and a big game-script advantage dramatically increase the amount of time they spent in two-back sets. They went from 27th in 2015 to second this year. They were joined by the second-most recent champions in Denver, who went from running out of two-back sets 6 percent of the time in 2015 to 40 percent of the time last year. The heroic rise of Andy Janovich, we'll call that.

Efficiency Comparisons

For all the emphasis they put on fullbacks, perhaps it's not the style Green Bay should be going with. They managed by far the biggest efficiency split in favor of single-back among the teams that actually ran from two-back sets often. That wasn't the case in 2015, though, when they were actually better from two-back sets by 8.1% DVOA.

Among teams with 100 or more two-back set carries, the team with the biggest split in favor of using the fullback was Houston. Of course, when your quarterback is Brock Osweiler and pulling the extra receiver loses nothing of value, why wouldn't it be better? So naturally, the Texans also had the opposite split in 2015, when they were better in single-back sets by about 7.0% DVOA. (Better in this case meaning "not quite as terrible.")

The only other team that used two backs often and was significantly better with them was Indianapolis. This should come as a surprise to nobody who follows the Colts, as they continue to espouse Chuck Pagano's '90s philosophies despite having one of the league's better quarterbacks.

In 2015, the league as a whole did better on single-back carries. Last year? The split was actually in favor of the two-back carries. Carries from one-back sets stayed relatively constant, falling from -10.3% DVOA to -10.6% DVOA. But two-back sets went from -16.8% DVOA to -8.1% DVOA. Whether that statistic has any staying power or is just a random variation of what is increasingly becoming a small sample size is up for interpretation. In theory, though, with defenses getting lighter and faster as a whole, it might make some sense for two-back sets to start to become a more effective counter-measure.

Another interesting note is that the teams that can't run effectively from two-back sets generally can't run effectively at all. Asides from Green Bay, every team with more than 100 two-back carries and a negative DVOA in those sets also had a negative DVOA in single-back sets.

We'll have a look at thse numbers from the defensive perspective next week.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 29 Jun 2017

14 comments, Last at 08 Oct 2017, 2:21pm by uspstrackings

Comments

1
by jtr :: Thu, 06/29/2017 - 1:54pm

Worth noting that the 9ers' big dropoff in 2-back sets also coincided with longtime H-back/fullback Bruce Miller being cut at the start of the 2016 season following a very nasty alleged assault.

2
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 07/03/2017 - 8:16am

Similar to the last topic, is an H-back a TE or a FB for purposes of this comparison?

3
by Andrew Potter :: Mon, 07/03/2017 - 9:34am

This analysis comes from our charting data, and considers only the number of players in the offensive backfield at the snap ie. behind the line of scrimmage and between the tackles. So an H-back would be considered a fullback if he's in the backfield, whether as a runner or blocker, and a tight end if he's at either end of the line or split wide. Even some receivers will be counted as backs in this analysis, because whether a player is counted as a back or not is purely based on where they were lined up when the ball was snapped.

6
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 07/03/2017 - 3:16pm

This needs example diagrams. =)

7
by Andrew Potter :: Mon, 07/03/2017 - 4:52pm

Not if they're drawn by me, it doesn't. >.<

8
by Theo :: Wed, 07/05/2017 - 7:09am

TGCGT
-H----

This is a Fullback.

TGCGTH

This is a Tight End.

TGCGT
-----------H

This is a Tight End.

9
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 07/05/2017 - 8:26am

It was that last one I was curious about.

Although in a college context, that makes wingbacks a wide receiver.

10
by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 07/05/2017 - 3:43pm

No it doesn't. You can have two tight ends to one side of a formation.

12
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 07/06/2017 - 3:25pm

You can have a tight end take a snap. The question was about how you guys were binning various positions and alignments.

13
by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 07/06/2017 - 6:37pm

Well, the NFL doesn't technically use the H-back designation on its rosters. Everyone is a tight end, running back, or fullback. Are there specific players you had in mind you were curious about?

4
by Raiderfan :: Mon, 07/03/2017 - 11:53am

So the "pass happy" Patriots lead the league in rushing attempts by non-QBs?

5
by Andrew Potter :: Mon, 07/03/2017 - 1:38pm

The Patriots ran a LOT more in 2016 than 2015. They averaged more than six extra attempts per game this year compared to last, 99 extra rushes over the season. That's just over a 25% increase in rushing attempts.

Almost half (46) of those extra rushes came in just the first four weeks, when of course they debuted two new starting quarterbacks.

11
by Mike B. In Va :: Thu, 07/06/2017 - 11:27am

Just for the record, the Bills signed not only Tolbert, but DiMarco. I think it's safe to say there will be a fullback on the field a lot this year.

14
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