Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Nov 2007

Seahawks Follow Suit In NFC, Ride The Pass To Victory

In his recap of the Monday night game, ESPN's John Clayton notes the growing trend of NFC teams abandoning the run to a nearly unprecedented degree. New Orleans, Detroit and Green Bay all throw nearly two passes for every rush attempt. With Shaun Alexander doing nothing, it seems likely that Seattle will join that group over the second half of the season.

Posted by: Sean McCormick on 13 Nov 2007

25 comments, Last at 15 Nov 2007, 8:20pm by Rich Conley


by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 4:04pm

Have the Bears also gone this route?

by Matt (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 4:06pm

With Grossman? God help us all.

by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 4:07pm

Apparently not. They just can't seem to move the ball on the ground, either. It had seemed like they were moving towards more passing in general, recently.

by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 4:56pm

The total lack of a pass rush from the niners probably helped the seahawks. For the first half the niners got nowhere near Hassleback with their four man rush.

San Francisco seemed utterly unprepared for Seattle spreading their offense. It was pretty depressing to watch as a niner fan. I don't see any noticable improvement from when Nolan took over. Smith's technique has regressed from last season, probably due to the terrible coaching. However, with Nolan, Mularkey and Singletary on the defensive staff, I would have expected the defense to be more disciplined but the niner defenders were milling about for half the game with no idea what to do. The play where they tried to substitute and got caught with twelve men on the field when eveyone knew that Hassleback had to spike the ball was typical of their incompetence.

by Temo (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 4:58pm

I think it'll be interesting to see what Grossman can do his second time around. As Jaws noted yesterday, QBs are more likely to agree to change and learn the second time through.

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 5:01pm

Just a couple thoughts/observations:

1) Seattle has good depth at WR, I thought that they've played quite a bit with 3 & 4 receiver sets in previous seasons. Maybe just not out of the shotgun.

2) Does anybody think this has to do with offensive lines today being more adept at pass-blocking?

by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 5:04pm

Clayton is the master of stating the obvious and making it sound like Journalism.

This business of "establishing the run" and "you have to run the football" I think is garbage. You have to do whatever you can that will win you the game.

Mike McCarthy was on M&M this morning on espnradio. He basically said he was concerned because in November and December in Green Bay, you have to run the ball.

I know this is a more prevailing wisdom outside the confines of football outsiders, but it really annoys me for some reason that it's news that a team is passing more. Teams with good run defenses should be thrown on. Teams with good pass blockers but not good run blockers should pass more. Teams with good wideouts and quarerbacks and struggling running backs should pass more.

The converse is true the other direction. There aren't any absolute rules about what works and what doesn't -- it's all completely contingent on your abilities and your opponent's abilities.

Mainstream media go nuts when Manning hands the ball off to Addai. Newsflash: The Colts take what the defense gives them. So do the Patriots. So does every successful team, to one extent or another. How this counts as analysis or insight I don't get. It's not quite as bad as the ipso facto "run for 100 yards and win" fallacies illustrated by FO, but it's not cold fusion either.

by joe football (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 5:07pm

This forward pass thing is getting out of hand. I'd like the competition committee to take a look at it in the off-season

by mmm... sacrilicious (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 5:22pm

#1: I thought this article was about playoff contenders. :)

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 5:23pm

") Does anybody think this has to do with offensive lines today being more adept at pass-blocking?"

Joe, you mean the emphasis on not calling holding unless you actually see it, right?

I don't think its surprising that we've got two top 10 all time offenses right now, and 2 that are close.

by John Morgan (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 5:42pm

The greatest danger of this strategy is the increased chance of quarterback injury. Mike Holmgren went as far as to announce his team would be passing more and then starting the game with 16 pass attempts in the first 19 plays. The Hawks may have won, but allowing opposing coordinators to sit pass from the flip is a tactical error and strategic disadvantage.

by starzero (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 5:56pm

temo, have you ever seen rex play? he's had multiple "second chances" and his play has not improved. how long before his next 0.0 passer rating?

by Teximu (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 6:09pm


"Does anybody think this has to do with offensive lines today being more adept at pass-blocking?"

I think it has more to do with game officials being less willing to call offensive holding. There seem to be at least one or two egregious uncalled holds by the offensive line per game.

by Speedegg (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 6:35pm

Mike McCarthy was referring to winter conditions. A friend that played college ball said passing attacks can disintegrate in winter. Being in bad weather games, he thought that was the reason west coast teams pass and midwest/east coast teams run or run the option.

Wind, rain, snow, sleet, and cold do funny things to the football. At best, it's an incompletion, at worst it's an interception returned for a touchdown. Nevermind the botched handoffs, slips, missed snaps and bumbled field goals. Having a run game makes it easier to get through bad weather.

by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 7:26pm

Successful teams have known for many years, as long as some of us have been alive, that to consistently win, you pass to get a lead and then run to grind the clock.

Look at the Cowher-era Steelers, who had the biggest reputation ever for being a run first, run second and run third team. In reality, when Cowher first came to the team, Neil O'Donnell threw quite a bit in the first half, and when the Steelers got a lead, they ran the ball relentlessly to grind the clock and the opposing defense. It worked well.

Then came the Kordell Stewart/Mike Tomczak/Kent Graham years. If those guys are my quarterbacks... yeah. Might as well run 70 times.

Then came the Tommy Maddox era, when the Steelers once again went to passing early. It worked in 2002, but in 2003 the defense and the o-line broke down, the result being that they took to passing all game.

In 2004 the defense recovered, and Ben Roethlisberger was so awesome that the Steelers had a comfortable lead before halftime in almost every game. Result: They became the most run-heavy team in the league, never having to throw a pass in the second half of most of their games.

The story you've read a hundred times about the 2004-2005 Steelers is that Ben Roethlisberger was the young QB being hauled along for the ride behind the Steelers' awesome running game. It's the opposite of the truth; the Steelers got big leads early in games because of Roethlisberger, and then used their strong ground game to control the clock until it was over. When they did exactly this in the playoffs against Indianapolis and Denver, everyone (including Dungy and Shanahan) seemed shocked; but it's what the Roethlisberger era Steelers had, and have, always done.

It's not just the Steelers, of course. They're just the team I watch the most often, obviously. The Patriots and the Colts do the same thing. Good coaches know that you win football games in the present era with the pass.

by Darrel (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 9:01pm

Of course, the Saints should probably run a little bit more than they do.

by Brian (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 9:25pm

I think GB's running game is going to bite them as the weather turns.

DET may actually have a shot this year. They only have one cold/windy weather game in December, against GB on the 30th.

by Sean McCormick :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 9:35pm

It is worth at least referring to an earlier XP which noted that teams don't run any more often or any more successfully in December or January than they do in September. The notion that you need to run to win in cold weather venues is built on air. (Of course, anyone who watched the K-Gun Bills put up 44 and 51 in Buffalo would have figured that out already.)

by Christina (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2007 - 9:37pm

Re 11:

I think he was referring to a second chance after being benched. I don't recall Grossman ever being benched before.

by cjfarls (not verified) :: Wed, 11/14/2007 - 6:36pm

Re:15 -

To be fair to Shannahan, and give the credit that is due to Roethlisberger... in the Denver v. Pitt playoff game, playing Run D when Pitt passed was not the problem at all.

In the first half, Denver had Pitt in 3rd and long (7+ yards) like 7 or 8 times. Pitt converted every one of them, against whatever pass defense Denver tried... they rushed 3, they rushed 4, they blitzed 6, they ran zones, man-to-man... it absolutely did not matter as Roethlisberger would either just hit the open guy on the blitz, or sit back patiently and thread it through a hole. It was one of the best QB performances I've ever seen.

By the second half, Denver was so far down that it brought about "Bad Jake Plummer" (vs. "Good Jake") who tried to do too much to bring us back, and it was all over...

Of course, there was the fluky bounce (and _great_ Ward catch) off Bailey's hands which took what shoulda been a pick 6 into 1st down... that would kept things much closer, suppressed "Bad Jake", and makes me pine for what would/could have been....

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 11/14/2007 - 7:17pm


It is worth at least referring to an earlier XP which noted that teams don’t run any more often or any more successfully in December or January than they do in September."

Except those that do. About 1/3 of the teams in that XP DID run more in the last half of the season, and most of those were outdoor teams.

That XP was nothing more than misleading.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 11/14/2007 - 7:36pm

XP in link for those who care to make their own decision.

The "study" uses all teams (even jacksonville, etc) and doesnt not even take into effect that teams run more when they win. Losing teams and warm weather teams totally poison the study.

by Temo (not verified) :: Thu, 11/15/2007 - 2:48am

12: what 19 said, plus noting that I said "interesting"; I'm not making any predictions here.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Thu, 11/15/2007 - 1:15pm

Re 22:
Hey, look at that, the article describes your objection perfectly!

As I write this, I imagine that many a cynical reader is getting ready to call me an idiot, probably in ESPN Conversation (Beta!) below, because a global look like this shouldn't be used. Instead, I should be looking at only the franchises in cold-weather cities because those are the teams that would be most affected. First, I'll state that those cynics are wrong because a majority of the teams would be affected by weather based solely on geography. Second, I actually did the statistics for each NFL team and broke the stats into four-week blocks to show that there is no direct correlation of rushing yardage to cold temperatures and geography.

He then goes on to debunk your problems - it's almost like you didn't read the article.

The largest variation versus a team's season average within any four-week period over the second half of the season is owned by the Houston Texans, with plus-8 percent during weeks 13 through 16. Not only is Houston's average daily high in December is about 66 degrees Fahrenheit, but they also play in a retractable roof stadium.

The Jaguars post the second-highest variation at plus-4 percent. Daily high temperature in Jacksonville during December: 67 degrees Fahrenheit.

The standard deviation for all the four-week groupings is 3.7 percent. The Jaguars and Texans are the only teams that display a four-week grouping during the second half of the season with a variance from their season average greater than that margin.

The Giants and Jets play their home games in the same stadium. During weeks 13-16, the Jets differential is minus-3 percent to their season average, and the Giants are plus-1 percent. The Raiders and 49ers play a mere miles from each other in the Bay Area, but during weeks 9-12 the Raiders' run split has dropped three percent while the 49ers increase two percent.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Thu, 11/15/2007 - 8:20pm

"Second, I actually did the statistics for each NFL team and broke the stats into four-week blocks to show that there is no direct correlation of rushing yardage to cold temperatures and geography."

Except, for certain teams, there is. Look at the Bills.

The fact that the league doesn't run more as a whole during the winter, doesn't mean that certain teams dont.

Plus, measuring by yards instead of carries is silly.
plus it measures all teams, not just winning teams, and he doesn't take that into account. When you start allowing losing teams in, it totally poisons the data. Losing teams don't run the ball. They probably run the ball LESS in the cold weather because their opponent is running the ball and eating clock.