Can Running Backs Get Into A Rhythm?

Can Running Backs Get Into A Rhythm?
Can Running Backs Get Into A Rhythm?
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Bill Barnwell

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2009 MIT Sloan Sports Analysis Conference in Cambridge. Not only did I get to put faces to the names of writers and analysts I've been reading for years (as well as meet several FO readers), but I was able to take in some very interesting presentations in the process.

One of those presentations was by Professor John Huizinga of the Chicago Booth School of Business, who worked with Sandy Weil on a paper called "Hot Hand or Hot Head?" The paper analyzes whether NBA players actually get a "hot hand"; essentially, whether a player is more likely to make a shot after making one previously, while also delving into which sort of players are more likely to think they have a hot hand.

It's a fascinating bit of research; for those who didn't attend the conference and are interested in Huizinga and Weil's findings, you can see their presentation here.

During their presentation, I started thinking about it in a football sense, and I was reminded of the essay that Shawn Krest did in the Ravens chapter of Pro Football Prospectus 2007, which looked at the idea of repeating carries on an individual level with yards per carry as the metric of analysis. The idea I see quoted more frequently is the idea that you can get a running back into a "rhythm" by giving him the ball multiple times in a row.

While Shawn's research was sound, there are some issues with the nature of running the ball multiple times and the situations teams were likely to find themselves in as a result that made me want to approach the dataset from a slightly different perspective.

What I did was take the entire league -- as opposed to the smaller subsets of individual players -- and simply track their DVOA on carries that occurred on plays where the previous play was not the player running the ball. That's listed as Carry 1, even if there were no subsequent carries. From then on, if the player carries the ball on the next play, it's Carry 2, Carry 3, Carry 4, and so on. For running backs, going anywhere past four consecutive carries plunges the sample below 70 carries to about 30 or so, so I'm only measuring up to four here.

In 2008, there was a clear and obvious trend. The DVOA of backs got worse with each carry, dropping off dramatically on Carries 3 and 4.

Carries DVOA Attempts
1 2.3%
2 1.5% 2097
3 -8.7% 396
4 -17.1% 74

This was relatively similar to the trends we've seen looking back at previous seasons. From 2004 through 2007, there were only instances of backs improving, on average, their performance on a subsequent carry relative to the previous one, and it wasn't by very much. The overall trend is still that performance falls off a cliff.

2007 2006 2005 2004
Carries DVOA Attempts Carries DVOA Attempts Carries DVOA Attempts Carries DVOA Attempts
1 -0.3% 1 1.0% 1 -0.4% 1 1.3%
2 -0.8% 2315 2 1.0% 2464 2 -2.2% 2396 2 1.9% 2350
3 -2.7% 489 3 -5.0% 481 3 -7.4% 506 3 -1.2% 523
4 -19.4% 97 4 -4.9% 110 4 -20.8% 115 4 -8.7% 132

Are there factors affecting this sort of research, too? Perhaps. Backs do tend to get repeated carries in short-yardage situations and close to the goal line, although there are plenty of instances of backs getting a first down on two carries and then running the ball from first-and-ten on a third carry. Backs getting consecutive carries are also more likely to be winning, which can indicate that their offense is better than league-average, or that the situation has deteriorated to the point where they're running the ball into the line and neither team cares to a level that DVOA can comprehend.

That mitigates the findings of this sort of research to an extent, but doesn't disqualify it. Running the ball with one player repeatedly to get him and your offense into a "rhythm" is only likely to put them on the sidelines.

On a final note, the most entertaining thing I discovered doing this research was from a Raiders-Jaguars game in Week 17 of the 2004 season. Check out the fourth quarter play-by-play. If I was Zack Crockett, I wouldn't have talked to Roland Williams for years. Or Norv Turner, for that matter. Ouch.


51 comments, Last at 19 Apr 2009, 6:54pm

#1 by Mountain Time … // Apr 09, 2009 - 1:10pm

The Z.Crockett TD drive would have been amazing.

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#29 by Bobman // Apr 10, 2009 - 12:34am

Sad sad sad.

Of course up in the owner's box, Al Davis was screaming himself into a purple apoplectic fit: "Throw the bomb! Throw the bomb! Throw the bomb, Cliff Branch is wide freakin' open!"

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#2 by jebmak // Apr 09, 2009 - 1:24pm

That totally sucks that he didn't score.

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#3 by panthersnbraves // Apr 09, 2009 - 1:39pm

I love it! run up the middle a bunch of times , so the opponent is expecting it, so you go play-action - and pass to the same guy!

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#4 by saintsmartyr (not verified) // Apr 09, 2009 - 1:51pm

I'd like to see the counterpoint where a running back runs up the middle and the gets the pass. Does that get better yardage?

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#5 by ABW (not verified) // Apr 09, 2009 - 2:17pm

They must have gone no-huddle, so they couldn't sub out for another RB, and given that Collins was at that point something like 12 for 30 for 100 yards with 2 interceptions and 2 fumbles(and would proceed to throw another interception and fumble again before the game was done), it kind of makes sense that the raiders wouldn't be that into throwing the ball.

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#9 by Bright Blue Shorts // Apr 09, 2009 - 2:43pm

"They must have gone no-huddle, so they couldn't sub out for another RB"

At the start of the drive there were 12 mins left in the 4th quarter and they were only down by a touchdown. That's plenty of time to score. Jacksonville's offense had only produced 12 first downs so even if you go 3&out, you'd expect to get the ball back again at least 2 or even 3 more times.

You look at the boxscore and Zack Crockett handled all the running that day ... JR Redmond? Amos Zeroue? Even Justin Fargas wasn't trusted to carry the rock in those days.

I'd say they got a bit of early success with Crockett on the drive and decided to stick with what was working. It always worked for Norv when he had Emitt in the backfield ...

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#21 by Independent George // Apr 09, 2009 - 5:04pm

You'll also notice that they called their first timeout with 0:12 left in the game.

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#6 by MJK // Apr 09, 2009 - 2:21pm

Interesting question. A couple of thoughts:

Assuming teams often run on 1st down, it's worth noting that the structure of DVOA itself is going to create something like the trend you see. I.e. you need 40% of the yards necessary for a 1st to succeed on 1st down, 60% on 2nd, and 100% on 3rd and 4th. So if you're averaging less than 4 ypc, you could run the same number of yards on every play and your DVOA would drop on consecutive carries.

Say you're MINI-ROBO-RB and run 2.75 ypc every time you touch the ball with perfect consistency. On first down you need 4 yards to be successful in DVOA's eyes, so you get 69% of a success. On second down, you need 4.35 yards to be successful in DVOA's eyes, so you get only 63% of a success. On third down, you need 4.5 yards to be successful, so the coach will probably call a pass, but if he doesn't, your 2.75 ypc will earn 61% of a success. Then, assuming the coach goes for it and doesn't call a pass, you will finally get the 1st down.

Next, one reason for seeing a drop on consecutive carries might be the "he's not going to fool us again" syndrome. I can see a defense, after getting gashed for three consecutive six yard carries, considering it a moral victory if they force the other team not to run again (or to run for only, say, 4 yards), even if they give up a 10 yard pass in the process.

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#25 by Pat (filler) (not verified) // Apr 09, 2009 - 8:02pm

So if you're averaging less than 4 ypc, you could run the same number of yards on every play and your DVOA would drop on consecutive carries.

No, V+ would drop on each successive carry. DVOA would not necessarily, since it depends on what the league average is in each situation. Gaining 2.75 yards on 1st down is pretty awful, so I'd imagine it would have the worst DVOA, even though its V+ isn't that bad. I'd imagine that the league average on 3rd and 5 is probably 3-4 yards, so even though the V+ might be worst, relative to the league average, it could be the best.

I'd also imagine that the league average on 4th and 2 is probably a little under 2 yards, so gaining 2.75 yards on the 4th carry would be a pretty decent increase.

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#7 by underthebus // Apr 09, 2009 - 2:39pm

Awesome article. I guess LBs and DLs are the players that actually get into a rhythm.

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#8 by dirtydog61 (not verified) // Apr 09, 2009 - 2:39pm

Wouldn't a more effective analysis of this supposed phenoma be to analyze ypc for backs who shoulder a higher % of their teams' rushing attempts? If the adage is true -- backs who, for instance, log 80+% of their team's rushing attempts in a game, would see a noticeable increase in ypc between carries 1-5, 6-10, 11-15 and 16-20. Perhaps there would too, be a significant drop-off after a high number of carries in a game. That, I would presume, coincide with the belief that a high number of rushing attempts would correlate to victory, and a back's final attempts would be more likely coincidental to running out the clock to preserve a victory.

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#10 by Chris (not verified) // Apr 09, 2009 - 2:49pm

Do RB's get into a rhythm or do defenses get more tired than RB's on subsequent carries?

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#11 by Bright Blue Shorts // Apr 09, 2009 - 2:57pm

I wonder how much this effect has to do with basic physiology? Running backs are essentially sprinters by which I'm assuming they're going pretty near top speed on a carry. Sprinting uses the ATP-PC energy system which can only last 8-10 seconds ... of course average NFL running play doesn't take that long but it's probably a good 3-4 seconds? The energy stores takes 3-mins to fully refill and I seem to recall that it's 15 seconds to half refill. With the gameclock now being 35 seconds the body isn't going to get the time it needs to fully recharge its energy stores thereby making it harder to go flat out on later carries.

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#12 by Temo // Apr 09, 2009 - 3:20pm

Defenders go top speed/effort as well.

"Then again, I'm a Bobby Carpenter believer." -- Barnwell

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#14 by Bright Blue Shorts // Apr 09, 2009 - 4:08pm

Asbolutely I did consider that ... obviously linemen don't really go very far so we probably don't need to consider them; but the LBs and secondary definitely. And of course we know that defenses do get worn down by end of game against good offenses.

I'd suspect, but it's only my surmising, that defenders are slightly better conditioned in terms of stamina as they are constantly running around, trailing plays; whereas offensive players get to 'take plays off' when they're not the focus. What do you think?

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#13 by Dales // Apr 09, 2009 - 3:33pm

Cool stuff.

One thing that might be interesting to see as a comparison (or perhaps as a control) would be to compare this to the results when you do it the same way except where the carries are not all by the same runner, to see if the DVOA dropoff is consistent for multiple carry streaks even for teams that are splitting carries among different backs.

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#15 by Kenneth (not verified) // Apr 09, 2009 - 4:16pm

That's exactly what I was thinking.

My guess is that pounding the rock play after play is going to cause you problems whether you swtich runners or not.

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#20 by Dales // Apr 09, 2009 - 5:03pm

I suspect so too, but I also suspect that the dropoff is more severe when it is the same player running all of the plays.

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#16 by dsouten // Apr 09, 2009 - 4:16pm

This article reminded me of a related topic:

Has FO ever published anything about a strong running game supposedly tiring out a defense? I think all football fans have asked themselves why the offensive line (and RB) doesn't get equally as tired as the D-line.

A)Is there any evidence that this phenomenon actually exists, as opposed to being another BS sportscasting cliche?

B)If it does exist is there any rational explanation folks are aware of?

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#19 by Keith (not verified) // Apr 09, 2009 - 5:00pm

I have thought about this too. My best guess, and this is something loosely considered during my high school years even during soccer, playing defense is more tiring because of the "catch-up" factor. The defense is always trying to figure out and catch up to whatever the offense is doing.

The offense can simply focus their energy on one aspect of the field -- passing or blocking. Aside from a blitzer or pass-rush specialist, most defenders must watch ALL areas of the field. A running back's only goal is to find a hole and hit it when he has the ball. An offensive lineman's is to maul the guy in front of him. Even a defensive lineman must do more than that: maul the guy in front of him, THEN chase the quarterback; or, maul the guy in front of him, THEN chase the running back; and so on for each new target. The change of direction is probably the huge difference. The defense literally goes two directions during a play. The offense goes one.

Therefore, I say, the defense does twice the work.

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#24 by Vincent Verhei // Apr 09, 2009 - 7:14pm

The very first piece ever published on FO looked at that question. I don't know if it's still out there, but the answer is: No, absolutely not, running the ball a lot does not tire out a defense. "Establishing the run" is great if you're picking up 4, 5, 6 yards at a time, because you're moving the ball and picking up first downs. There is no benefiting to running for 2-yard gains over and over again.

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#33 by Mr Shush // Apr 10, 2009 - 6:26am

From what I remember, it proved that "establishing the run" did not lead to winning, not that it didn't tire out the defense. Those propositions are related, but they're not identical. I've never been particularly impressed by that article, not least because I don't think it thinks "establishing the run" means what I think it means. Moreover, I seem to remember research done last season (by Barnwell?) which seemed to strongly suggest that "establishing Brandon Jacobs" did indeed tire out the defense - that running Jacobs early produced YPC increases for Ward and Bradshaw later.

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#45 by dsouten // Apr 11, 2009 - 11:11am

If Vince was referring to the Win To Run/Run To Win argument I am familiar with it, but that's not quite what I'm asking. I'm referring more to a 12 play drive in the 4th quarter where what you get from the announcers is that the defense has been on the field so long and the age old question of why the offense doesn't also get tired. I've seen some related opinions expressed elsewhere in these comments but was wondering if there was anything formal on the subject.

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#50 by Tom Gower // Apr 13, 2009 - 6:24pm

Here is the "first" FO piece, looking at "run to win."

A couple different ways to formulate the question, leading to different results:
1. Backs with more carries run better. This was in PFP a couple years ago. With the exception of Eddie George after 25 or 30 carries, this was generally false.
2. Teams run better as the game goes on. I don't remember a specific piece on this, but I think this is linked to the strategic factors-easier to run when losing, harder when winning-more than the frequency of rush attempts.
3. Running early with Back A produces gains later with Back B against a tired defense. I have a vague memory of reading this somewhere-maybe in the Giants chapter or a separate essay in PFP08?

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#51 by Packer Pete (not verified) // Apr 19, 2009 - 6:54pm

I see your point about defensive pursuit, but coaches change out defensive personnel, especially linemen and linebackers, much more than coaches change out offensive linemen. While a defensive lineman might be expending more energy on each single play, over the course of the game the offensive lineman plays many more downs. Seems to even things up.

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#27 by Kibbles // Apr 09, 2009 - 11:10pm

B)If it does exist is there any rational explanation folks are aware of?

Dr. Z. once addressed this in one of his mailbags. He said that the offense has the benefit of knowing where every play is going all the time, so when a player KNOWS he's going to be away from the play, he can go less than full speed and conserve some energy. The defense doesn't have that same advantage, which means they must go full speed on every play.

Of course, the defense has a huge advantage that the offense doesn't. In order to drive down the field, the offense must win every battle. In order to stop a drive, the defense only needs to win once. As a result, defensive coordinators can platoon their players, taking them off the field in certain situations and letting them catch their breath, reasoning that even if there's a bit of a dropoff to the next guy down, the defense still benefits in the long run because the starters are suddenly more likely to make that one necessary drive-killing play because they're fresher. Defensive players who are on the field for even 90% of the team's snaps are almost unheard of. Defenders who are on the field for 80% are pro bowlers and all-pros. Some defensive linemen, even truly elite linemen such as Haynesworth, only play 60% of the defense's snaps. On the other hand, it's UNHEARD OF for a coach to take an offensive lineman out for a play or two to catch his breath, because again, all the defense needs is that one victory to kill a drive. If a defensive linemen wins one time out of five, he's an all-pro. If an offensive lineman loses one time out of five, he's a scrub.

I suspect that the two factors serve to cancel each other out. Offenses can stay fresher because they can conserve energy on plays in which they are a non-factor. Defenses can stay fresher because they get to literally take plays off, as in watch them from the sidelines. The net result is that both units stay comparably fresh- which isn't to say that offenses don't have the advantage in the whole exchange. After all, they're the guys who are forcing those defensive all-stars over to the sideline.

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#32 by Mr Shush // Apr 10, 2009 - 6:22am

DeMeco Ryans plays north of 97% of the snaps - he only comes off the field if he requires treatment for an injury. I seem to remember from wherever I read this (here? PFP?) that this was quite common in top middle linebackers. I would guess the number would be similar for guys like Tatupu and Willis, and that Urlacher is one of the Bears in question.

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#35 by Omroth-UK (not verified) // Apr 10, 2009 - 7:15am

In order to stop a drive, the defense only needs to win once.

That's not true is it? They have to "win" three times really, or do acceptably twice and then win.

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#36 by jebmak // Apr 10, 2009 - 11:33am

I always feel like it is the defense that has to win three times in a row, but the offense just has to win once.

Incomplete pass, incomplete pass, first down! Son of a ...

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#37 by MJK // Apr 10, 2009 - 11:44am

I would disagree with your characterization that the offense must win every battle. If you mean "battle" to mean "Play", then the very structure of the "downs" system means that the offense really only needs to win one out of every three battles to keep a drive going. Ask any team with a bad third down defense...there's nothing more frustrating than for your defense to get the offense facing 3rd and 12 and then disappointingly give up the first down conversion, repeatedly. The defense winning once...e.g. getting a sack, or stopping a play for no gain, does not stop a drive. The defense really needs, on three consecutive plays, to win solidly at least once and partially win on the other two.

If you mean that, on a given play, the defense must win every battle for the play to work...I would disagree with that, too. That's true on the O-line--all it takes is one blown block to doom an offensive play--but the opposite is true in the secondary. It doesn't matter how well three of the recievers get blanketed by the DB; if the last player gets Duane Starks-ish coverage, a good QB will find him and the play will succeed.

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#38 by Dennis // Apr 10, 2009 - 11:54am

"Of course, the defense has a huge advantage that the offense doesn't. In order to drive down the field, the offense must win every battle. In order to stop a drive, the defense only needs to win once."

I disagree. The defense has to win 3 (or sometimes 4) in a row to stop a drive. The offense only needs to win once to get a first down.

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#42 by Kibbles // Apr 10, 2009 - 5:28pm

Responding to posts #35, 36, 37, and 38 simultaneously... My "the defense only needs to win one battle" comment was meant to hold true on several levels.

The first level is in a one-on-one matchup level. If you have 10 guys on defense doing a mediocre-to-poor job, while the 11th goes unabated to the QB, that's a sack. On a running play, if 10 of the defenders get stonewalled while the 11th sheds his block with ease, that's a tackle for a loss. On a pass attempt, all it takes is for one d-lineman or LB to deflect the ball, one CB to jump the route, or one safety to hit hard enough to dislodge the ball before possession has been established and you've got yourself an incomplete (or better, an interception). On offense, there's very rarely anything even close to equivalent- outside of a Michael Vick or Barry Sanders epic scramble, the offense needs to win MULTIPLE battles on every play (on a passing play, for instance, all 5 linemen need to hold their blocks, the QB needs to deliver an accurate pass, the receiver needs to get open, catch the ball, and secure it). As a result, the defense is more willing to live with stretches of poor play if it increases the likelihood of getting those flashes of stellar play (in this example, the "stretches of poor play" equates to taking your star DE off the field to let him rest up").

The second level is on a play-by-play level. Yes, it's true that an offense only needs one good play to get a first down, but it's equally true that sacks are unbelievable drive killers (I forget the exact statistics, but check out the percentage of scoring drives that included a sack in them at one point or another and you'll see what I mean). The fact that sacks are both a loss of yardage *AND* a loss of down is an incredible detriment to an offense. And, of course, a turnover is an instant game-over for offense. An offense needs to avoid a turnover on EVERY play to succeed, while a defense only needs to force a turnover once. And yes, an offense needs only one good play to get a first down... but they need more than one first down to get a TD. A defense only needs to succeed once on third down, whereas the offense must succeed every time.

It's true that there are exceptions (the bomb TD pass, the 90 yard run, etc), but there's a reason why "bend but don't break" is a viable strategy for a defense, but not so for an offense. A "Robo-Defense" that allowed every offense to drive to the 10 yard line and then came up with a turnover would be the best defense in the league. A "Robo-offense" that drove to the 10 yard line on every drive and then coughed up the rock would be the worst.

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#46 by AlanSP // Apr 11, 2009 - 5:46pm

I still don't think that's really true on either level. At the level of an individual play, the offense doesn't need to win every battle at all. In coverage, only one of the 2-5 guys running routes has to get open. That's why teams with shutdown corners like Nnamdi Asomugha or Champ Bailey in his prime still aren't necessarily great defenses. Also, running the ball doesn't require every blocker to win his individual matchup either, just enough of them to open a hole; even then a defender that sheds his block still has to win another "battle" with the runner by making the tackle. The same is true for passing to some extent. Lineman that get through the offensive line still have to make the sack.

On top of that, defensive penalties other than offsides/encroachment are all automatic first downs while most offensive penalties result in a loss of yardage and replaying the down. Offensive and defensive pass interference are particularly stacked in the offense's favor.

Saying that the offense needs to pick up every 3rd down neglects the fact that the defense needs to get them into a 3rd down situation in the first place. Plenty of first downs are picked up on 1st or second down. As to turnovers immediately ending a drive, touchdowns also immediately end it and those are more common (1122 rushing/passing TDs vs. 793 turnovers league-wide this past year).

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#48 by Kibbles // Apr 12, 2009 - 12:26am

I never said that the offense needs to win EVERY battle, but they certainly need to win a lot more of them than the defense does. The reason why defenses with Bailey or Asomugha aren't automatically great defenses is because Bailey and Asomugha are each one player- an offense with *insert offensive superstar here* isn't necessarily a great offense, either, for the same reason. Still, you can't deny the fact that an offensive lineman needs to succeed 90% of the time in order to be great. A QB needs to succeed 60+% of the time. An RB needs to succeed 50% of the time. A WR needs to succeed ~60% of the time. On the other side of the coin, DLs and LBs have a much lower success threshold. No one has topped a 10% sack rate since 2001 (most years, no one even cracks 9%). If an LB makes 10 tackles a game he's an all-pro, and that only puts him at the scene of about 16% of the plays that the opposing offense runs. CBs have a pretty high success threshold, but not really any higher than the WRs that they're covering (40% success rate allowed = elite CB season). Why is the standard for success so much higher on offense? Because by and large it takes far more "wins" from an offense to score the football than it takes from the defense to prevent a score.

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#17 by Chris (not verified) // Apr 09, 2009 - 4:52pm

11- I don't think RB's a running 100% top speed on every play, it is far to common to see RB's over run their blocking and hit the hole too EARLY. Younger backs have to learn to be patient and THEN when the see the crease hit it hard. It's a skill, it's not like lining up on the blocks and running as fast as possible at the sound of the gun, or maxing out on the bench press. I don't think they are burning out all their ATP in a carry ...

16- I believe it is true that it is easier to run the ball at the end of games and that more yards are picked up ( and picked up in chunks) at the end of games (without looking up the statistics).

Offensive teams aren't usually subbing in O-Lineman, but defensive teams rotate D-Lineman a lot. Why is that? I belive it is because the D-Lineman must constantly run and pursue... That defense end can't just say " hey, the play isn't to my side", they have to run and chase and take angles up field in case his guys miss the tackle.

On defense, you have 11 guys "maxing out" every play ( minus Vernon Gholston), and they have to run/chase. An offensive lineman might make sure his lane is sealed off and sometimes keep going downfield to look for other guys to hit, sometimes not. It is more physically tiring to play D-Line than offensive line.

WR's, RB's rotate on offense due to the nature of the position, but you see defensive lineman rotate a heck of a lot more, you see some LB's step out on 3rd downs due to pass coverage ( and fatigue).

I do believe it is easier to RUN the football in the 4th quarter as opposed to the first, based on a more tired front 7. If one outside guy doesn't hold the end or blows a tackle, it means more yards given up and more work for everybody else.

Late in games, you can also see tired pass rushes... If those DE's are exhausted and not properly conditioned, they won't be getting near the quarterback. Sometimes a DE can have an almost comical attempt at a pass rusher later in games...

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#34 by Mr Shush // Apr 10, 2009 - 6:34am

I think it's probably about pass-blocking being less tiring, to be honest. I suspect that run-blocking, chasing down a runner and rushing the passer all require roughly the same amount of energy expenditure, but that dropping into pass protection requires significantly less, so offensive linemen are using less energy than defensive linemen on roughly half their plays. Moreover, I would guess that quarterbacks use substantially less energy than anyone else on the field during run plays, and that running a route uses less energy than covering it, because when you know where you're going there's no wasted energy in getting there.

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#18 by Chris (not verified) // Apr 09, 2009 - 4:54pm

DS- So in short I'd say "Pursuit", D-Lineman rotate more than O-lineman, but RB's do rotate, and a lot of teams do have "3rd down specialists" that also help break up the work load.

You see DE's rotate all the time, but NOT offensive Tackles. I believe that is due to the run and chase pursuit.

Lineman could just cut a guy if the play is to the other side of the field, where as a D-Lineman is supposed to try and get up and run after the ball ...

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#22 by CJS (not verified) // Apr 09, 2009 - 5:18pm

Is there any way to break this down by quarter, and then control for situations in which teams were running out the clock? The point on having a more effective offense if you're ahead and running out the clock is at least counterbalanced by the cruising effect of sitting on a lead (with the exception of certain blow outs when the defense just stops trying).

Also, overall, I usually hear "a rhythm" used to mean getting a RB involved in running the ball, but not necessarily with consecutive running plays. It would seem to me that you'd look at carries per drive or something to test that kind of proposition - or compare overall performance in a game for RBs who get high carries in the first quarter. Something like that.

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#23 by pouringlizards (not verified) // Apr 09, 2009 - 6:28pm

I would guess RB rhythm would be less about their relative levels of endurance and more about Defensive Tackles and ends wearing down. I guess the extra 300-pound guy (or two, vs the 3-4) the Offense has makes the difference over 60 minutes.

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#26 by Trust Doesn't Rust (not verified) // Apr 09, 2009 - 11:00pm

Shouldn't you be able to come up with a better definition of rhythm than getting the ball on consecutive downs? Wouldn't it be more like a running back getting the ball on a certain percentage of plays on the same drive, or a certain percentage of plays in the first couple of drives?

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#30 by KyleW // Apr 10, 2009 - 4:22am

That's my main problem with this too.

Surely any complete analysis of this needs to first look at what is viewed as running back rhythm, then look for it statistically. Giving a guy the ball 4 times in a row isn't what springs to mind when announcers mention rhythm. I prefer the idea of looking at DVOA/YPC for carries 1-5, 6-10, and so on as suggested above. That would seem to reflect rhythm more than this study would.

Does this one take into account whether the back in question carried the ball again? To me it has the possibility of trying to assess if a back who receives the ball for the 1st 4 plays and then never again for the whole game has gotten into a rhythm.

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#39 by Dennis // Apr 10, 2009 - 11:57am

I have the same problem with the article. When I hear mention of running backs getting into a rhythm, it's always in the context of getting a lot of carries throughout the game, not consecutive plays.

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#31 by BillWallace // Apr 10, 2009 - 4:27am

lol Raiders

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#40 by BywaterBrat (not verified) // Apr 10, 2009 - 12:36pm

Thanks for keeping the cover cool on my unbeatable Madden strategy (and no sissy outside running)...for those of you who think you are good because you can go undefeated on All-Madden, try going undefeated at a difficulty level of 19. Working on 20 now...

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#43 by Tony (not verified) // Apr 10, 2009 - 11:52pm

As a collegiate O-Line coach getting my first crack as a run coordinator, this article definitely intrigued me. It could just be my understanding of the term, but I think Bill might be slightly off with where he was looking. When I think of establishing a rhythm in a run game, I think of calling a certain play a few times (not in a row) to set up its reads. An A-Gap power or zone run might need a few reps to get going because they tend to set themselves up for a big play via cutback. That being said, you have to call that play within an overall game plan. Obviously a team that calls the same person's number, especially at the pro level, better have a Pro Bowl punter. I'd be interested to see the correlations between teams that run to the same zones over and over when they run the ball early.

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#44 by Jerry // Apr 11, 2009 - 2:01am

The hard part is coming up with the data of what zone (beyond left/right/middle) teams are running to.

Good luck with the new gig.

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#47 by Joseph // Apr 11, 2009 - 10:27pm


I agree with you about the same play in the course of the game setting itself up. We had a picnic for my son's birthday yesterday, and played a game of 4-on-4 flag football. Second drive, 1st down at about the 10/12 yd line, we called a basic sweep right with halfback option to throw back to the QB (me) leaking out to the left flat. Halfback's dad went after him, not me; had he not blocked the pass, I could have "moonwalked" into the endzone. Next drive, we called the same play. Dad stayed with me, 20 yd gain on the sweep. We ran that same play another 3/4 times in the game, with good gains.
Ran another play multiple times in which we faked a reverse with the halfback above keeping the ball as the QB on a bootleg type action. Worked for a TD after NOT working the first time.
To me, these type of actions are offensive coordinator 101--certain plays/formations setting up others via play-action, reverses, halfback passes, etc.
As running game coordinator, I hope you have backs with different styles that you can use to effectively hit the defense with "changeups. (similar to the Giants the last two years)

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