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Helping the Chiefs chances of a Super Bowl: The run game

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So here we are in part three of the series. This article will be dedicated to examining what the Chiefs will need from their running game to give themselves the best chance of winning a Super Bowl. Previously we covered what the Chiefs need to do in terms of drafting a quarterback as well as passing game production.

There are two immediate questions I'd like to ask (and hopefully answer) in this article:

1. Is the running game dead in the NFL?

2. Does having a good rushing attack help teams win Super Bowls?  -- or is it unimportant?

Let's start by looking at how the NFL's running game has changed over the years.

The 'De-Evolution' of the Running Game

The average number of attempts have steadily dropped since 1970. The large spike in the late 1970s is probably due to the illegal contact rule being implemented, which encouraged more passing.
Ever since 2000 the average team rushing yards in the NFL have been fairly level. There are smaller peaks and valleys, but there hasn't been a massive shift one way or another.
Yards per attempt have risen. This makes sense because total yards haven't changed while attempts have begun to drop. There have been ups and downs but overall since 2000 the average NFL teams rushing yards per attempt have been on the rise.
This is kind of the tale of two graphs. The first half before the mid 90s shows a dominance in rushing touchdowns. Somewhere in the mid 90s NFL teams began choosing to pass at the goal line more frequently. Once again there are some bumps in the graph after 2000, but after the mid 90s rushing touchdowns became less prevalent.
If you want to keep a job in the NFL you had better hold onto the ball. Fumbles are at an all time low as teams in the NFL are very harsh on players with fumbling problems. Either that or you know the whole 'deflate-gate' thing? Maybe there was a 'lube-gate' in the 70s and 80s. Thirty fumbles a season seems ridiculous in todays NFL!

Is the Running Game Dying in the NFL?

If one were to look at the trend in the rushing attempts graph, they might think the NFL is slowly making the running game less of a factor. I would agree with this. The running game in the NFL has been less prevalent now than it ever has been in the past.

That doesn't mean running backs are getting worse. In fact, if you look at the yards per rushing attempt numbers, they've actually gotten better. It's likely the reason rushing attempts have become lower and lower is due to the massive success passing offenses have had in the recent NFL. While the average NFL team's run game has gotten better, their passing game has gotten 'more better.'

Is the running game dead in the NFL? No, it's not dead, but it certainly isn't healthy, nor is it getting the attention it used to get.

Since there has been a shift in the NFL's mindset towards running the football we are only going to look at rankings from Super Bowl teams after the 2000 season. Because the numbers are fairly steady after 2000 we won't need to adjust for inflation like we did in Part II of this series with the passing numbers. We'll use these rankings to decide what kind of rushing attack the Chiefs need to up their chances for winning a Super Bowl.

Digging Into NFL Rushing Rankings and Super Bowls

Before we get deep into the rankings and numbers, I wanted to share a small finding I made while compiling this data.

Through the 1980s, the Chiefs didn't run the ball very often. Once Marty Schottenheimer was hired, things changed quite a bit as you can tell. They went from one of the teams who consistently ranked near the bottom of the NFL in rushing attempts to a team who became known for running the ball.

Now onto the ranking information...

Percentage of Super Bowl Winning Teams Since 2000 by NFL Rushing Stat Ranks
Rank Attempts Yards TDs Fumbles Y/A
25+ 0.00 0.19 0.06 0.06 0.31
21 - 25 0.13 0.13 0.13 0.25 0.19
16 - 20 0.19 0.19 0.06 0.13 0.13
11 - 15 0.13 0.13 0.25 0.13 0.25
6 - 10 0.31 0.13 0.38 0.13 0.13
1 - 5 0.19 0.25 0.13 0.19 0.06

What this table is showing are the percentages of Super Bowl winning teams who ranked in a certain area for a certain rushing statistic. For instance, there have been zero teams since 2000 who have had an NFL ranking of 25 or greater in rushing attempts who have won the Super Bowl.

Notice anything about the percentages in this table? The numbers are quite different from the table we saw in the passing stats table from Part II in this series. The running stats are not quite as telling as the passing stats. I find it incredibly odd teams more poorly ranked in rushing touchdowns do better in the Super Bowl.

Another thing I find odd are the fumble numbers. Why are the 21st to 25th ranked teams at the top of the list?

But the weirdest thing by far is the yards per attempt rankings. The teams ranked worst in yards per attempt did the best in the Super Bowl. What sense does this make? I can only draw one conclusion....

A good running game is like having a good personality. A good quarterback is like being good looking. A good defense is like having a good bit of money in the bank.

Ok.... What the hell...?  -- Before you get confused, let me explain. If you want to get your dream girl or guy (the Super Bowl), it helps to have a good personality (running game). Everyone knows, however, you can't get by on personality alone, if you have good looks (quarterback), you are much better off.

At the same time you can have a terrible personality, but your good looks and bank account (defense) can land you that dream girl or guy. In a nut shell, if you're only working with the running game, you're probably screwed.

Since 2000 in the NFL, a good running game alone won't get you a Super Bowl.

What About Super Bowls From 1970 to 2000?

Ahhh yes, the 20th century. When people weren't so superficial and shallow ... when a personality may have been able to get you somewhere in the world.

Rank Att. Yds TDs Fumbles Y/A
25+ 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.10 0.03
21 - 25 0.03 0.03 0.03 0.13 0.03
16 - 20 0.00 0.03 0.10 0.10 0.10
11 - 15 0.17 0.03 0.07 0.17 0.13
6 - 10 0.33 0.33 0.23 0.20 0.13
1 - 5 0.47 0.57 0.57 0.27 0.53

Are you kidding me? Look at how having a dominant running game in the NFL affected teams in the Super Bowl before the 2000 season. You'd almost have no chance if you didn't have a great running game in the Super Bowl. The top ranked rushing teams had a massive advantage when it came to winning the Super Bowl.

Ever since 2000 the days of a dominant running game carrying a team to the Super Bowl became an endangered species.

I always wondered why the Patriots front office would never invest in their running game. Apparently they caught the trend before anyone else did ... or perhaps they set the trend?

So the Chiefs Don't Need a Lot From their Running Game?

I won't necessarily say the Chiefs don't need anything from their running game, but if history has anything to say about it, they don't have to have a dominant running game to give themselves their best shot at winning a Super Bowl.

Obviously a steady run game can help, but Charles and co. don't have to be a herd of oxen on Sundays. From what we've learned these past two articles, a running back's ability to catch a pass might be their most valuable asset in today's NFL.

The Chiefs running backs simply need to keep doing what they have been doing to give the team the best chance to win a Super Bowl. I would also recommend going forward that the Chiefs don't invest too heavily in the running game, unless there is a sudden relevance in running the ball in the NFL.

Next Article, Part IV - Defense

The next article will focus on Super Bowl defenses. After that we'll wrap everything up with part five where we will combine everything we've learned into one summary.