Running the football


(“Shady” McCoy)

Brian Billick was on Mike and Mike Thursday morning, discussing the Eagles’ new offense (this was prior to the Eagles’ loss to Kansas City Thursday night).

In pondering the potential challenges facing Chip Kelly’s offense going forward, Billick repeated a familiar mantra:

“at some point, you’ve gotta be able to run the ball and at some point you’ve got to be able to slow the game down.”

On Thursday night, the Eagles rushed for 264 yards. That’s an extraordinarily high total for an NFL team. They scored 16 points and lost. Through three games, the Eagles have averaged more than 200 yards per game. In most seasons, that would easily lead the NFL.  And they’re 1-2. Yes, the defense has played poorly, and they’ve turned the ball over in their losses. But of *all* the things you could point to about the Eagles, you’d have to say that the number one thing that is going well is the running game. It’s just utterly bizarre that Billick would make this comment – as if he had no specific sense of the team he was discussing at all. I don’t think that’s true, by the way. But even in this era in which every one agrees the NFL is “a passing league,” conventional wisdom has a hard time letting go of the importance of the running game.

Cold, Hard, Football Facts has been attacking that CW for years. Brian Burke has also made a clear case for the paramount importance of the passing game. And the rushing performance of recent Super Bowl teams should have made the point clear. In 2011, the Giants won the Super Bowl. They finished dead last in the NFL in rushing that season in rushing yards per game (and in yards per attempt). Their opponent in the Super Bowl, the Patriots, were 20th in rushing yards and tied for 21st in yards per attempt. In 2010, Green Bay won it all. They were 24th in rushing yards per game. The team they bested, the Steelers, were 11th. In 2009, the Saints won the big game. They were sixth in rushing. The losers that year, the Indianapolis Mannings, were 32nd. In 2008, the Steelers – always thought of a running team – were 23rd in the league when the captured their sixth Super Bowl title. Their opponents, the Cardinals were – you guessed it by now – 32nd.

It is true that last season we had a match up of two good running teams. The 49ers finished fourth in rushing and the Ravens 11th. It’s not that good running teams can’t make the big game, of course. But it’s fair to say that no team could sniff the championship game with passing attacks as bad as some of the recent Super Bowl teams run games have been. And last year’s 49ers had the fourth best passer efficiency rating in the league. They were, in other words, relatively rare among recent Super Bowl teams in having a legitimately well-balanced offense (the 2009 Saints were also good at both the run and, especially, the pass).

Chip Kelly may want to be able to “slow the game” down a bit at some point, I suppose, though it’s not clear exactly what the value is in that unless you are sitting on a lead. But the last thing he needs to worry about is his running game.

Needless to say, Mike and Mike did not question Billick’s assertion at all.




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