The death of the NFL run game

The idea that you need to run to win might be officially kaput

Updated: September 27, 2013, 1:58 PM ET
By Scott Kacsmar | Football Outsiders

Mark IngramKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsThe Saints are averaging just 85.7 rushing yards per game -- and it won't hurt them one bit.

After 48 games of the 2013 NFL season, offenses were averaging 39.5 passes and 26.2 runs per game. Should those averages hold up, it will result in the most passes and fewest runs in NFL history. The 247.5 net passing yards per game would smash last year's record (231.3).

It's been a slow decay, but we may be experiencing the death of the running game as an integral part of winning football games.

Things have been trending this way for years, and it's emerged both on the field and off. In front offices, we've seen it in the reduction of running backs selected with high draft picks while teams have traded up to take even middling quarterback prospects. Between the sidelines, we've seen the pass ratio grow even higher from 2012's record -- 57.65 percent -- to 60.12 percent through Week 3 of 2013. That doesn't even include all the called passes that turn into scrambles by quarterbacks.

Looking at the league-wide numbers for the first three weeks of past seasons, we have seen the running game get off to a slow start before, but the pass has never been so in vogue.

Some would say the latest passing revolution started in 2004 after the reinforcement of illegal contact. That season there were 31 100-yard rushing performances and 17 300-yard passing games through three weeks. This season, we have seen just 14 100-yard rushing performances (lowest in 32-team era) and 30 times a quarterback has hit 300 yards passing (second only to 2011's 34).

The 300-yard passing game used to be considered the result of a guy playing catch-up in a losing effort. Now it's the expected winning performance from the best quarterbacks in the league. It's almost gotten too easy to throw short passes as substitutes for the run that can gain more yards than the typical handoff.


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Scott Kacsmar

Football Outsiders
Scott Kacsmar is an Assistant Editor at Football Outsiders.