Commentary

A new measure for running success

It's a passing league, and it demands a new paradigm for running the ball effectively

Updated: September 30, 2011, 12:31 PM ET
By Trent Dilfer | ESPN Insider
Eagles-GiantsRich Kane/Icon SMITeams that have become more finesse-based on offense are losing the short-yardage game.

The NFL is a passing league. After Week 3, teams are throwing on 59.6 percent of offensive plays, the highest rate in history. It seems like the only guys not on pace to break Dan Marino's passing record are Curtis Painter and myself. And it's led to higher scoring; the numbers are up, and we keep hearing about how defenses are scrambling. There are a number of reasons, from the long list of exceptional quarterbacks to the fact that a lot of secondaries appear to be ironing out preseason communication issues (something we hit on recently).

What this isn't about, however, is something I hear too often: that it's simply too hard to run the ball. That's not true. Running totals are down -- from a big name like Chris Johnson struggling to Adrian Peterson complaining about carries -- but it's not an inability to run the ball that's at issue, it's a mentality that's been lost. It starts with physicality.

As the passing rate has increased, we've seen a shift in mentality along the offensive line. Think of the distinction between pass-blocking and run-blocking. As a pass-blocker, the key is footwork and tactical resistance, getting a body in front of a man and simply holding up; retreating with strength. Compare that to run-blocking, where the object is to be the aggressor, use the power offensive lineman to drive smaller defenders down the field and defeat the opposition at the point of attack through power. But here we have offensive linemen backing up all day, and look what's happened.

Offensive line play has shifted from a position of power to a position of resistance.

Former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer is an analyst for a variety of ESPN programs including NFL Live, NFL PrimeTime and SportsCenter (Sunday and Monday nights during the NFL season). He also contributes to Monday Night Countdown, ESPN Radio programs, and ESPN's annual Super Bowl week and NFL Draft coverage.