***If you couldn’t tell by the picture this will certainly be about “Running the god, damn, BALL”.***
Pretend this is your Dad or Granpda
*Leans back in chair, cracks a domestic light ale….”Ya see kids, back in MY day, there weren’t a lot of high powered passing attacks like we have now, with RPO this, and Air Raid that. We got down in a three-point stance in an I formation, and plowed ahead on some garbage Iso lead for three yards. Because that’s how it was done. *takes a swig “Now let me tell you about high school…..it was junior year, and it was the big homecoming game……”
What’s a passing route tree?
As an elder millennial, I don’t recall seeing a ton of high powered passing attacks growing up either. Surely, There were talented quarterbacks like Elway and Marino, but not these organized systems we see today. Also, every QB in the NFL operates within a system, so still trying to figure out how “system” QB is derogatory? The Air Coryell system had been around since the 70’s, and in the early 80’s the Chargers used to throw it around the yard, but even the West Coast offense focused on short passes that functioned as runs in theory. But yes, literally back in MY day of the early to mid 90s, it was all about running the ball and playing sound defense, or as we like to call it….
Ya know how you won football games in the 90s if you weren’t the 49ers or Cowboys? By playin’ friggin “Marty Ball!”. It goes like this: 1st down. Run. 2nd Down. Run. 3rd Down. short incomplete pass. 4th Down. Punt. This was the recipe for famed Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer, who rode the coat tails of backs like Marcus Allen and Christian Okoye to great regular season records, while somehow struggling once they go deep in the playoffs. Even Joe Montana’s 37 year old duct taped together body couldn’t save them once the divisional rounds hit. Unfortunately, Marty Ball, at least in Kansas City, died when Steve Atwater showed up….
Think about other old boomer coaches that espoused defense first, even into the 2000s. Bill Cowher. John Fox. Tom Coughlin. Former DC’s, that rode out this recipe, but only one had major success, when he decided to throw the ball sometimes. (Cowher). Frankly, in that era, passing really wasn’t conducive because the rules didn’t benefit passing teams. Most teams ran Pro formations with an in line Tight End, and two receivers, the latter of whom could get mugged on routes while 8-9 hats were in the box. The Run and Shoot Oilers of the early 90s were quickly rode into the ground, though we can’t forget the Bills being an anomaly lighting up scoreboards, but teams like the Packers and Cowboys, (and eventually Broncos) owned the rest of the decade because they had beyond talented rosters. It was similar to how Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia hog the four team football playoff every year.
The “Bell cow” Back
For the other 90% of the league though, they had to rely on finding that bell cow running back, like a Jerome Bettis, Emmitt Smith (behind easily the best O line of the decade, but ya know) Curtis Martin, Ricky Watters (when he felt like trying hard) Natrone Means, and my favorite non Bears player not named Randy Moss, Mr. Barry Sanders. My favorite “What If” of all time…..Barry Sanders behind that Cowboys O line…..and for the hell of it, put Emmitt on the Lions. Somebody isn’t going to the Hall of Fame. 😉
Regardless, building an offense around a top tier book still took hold into the millennium, as the Titans used that formula for a brief minute with Eddie George before running him into the ground like Tom Thibodeau did to Joakim Noah and Luol Deng in the NBA. Ironically enough, the Titans are also using it today with Derrick Henry, smartly enough. When most teams base defenses have more DB’s to counter common 11 personnel, The Titans play the opposite game.
The Bears attempted the “build an offense” techniquie with Rashaan Salaam in 1995 and Curtis Enis 5th overall in 1998. Didn’t work out. Hell, teams even drafted running backs high in the draft even until the mid 2000s. Think about that 2005 draft with the two Auburn backs (Brown and Williams), and the Bears again, missing on a top 5 pick with Cedric Benson. This is why you rarely see teams pick backs in the top 10 anymore, unless they are like Zeke or Saquon. Plus, based on the offense, they can be plug and play late round guys anyways. It’s a thing now.
Here’s why Running the Ball has been a thing for 100 years
Why is it advised teams run the ball, regardless of level of play? In my best Michael Caine voice, “It’s quite simple really”, because it creates a run pass conflict. If you have ever been involved in a 7 on 7 passing practice in high school, we all know it’s pass every play. Hole defenders don’t have to key on the tackle for run or pass. Middle backers don’t have to follow any guards, they just fall back into their hook curl zones. Half the reason run OR the pass work, is because of the imminent threat of the other. Imagine you saw the Bears for about 2/3 of their season not being able to move the ball on ground. At all. What can defenses now do? They can cue up fancy blitzes, and sell out to get to the QB on pass plays. Teams don’t get as blitzy, when they know there is a run threat, because that would leave an open gap! Oh no! Gotta maintain gap integrity fellas!
Side Note: As much boom/bust pass plays offer, there is so much that has to go right with a simple drop back, especially at lower levels, where namely pass protection is a big issue. Not to mention the receiver has to either get open, and or run the correct route. Then the physical aspect of throwing an accurate ball, and if all goes well, the receiver catches it. Or you can run it three times for ten yards, and morally decimate the defense.
Let’s wrap it up
Has the league made passing more favorable with rule changes about mugging receivers, and or barely tough QB’s? Yes of course. Have newfangled college concepts blurred the line between run or pass until the last second? Absolutely. Minus the Chiefs and their light years ahead alien offense, most good passing offenses can at least marginally run the ball, or at least league average. Hell even the Greatest show on Turf Rams ran it enough to keep you honest. It’s not so much yardage and attempts, but it’s WHEN those attempts take place, and WHAT they accomplished. Did your 5 yard run make it a manageable 3rd and 3, or did your 1 yard gain stick your team with 3rd and 9? Basically, are they garbage time numbers, or did they contribute to the win? That is stuff that sites like Football Outsiders and PFF measure, whether they are biased or not. Now I don’t pay for those sites though I should, but Twitter folks who couldn’t explain what the hell Power Flow or Cover 3 Solo are, love to echo stats from both places to validate or tear down players. So they got that going for them, which is nice.
Here is Quentin Nelson beating the living shit out of defenders.