We all know that the NFL has shifted over the last decade, becoming more and more of a pass-first league. In fact, the league saw a 1.40 pass-to-run ratio last season, while this number was as low as 1.21 at the turn of the century.
Passing is more efficient, which is why the quarterback position has become increasingly more important through the years. But don’t think that running the football is now obsolete. Having a balanced attack – or at least the ability to run the football – can still help teams win games.
When a team’s offense fails, it’s easy to blame the quarterback and his passing attack. But sometimes (a lot of times) it’s not just the signal-caller's fault. Sometimes these passers have no support from their running game. And the teams below certainly didn’t help their passers very much in 2013.
5. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals finished 2013 with the 28th-ranked rushing attack, which isn’t much of a surprise considering their recent offensive line woes and the fact that Rashard Mendenhall was their lead running back. That, and Carson Palmer is a statue in the backfield, not helping the rushing metrics whatsoever.
The team finished 23rd in rushing yards, but that’s not really what we’re worried about here at numberFire – yards don’t really tell the entire story. What does? Net Expected Points.
According to our Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points metric (adjusted for strength of schedule), the Cards lost nearly 23 points via the ground compared to what a team put in a similar situation would have. And just to be clear, when I say 23 points, I mean 23 over the course of the season.
Though it’s difficult to be efficient toting the football, a loss like this is pretty substantial compared to some of the top teams – had they run the ball like Philadelphia, for instance, the Cardinals would have seen a 78-point swing in their favor this season, or nearly five points per game.
If not for Andre Ellington’s effectiveness running the football, this team could’ve ranked even lower.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers were about 10 points worse than the Cardinals on the ground this past season, but it should be noted that much of this lack of success had to do with their first three games of the season.
If you recall, the Steelers were Le’Veon Bell-less during their 0-3 start this past season, and they actually scored 21.52 points less than they should have via the ground over that stretch. Considering they ended the season with a -32.25 Adjusted Rushing NEP score, a dip of just 11 points from Week 3 onward, it’s evident that they weren’t nearly as bad as the start of the season suggested.
This is probably a good time to remind everyone that Le’Veon Bell’s efficiency numbers weren’t fantastic this year, but he was deemed a success because he was so much better than those who were playing before him. In other words, the situation wasn't favorable for any running back, and the fact that Bell still got some push is a good sign. This data points to that, too.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
There was a massive jump from the Steelers to the Jags, as Pittsburgh outperformed Jacksonville by about 17 points in terms of Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points. Furthermore, only a little over three points separated the Jags from the worst running team in the NFL.
Why were the Jaguars so bad at running the football in 2013? Well, the offensive line certainly didn’t get much push, but lead back Maurice Jones-Drew was just as bad. Our numbers show that Jones-Drew had by far his worst season as a pro, compiling a Rushing NEP of -21.21, effectively losing 21 points for his team. In the past, MJD’s been one of the best runners in the league, and never had a season with a Rushing NEP worse than -3.01.
2. New York Giants
I suppose a team running the football with Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis is bound to find themselves on this list, huh?
The Giants, like the Jaguars, were pretty miserable offensively this year. Not only did the passing attack rank second-worst in the league according to our metrics, but the running game, as you see here, ranked as the second-worst unit as well.
No running back for the Giants compiled a positive Rushing NEP value. Andre Brown, after being the most-efficient runner a season ago, dropped to being one of the worst in 2013, totaling a Rushing NEP score of -24.81 on just 140 carries. To make things worse, David Wilson, a fantasy football disappointment, lost 18 points for the Giants on the ground this season on just 44 carries! Of the running backs who had at least 20 carries, none were as bad as Wilson.
1. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens couldn't move the football to save their lives in 2013, which is the main reason the team went and hired zone blocking scheme master Gary Kubiak just a month ago. The team lost 52 points via the ground this past season, a disadvantage of about 108 points when compared to a highly-efficient team like Philadelphia. In other words, the Eagles were scoring about a touchdown more per game compared to the Ravens in 2013 through the ground game only.
After being a relatively effective runner in terms of NEP for most of his career, Ray Rice finished this past year with the worst Rushing NEP total of any running back in the league. The guy right in front of him? Teammate Bernard Pierce, of course.
That's part of the reason this ranking is most likely the result of poor offensive line play, as opposed to an Indianapolis Colts situation of poor running back play (Trent Richardson versus Donald Brown). Aside from the issues going on in Ray Rice's life off the field, it's going to be interesting to see if Kubiak can turn around this mess in 2014.