The Fallacy of Not Wanting a "Run-Based Offense"

This just came to me reading comments over the past couple of days in the wake of Mike Munchak leaving the Titans. It appears a number of commenters here would prefer an offensive-oriented head coach, which I have no problem with. However, I have also seen several comments saying "We need to pass more!!!" and other anti-run based offense comments. So I decided to do a little digging and look at a few stats to determine whether it's really so bad to have a "run based" approach to offense in the current NFL landscape. All stats are from, but first, an opinion:

1) "Run-based offense" does NOT have to equal "Up the middle every down". I believe the Fisher era and ensuing Munchak era of the Titans has tainted a lot of people to the idea of an offensive attack based on the running game. It can be used creatively to great success, as teams like the 49ers, Seahawks, and Eagles have shown us this season (the former two seem to be the franchises we are now attempting to model, as well as both coordinators of the Seahawks being in play for our open spot).


Let's start with looking at the Top 10 rushing attacks in 2013 regular season, I've bolded teams that made the 2013 playoffs:


Philadelphia Eagles


Buffalo Bills


San Francisco 49ers


Seattle Seahawks


Washington Redskins


New York Jets


Green Bay Packers


Minnesota Vikings


New England Patriots


Kansas City Chiefs


Six of the top ten rushing attacks by YPG made the playoffs this year, and remember how Chip Kelly was going to "revolutionize" the NFL? Turns out he's doing it through the ground, with nearly a twenty yard gap between the Eagles and the second-rated Bills.

For comparison's sake, here are the Top 10 passing attacks by YPG, again with 2013 playoff teams highlighted:


Denver Broncos


New Orleans Saints


Detroit Lions


San Diego Chargers


Chicago Bears


Green Bay Packers


Atlanta Falcons


Cincinnati Bengals


Philadelphia Eagles


New England Patriots


So what do these tables tell us? The obvious conclusion is you have to be really good at one or the other on offense, as only three playoff teams were in the top ten of both categories. So let's look at a specific team and see if more conclusions could be drawn since these two tables basically state the obvious...

*A quick aside…Indianapolis ranked 17th in passing and 20th in rushing, as well as 20th in total defense. Aren't they supposed to be awesome? Soft division rivals appear to have helped their statistically-average team look much better than they should be, along with some solid wins.


Seattle Seahawks

I chose the Seahawks because offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell allegedly has already been reached out to informally by the Titans front office. As we see above, Seattle ranked 4th overall in the league this year with their rushing attack. According to, however, they had the 26th-rated passing attack averaging 202.2 YPG (roughly 150 yards less than the top-ranked Denver attack, Manning probably routinely had that many yards in one half of many games this season).

"But Ron, you have to pass the ball all the time in today's NFL to win! The rules favor it!" To that I say…not necessarily. Again, an obvious conclusion and statement but I feel a necessary one to make as the Seahawks concluded this year tied with Denver for the best record in the NFL, and they did it almost the complete opposite way of the high-octane Mile High Mannings. How did they do it? The conventional, old-school way that many here love to hate after the Fisher/Munchak reigns...

DEFENSE! The Seahawks finished the season ranked first in Total Defense, as well as first in passing defense, giving up an average of 172 YPG (2nd-place New Orleans gave up 194.1 for the record). They also tied for seventh in rushing defense with a YPG average of 101.6. Pair that with a top rushing attack and a QB that didn't have to throw it all over the field and you have a recipe for success.

"But Ron," you say, "a run-based offense that just tries to chew up the clock is outdated and can't work with today's NFL where teams can score quickly." Well, not so fast friend! This bring us to...


Time of Possession

Recall the beloved McNair/Eddie George era where this team was smash-mouth run-first with a strong defense and grinder out the clock methodically. That era is dead, but it doesn't mean the run-based offensive philosophy can't work , TOP essentially has become a useless statistic to measure offensive success or failure. Consider...

The aforementioned Seahawks ranked 14th in the regular season TOP, and that is with a Top 5 rushing attack and Bottom 10 passing attack. Yet they still won 13 games. The Philadelphia Eagles with Chip Kelly's rapid attack (rushing and passing) ranked dead-last in the league and yet they won 9 games in his first year installing it, and almost won their playoff game. Denver's top-rated passing attack equated to the 15th-ranked TOP offense.

Conversely, the Houston Texans were a Top 10 team by time of possession, but it clearly didn't do them much good this year, did it? Winning TOP is supposed to equate to winning games, right? Wrong. Whether you are a passing or running-oriented team, TOP has basically become meaningless as a measurable statistic for success or failure.



The numbers tell us some obvious things that I think are important to remember as the Titans conduct their coaching search and we have wild speculation and numerous opinions both in the media and here at MCM.

1) Be committed to your philosophy be it primarily passing or running, and be really good at that thing. (duh)

2) A running-based offense does not equate to "outdated", statistically some of the best teams in the league right now have run-based offenses.

3) A strong defense MAY be more important to a ground-based offense than an air-based one (this is my opinion, not a conclusive statement based on the data but holds true for Seattle and San Francisco).

4) "Running offenses" can be creative and unique, witness the 49ers running the ball out of the Pistol formation for one example.

Some pretty obvious stuff here but with a bunch of new people here at MCM (and lots of opinions going around), I feel it important to look at the data and take a step back before we say we HAVE to be like the Denver Mannings or the Saints and throw the ball 40 times a game for 500 yards in order to have a chance at winning. The modern NFL still has strong running offenses, they have just evolved and taken on a different form than simply running a guy straight into the line to pick up yards.