Lions Don’t Need to Run Any Better to Make Playoffs or Win Super Bowl

After one week of play, the Lions’ running attack ranks 19 out of the 32 NFL teams. That not particularly good, but it’s a position we can live with even if this team has playoff or (gasp) Super Bowl aspirations.

Ever since Mikel Leshoure went down with an Achilles injury in training camp we had the strong feeling that the running game was going to be a sticking point for this team. Jahvid Best can provide the lightning when he gets space, but he struggles between the tackles, and he’s shown that he’s not an every down back. Maurice Morris and Jerome Harrison provide support that is “fine”, but neither are expected to provide big plays with any sort of regularity.

We got what we expected out of the running game on Sunday versus Tampa Bay. It wasn’t electric, but the team stuck with it enough to keep the defense honest. When it comes to today’s NFL, that’s all you really need.

I took rushing data from the last five regular seasons to see if there seemed to be any correlation between running the football and making (and going deep into) the playoffs. The results surprised me.

YPC

NFL Average

4.2

Non-Playoff Teams

4.2

Playoff Teams

4.1

Championship Game Teams

4.0

Super Bowl Winners

4.1

 

Data is only for the regular season.

There’s really no conclusion you can draw from this data except that, when it comes to running the football, there’s really no difference between a non-playoff team, a playoff team, a team that makes it to the conference championship game, or even a Super Bowl winner. The highest rushing average was actually among teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs. I never expected that.

Detroit’s yards per carry average from Sunday was 3.6. That’s a bit lower than any of the above averages, but it’s still in the ‘acceptable’ range. For example, the two Super Bowl teams for the 2008 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals had regular season rushing averages of 3.7 and 3.5 respectively. The Indianapolis Colts won the AFC Championship in 2009 and Chicago won the NFC Championship in 2006; each averaged 3.5 yards per carry. Green Bay’s rushing average was 3.8 a season ago.

The Indianapolis Colts are the only team that has made the playoffs in each of the past five seasons, and they cracked the 4.0 YPC mark only once. It happened to be in the 2006 season, the year they won the Super Bowl, but even still, 4.0 is “below average” for NFL teams.

In contrast to rushing average, there’s a clear correlation between passing yards per attempt and how successful your team is. Here’s the passing data for the same five year period:

YPA

NFL Average

6.9

Non-Playoff Teams

6.7

Playoff Teams

7.3

Championship Game Teams

7.4

Super Bowl Winners

7.5

 

Detroit ranked sixth in the NFL in passing yards per attempt with a 9.2 mark. That number is obviously not going to stay that high, but the run/pass efficiency balance they showed in week one seems to be consistent with some of the more successful teams in recent history.

If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy this year, there’s no reason that the Lions can’t remain among the top passing offenses in the league. As long as they can run enough to keep defenses honest, as they did on Sunday, there’s no reason that a high powered air attack couldn’t carry them deep into the playoffs.

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Topics: Detroit Lions, Playoffs

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