Why the Detroit Lions Don’t Need to Diversify Their Offense


Yesterday, Danny Tuccitto of Football Outsiders posted an article on ESPN.com (insider, subscription required) entitled Why the Detroit Lions Need to Diversify Their Offense. Tuccitto noticed that the Lions have quite a disparity between the effectiveness of their pass offense (ranked 11th using Football Outsiders’ DVOA statistic) and run offense (ranked 30th). He then looked at the teams between 2002 and 2010 with a run offense that was 19-positions worse than their pass offense (he found 10 such teams), and noted how they fared in the playoffs.

It’s an insider article, so I’m going to try to be careful how much I quote, but I don’t agree with his conclusions at all. If you have an Insider subscription, head over and check it out. If not, I’ll try to provide enough information for you to get the gist of his post.

"Therefore, it doesn’t appear that the combination of an elite passing attack with a woeful running attack prevents teams from doing well during the regular season in today’s pass-happy NFL.The problem seems to manifest itself, however, during the playoffs. Of the eight Lions-esque offenses that made it to the postseason, only one — the 2008 Arizona Cardinals — even made it to the Super Bowl, let alone won it. More than half wasted gaudy regular-season records by suffering ignominious playoff defeats."

My big problem with this article is that he doesn’t compare the teams with the high pass-run disparity with those more balanced teams. I did the leg work to find every team that finished the season ranked 11th or better over the same 2002-2010 time span (removing those “high disparity” teams that he called out) to see if they fared any better as a group (I found 89 teams).

First, some data on the 10 teams he found that had a run offense ranked 19 spots lower than their pass offense:

Made Playoffs


Made Championship Round


Made Super Bowl


Here’s the data I found on the teams ranked in the top 11 in pass offense that didn’t have a 19 spot disparity with their run offense:

Made Playoffs


Made Championship Round


Made Super Bowl


The first thing that stands out is that the “more balanced” teams were less likely to make the playoffs. This follows with his conclusion that having a bad running game doesn’t hurt you in the regular season if you have an excellent passing attack.

The second point that stands out is that the “unbalanced” teams reached their respective conference’s championship round at nearly twice the rate of the “balanced” teams. The rate at which teams made the Super Bowl was hardly any different – just 2.4%.

Sure, no one from the “high disparity” group won the Super Bowl, but we’re talking about a group of only 10 teams. That’s really too small of a group to make a judgment on if you’re only definition of success is a Super Bowl win. Really, if you look at my presentation of the data, there’s no way you can claim that obtaining more balance leads to greater success.

Unfortunately, Mr. Tuccitto only presented one side of the evidence and expected everyone to believe that his premise was correct.

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