The running game is quickly becoming the NFL’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Its presence is tolerated in the offensive lunch box, but as an offensive coordinator you’d much rather swap it out for the scheming equivalent of some gummy bears or Dunkaroos: passing, and then more passing, and then perhaps even a few more passes.
This is not a secret, and I’ve used many words to explore the decline of pretty much every elite running back who isn’t named Jamaal Charles or LeSean McCoy, while dedicating special yelling attention to Chris Johnson, Trent Richardson, and Ray Rice. But when so many marquee names have turned into plugs, there’s more than just sucking at play here. What’s found upon digging a little deeper is a historic unwillingness to run.
When we take the broad, over-arching look it doesn’t seem like rushing has declined too drastically this year. For example, by the end of last year five teams had attempted a run 500 or more times, a number that five teams are also currently on pace to reach this year. Looking at the efficiency of that running, 10 teams in 2012 averaged 4.5 yards per carry or better, and that’s declined only slightly this year to eight teams.
But the per game and per week approach carries more weight, as it’s a more specific measure of how teams approach the task of winning a football game. As we now head into Week 12 with each team having played 10 games, we’ve seen a significant number of weeks when bruising rushing games simply haven’t existed.
In Week 4 there were only four running backs with over 100 yards on the ground. Worse, in weeks one, five, eight, and seven there were only two such running backs, while the passing game has dominated. So that’s nearly half of the regular-season schedule so far in which running has dwindled and nearly been erased.
Grantland’s Bill Barnwell did his own investigation of the sludge produced by this year’s supposedly top running backs, and in doing so he found this other piece of startling potential history:
Through Week 11, this has been the most pass-happy season in league history. Teams are averaging 26.9 rushing attempts per game, which would be the first time NFL teams would fail to hit 27 running plays per game. Receptions per game are also at an all-time high — NFL teams are averaging 21.9 completions per game and 239.6 passing yards per game, which would both be league records. Now 69.9 percent of yards from scrimmage come on passing plays; just wait till Andy Reid and I throw a party when that baby goes over 70 percent!
Including Calvin Johnson nearly setting a new single-game record with 329 receiving yards, there’s been 54 wide receivers who have reached or exceeded the 130-yard mark in a game this season, an average of nearly five per week. Even if we generously lower the line to 100 yards for running backs, we’ve still only seen 52 of those performances this year.
This could just be a matter of sample size, with still six weeks of regular-season football left for a correction that rights all the world’s running injustices to happen. But so far, what we’ve seeing is a league that still thoroughly enjoys passing.
More notes, stray thoughts, and other such randomness
Aqib Talib thinks Steve Smith is very kind
In the hearts and minds of NFL players, the distance between Monday and Wednesday is roughly equivalent to two weeks for normal folk. There’s another game to get jacked about, and Day 1 of practice for said game has already been completed.
So that’s why predictably Aqib Talib laughed off questions yesterday about his encounter with Steve Smith during this week’s Monday night slobber knocker. He used football’s oft-cited version of “what happens in Vegas”, but added a deep thinking perspective when asked about Smith’s “ice up, son” line that can be purchased where shirts are sold:
“It’s never personal man,. It’s never personal. I’m sure, if I see Steve, it’ll be, ‘Hey, what’s up? How you doing?’ It’s never personal. Him and the other guy from St. Louis? That was personal. I mean, he didn’t say he was going to punch me in my face after the game. He just told me to go get in the tub. Kinda thoughtful.”
Steve Smith = thoughtful humanitarian.
And one last fun quote from the best game of the year
Eventually we’ll let that Monday night game whither away a little further back in our memories, but I won’t apologize for clinging to the best game of the year thus far until the very moment the next week of football begins (yes, some will make a case for Broncos-Cowboys deserving that title, but I enjoy at least a hint of defense).
So hey, Tom Brady’s mom, what did you think about that call at the end of the game?
Tom Brady on the end of Panthers game: “My mom thought it was a penalty.” No word yet on Gisele’s take.
— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) November 20, 2013
So about next week: bettors beware
I’ve never bet a dime on an NFL game, which is only true if we’re defining “never” as the period of time between Tuesday and Thursday. But even if you’re not the betting type, here’s a sign of how close the Week 12 games could be: right now on multiple mainstream betting sites five games have a spread of 2.5 or lower. And at one point yesterday, that number was closer to half of the week’s 14 games.
Go ahead and give Coby Fleener some fantasy love
So you waited on a tight end in your draft, and now you’re therefore pursuing the ol’ tight end streaming strategy in which you have multiple options on your bench while also dipping into the waiver wire often. Neato, so riddle me this: why is Coby Fleener still so widely unowned?
With both Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen long gone, Fleener has become a primary target for Andrew Luck, with 10 targets over each of his past two games. Now, targets don’t always equal production, a fact of life Fleener has readily reminded us of: in those two games, he’s had 33 receiving yards and then 107 yards.
But the mere potential for production with those opportunities brings with it significant value, which is why Fleener being available in nearly 40% of leagues is a little odd. Denny Carter checked in with his weekly tight end streaming projections, and Fleener ranks high with his matchup against Arizona:
Much was made of Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington’s return to the lineup last month, and how that might impact tight end production against Arizona. Washington’s coaches have said publicly that Washington is “not a tight end stopper,” and man, has it shown. Tight ends have reeled in an average of 6.4 receptions against Arizona over the past five weeks, totaling five touchdowns in that stretch.
Arizona allows 12.9 adjusted fantasy points to tight ends, second worst in the NFL.
If that doesn’t convince you to go ahead and give Fleener fake team ownership now, the man can make a sumo wrestler look like a real human…
Another tight end stash
This one is a bit of a reach, which is why it’s a stash.
Dennis Pitta busted his hip way back in July, and although initial reports estimated he’d be out for the season, he returned to practice yesterday. He’s now coming along slowly, but similar to Percy Harvin and Michael Crabtree, Pitta could be a nice little stash play for the fantasy playoffs.
During the Ravens’ 2012 championship season Pitta had career highs in receptions (61), receiving yards (669), and touchdowns (7) while being targeted 91 times.