Why Balance Is Not Necessarily Necessary

15 Sep

NO! THAT’S MORE THAN 59 PERCENT!

 

Wow.  I posted this on Canal Street Chronicles yesterday.  Buried in a post that was meant to be humorous was this line:

The Panthers were right to abandon the running game, gaining less than a yard per carry on those 12 rushes. You can fix play-calling, especially when you’re facing a team that has trouble stopping the run. I’m not sure you can fix a complete inability to run quite so easily.

Ugh, that was sloppy.  I should have said, “I’m not sure you can so easily fix…”  Anyway, to be fair, I was really just talking trash about the Panthers’ running game.  But I did mean what I said.  They were right to abandon the running game in those circumstances.  A few took exception to that statement (and I’m not talking about the silly troll in the comments, I’m talking about folks on twitter that actually have some idea what they’re talking about).

One of them was Reid G. from SaintsWin, and I proposed a challenge.  Take this to long form, homie! BLOG FIGHT! (His post is here if you somehow missed it.)

I’m not sure we’ll disagree completely.  To be clear, this is the argument I’m here to make: that a team that is failing to run the ball well does not necessarily have to keep running the ball.  That really, there’s no good reason to do so (assuming said team will be successful at passing – if you fail on both counts, we don’t have much to argue about, right?).

I’m not saying that such a team can be successful to the point of winning championships.  We’re talking about strategy in the face of a stymied rushing attack.  I’m no football coach, but obviously football coaches disagree on the subject (right, Sean?), so we’ll do what fans do best – second guess people who know more than we do!

The conventional argument (by conventional, I mean everything on twitter yesterday) is basically this:

EVERYTHING STARTS WITH THE RUN GAME!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the running game is necessary to build up the pass, and the pass does the scoring and creates the first downs (along with that beastly running game), and all that gives you Time of Possession, which goes in all caps, because it’s so fucking important, and along with points, that creates WINS!

And may the diety of your choice forgive you if you don’t run the ball.  Take away the rushing attack, and

EVERYTHING FALLS APART.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is nothing without a rushing attack.  I say: “Bullshit.”

Please allow me to take down some of my favorite RUNNING GAME IS ESSENTIAL arguments:

“You can’t just throw the ball.  You have to keep the safeties in.  You have to keep the defense honest, keep 6 or 7 in the box at a minimum, spread the zones.  Nobody can throw consistently when the defense realizes all you’re going to do is throw.”

You know, in a lot of cases this is right.  Add whatever pseudo-football-intellectual catchphrases you like.  Most offenses won’t be able to throw consistently when the defense expects nothing but pass.  Remember that Ravens game in the Dome?  Two-man rushes and 9-man zone coverage?  Jesus, that was miserable.  Drew was lost as shit.

Remember also that sometimes, with an NFC Championship berth on the line, a minute and a half on the clock, and most of the field to go, some teams can put together a touchdown drive no matter that the defense knows you’ll be 100% pass.  Am I right, Gregg?  All joking aside, it’s happened many times throughout the course of NFL history.  Look at every successful 2-minute drill ever, and you’ll see that the pass/run ratio is far from that magical 60/40 target every fan seems to think their team should be aiming for.

“That’s because you have no time to kill.  What about the second quarter?  You have to eat up the clock, build time of possession!”

There’s my problem with the flowcharts above. (Did you like them? MS Paint, bitches.)  Time of possession doesn’t accomplish a damn thing.  It has zero value to winning a football game.  Himself stated this beautifully, while making (in much more succinct form) the very argument I’m making here:

Time of possession is an artifact of victory, and not a cause, and it doesn’t bother me that the Redskins dominated in that category. Had Jimmy Graham caught Drew’s last pass, had we made the two-point conversion, and had we scored first in overtime (a lot of “had’s,” I grant you), TOP would, again, not have mattered.

Perfect.  When you move the ball on offense, you get first downs.  That means more offensive plays.  When you get a stop on defense, the other team doesn’t get the ball any more.  You get it back.  Less defensive plays and more offensive plays.  That’s increased time of possession.  But the time of possession doesn’t create any wins, the first downs and the drives and the defensive stops create wins, via point differential.

So my chart looks more like this (read the captions):

Time of Possession does not have a cause/effect relationship with WINNING.

When we take away the run game, everything relies on the pass.

With an effective enough passing game (and defense), fuck time of possession.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In summary, You Play To Win The Game, not to build Time of Possession.

“If you play good ball-control offense, you take possessions away from the other team’s offense.”

We hear this bullshit from commentators on TV every damn week.  It’s utter nonsense.

Can you really take possessions away from a team?  No.  You can take one possession away from a team.  And you’re just as likely to take one from yourself.  That’s because in football, teams take turns with a chance to possess the ball.  One team can only gain one extra chance to hold the ball per half by burning the clock.  The team that would have had the ball last is the one who loses the possession.  Maybe that team is yours.

“If your defense struggles, you can reduce the cumulative possessions in the game, and give them less chances to screw up.”

If you have this mentality, your team will go 8-8 at best.  It’s over now.  If you can’t match another team’s points given 10 possessions each, you won’t do so given 7, or 5, or probably 1.  What you’re really saying is, “we have a better chance of lucking into a win via some fluke plays if there are less chances for the other offense to correct the fluke with fundamentally superior football.”

“The running game allows a defense to rest longer.”

No, it doesn’t.  A drive that takes 10 minutes off the clock doesn’t let the defense sit for any longer than a drive that takes 5, generally.  Real-life time is not game clock time.  The defense rests when the clock is stopped, too.  And the play clock stays the same no matter your play call.  The time a defense rests is a function of the number of plays run on offense.  And what’s the offense’s objective?  TO SCORE POINTS.  True, running the ball takes more plays to get to the endzone than passing (unless you’re Marshawn Lynch, and you’re on a 7-9 playoff team).  But if you would argue that less yards-per-play is better, we’re really venturing into the absurd.

Why prolong the drive and give yourself room an extra chance to make a mistake?  You don’t purposely give up a touchdown because it’s too quick.  Right, Jimmy Graham?  Scoring too quick can backfire.  But not scoring at all is worse. Ask a defensive player at any level if he’d rather sit for 2 minutes and be given a 7-point lead to defend, or seven minutes of rest and be sent back on the field in a tie ballgame.  I bet 100.00% of them answer the same way.

So run the ball because you’re good at it, run because you think it’ll get you the first down.  Don’t run because it will take longer to get to the endzone that way.  That’s counterproductive to the primary goal of football: outscoring the opponent.

Again, I’m not saying a team that can’t run the ball can win a Super Bowl.  I’m just saying it won’t be because of “imbalance.”  Not if the passing game is efficient.  It can, and has, been done at a single-game level, if not for an entire season.  The problem the non-running-motherfucker team will have is that a team that can’t run just has less weapons on offense than a team that can.  For that matter, it’s why I agree that the Saints should be running more.  When they don’t, they exclude some powerful offensive weapons from the gameplan, and that’s just a bad idea.

But remember, this started with the Panthers.  The Panthers had 10 yards of rushing on their first 12 carries.  That’s not balance, not even if you do it 60 times for 50 yards.  It’s not working.  That kind of rushing game will end drives far more often than it will prolong them.

In upper-level History courses, I sometimes get fussed at for not effectively re-stating my thesis in the final paragraph to bring the reader back to the main point.  So here we go.  I won’t let you down, Dr. Smith.  I believe that you now understand my argument: a team which is failing to rush the ball should not force the issue just to maintain a semblance of balance as quantified by some arbitrary benchmark.

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