The running game is the heart of smashmouth, "caveman" football. All about being bigger, stronger and faster than the guy across from you. The way running games are measure tends to reflect this in it's simplicity, but that doesn't mean there aren't more nuanced ways for a scrawny statgeek to look at the run game.
Raw totals are the crudest measure of a run game and have obvious flaws. I'd rather have 80 yards on 16 carries than 100 yards on 30.
Reading the statement above I feel safe in saying everyone did a quick rough calculation in their head, yards per carry. YPC is much better than totals. Even the most hardnosed "pound the ball" advocates don't think that running a lot, inefficiently, wins you football games. But YPC has it's flaws and doesn't tell you anything beyond how good a running game was. Breaking it down into component parts can correct some YPC flaws and tell you in numbers what a running game will play look like.
Consistency, A runner that got 3 yards on every carry would be the greastest offensive weapon in history. Like the hypothetical baseball lineup with a 1.000 OBP that scores infinite runs, a 3 yard every carry running game would never fail to get a new set of downs. Yards per carry is skewed by long runs. 4, 5, 5, 4, 5, 4, is a better set of results than 1, 0, -1, 0, 1, 35. The second runner put his team in bad situations 5 of 6 times, while runner one gave his team 6 very very good chances at a new set of downs. Both averaged 4.5 YPC. FO's success rate gives a good measure of consistency. A play is marked a success if;
- In general, a play counts as a "hit" if it gains 40% of yards on first down, 60% of yards on second down, and 100% of yards on third down.
- If the team is behind by more than a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the benchmarks switch to 50%/65%/100%.
- If the team is ahead by any amount in the fourth quarter, the benchmarks switch to 30%/50%/100%.
Explosiveness, Something we haven't seen much in Indy recently. Everyone digs the long run. Measured in % of runs going 10+ yards (from FO), 20+ yard runs, and 40+ yard runs (both from NFL.com).
Power, Here is the heart of "Caveman" football. A couple yards in a do or die situation. I'll use FO's Power success which counts 3rd and 4th downs with 2 or less yards to go, and all "goal to go" runs inside the 2.
A fourth often overlooked aspect of running games is ball security. Fumbles hurt. Some backs fumble more often than others. Ignoring fumbles while looking at RBs makes about as much sense as ignoring INTs looking at QBs.
Jump for the last 15 years of Colts running game in consistency, explosiveness and power
Table Notes: Back A is the back with the highest % of the carries, back B is any other back with over 25% of the carries, rank in parenthesis next to each stat, fumbles ranked from least to most. Success rate is only given by FO for individual players, so listed number is of the lead back with rank out of all backs with 100+ carries (between 38 to 49 of them depending on the year.)
|Year||Back A||Back B||Total||YPC||Success Rate||10+ run%||20+ runs||40+ runs||Pwr Success
|1994||Marshall Faulk||None||2060 (4th)||4.2 (3rd)||Unavailable||Unavailable||20 (1st)||4 (2nd)||Unavailable||11 (22nd)|
|1995||Marshall Faulk||None||1855 (11th)||3.9 (16th)||47% (24th)
||Unavailable||12 (5th)||2 (6th)||Unavailable||12 (23rd)|
|1996||Marshall Faulk||None||1448 (28th)||3.4 (23rd)||41% (33rd)||15% (15th)||6 (18th)||2 (9th)||53% (25th)||10 (13th)|
|1997||Marshall Faulk||None||1727 (17th)||3.8 (16th)||48% (14th)||16% (13th)||9 (11th)||1 (14th)||52% (27th)||11 (19th)|
|1998||Marshall Faulk||None||1486 (26th)||3.9 (17th)||44% (23rd)||19% (11th)||5 (27th)||3 (6th)||52% (24th)||4 (1st)|
|1999||Edgerrin James||None||1660 (19th)||4.0 (16th)||44% (17th)||23% (6th)||9 (17th)||4 (3rd)||61% (14th)||11 (20th)|
|2000||Edge James||None||1859 (16th)||4.3 (9th)||55% (2nd)||14% (24th)||9 (18th)||0 (25th)||79% (1st)||7 (6th)|
|2001||Dom Rhodes||Edge James||1966 (7th)||4.5 (4th)||48% (8th)||21% (9th)||12 (11th)||2 (7th)||63% (17th)||10 (13th)|
|2002||Edge James||None||1561 (26th)||3.6 (29th)||45% (23rd)||12% (29th)||6 (28th)||1 (18th)||57% (26th)||5 (5th)|
|2003||Edge James||None||1695 (19th)||3.7 (26th)||51% (7th)||11% (30th)||5 (28th)||1 (17th)||51% (30th)||11 (23rd)|
|2004||Edge James||None||1852 (15th)||4.3 (11th)||57% (3rd)||15% (27th)||7 (24th)||2 (10th)||46% (32nd)||9 (16th)|
|2005||Edge James||None||1703 (16th)||3.7 (24th)||62% (1st)||9% (32nd)||6 (24th)||0 (26th)||54% (29th)||4 (4th)|
|2006||Joseph Addai||Dom Rhodes||1762 (18th)||4.0 (16th)||62% (1st)||10% (28th)||3 (30th)||1 (14th)||60% (22nd)||4 (1st)|
|2007||Joe Addai||Kenton Keith||1706 (18th)||3.8 (22nd)||54% (6th)||9% (31st)||4 (30th)||0 (28th)||78% (1st)||1 (1st)|
|2008||Joe Addai||Dom Rhodes||1274 (31st)||3.4 (32nd)||48% (14th)||9% (22nd)||5 (31st)||0 (28th)||62% (21st)||4 (2nd)|
The Colts running game went through a transformation. From 1994 to 2001 the Colts run game was explosive, inconsistent, and a bit fumble prone. In 2002 a post injury Edge James was really only good at holding onto the football. Over the past 6 seasons the Colts have been the miror image, a total lack of explosiveness, but excellent consistency and rarely fumbles.
Why have the Colts owned the 3rd down conversion% for years? Well first off, Peyton Manning, but in addition, the running game has put the offense in managable 3rd down situations.
The Colts appear to have traded explosiveness for consistency and ball security, but the story seems to be the same all the way through when it comes to power. The Colts have finished in the top half of the league in power success just 3 times in the last 13 years (but 2 of those times they did finish 1st). Even before the Colts became the Colts that we know and love today (Bill Polian, Peyton Manning, Tom Moore, Tony Dungy, Edge James) they weren't a good power team.
Now Donald Brown is added to the mix. In college Brown had home run ability. We might see a reversal of the trend and see an explosive running game for the first time since Edge blew out his knee. Though hopefully with that explosiveness they will stay consistent and have very good ball security. We might even see some power again.