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Green Zone League Articles

"Wet streets cause rain"
By Nic St. Marie
Special to gzl-football.com

Why the need to establish the run is the wrong mindset
In these articles I want to explore what it takes to show where the most valuable plays come from. I already think I know how to optimize a team's talents. Anywhere from 45-55% passing, so an attack that approaches balance is the most dangerous offense. Especially the further above-average it gets at both running and passing. A team that can run the ball above-average can almost guarantee it keeps a lead in the second half, or runs all over a weak team like the Patriots did to the Colts in the AFC Playoff game (NFL) last season. Also, a team that is above-average at running converts more 3rd and short, or goal-line plays. bottom line, running the ball holds great value.

But it is the pass where the game is won and lost on most days. The average YPC on the ground for a player worth of being a starting RB will range from 3.5-4.5 yards per carry. A good one will surpass 4.5, and sometimes even above 5.0. A back that can average 5 YPC while also rushing the ball 300 times or more makes the pro bowl almost every time, and sometimes even ends up on the cover of Madden with enough TDs to go with it. More often, as players go over 300 or 350 carries their YPC will head back down towards 4.5 or even lower unless they are their blockers are special.

The "yards-per-attempt" for the average starting QB will range from 5.5-6.5 in the passing game. Good teams will average 7.5 or even 8.0 YPA in the air, and many of those teams will be those that have great balance and benefit most from the play-action (run-fake) pass. Teams with QBs that have 500 or 600 passes often drive their YPA down below 8 or even below 7. A couple of recent GZL QB's come to mind, early seasons from Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo, where actually they were able to maintain respectable, or even good YPA.

What I remember of those seasons was they each had great WRs to throw to and the strategy paid off. Each team won 9 or more games (8 once for the Lions) each year their QB threw for 550 or more attempts. And while they probably could have given their QB better efficiency stats with more balance, they were able to go to the playoffs a few times because of this heavy reliance on the most valuable part of their team.

I remember the Lions in particular, I didn't think much of their defense or running game at the time, so the 9 games I felt were won solely on the ability of their passing offense.

Correlation
Too often, media personalities attempt to communicate analysis, but in finding a relationship between two things assume they've found the reason something happens. False conclusions can be hilarious, and are usually not taken seriously.
1. Children who get tutored get worse grades than children who don't.
2. Every time Wales wins the rugby grand slam, a Pope dies, except for 1978 when Wales were really good, and TWO Popes died.
3. Wet streets cause rain.

Except, some things are not so obvious. For example, Dr. Semmelweis' discovery that doctors handwashing would reduce the spread of infection, saving many mothers from "childbed fever." This being the mid-1800s his theory contradicted the beliefs of science and medicine, and made him an outcast who ultimately died in an asylum.

So what does this have to do with football?

:
"...a championship offense must be able to run the football -- and run it with force." - Bucky Brooks - 2014

"Team X is 7-2 when they run the ball more than the opposition. The key is to establish the run" - Anything Merrill Hodge says.


Sports "analysis" often looks like this. From Ground Chuck Knox to Dan Reeves to many sports commentators and former head coaches, there is a core belief amongst many football "people" that running the ball is important, and this belief is most often "proved" by looking at:

:
100 yard games .....or
20 carry games

And a team's record when those things happen.

This is actually data analysis, the most basic correlation known as a Pearson Correlation. One variable to another. As X goes up Y goes up. If they make a perfect line, the correlation = 1.

There is often a high correlation between the team that runs more often and the team that wins. However, just as wet streets don't cause rain (high correlation) a team that runs the ball a lot doesn't cause wins.

Rather, teams that are winning run the ball more often at the end of the game than the team down. This isn't a surprise to many of you, but people who ascribe to the age-old "establish the run" mindset often overlook this basic principle.

At this point I have not proven that passing is more important to winning than the run. Instead I've just set the table with some of the language, concepts, and terms that I'll be using as I do this Data Analysis 101 type of "study" with our GZL data.

--------------------------------

As I just alluded to, I believe you don't run to win, but you run when you win. Personally, I believe winning is complex, and I'll lay out some of that next time, but if establishing the run caused winning, the teams that ran the most or the best would win the most and I will be going through our data to check that out, best I can.

This introduction got long (on the research side) and I don't want to take on a lot more this time around, that way I can finish this article today and start discussion time. So I'll move into the analytic steps I've taken so far.

1. Gathered my data
2. Connected a little bit of it (added wins and losses)
3. Ran a Pearson correlation in excel with each offensive statistic vs wins.

The most independent variables: Successful 2 point tries, Fumbles, Penalties

These correlate the least with winning, or look the most random.

The biggest correlations: Points (duh), TD Passes, 4th down attempts (negative correlation), and Total yards.
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