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Run or Pass? A look at the offenses of every GZL Winner
By Greg Wendel
Special to gzl-football.com

Overview

Warning: this first paragraph is a bit boring and can be skipped for the rest of the article!

I've been out of a job for a few months so, as a part of that, have been working on learning to code and learning about a bit of data science and analysis using Python and some of the associated libraries. It's all still pretty early stages, but it seemed like a great project to try and translate some of that to a look at GZL statistics. I did quickly find that without access to some of the data from the backend that gathering the required information was taking a lot of time so this first article has been kept to a small sample size.

Side note: If anyone does anything like this for a living or even just more seriously than I have, I welcome any feedback!

For the first data project, I wanted to look at a problem that it seems every team has at some point - do I want to have a run first or pass first offense? While many people try for neither and to set out a more balanced attack, it turns out that this may not be the best option and this is especially true if you are rebuilding a franchise.

The easiest and quickest way to get a look at this seemed to be to look at what the best offensive options might be is to look at the winners of every GZL Super Bowl from 2010 through to the last season, 2021. This gives us 12 winners to look at. Now, of course, this isn't a ton of data and it may have been better to add in divisional winners or even playoff teams for a larger sample size of successful teams, but it is a start and provided some interesting results!

For each of these teams, I looked at their Points Scored, Total Yardage, Rushing and Passing Yardage, and their rank for each of these categories compared to the rest of the teams each year.


Data

That meant that the data looked a lot like (exactly like) this table.



As you might expect, it turns out that the Super Bowl winners generally have pretty good offenses! Other than the 2020 Raiders, every winner has been in the top 10 in Points Scored. That same Raiders team and the most recent winners, the 2021 Broncos, were the only 2 teams to have total yardage outside of the top 10, but this may not matter as much as first thought.

These totals were also not really answering our original question - Run or Pass? So the next thing to look at is, of course, those rankings.



The chart above shows the Rushing and Passing Rankings for each Super Bowl winner. The higher up on the Y axis you go, the worse the Rushing Ranking and the further right along the X axis, the worse the passing ranking. If a team is all the way toward the bottom left (that lone dot being the fantastic 2018 Rams offense) they had high rankings in both Passing and Rushing for a very balanced, deadly attack.

The first thing to note about this chart is that no one finished worse than 19th in Rushing (2014 Giants). Contrast that to 4 teams finishing 20th or worst in Passing Ranking and another team near enough at 18th. This means that a large percentage of those teams are clustered in the bottom half, or the top 10, of the Rushing Rankings for the year that they won it all.



Taking that information, I then went and grouped these winners by the focus of their offense. If their Passing and Rushing Rankings were more than 8 ranks apart (so 1/4 of the 32 teams), then they were given a 'Focus' of which one was the better ranking. Otherwise they were labelled as a 'Balanced' offense.

Surprisingly, run-first teams were by far the best placed to win the Big One. More than half of our winners so far had prioritized running the ball over throwing or even having a balanced offense. In fact, only one team with a pass-first approach had ever won it, which was the aforementioned 2014 Giants.


Conclusion

It's maybe a question for another time as to why, but rushing offenses have been shown to be the best way to set your team up for success. This could be down to any or all of the below.


  1. A preference for some of the top GMs in our league for a run first offense
  2. Defenses putting more of a priority on stopping the pass
  3. Madden engine limitations
  4. Consistency. A good passing game can have a bad day and be affected by the opposing pass rush, good matchups for opposing cornerbacks, weather, or just a quarterback having a rare bad day.


Regardless, it does seem best to put a priority into the run even over having a balanced attack. Even if it does lead to lower total yards, such as the case of the 2 most recent winners, having an elite run game is almost imperative to winning and having a good passing attack is somewhat optional.

So now, it's your turn. Any thoughts on why a good rushing attack might be superior to it's aerial counterpart or a balanced offense?
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