Friday, February 06, 2009

Season in Review: Rushing Yards (2008)

One of our favorite articles from our friends at Football Outsiders states that a "good running game certainly contributes to the winning effort. But teams don't win because they run 30 times. Teams run the ball 30 times because they are protecting the lead on their way to a win."

The 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers are evidence of that.

For only the second time in the past nine seasons the Steelers' net rushing yardage for the season was below the league average; and the drop from last season was fairly precipitous. Here are what the numbers look like:

200020012002200320042005
Pittsburgh2,2272,7742,1201,4882,4642,223
NFL Avg.1801.711,788.391,858.091,885.661,865.911,799.47
200620072008
Pittsburgh1,9922,1681,689
NFL Avg.1,876.971,774.691,855.47


For you visual learners out there, here is a graphical representation:


Some will argue that the injury to Willie Parker, and perhaps Rashard Mendenhall as well (certainly hopes were high for him during the preseason), negatively impacted the Steelers' ability to move the ball on the ground. However in the five games that Mr. Parker was inactive, Mewelde Moore rushed for a total of 373 yards on 88 carries (including a 13 yards on 8 carries effort versus Baltimore on 9/29/08) ~ a per rush average of 4.24 yards. This compares to Mr. Parker's 791 rushing yards on the season, on 210 carries ~ a 3.8 per rush average.

The depths to which the rushing attack has sunk is driven home when one realizes that, as a team, the yards gained per rush fell to 3.7 yards this season ~ only the second time it has been below 4.0 yards in the past nine seasons. This despite the fact that the Steelers rushed the ball only 460 times ~ the second lowest total in the past nine seasons. Here is how the number of rushing plays over the past nine seasons looks graphically:


Typically, we would expect an average to increase when the number of running plays decreases; so the question we have to ask is whether the Steelers have reduced the number of running plays they call because they do not run the ball well, or do they not run well because they do not call as many running plays?

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