Contextualizing the Run: Offensive Run-Game Win Percentage – Quarterly Update 1

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Contextualizing the Run: Offensive Run-Game Win Percentage – Quarterly Update 1

OrW tracks both teams and players and evaluates one thing—the frequency with which the subject can win the play by running the ball. How do we define this? An offensive run-game win is any run play (excluding kneel-downs) that keeps an offense on track to pick up a first down, or a touchdown if it’s a goal to go situation.

This stat, on a team level, will show who has the most efficient and reliable running games. On a player level, while it shouldn’t be viewed as a be-all end-all stat to evaluate running backs, combining it with a stat like Justis’ that tracks what RB’s do past the line of scrimmage, or Ryan Jackson’s ANRY/A that adjusts running backs yardage for efficiency, it can paint a pretty good picture.

Over the season, I will be posting the weekly results here on settingedge.com, and every four weeks I will be giving a big-picture, season long look at how teams and players are faring. With all the introductory stuff out of the way, let’s take a look at the season to date.

We’ve officially hit the quarter-mark of the season. All teams (except for Miami and Tampa Bay, who were #blessed to get their bye in week 1, love 16 straight!) are 25% of the way through their season, making this a natural time to step back from the week-to-week data and see how teams and players have stacked up overall this season.

If you’ve been following along this season, seeing the teams pacing the league in OrW% shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Chiefs, led by rookie star and MVP candidate Kareem Hunt, lead the league in OrW% with a conversion rate of 60%, 11 points above league average. Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray (yes, that’s the order they should be talked about in now) power the Titans to the second spot in the rankings, just 1 point behind the Chiefs. Both these teams have received plenty of attention in the weekly articles, so for them to be leading the league makes perfect sense. Behind them, the Falcons have been quietly very good again this year, sporting an elite duo of their own in Devont’a Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Broncos and Jaguars round out the top 5, and the Patriots coming in at 6 is the first real surprise of the update. The Patriots run game (for obvious reasons) is not viewed as the focus or strength of the offense, but they consistently pick up the yards (likely aided by defenses respect for the pass) required to let Tom Brady stay on the field and lead an offense that put up 30 points a game through their first four weeks.

Looking at the other end, 3 teams that have not played up to par so far this year make up the bottom 3. The Giants and Seahawks had notable offensive line and run game concerns coming into the year, but the Chargers entered the year with a heavily-invested-in offensive line and a running back many like to put near the top tier at the position in Melvin Gordon. Add to that a new offensive-minded head coach in Anthony Lynn, and the Chargers being 3 points worse than the second worst team is shocking. The bottom 5 is filled in by a team known for their ability running the ball (Buffalo), and a team who has a newfound commitment to running the ball (Detroit). Both these teams have found success despite their inability to consistently win when running the ball, so both could become seriously dangerous if they can fix their deficiencies here.

Some other teams that stand out are the Steelers and Cowboys, both of which carry elite running backs and offensive lines, but find themselves just slightly above the league average when running the ball through 4 weeks this year. On the other side, many expected Philadelphia’s run game to be one of the worst in football this year, but they are hovering just below the league average as they find themselves 3-1 for the second year in a row.

In this chart, teams are sorted from left to right in terms of their total rushing attempts on the year (I’m bad at charts and don’t know how to include that number in the x-axis). Ignoring the Dolphins and Buccaneers, who naturally have less rushing attempts having played one less game, the biggest teams jumping out are the Bills and Chiefs. The Bills are still running the ball as much as nearly anyone despite their lack of success, while the Chiefs have found tremendous success but find themselves in the bottom 10 of rushing attempts for teams who have played four games. The Jaguars have gone all-in on attempting to hide Bortles, while the Eagles appear to be doing the same thing with Carson Wentz. The Ravens make perfect sense, in that they have to run the ball because Joe Flacco is awful, but they don’t run the ball particularly effectively either, coming in 2 points below league average. The Cowboys are another team who is likely going to want to run the ball more, also coming in the bottom 10 for total rushes despite having an offense built to run the ball down peoples throats.

Transitioning to individual players, we have a 3-way tie at the top of the leaderboards among backs with at least 30 carries on the year, as Derrick Henry, Kareem Hunt, and Lamar Miller all find themselves 12 points above league average for players with an OrW% of 59%. Todd Gurley is just off their pace at 58%, while Jamaal Charles surprises everyone just by being able to walk, never mind finding success at the 5th highest rate (55%) through four weeks. Devont’a Freeman and Jacquizz Rodgers are just outside the top 5, while traditional studs Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliot find themselves just a couple points above league average.

Jay Ajayi has been a victim of an awful offensive line this year, leading to just a 45% OrW%, which is still 1 point ahead of Marshawn Lynch, who unfortunately is very washed. Carlos Hyde and CJ Anderson have had solid seasons to this point, but find themselves pretty far below league average finding success, while LeSean McCoy, Ameer Abdullah, and Melvin Gordon are predictably low as well. No one, however, compares to Paul Perkins, who is on pace to have one of the worst running back seasons of all time. The good (?) news for him is he likely won’t see enough carries going forward to get there, as rookie Wayne Gallman is primed to become the lead back for New York’s NFC team.

Le’Veon Bell paces the league in terms of total carries, while Todd Gurley comes in as the only player in the top 5 of both rushing attempts and OrW%. Lamar Miller and Devont’a Freeman’s success rates’ are both impressive given their volume as well, while it is abundantly clear that Derrick Henry needs to take over as the lead back in Tennessee. The Chargers probably shouldn’t be married to Melvin Gordon, long term or in the near future. While he didn’t have enough carries to qualify for this list, Alex Collins should (and seemingly will) be the guy moving forward in Baltimore.

In terms of players OrW% compared to their team’s performance, Jordan Howard, Chris Carson, and Lamar Miller have all outperformed their teammates, coming in 5 points above their team OrW%, while CJ Anderson (-15) and Buck Allen (-14) are the only players to beat out the trio of Bilal Powell, Paul Perkins, and Semaje Perine (-11) among those finishing below their team average.

That will wrap up the first quarterly review of the season. Come back next week for a week 5 update, only on settingedge.com.