Contextualizing the Run: Offensive Run-Game Win Value – Quarterly Update 2

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Contextualizing the Run: Offensive Run-Game Win Value – Quarterly Update 2

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 already reached the halfway point of the NFL season, and I kinda sorta want to cry. NFL seasons move way too fast, and before you know it we’ll be discussing who has the matchup advantages at every position group for Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl part 2. At this point we have a tremendous sample size to work from for OrWV, and looking at the results to date there are certainly some results that will shock absolutely no one (the Cowboys are good at running the football), and some that should surprise many (the Patriots are even better). Let’s jump right into the team’s midseason results.

Yeah I wasn’t lying earlier. The Patriots have the most successful run-game in the league. The offensive line has come together, they have a quartet of backs that all bring unique skillsets, and they know how and when to attack teams on the ground. Being worried about that Tom Brady guy probably helps as well. The Cowboys actually significantly closed the gap this week, after week 7 the Patriots had a 3 point lead on Dallas, who was still the second best team in football in OrWV. The Broncos were a big surprise to me when I saw them come in at 3, but they’ve been extremely efficient despite middle-of-the-road volume numbers. Sean McVay has brought Todd Gurley back to life, who has in turn brought the Rams back to life, while Aaron Jones is the truth in Green Bay to round out the top 5.

After dominating the early parts of the season, the Chiefs and Titans have both fallen off tremendously and now hover slightly above average. The Jaguars fell off slightly as well but are still pushing the top 5, while the Redskins have maintained efficiency behind their offensive line despite injuries and not having a consistent lead back.

On the other end, the Lions and Bills have started gaining serious ground over the past few weeks, and have gone from bottom 5 team’s at the last update to nearly league average at midseason. The Chargers and Seahawks continue to be awful, but now it’s the other New York team lumped into the bottom 3 with them, as the Jets have completely fallen off running the ball while Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman have brought the Giants from horrendous to just bad.

When we sort the chart by total carries, we see that the three highest-volume teams-the Bears, Vikings, and Eagles-all have below-average value finding success running the ball, while the two most successful teams-the Patriots and Cowboys-sit at 10th and 11th in total rushes. The Packers are in the bottom 5 for total rushes, but make the most out of them. As we get further into the season without Aaron Rodgers, it will be interesting to see if they climb the volume rankings while dropping in the value rankings. The Cardinals have the least rushing attempts in football, something that is likely to change with Adrian Peterson in and Carson Palmer out for the remainder of the season.

The Dolphins value will likely continue to plummet after trading Jay Ajayi to the Eagles, who now have a dynamic back to feed the ball to and hopefully find themselves flipping the direction of their value bar. The Texans are probably the last interesting team yet to be mentioned, as Deshaun Watson’s injury likely means a continued heavy workload for their backs, but should put a dent in their value doing so. Lastly, the Falcons need to run the ball more.

Moving on to individual players, what immediately stands out to me is Devonta Freeman. Atlanta’s bell-cow is 3rd in the league (a distant third, granted) in OrWV, yet as mentioned above the Falcons are not running the ball nearly frequently enough. OrWV measures efficiency through volume, so to be so valuable with a more limited workload is very impressive and they should continue feeding him. The two players above him, however, are just absolute freaks. Ezekiel Elliot has more value running the ball than Freeman and 4th place Mike Gillislee do combined, while Gurley sits 7 points ahead of Freeman and is STILL more than 2.5 points behind Elliot. If Elliot somehow avoids suspension and the Rams somehow win the division, both of these men should be getting MVP love.

Raise your hand if you expected Alex Collins to be the second most successful sophomore running back despite being cut by the least successful running team in the league. Collins is just behind division rival Le’Veon Bell for a spot in the top 5 among all backs with 50+ carries.

If you haven’t already closely inspected the chart, take a guess at who the most successful rookie rusher is at the midway point of the year. Kareem Hunt? After his incredible start to the year his play has leveled off significantly and he sits as the last player above league average. Leonard Fournette? A better guess, but Fournette hasn’t broken 3 points yet in terms of his value. Dalvin Cook despite injury? Same boat as Fournette. Christian McCaffrey finished one rush short of qualifying (he’s above league average, btw) and Joe Mixon stinks, so who is left? UTEP’s own Aaron Jones. When Ty Montgomery and fellow rookie Jamaal Williams went down with injuries, Aaron Jones took over as the lead back and hasn’t given it back since. If only a handsome redhead who has already cleared 1,000 words in this article could’ve told you that Jones was good. If only.

Melvin Gordon stinks. You should have noticed on the last chart Gordon’s bar at the far right that was significantly lower than anyone else’s. When sorting for volume, we see that this isn’t a result of a couple bad games and a small sample size. Gordon had arguably his best game of the season on Sunday against the Patriots, and is still the clear least successful runner in football despite being top 10 in rushing attempts on the year. He is one of only 3 players in the top 10 to have a negative value, and his is worse than the other two (new Eagles teammates Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount) combined. Don’t let an 87 yard run fool you, he’s bad.

Nothing else that hasn’t been covered yet is too interesting. Alex Collins needs to be the guy in Baltimore, Carlos Hyde needs to be freed from San Francisco, and Duke Johnson should be the guy in Cleveland. Other than that, this should wrap up the OrWV midseason update. Check back in next week as we start the 2nd half of the year in week 9, only on settingedge.com.