All through the 2018 common season, the Seattle Seahawks made a acutely aware effort to set up the specter of the working recreation within the minds of their opponents. Within the face of document offensive manufacturing throughout the NFL — pushed largely by prolific passing offenses — head coach Pete Carroll doggedly maintained that sticking with working the ball gave the Seahawks the most effective likelihood to win. Although they tried the fewest passes within the NFL, the Seahawks went 10-6 and earned a playoff berth.
However that reliance on the run might have been Seattle’s undoing in its 24-22 loss to the Dallas Cowboys within the NFC wild-card recreation. Within the first half the Seahawks’ working backs rushed 9 occasions for an anemic 2.1 yards per carry. Most of these runs got here in a selected sequence: rush-rush-pass. All however three of Seattle’s first-half speeding makes an attempt originated from the rush-rush-pass play sequence. And regardless of the dearth of success utilizing that sample of performs towards the Dallas defensive entrance, Seattle opened its first possession of the second half by calling it once more. The outcome was a punt.
The notion of building the run is deeply ingrained in NFL tradition. Coaches and play-callers laud the strategy for its means to maintain a group “on schedule” and “forward of the chains,” each of that are soccer shorthand for choosing up sufficient yards on first and second down that you simply stand a superb likelihood to increase a drive. True believers suppose that in the event you abandon the run too early, you make your group one-dimensional and forfeit an vital edge in toughness. You’re now not imposing your will on a protection, and this may present itself in worse outcomes general. However is that this true? Does working assist a group convert extra first downs and prolong drives? And does the order wherein you name move and run performs matter?
To reply these questions, I checked out each play referred to as within the NFL common season from 2009 to 20181 and in contrast the results of every of the attainable permutations of run and move play sequencing2 utilizing anticipated factors added and success charge.three I calculated EPA and success charge for each first-down play; then I checked out each sequence that didn’t take in into a primary down and prolonged to second down after which third down, calculating the EPA and success charge for every name. Solely sequences of three performs are included within the remaining evaluation.
Leaguewide, speeding is the popular play name on first down, after which passing takes over because the dominant play kind, particularly on third down.
Over the course of the 2018 season, there was no three-play sequence that Seattle favored greater than rush-rush-pass. The Seahawks referred to as rush-rush-pass 26 p.c of the time, a charge 10 share factors larger than league common. But regardless of the excessive frequency with which Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer used the sample, they weren’t profitable with it. Simply 41.2 p.c of their rush-rush-pass sequences led to success. In the meantime, on three-play sequences the place the Seahawks began with a move and combined in a run afterward, they had been profitable 88.9 p.c of the time (pass-rush-rush), 71.four p.c of the time (pass-pass-rush) and 50 p.c (pass-rush-pass) of the time.
These outcomes maintain typically throughout the league as nicely. Move-rush-rush is essentially the most profitable three-play sequence, adopted by pass-pass-rush and rush-pass-rush.
On first down, passing will internet you no less than 5 yards (sufficient to make the play a hit) 47 p.c of the time, whereas working the ball will get you an identical outcome simply 32.eight p.c of the time, 14.2 share factors much less typically. On second down, the hole closes to a few 7 percentage-point benefit for passing.
Play-calling patterns that finish in a move on third down have a detrimental anticipated worth throughout the board. If we have a look at every sequence by way of EPA per play, we see that the one constructive EPA values on third down are on working performs. This is smart: In case you are passing on third down, it strongly implies that the primary two performs within the sequence didn’t finish nicely, and also you probably have a third-and-long scenario.
In the meantime, the alternative end result is true on first and second down. There are not any constructive EPA speeding nodes, and all passing performs return constructive anticipated worth.
This result’s the precise reverse of what we might look forward to finding if establishing the run through play sequences like rush-rush-pass had been profitable methods. As an alternative of creating a group much less predictable, establishing the run on first and second down creates a recreation state that’s typically fairly predictable for the protection. The opposing group is anticipating a move on third down as a result of the primary two performs had been unsuccessful.
Surprisingly, two of the highest three groups in internet yards per passing try in 2018, the Rams and the Chiefs, really do have success with the rush-rush-pass play sequence.
Kansas Metropolis, essentially the most dominant passing group within the league, was profitable 53.three p.c of the time with rush-rush-pass. However the Chiefs ran the sequence simply 15 occasions all season for a complete share of 9 p.c of all performs — 7 share factors under league common — they usually had been largely unsuccessful with the primary two performs within the chain. When the Chiefs referred to as back-to-back runs on first and second down, the second run was profitable simply 47.7 p.c of the time. This implies that the success of their third-down passes owes itself extra to the energy of the Chiefs passing recreation and quarterback Patrick Mahomes than to the working performs that led as much as them.
The story is analogous in Los Angeles. Sixty p.c of rush-rush-pass play sequences led to success, and the Rams used the sample at precisely the league-average frequency. Once more, nonetheless, when the Rams referred to as back-to-back runs to start a sequence, the second run was profitable simply 46.1 p.c of the time, leaving them 5.eight yards left to achieve for a first-down conversion on common. The success the Rams loved on third-down passing makes an attempt seems to be unbiased of the speeding performs that preceded them.
Whereas the exact order wherein passes and runs are referred to as might not matter a lot — a number of combos are roughly equal to at least one one other based on success charge — some developments are clear. Passes are simpler when referred to as on early downs, and runs are simpler on third down. Working on first down, whereas typically a mistake, could be salvaged with a move on second down. And in the event you’re going to hurry on back-to-back performs to open a collection, it’s best to achieve this sparingly as a result of it should go away your group in an apparent passing scenario most of the time. Your passing assault — and QB particularly — will must be nicely above common to persistently convert in these high-leverage spots the place all deception is gone and defenders could be assured that they know what’s coming.
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