Rushing Stats Analysis: Find the Gap – The Losers
First and foremost, let me clarify something. The title of this piece may be more controversial than the information contained within. The teams talked about within are not necessarily ‘losers’ in the blunt sense of the word. They just didn’t find as much success as the teams above them. But, as the focus was on ‘winners’ at the top of the table last week…we should keep it consistent when looking at the bottom.
So, after identifying those who found success in the rushing stats analysis, let’s move on to those who didn’t. First up are a team who started out strong, and fizzled away.
This must be quite surprising for those who will look solely at win/loss records. But, for those who pay attention to the stats, this will not be an enlightenment. Because, for all the good that went into the Steelers’ unbeaten start to the season, it was done at the expense of a subpar rushing game.
And this can not just be traced to one particular aspect of that ground offense, there were issues across the board.
Firstly, a look at the volume. Considering that the Steelers went eleven games unbeaten this season, their rushing stats do not match up. Pittsburgh ran the ball 356 times, which was the third LOWEST amount of any NFL team. That means that there were teams with losing records that ran the ball more than the Steelers.
This could seem like an anomoly, but there could be reasoning behind it. One contributing factor could come down to that many of those first eleven victories came within one score – and close run affairs demand more creative play than just running the ball into the ground. Another could be the incredible effort made on behalf of the defence to score points for the team.
But, ultimately, for a team with a winning record to have so few carries? It wasn’t good news for anyone who drafted or held a Pittsburgh Running Back in 2020.
But, even with so few carries, there could still be a chance to make differences in games, As long as the yards come, it doesn’t matter if it comes in one run or ten, right?
Even so, when given the chance, the Steelers carriers were not very effective at running the ball. They managed to pick up 1241 yards from what carries they got. That averages out at only 4.15 yards a carry, and analysis of the NFL rushing stats puts the team in the bottom 5 for rush yard volume.
This can be further compounded by the unenviable record of the carry average through the middle of the offensive line. The Pittsburgh runners averaged 2.84 yards a carry through that area – the lowest-ranked effort of all teams.
So, even with opportunity, the runners didn’t make it count. Which is probably why the Steelers seemed to avoid using it as much as possible in 2020.
This issue can’t be pinpointed on one particular player. The issues with carrying the ball was endemic in the Steelers’ Running Back room. Rushing stats analysis of all players who saw over 50 carries gave further bad news for Pittsburgh.
James Conner and Benny Snell were the only two players on the team to see over that threshold. It’s not uncommon to have the lion’s share of carries to be given to a small group like this. But the reading is not good for any fantasy players who may have depended on one of them this year.
Conner was considered the lead Back with 154 of Pittsburgh’s 356 carries. But, when compared to all the other lead Running Backs on NFL teams, he falls short in several areas. The Steeler saw the highest percentage of runs stopped for between 1 and 3 yards (72 of 154 – nearly half of his carries!) and was ranked worst for making effective carries of 4 yards or more. Only 37% of his runs went over this distance.
Things don’t get much better for his team mate. In terms of effective running, Benny Snell ranks 88th of 90 players who saw 50 carries or more. Only Peyton Barber and Jared Goff rank worse than Snell, who saw 29.7% of his runs go for effective yards.
To make things worse, both players’ effectiveness was lowest running through the middle of the offensive line – yet this was where they were told to run the most. 87% of Conner’s carries were directed through this area, with 83% of Snell’s going the same way.
LIFE AFTER RANDY
Conner comes to the end of his rookie deal this year, and last year’s pick Anthony McFarland has promise. There are big decisions to make for the direction that the Steelers’ offense wants to take. But, whoever is there in 2021, there is still light at the end of the tunnel.
The Steelers fired their offensive co-ordinator Randy Fichtner after an uninspiring offensive seasonal performance. With reports that Big Ben was calling out his own plays during the games (and turning games around), Pittsburgh have moved on, and have appointed former Quarterbacks coach Matt Canada as their new OC.
So could this mean that there is a new lease of life for the Steelers rush offense in 2021? Pre-season will be very important next year to determine any differences but, with or without Conner, there could be some other outcomes with analysis of rushing stats in 2021.
It’s hard to believe that we are only a year removed from the Texans losing in the Divisional matchup…after squandering that huge lead.
That game seems so far away from the current state of the Texans franchise. But one thing that seems to have stuck with the Houston team is how dependant they are on their passing game. This became glaringly obvious when the Texans traded away star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. With that trade, the team lost a leading point-scorer, a key target of DeShaun Watson and a well respected member of the locker room.
And with no-one legally able to fill the talent gap, it meant that the Texans slipped from a 10-6 playoff bound team in 2019. And they fell all the way down to a 4-12 team in 2020. So why weren’t the rush offense able to help steer the ship to safety?
One clear difference between the two seasons is that the Texans found themselves behind more often than not. The team slipped to 0-4 in the first four weeks of the season. Analysis showed a small amount of rush success against the Chiefs and Vikings, two of those games were against tough rush defences in the Ravens and the Steelers. As a result, the team was forced to play from behind and not use their rushing offense as much, instead relying on their passing game to pull themselves back into the game.
Sadly, this seemed to follow a pattern for the rest of the season. Opposing rush defenses who came up against the Texans included the Titans, the Colts (twice) and the Bears. These three teams, as well as the Ravens and Steelers, managed to keep effective runs against them to a minimum.
As a result, the Texans ran the ball 344 times – the second fewest of any NFL team, with only Jacksonville carrying the ball less. Compared to 2019 stats, this was a drop of 90 carries – over 20% of rush volume!
This ended up in them picking up the third fewest rush yards for 2020 as well. And it also had a knock on effect to the volume over certain distances. Over the whole year, the Houston rush offense managed only 31 carries of over 10 yards. That comes in as joint-second worst in the NFL – and less than half of what the Baltimore Ravens managed (74!). They also ranked fourth-worst in runs that went for 4 yards or more.
BETTER TIMES AHEAD?
As with other teams who have struggled this year, there has been movement at management. Bill O’Brien has been fired from his multiple positions and, in his place, former Ravens Wide Receiver coach David Culley has been recruited as the new Head Coach.
At the very least it is an interesting choice, as the Ravens haven’t relied on Wide Receivers for a long time. As we know from the last article, the Ravens found domination in the last half of the 2020 season on the ground. Nevertheless, the Texans did rely a lot on their air offense to see them through games. 33 of the 43 offensive touchdowns came in the air, with 22 of them coming from Wide Receivers. Perhaps Culley’s experience with the Ravens could help them more in that area.
So what does this mean for the running game at the Texans?
In my eyes, it does not look good, especially now that Deshaun Watson is actively seeking a trade away. Watson himself was a key contributor to the run game, scoring 3 of the Texans’ 10 rushing touchdowns. And if the focus is to stop the Quarterback getting sacked (Watson has been sacked more than 40 times each year since 2018 – 49 times this year alone) then the emphasis might be on pass-protection personnel rather than those who can help rush block.
But, if we base decisions on this last season alone rather than speculate, then those who are holding any shares in David Johnson need to get rid of them very quickly.
Well, that wraps up the Find the Gap series for 2020. Join me again in 2021 as we do it all over again with some more enhanced metrics.
Thanks again to @5YardRush for giving me a chance to do this series.
Let’s bring on the 2021 off-season!