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The Run/Pass Percentage Paradigm in the NFL

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A reporter once asked Pete Carroll last year something to the tune of "What is your ideal run-pass mix?" Carroll replied, " the end of the game."

I interpreted that as saying: 'We have to throw more early to get a lead and then protect that lead late by running the ball.' Beyond the game situation dictating the run, I also believe it is a big part of the offensive identity that Carroll wants to have with the Seahawks. Many fans will criticize this idea- as well as his frequent calls for a "game manager/point guard" quarterback.

It's easy to criticize when the Week 1 fireworks included 517 yards from Tom Brady and an opening salvo of Aaron Rodgers going toe to toe with Drew Brees. Indeed, the opening week of 2011 was marked by the highest amount of yards thrown in the history of the NFL. In Week 1 teams threw the ball 1116 times and ran it 819 times (for a 42.3% run percentage). In 2010 that average was hovering around 44-45%.

Seattle only ran it 22 times compared to 37 throws (37% run percentage) against San Francisco on Sunay - but were behind the entire game and down two scores for much of the time.

In 2010 Seattle ran the ball 41.4% of the time, good for the 7th lowest percentage in the NFL. Pete Carroll wants to change this.


In 2001 Pete Carroll was just getting Troy Palomalu and Carson Palmer to "buy in" and they started off 2-5 before they turned the corner. In 2009, Carroll lost to my Washington Huskies- a team that was winless the year prior. Nuff said. So I threw his first year and his last year out. Here is what he did during the glorious middle seven years.


Considering the fact that the team's best players kept graduating, I think this run percentage does reflect a balanced attack approach. Also, USC lost about one or two games per year during this stretch and were well ahead in most games. I am surprised that the run percentage is not higher. The 2004 and 2005 teams were the most dominant and had two NFL running backs (cue the jokes) in Reggie Bush and Lendale White. Yet Leinart was still chucking the ball and winning a Heisman. Takeaway? Pete Carroll wants a balanced attack. He didn't run a college style shotgun spread offense. He wants to run the ball throughout the game and take some shots early to build a lead and keep the defense honest.

He also does not want even Heisman quality quarterbacks to throw the ball 60% of the time. I was amazed at the Sanchez line (2008)- he had Mark drop back only 388 times. He protected Sanchez with a sick defense and good running game much like the Jets do with him now. The 2008 USC defense was ridiculous with Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing, Ray Maualuga and other NFL names.

I will now examine the 2010 NFL Run Percentages:


Quartile 1- the bottom 8 teams in 2010 include:

ARZ 36.3%

NOR 36.5%

IND 36.7%

WAS 36.7%

DET 39.0%

DEN 40.7%,

SEA 41.4%

CIN 42.0%

Interestingly, only three of the eight teams were in the playoffs! NOR and IND because of Hall of Fame quarterbacks. SEA because of well...lots of reasons. The other teams were doing a lot of losing and were behind for most of the season.

Quartile 2
STL 42.1%

HOU 42.4%

DAL 42.6%

PHI 43.3%

BUF 43.6%

GBP 43.8%

MIA 44.4%

SFO 44.5%

Inside here are three pretty good offensive clubs- PHI, HOU and GBP- and they each threw the ball more than the league average. Two playoff teams here.

Quartile 3
SDC 45.7%

TEN 46.1%

ATL 46.3%

CLE 46.4%

TBB 46.6%

MIN 46.6%

CAR 46.9%

CHI 47.0%

Two playoff teams in the mix here- ATL and CHI. One offensive juggernaut- SDC.

Quartile 4
NYG 47.1%

NEP 47.2%

PIT 49.6%

BAL 49.8%

NYJ 50.4%

OAK 50.7%

JAX 52.2%

KCC 53.9%

Five playoff teams here and one more team that probably should have been in the playoffs (NYG). What jumped out to me here is that the power of the AFC (PIT, BAL, NEP and NYJ) are all clumped in this mix. Some of that is because they win a lot of games and salt away leads, but running is a part of the identity of PIT and BAL- defensive oriented teams.

The reason why those teams are dangerous is because they also have a QB that can bring them back when they are behind (Ben more than Flacco IMO) to pair with the defense and running game.

New England has always had an effective running game playing off the threat of Tom Brady. They can run power as well as shotgun draws. It's almost like the pass sets up the run there and they are ahead in games a lot so running makes a lot of sense even when you have Brady at the helm. (Then again- you can throw a 99 yard laser backed up on your own 1 yard line because dammit- I am Bill Belichick and Tom Brady is my QB and dammit we are better than you).


Do I see the Seahawks running over 50% of the time in 2011? No I don't.

The Seahawks offense will probably not build a ton of big leads in 2011 and will be forced to throw from behind. The Seahawks do not have a dominant O-line or a dominant running back. There is no Darren McFadden or Maurice Jones-Drew or Jamaal Charles.

I think it would be impressive to run 45% of the time in 2011. In future years I believe it is Carroll's goal to run in the high 40%'s or possibly over 50% as part of the team's identity and a reflection of being a good team that plays with a lead. Being the NFL- it might not ever be quite like at USC, but Carroll is aiming toward that goal.