The NFL game has been placed in the hands of the quarterbacks.
They are the franchise players and are paid accordingly. The better the arm, the better the chances for a team’s success. At least that’s the perception. If Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Patrick Mahomes are taking your snaps, you are a Super Bowl contender.
But statistics tell a different story.
A 300-yard passing game is viewed as a badge of honor for quarterbacks. The NFL record book lists Brees as owner of 106 career 300-yard passing games. Future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning (93) and Tom Brady (87) also rank in the Top 3.
Well, there were a record 132 300-yard passing games in the NFL last season. But all those 300-yard games produced an overall losing record. Quarterbacks with them posted a 64-66-2 record. And if you subtracted the 8-2 record of NFL MVP Mahomes, the quarterbacks for the other 31 teams managed to win only 45.1 percent of the games they threw for 300 yards.
Receivers fared slightly better with their 100-yard games. There were a record 211 of them in 2018, including an NFL-leading 15 by both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Receivers with 100-yard games won 53.1 percent of the time, posting a 110-97-4 record. The Steelers were 8-6-1 in games individual receivers caught 100 yards in passes and the Buccaneers 6-9.
NFL teams ran the ball 13,270 times in 2018, the fewest rushes in a season in 23 years. But the teams that ran the ball claimed the greatest statistical reward. There were 108 individual 100-yard rushing games last season and teams benefitting from those games won 76.4 percent of the time (82-25-1). The NFC champion Rams posted an 8-0 record when Todd Gurley or C.J. Anderson rushed for 100 yards.
There were seven more 100-yard rushing games in the post-season and those teams posted a 7-0 record. The New England Patriots received 100-yard rushing games in each of their two AFC playoff games from Sony Michel, who then closed out his rookie season with a 94-yard performance and the game’s only touchdown in that Super Bowl victory over the Rams.
The Buffalo Bills went to four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s and the legs of Thurman Thomas were a huge part of that success. Thomas rushed for 46 100-yard games in his career and the Bills posted a 43-3 record in those games.
Hall of Fame finalist Edgerrin James rushed for 100 yards in 57 career games. His teams won 51 of them. Hall of Famer Jim Brown, the game’s greatest player, rushed for 100 yards in 58 games. His Cleveland Browns posted a 48-8-2 record in those games.
Franco Harris provided the legs of Pittsburgh’s dynasty in the 1970s that produced four Lombardi Trophies. He rushed for 100 yards in 47 career games and the Steelers won 42 of them. He’s in the Hall of Fame as is Tony Dorsett, whose legs helped make the Cowboys America’s Team in the 1970s. Dallas went 39-4 in his 100-yard rushing games.
Ezekiel Elliott, whose legs power the current Cowboys, won his second rushing title in three seasons in 2018. The NFC East champion Cowboys posted a 7-1 record last season when Elliott rushed for 100 yards. He has now rushed for 100 yards in 21 of his 43 career games and the Cowboys are 17-4 in those games.
With all the passing in today’s NFL, running backs are becoming forgotten weapons in an offense. They shouldn’t be. When rushes are called, victories follow.