Do NFL Teams Even Need to Run the Ball Anymore?

By Drew Magary
|  Friday, Oct 8, 2010  |  Updated 3:39 PM CDT
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Kyle Orton is having a heck of a year.

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Hey kids, here’s fun stat for you: Right now, three quarterbacks are on pace to break Dan Marino’s single season yardage record of 5,084, and Kyle Orton is one of them. Orton, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers are all on pace to not only break the record, but crush it by over 200 yards. These huge stats have come at a price, of course. All three QBs are stuck on 2-2 teams, and the Colts and Broncos have both had issues running the ball. Regardless, there are plenty of reasons to think one if not more of those guys will end up setting the record this year.

The league has been trending this way for over a decade. The proliferation of the shotgun spread formation has led to hugely inflated passing stats all over the place. A dozen QB’s finished with ratings of 90 or higher last year, which was an all-time record. Five finished above 100, also a record. Seven are currently passing above 100, which would be a new record. There have been seven 400-yard games this year. Know how may there were all of last season? Six. Quarterbacks, thanks to the shotgun spread and strictly enforced rules for defensive contact, are blowing apart the league’s secondaries.

Which begs the question: Do you even need a running game anymore? Take a look at the list of Super Bowl champs. The only two champs this past decade to have a big-time running threat were the 2005 Steelers (Willie Parker) and the 2000 Ravens (Jamal Lewis). Apart from that, Super Bowls have been won with dominant passing games and a serviceable platoon in the backfield. The days of Emmitt Smith carrying a team to the Super Bowl on his shoulders are all but dead. Passing wins the day for virtually any championship offense now. Balance is overrated, so long as you get the yards you need. And, given how things are trending, I don’t think it would be shocking in the least to see a team win the Super Bowl with virtually no running game of any kind, as the Colts nearly did last season.

In fact, it’s all but inevitable at this point. Jack Pardee and the run-and-shoot may have been laughed out of the NFL over a decade ago, but sooner or later there will come an NFL head coach who decides to pull a Mike Leach and decide that running the ball, from a strategic perspective, never makes sense. Why plow a running back into seven guys when you can spread four wides and find more available open space down the field? There is going to come a time, in the future, when a team will win a championship by averaging over 50 throws a game. Maybe it won’t be this year. But ten years from now, when QB’s are placed in red jerseys and it’s illegal to come within ten yards of them? Yeah, Mouse Davis will have his revenge on us all.

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