How Have We Been Running (A Final Look at the Running Game)

NASHVILLE TN - OCTOBER 03: Will Witherspoon #92 of the Tennessee Titans tackles Correll Buckhalter #28 of the Denver Broncos at LP Field on October 3 2010 in Nashville Tennessee. Denver won 26-20. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Raise your hand if you were not delighted to see the Broncos amass 145 yards on the ground against the Jets.

For those who have been sleeping through the month of September and October. The rushing yards from the Jets game was forty yards greater than the previous three games combined. Needless to say, the running game has been struggling. Some might choose to say that it had died an early death. The running game might choose to paraphrase Mark Twain and declare, "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

     Swg77, in his post "Pet Peeves and Observations," made the following observation:

There is one word I have not heard when critiquing our woeful running game.   In my opinion, the biggest problem in our running game has not been player deficiency.  I feel the biggest problem has been a lack of CREATIVITY.   This is a play-calling issue, not an execution issue.  Don't get me wrong, our running backs and offensive line should not win any medals.  Our coaching staff needs to get more creative.  We are not only the worst running offense but we are the most PREDICTABLE running offense.  We need to run more on third down and other long-yardage situations.  We also need to change the direction we run to.  I think we need more misdirections, more draws, etc.  It seems like I am ALWAYS able to predict when we are going to pass or when we are going to run and that is not good.  Please don't be the first moron to call me a "McD hater" because I actually like him and think he is a good coach.  


     I was going to write a response to this in his post, but when it started to be come ridiculously long, I felt it would be better to roll it into my final post on the running game. Swg77 makes some very good observations with his statement. I do not think anyone would argue that predictability can be a major problem since it allows opposing defenses to accurately anticipate and stop the Broncos' running efforts.

     I will warn you that what follows will be very stats intensive, but bear with me, there is a reason behind all the numbers. In the first part of this series, I looked at when the Broncos have run the ball according to downs and quarters. At the time of that article's writing, the following held true:

First Downs: 57 runs, 125 yards
Second Downs: 25 runs, 52 yards
Third Downs: 10 runs, 19 yards
Fourth Downs: 3 runs, 8 yards

First Quarter: 18 runs, 42 yards
Second Quarter: 29 runs, 73 yards
Third Quarter: 22 runs, 42 yards
Fourth Quarter: 26 runs, 45 yards


     So, the Broncos were over twice as likely to run on first down as on any other down. They were also more likely to run in the second and fourth quarters. It must be admitted, however, that the runs were fairly well balanced between the quarters.

     The second part of the series looked at the directions that the Broncos have been running.  At the time of the writing, the plays broke down as follows:

Direction Left End Left Tackle Left Guard Middle Right Guard Right Tackle Right End
Rushes 17 23 4 28 8 15 17
Yards/Carry 1.7 1.2 3.8 2.6 1.9 1.8 4.7

 

     It can be seen that the Broncos balanced their running attack across the line, with the possible exception of not running behind the guards.  An updated listing of our runs -- including the Jets game -- breaks down this way:

Direction Left End Left Tackle Left Guard Middle Right Guard Right Tackle Right End
Rushes 19 29 7 40 11 22 19
Yards/Carry 2.3 1.4 3.6 3.8 2.2 1.9 4.6



     Once again, we can see that the run direction is balanced. So, if there is predictability going on, it is not related to the directions that Denver is trying to run.

     Another way to look at the running game, to see if the Broncos are creating predictable patterns, is to do a deeper analysis by down.

First Down 79 Rushes 2.7 Yards/Carry
Yards to Go Rushes Yards/Carry Rushing First Downs % Rushing Conversions
1-2 4 0.0 0 0.0
3-5 3 4.0 2 66.7
6-10 70 2.7 5 7.1
11-15 2 5.5 0 0.0
16+ 0 0.0 0 0.0

 

     This chart suggests that when running on first down, Denver will most likely do so on first and ten. The 66.7% conversion rate for runs on first and three to five yards to go looks very impressive until it is acknowledged that the Broncos have tried running in this situation only three times.

Second Down 43 Rushes 2.2 Yards/Carry
Yards to Go Rushes Yards/Carry Rushing First Downs % Rushing Conversions
1-2 10 0.3 3 30.0
3-5 10 2.7 1 10.0
6-10 18 2.9 2 11.1
11-15 4 1.8 0 0.0
16+ 1 7.0 0 0.0


     There is not much of a discernible pattern here, other than the Broncos ran on second and six to ten almost twice as much as any other distance. Though, we are prompted to wonder why the yards per carry on second and one to two to go is a miserable 0.3.

Third Down 15 Rushes 2.6 Yards/Carry
Yards to Go Rushes Yards/Carry Rushing First Downs % Rushing Conversions
1-2 10 1.5 7 70.0
3-5 1 2.0 0 0.0
6-10 3 -3.0 0 0.0
11-15 3 4.7 0 0.0
16+ 2 2.0 0 0.0



     I found this chart to be rather interesting for it pointed out two things. First, on those few times that the Broncos chose to run on third and short (1-2 yards to go) they were relatively successful in converting the first down (70%). Second, the running game was fairly ineffective overall on third downs.

Fourth Down 3 Rushes 1.0 Yards/Carry
Yards to Go Rushes Yards/Carry Rushing First Downs % Rushing Conversions
1-2 3 1.0 2 66.7
3-5 0 0.0 0 0.0
6-10 0 0.0 0 0.0
11-15 0 0.0 0 0.0
16+ 0 0.0 0 0.0

 

     As with third downs, it is interesting to note that the Broncos converted the majority of our fourth and shorts when they chose to run the ball.

     This data clearly shows that Denver is significantly more likely to run on first down than on second or third down. Now, some of that may be due to a very poor yards per carry on first down runs. Second/third down and long may be limiting the Broncos' choices for running plays on those downs. When running on first down, the Broncos were more likely to run if there were six to ten yards to go. The same holds true for second down. On third down, the Broncos were more likely to run if there were one to two yards to go. It should not come as any surprise that the Broncos did not choose to run on fourth down when there were more than two yards to go.

     Yet another way to look at the running game is to look at downs and distances and see what percentage of the time we are running the ball. This would, perhaps, give us the best indication of whether or not the Broncos are falling in to predictable patterns in their running. There are several charts that follow which include lines in the following format:

First Down 79 Rushes
Yards to Go All Plays Red Zone Goal to Go Own Side Opponent's Side
10 45.5 38.5 0.0 46.2 44.3

 

The chart is to be read in the following way:
Down and Yards to Go should be self-explanatory.
All = All offensive plays at that down and distance
Red Zone = Offensive plays at that down and distance that took place in the Red Zone.
Goal to Go = Offensive plays at that down and distance that could not earn a first down.
Own Side = Offensive plays at that down and distance that took place on the Broncos' side of the 50.
Opponent's Side = Offensive plays at that down and distance that took place on the opponent's side of the 50.
The numbers are the percentage of all Broncos' plays at that down and distance that were runs

     Thus, in the example above, 45.5% of all plays on first and ten were runs, 38.5% of all plays that were first and ten within the Red Zone were runs, etc.

First Down 79 Rushes
Yards to Go All Red Zone Goal to Go Own Side Opponent's Side
1 100 100 100 0.0 100
2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
5 100 100 100 100 100
6 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
8 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
10 45.5 38.5 0.0 46.2 44.3
15 66.7 0.0 0.0 100 0.0
20 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
25 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0



     A couple of things can be seen here. Thus far, Denver has only run on first and five. In a first and one yard to go situation, Denver has only run the ball. Denver runs the ball on first and ten just under half the time, regardless of position on the field, though they are slightly less likely to run the ball on first and ten in the red zone. The Broncos have run the ball approximately two-thirds of the time when faced with a first and fifteen, and have chosen to only run in that situation when on their own side of the field.

Second Down 43 Rushes
Yards to Go All Red Zone Goal to Go Own Side Opponent's Side
1 53.9 66.7 75 33.3 60.0
2 75.0 100 0.0 66.7 100
3 40.0 50.0 100 50.0 33.3
4 50.0 0.0 0.0 33.3 100
5 58.3 0.0 0.0 80.0 42.9
6 66.7 50.0 0.0 50.0 75.0
7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
8 23.1 0.0 0.0 22.2 25.0
9 10.0 100 0.0 0.0 50.0
10 17.7 0.0 0.0 28.6 0.0
11 28.6 0.0 0.0 33.3 0.0
12 100 0.0 0.0 100 0.0
13 33.3 0.0 0.0 33.3 0.0
14 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
15 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
16 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
19 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
20 50.0 0.0 0.0 50.0 0.0
25 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0



     Some interesting things can be seen in what Denver has done on second down.  With one exception, the Broncos have not run any time they were faced with a second down and fourteen or more yards to go. They have only run on second and twelve. They have only run it on second and two in the red zone. They have run the ball eighty percent of the time when faced with second and five on their own side of the field. It would be interesting to go back at watch the last game or two and see if the Jets or the Ravens were picking up on those tendencies and stuffing them.

Third Down 15 Rushes
Yards to Go All Red Zone Goal to Go Own Side Opponent's Side
1 73.3 71.4 66.7 80.0 70.0
2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
3 10.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 14.3
4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
6 33.3 100 0.0 0.0 66.7
7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
8 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
9 33.3 0.0 0.0 333 0.0
10 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
11 20.0 0.0 0.0 100 0.0
12 100 0.0 0.0 100 0.0
13 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
14 25.0 0.0 0.0 25.0 0.0
15 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
17 50.0 0.0 0.0 50.0 0.0
23 100 0.0 0.0 100 0.0

 

     There have not been a lot of third down runs so far this year. A couple of interesting tendencies: Denver has run the ball well over half the time when faced with a third down and one. They have run the ball exclusively on third and six in the red zone.

Fourth Down 3 Rushes
Yards to Go All Red Zone Goal to Go Own Side Opponent's Side
1 100 100 100 0.0 100
3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
9 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
13 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0



     What this data suggests is -- as first submitted by swg77 -- there are some obvious tendencies in Denver's running. It might make an interesting study to go back and watch the games again to see if the opposing teams in the later games were picking up on these tendencies.

A final word on the Denver running game


There has been a lot of discussion about why the running attack has been so abysmal. If we take a look at our rushing yards through our first six games:

Team Yards Yd/Carry Longest Touchdowns
Jacksonville 89 3.6 17 1
Seattle 65 1.7 9 2
Indianapolis 47 2.6 9 0
Tennessee 19 1.0 8 0
Baltimore 39 3.0 13 0
New York Jets 145 3.9 14 1



     We see a steady decline from game one through game five, followed by a surge to a season high in game six. What will bear close watching is whether or not Denver can maintain a rushing game at, or near the totals from the Jets game. Imagine if the Broncos could manage to maintain their passing game (311 yards per game) and add to it a running attack that matches the middle of the league (106 yards per game). We might have the chance to see the offense operate the way it is supposed to function. Imagine the possibilites.

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