When Have We Been Running? (The Rushing Game by Down and Quarter)

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)

     The running game is a topic of considerable interest among Broncos fans. This, along with a desire to have some time to consider ways to adjust the OYPP/DYPP analysis to account for special teams contributions, has prompted me to put the "A Grand Experiment" series on hold for a time. This article will be the first of a three-part look at the Broncos' running game. Part One will look at the Broncos rushing attack by down, and by quarter. Part Two will delve into the directions the runs have gone. Part Three will look at where on the field the offense has been when the decision was made to run.

Let's jump into the running game.

     I'd like to start by making you aware of a very important fact: the numbers (rushing attempts and yards) may not precisely align with the "official" numbers posted in the statistics columns of various sources. The reason for this is largely two-fold:

(1)I have not included quarterback scrambles on broken pass plays as rush attempts, even though those are tallied as rushing attempts and yards. I am focusing very narrowly on designed running plays.

(2)I have included running plays that were nullified by either penalties or challenges. In those cases, the Broncos may have actually produced positive yardage, but lost that advantage due to a penalty or challenge.

Let's take a look at what the Broncos rushing game has done so far this year. The official lines for each game look like this:


Attempts
Yards
Average
Touchdowns
vs Jacksonville
25
89
3.6
1
vs Seattle
38
65
1.7
2
vs Indianapolis
18
47
2.6
0
vs Tennessee
20
19
1.0
0
TOTALS
101
220
2.2
3

 

     Not terribly impressive numbers. In fact, very poor numbers. Let's take a look at how these number look based on down.

Jacksonville
Attempts
Yards
Notes
1st Down
16
58
1 First Down
2nd Down
4
9
1 First Down (lost by fumble), 1 TD
3rd Down
2
8
1 First Down (nullified by Off Hold)
4th Down
1
2
1 First Down




Seattle



1st Down
18
41
1 fumble, recovered by Denver
2nd Down
12
25
2 First Downs
3rd Down
5
4
1 First Down, 1 TD
4th Down
0
0





Indianapolis



1st Down
8
15

2nd Down
7
17
1 First Down (nullified by Off Hold)
3rd Down
1
7

4th Down
1
1
1 TD (reversed by challenge)




Tennessee



1st Down
15
11
1 First Down, 5 yd run nullified by def penalty
2nd Down
2
1

3rd Down
2
0

4th Down
1
1
1 First Down




TOTALS



1st Down
57
125
2 First Downs, 1 Fumble (not lost), 5 yds lost to def penalty
2nd Down
25
52
4 First Downs (2 nullified), 1 TD
3rd Down
10
19
2 First Downs (1 nullified), 1 TD
4th Down
3
8
2 First Downs, 1 TD (reversed by challenge)

 

     What we can see is that Denver has done the majority (60%) of their running on First Down. On those first down runs, the Broncos are averaging 2.2 yards per carry. Second down carries have comprised 26% of the rushing attack. Those carries have averaged 2.1 yards per carry. Eleven percent of the Broncos carries have come on third down. Denver has averaged 1.9 yards per carry. Strangely enough, Denver's highest average of 2.7 yards per carry has come on the three fourth down carries.

     It is also important to note that the Broncos have had three first downs nullified by two penalties and a first down. The offense has also had one positive run nullified by a Defensive Offsides penalty. Finally, the Broncos had one touchdown reversed by a coach's challenge.

     Another way to look at the Broncos rushing attack is to examine when the team has chosen to run. The following data breaks down the runs by quarter.

Jacksonville
Attempts
Yards
Notes
1st Quarter
7
24
2 First Downs (1 nullified by Off Hold)
2nd Quarter
5
14
2 First Downs (1 nullified by lost fumble)
3rd Quarter
6
23
TD
4th Quarter
5
17





Seattle



1st Quarter
3
8

2nd Quarter
13
38
2 First Downs, TD, Recovered Fumble
3rd Quarter
9
13
TD
4th Quarter
10
11





Indianapolis



1st Quarter
4
14

2nd Quarter
9
14
First Down (nullified by Off Hold), TD (nullified by challenge
3rd Quarter
2
3

4th Quarter
2
9





Tennessee



1st Quarter
4
-4

2nd Quarter
2
7

3rd Quarter
5
3
5 yards nullified by Def Offsides makes it -2 yards
4th Quarter
9
8





TOTALS



1st Quarter
18
42
2 First Downs (1 nullified)
2nd Quarter
29
73
5 First Downs (2 nullified), 2 TD (1 nullified), recovered fumble
3rd Quarter
22
42
2 First Downs, 5 yards nullified by defensive penalty
4th Quarter
26
45

 

     This look at the rushing game is rather intriguing. The runs have been fairly evenly spread between the Second (31%), Third (23%),  and Fourth quarters (27%). The Second Quarter was the most productive overall. In the first quarter, the Broncos averaged 2.3 yards per carry. They averaged 2.5 yards per carry in the second, 1.9 in the third, and 1.7 in the fourth. We can also see how mental mistakes (penalties, and a fumble) have cost the Broncos in the running game.

Some General Impressions


1)The majority of Denver's runs have occurred on first down. There may likely be two primary reasons for this: (a)The Broncos want to show an early commitment to the run to open up the passing game, and (b)The overall average (2.2 yards per carry) has left the Broncos with 2nd and long on a regular basis, thus changing the available choices.

2)The Broncos have shown a commitment to the run that stretches throughout the game. Their most productive quarter for rushing has been the second.

3)Three first downs have been nullified by mistakes -- two penalties and a fumble.

4)One touchdown was lost through a coach's challenge.

5)Denver has run 287 offensive plays in their first four games. Running plays have made up 35% of those plays. There are, at least, two ways that this could be looked at: (a)The commitment/purpose of the running game -- at this point in time -- is more about attempting to keep the opposing defenses honest and opening up the passing game, and (b)The commitment is not particularly strong since the running attack has not been particularly effective.

Next time: Where Have We Been Running? (The Rushing Attack by Play Direction)

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