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NFL Rushing stats 2015-18: Horses running wild?

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A look at where the Denver Broncos rushing offense was during the last four season, 2015-2018.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is moving more and more towards all passing/no running, but we have seen the pendulum swing every so slightly back toward running the ball in the past few years.

It appeared that we were going to hit 70% soon back in 2015, but that downward trend has moved us back to the 65% that was the norm from 2000-2010.

From a play selection standpoint, only 41.2% of all plays were running plays in 2018, and only three teams were close to (or above) 50% - SEA (52.6%), TEN (48.4%) and BAL (48.2%). The run % league-wide (percentage of all plays that are running plays) was down from 42.4% in 2017. As recently as 2006 that was above 45% (45.1%), but it has been as low as 40.7% (2016). 2016 was the nadir for the NFL in terms of run %.

In 2018, Denver was closer to the bottom of the league than the top at 38.7%, which is strange considering Case Keenum did his best work in 2017 in MIN where they ran quite a bit (47.5%).

In focus - 2018 Bronco running game

The Broncos had the 4th best rushing attack in 2018 from a YPC perspective (4.85 ypc). We were only 12th in total rushing yards with 1907. Our 393 rushing attempts were 21st in the league. The Ravens (547 attempts) ran the ball 154 more times in 2018 than the Broncos. We gained 107 rushing first downs in 2018, which was 11th in the league. The Ravens gained 153. Setting aside the obvious question of why we didn’t run the ball more, let’s dive deeply into how those rushing yards were generated.

We had three running backs in 2018 and we occasionally ran the ball with WRs or on QB scrambles. Keenum had 17 actual running plays (9 kneel-downs which the league still stupidly counts as a running play). Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker ran the ball on 356 of our 383 actual running plays (we had 10 kneel-downs).

As a team here is the comparative data for how often we gained X yards.

Year % of runs gaining 20 or more % of runs gaining 11-20 yds % of runs gaining 7-10 yds % of runs gaining 3-6 yds % of runs < or = 2 yards % of runs < or = 0 yards
2018 3.1% 9.9% 12.5% 33.9% 40.5% 18.8%
2017 1.8% 6.9% 10.7% 40.9% 39.6% 17.2%
2016 1.0% 7.0% 12.6% 28.1% 51.3% 20.6%
2015 2.7% 7.7% 11.2% 31.3% 47.0% 22.4%

The big year over improvement was from 2016 to 2017. You can see that we actually regressed some in 2018 relative to 2017. The one area where we had a big year-over-year improvement was long runs. Our percentage of runs that gained 7-10, 11-20 and 20 or more yards all went up substantially relative to 2017. I read those stats as runs that in 2017 would gain 3-6 yards, were gaining 7 or more yards in 2018. That is a reflection on the elusiveness of the running backs. In 2017 we had Booker, an out-of-shape C.J. Anderson and a broke-down and disinterested Jamaal Charles carrying the ball.

In 2018 we had a higher % of runs that were stopped at or behind the LOS than in 2017. We also had a higher % of runs that gained two or fewer yards. For those who prefer graphs to tables the data from above is shown in graphical form below.

From the perspective of the individual running backs here is how our three runners compared to each other in 2018.

Back % of runs gaining 11-20 yds % of runs gaining 7-10 yds % of runs gaining 3-6 yds % of runs less than or equal to 2 yards % of runs less than or equal to 0 yards
Pillip Lindsay 11.2% 9.6% 34.2% 40.6% 20.3%
Royce Freeman 7.0% 11.7% 35.9% 43.8% 19.5%
Devontae Booker 9.1% 18.2% 39.4% 30.3% 9.1%

I was surprised to see how effective Booker was. He did not have a single run where he was tackled for a loss of yardage. He also had a surprisingly high % of his runs gain 7 or more yards. Now, we need some context here. Were many of those runs on 3rd and long (“give-up” runs)? Booker only had 9 of his carries 34 carries on 3rd down and only three of those carries were on 3rd and long. He had a run of 11 on 3rd and 7 against the Faiders in Jokeland, a run of 8 on 3rd and 9 against the Faiders in Denver. His other run on 3rd and long was on 3rd and 7 against the Chiefs in KC - it gained 3 yards. Booker had another good run on 3rd down against the Chiefs in Denver, but it was on 3rd and 2 (he gained 10).


I’m certain that Vic Fangio understands the connection between a good running game and an effective defensive unit. Chicago ran the ball 468 times in 2018 (6th most rushing attempts) despite being 27th in YPC (4.141 YPC, WAS had 4.142). Matt Nagy did this to both aid Fangio’s D but also to help his young QB. When healthy, the Broncos have one of the most potent and dynamic RB duos in the league. Freeman was not the same once he came back from his ankle injury. I’m hopeful that in 2019 he can regain his form from the first part of the 2018 season. Lindsay has a rare combination of speed, quickness and vision. If these two are used properly Denver could have the best run game in the league in 2019. This is, of course, dependent on finding a good center or guard to replace Matt Paradis and Max Garcia, both of whom left in free agency. I’m not drinking the Sam Jones Kool-Aid just yet.


After finishing 4th in YPC and 12th in total rushing yards in 2018, where will Denver finish in those two stats in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    #1 in both!!!
    (47 votes)
  • 48%
    Top 5 in both
    (288 votes)
  • 28%
    Top 5 in YPC, top 10 in total rushing yards
    (168 votes)
  • 13%
    Top 10 in YPC, top 15 in total rushing yards
    (80 votes)
  • 2%
    bottom half of the league in both
    (16 votes)
599 votes total Vote Now