It was just last season that Viking’s RB Adrian Peterson finished 8 yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record but now the league is down on rushing yards and attempts. In this pass-happy NFL of today is the running game as we know it gone for good?
As far as the numbers go, it is for this season at least. I don’t think there’s any indication that the running game will disappear entirely from the league, that’s a bit extreme. But, the numbers are definitely on the decline.
Last season, through the first nine weeks the NFL averaged about 7 teams with 100+ running backs each week. This season, it’s just over 4 and a half. And that’s just because in week 9 there were 13 players who rushed for over a hundred yards. Before then, there weren’t more than 6 players in a week to rush for more than a hundred yards.
But offensive numbers are up. The Broncos alone are on pace to score eleventy billion points this season. Do they not need a running game to do so? They’re about middle of the pack with their running game this season and they finished last year around the same spot so apparently not.
The San Francisco 49ers seem to be the only team in the league more successful at running the ball than passing. They rank in the bottom 5 for passing yards so far this season but in the top 5 for rushing. The other teams in the top of the running game this year are Philadelphia, Seattle, Buffalo and Green Bay. Clock-eating offenses consisting of rushing dominance seem to have been replaced by less running and more screens and short yardage passing instead.
Teams like the Giants, Steelers and Ravens are finding that running the ball consistently like they’re used to doing is damned near impossible this season. Piss poor offensive line performance has contributed greatly to their rushing woes but could they be steering towards becoming pass-first teams anyway? It’s hard to imagine the Steelers and Ravens not having a substantial running game, but each team is averaging less than 60 yards per game after nine weeks. For those teams to be having running problems to this degree, you’d have to think the running game just ain’t what it used to be in the NFL.
Stats provided by Pro Football Reference and ESPN stats