The Long Ball: Football’s Run n’ Gun Philosophy

Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

by Patrick Dowling

There is a question that continuously lurks in the back of each and every football offensive coordinators minds: domination of the run game or the pass game? As may be obvious to the staunch football fan, contemporary football teams have drifted away from the run game to the pass games. In the past, dominant running backs have been able to carry teams on their back (see: Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, and Earl Campbell). These running backs were each the focal point of their teams offense back in the day. The most dominant running backs of the NFL today (Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, and Ray Rice) are getting fewer and fewer carries every year as the NFL moves toward a drastic change.

NFL fans who prefer to see ball control and defensive struggles are on the losing end of this shift. The days of getting thirty carries in a game and the final score being under a total of fifty points are becoming limited. This year in the NCAA, fans witnessed a college game featuring two premier schools resulting in a cumulative 163 points, with the West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith throwing eight touchdowns. Yep, you read that right, eight touchdowns.

As time goes on, the speed of the wide receiver and the precision of the quarterback continue to grow. This change results in more points and as teams in the NFL begin to implement this pass-first attitude, other teams will change their games to keep up with the points scored by pass-first teams. It looks that today as if each team in the league has a pass-first mentality. Even this year, teams like the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, those with tenacious defenses, are looking for increased production from their quarterbacks.

There are upsides and downsides to this rapid change in the NFL. The upside is that this atmosphere in the NFL creates a higher percentage for big play potential than that a running game would. We are seeing receivers like Mike Wallace and Julio Jones becoming down-field threats, instantaneously making them top receivers in the NFL. Most, if not all, football fans enjoy seeing their team complete a 90 yard touchdown pass to give their team the game (i.e. Victor Cruz). And additionally, new “fans” who don’t know much about the NFL will watch and see the team they are “rooting” for create a big play and get overly excited, inciting a higher fanbase.

The downside is that long time NFL fans who enjoy seeing middle linebackers and big running backs dominate the game are starting to grow frustrated. They see less and less of their team chewing off time on the clock and controlling the ball on the ground, and scream at their televisions once their team goes for three passes in three plays, each ball hits the turf, and the team is off the field in a matter of seconds (a three-and-out). Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, the premier backs of three years ago, are seeing their carries and production drop abruptly, as each of their teams foster young quarterbacks and pass the ball much more.

Running and gunning should be a balance. Regrettably, there are about twenty talented quarterbacks in the league right now but only five running backs with relative talent. If you are like me and would rather see Patrick Willis and Ray Rice be the premier players of the league, you’re going to have to wait while watching receivers and quarterbacks lament during incomplete passes for a penalty flag.