Running success in 2008


Some of you may remember a post I did after four games looking at running back success rate.  For those who don’t remember and who don’t click the link, success rate is a measure of running back performance based on how successful a carry is toward getting a first down.  Normally, it’s 40% on first down (or 4 yards on 1&10), 60% on second down (e.g., 4 on 2&6), and 100% on third or fourth down (so 3 on 3&2).  I prefer it to yards per carry, because (1) yards per carry can be badly skewed by a big run, and (2) context matters-getting 8 yards on 3&17 is less valuable than 2 yards on 3&1.

In my previous post, I jumped straight in to White v. Johnson, but with a full season, I’ll start with team statistics and cover White v. Johnson and situational usage in a subsequent post.

For the year, the Titans had 482 carries for 2,132 yards and a success rate of 47.1%.  I don’t know of a source for rushing success rate by team, but if the Titans were an individual player, they’d be tied for 20th or so among the 49 main running backs ranked by Football Outsiders.

The best individual game running in success rate terms was, unsurprisingly, the rout of the Chiefs.  Of the 38 carries that game, 28 were successful, a rate of 73.7%.  Surprisingly, the game with the second-best success rate was the overtime victory against Green Bay.  That day, 20 of the 33 carries were successes, 60.6%.  That narrowly edged out the 60.5% of carries (26 of 43) that were successful against the Browns.  The game I expected to be hugely successful, the Thanksgiving rout of the Lions, actually was surprisingly average-20 of 42, 47.6%.  That’s skewed a little by the 4th quarter, but even in the first 3 quarters, the Titans were only successful on 53% of rushing attempts.*

On the flipside, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to find the Titans’ worst rushing game of the year by success rate was the loss to the Jets.  The 11 carries netted only 35 yards, and a mere 2 of those were successful, so 18.2%.  The next least successful game was the game against the Bears in the Windy City, where Collins proved he could have success with his arm if a team was clamping down on the run.  That day, 6 of 25 carries, or 24% were successful.  The two games against the Ratbirds rank next on the line, with the regular season game actually faring worse than the one I wasted $Z to go see.  21 carries, 48 yards, 6 successes for a rate of 28.6% in Charm City, compared to 8 successes on 26 for 109, 30.8% in Nashville.

In the next post, I’ll do success rate by down-and-distance for the team as a whole and broken down between White and Johnson.  I’ll also add a couple disclaimers: I think it’d be a mistake to read anything into the Week 17 game against the Colts, so the season stats include the first 15 regular season games, plus the playoff game.  In pulling the data from the NFL playbooks, I only noted back, down and distance, and yards gained, and did not note field position.  If I have a chance later, I may note the Red Zone carries.  That’s something I’d like to track this year, as is player participation.  Finally, I only recorded designed rushes-Colllins scrambles were few, but they’re not included at all.

*-The baseline for success decreases in the 4th quarter if you’re leading, and increases if you’re trailing by 8 or more.


2 Responses to “Running success in 2008”

  1. Alvin Mullins Says:

    This is very interesting and adds to the impression that w/out Collins this team would have probably been 500 at best.
    Does swing pitches or screen passes count as a run or a pass in this stat?

  2. Tom Gower Says:

    I counted official rushing plays only, so backward tosses are included (though offhand I don’t recall the Titans really running any). Screen passes and swing passes are officially passes and thus aren’t included (and it’s generally not possible to tell from the PBP what type of pass a given play is).
    I’m not sure I’d agree with that record-they went 10-6 in ’07, without CJ28, and with a defense that overall was about the same, so I think they could have done at least that in ’08 as well.
    One thing success rate doesn’t account for, and this is why CJ28 makes a difference, is big plays-a 5 yard run on 1&10 is valued the same as a 15 yard one, even though the 15 yard one is clearly more valuable. The Colts’ running game is a good example of the difference-during the Peyton era, they’ve generally had a high percentage of successful runs, but few big gainers. That touches on another post I’ve thought about writing and hope to get to at some point-“explosive” plays and their contribution to scoring drives.

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