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Things I Learned From the New PFR Play Finder: Which Teams Chewed Up the Most Rushing Yards by Half?

Posted by Neil on September 4, 2012

One old football aphorism was always that teams needed to "establish the run" -- running early, as the theory went, would set up the pass later in the game. Often it was cited that "Team X is 10-1 when they run 30 or more times in a game," or some such number that failed to see the difference between correlation and causation.

Later, researchers like Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz would point out that teams have such great records when they rush so frequently because the running game is used to run out the clock late in games by the team in the lead. Teams run when they win, not win when they run.

Using our new Play Finder tool, you can illustrate this by looking at rushing yards by half. Here were the teams who had the most rushing success in the first halves of games a year ago:

Team G Plays Yds Avg
CAR 16 218 1369 6.28
DEN 16 271 1325 4.89
MIN 16 249 1260 5.06
OAK 16 247 1225 4.96
HOU 16 262 1200 4.58
PHI 16 228 1145 5.02
CHI 16 230 1125 4.89
ATL 16 237 1064 4.49
BAL 16 223 1064 4.77
PIT 16 193 1029 5.33
SFO 16 227 1026 4.52
JAX 16 222 1015 4.57
MIA 16 237 988 4.17
NOR 16 180 979 5.44
KAN 16 246 969 3.94
DAL 16 206 960 4.66
STL 16 224 952 4.25
BUF 16 191 938 4.91
WAS 16 220 913 4.15
SDG 16 207 896 4.33
NYJ 16 225 896 3.98
IND 16 220 865 3.93
SEA 16 225 857 3.81
CIN 16 217 801 3.69
NWE 16 193 789 4.09
CLE 16 221 782 3.54
GNB 16 161 721 4.48
NYG 16 184 707 3.84
DET 16 165 696 4.22
ARI 16 176 695 3.95
TAM 16 176 671 3.81
TEN 16 170 592 3.48

And here were the most successful rushing teams in the 2nd half:

Team G Plays Yds Avg
HOU 16 284 1247 4.39
DEN 16 258 1233 4.78
NOR 16 248 1138 4.59
PHI 16 221 1129 5.11
MIN 16 199 1057 5.31
CAR 16 227 1033 4.55
SFO 16 269 1006 3.74
MIA 16 230 987 4.29
BUF 16 200 984 4.92
CIN 16 238 978 4.11
NWE 16 245 975 3.98
JAX 16 267 956 3.58
BAL 16 236 932 3.95
SDG 16 220 915 4.16
KAN 16 234 906 3.87
ARI 16 201 900 4.48
SEA 16 218 900 4.13
CHI 16 224 883 3.94
OAK 16 217 879 4.05
PIT 16 241 875 3.63
TEN 16 206 847 4.11
DAL 16 198 842 4.25
GNB 16 234 838 3.58
DET 16 191 825 4.32
NYJ 16 218 796 3.65
TAM 16 172 784 4.56
ATL 16 215 772 3.59
CLE 16 192 732 3.81
IND 16 162 731 4.51
NYG 16 227 722 3.18
WAS 16 178 698 3.92
STL 16 184 696 3.78

If you look at how those numbers correlate to winning percentage, total 1st-half rushing yards have a Pearson coefficient of -0.090 (meaning there's practically no relationship -- and whatever relationship there is is negative!), while yards per rush in the 1st half have a 0.179 correlation with winning. 2nd-half total rushing yards have a correlation of 0.289 with winning percentage, and yards per carry in the 2nd half has a correlation of -0.303.

These are small correlations, but the point is that total 2nd-half rushing success is much more correlated with winning than 1st-half rushing (which has practically no relationship with winning whatsoever). In other words, so much for "establishing the run."

More interestingly, per-play rushing success in the 2nd half has the strongest correlation of any of the variables I looked at above... and it's negative! This makes sense, because teams running out the clock are often calling safe, straight-ahead plunge plays, while defenses with the lead are willing to concede effective runs to the trailing offense.

Because of those factors, the most telling numbers of all are simply that 1st-half rushing attempts had a -0.312 correlation with winning, while 2nd-half rushing attempts had a correlation of 0.612.

Which basically proves once again that teams need to establish the pass early, not the run, and use rushing to run out the clock once they have the lead.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 at 9:00 am and is filed under Advanced Stats, Announcement, Features, Play Index, Pro-Football-Reference.com. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “Things I Learned From the New PFR Play Finder: Which Teams Chewed Up the Most Rushing Yards by Half?”

  1. oneblankspace Says:

    When the Quarterback takes a knee to close out the 4th quarter, that gets recorded as a rushing attempt.

  2. Interesting that first half rushing attempts correlate pretty solidly negatively with winning. Though part of that is biased by the fact that teams with awesome passing attacks who don't run a lot will win a lot of games (New England, Green Bay, New Orleans.) Now obviously they win a lot of games because having a great passing attack will do that for you, but this data doesn't necessarily mean, say, the Jets, should be chucking it up with Sanchez and Tebow 30 times in the first half.

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