Monday, November 08, 2010

Not All Statistics Lie

230 yards rushing. That three digit-number is all that's needed to tell the story of an NFL game. It's a short story, and depending on your point of view, a sad one.

Forget everything else that happened. Ignore whatever other numbers and words are in the sports section. If a pro team runs for 230 yards in a game, it won. There can't be one game in 50 where it doesn't. Not only did it win, but when a team rushes for that many yards, it led practically the entire game at a minimum, and did so by a significant 10-point plus margin through the entire second half.

That last feature is because teams much more often run because they're winning then win because they're running. First downs by rushing are the best defense a team can possibly present to its opponent. They box the field position-time-scoreboard trifecta.

More importantly, a team that runs for over 200 yards in an NFL game just delivered a physical ass-kicking to the other guys. Its no-necks on the OL just shoved the other bunch's no-necks around as and where they pleased. Such physical dominance is very, very rare in pro football. When it happens, lopsidedness results. The final score winds up as, oh, 34-14 or thereabouts. You know, like the Pats game yesterday.

The Browns had the 230 yards rushing in New England's loss and the easy victory that stat told us about. This must be especially discouraging for Bill Belichick. I'm sure the coach expected that a defense force-feeding young players into much of its starting 11 would cost the Pats a few games this year. But I'm equally sure he expected those losses would come through lack of group cohesion and individual blunders, not from a total ass-kicking. It was the total ass-kicking the Ravens laid on the 2009 defense in the playoffs, after all, which was responsible for most of the new Pats defenders being MADE starters.

If there's any consolation for the Pats, it's this. One reason 200 yard rushing games are rare in the NFL is that half the teams in the league can't run the ball well enough to pile up that total in three games, and almost all the other half has forgotten the run altogether.


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