Even when the head coach came out for the second half against the Bears, he told the interviewer his goal was to establish the run going forward. You’ve got to give him some credit for sticking to his game plan.
I jumped on board when LaFleur, upon being hired, indicated he would follow a more run-centric offensive strategy. The more I think and see, however, the more open I want to scrutinize this approach. Let’s go to some numbers from Week 1 for the NFL’s 100th season, with emphasis on the league’s dominant offenses.
Saints at Texans – QB Drew Brees and the Saints threw 43 passes and had 21 rushes, with 370 and 148 yards gained respectively, in a 30-28 road win.
Chiefs at Jaguars – Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ ratios were 33 passes and 26 runs, with yardages of 378 and 113, in a convincing 40-26 road win.
Steelers at Pats – Tom Brady and the Pats’ ratios were 37 passes and 29 runs, with yardages of 366 and 99, in an easy 33-3 win.
Giants at Dallas – Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ ratios were 32 passes and 30 runs, with yardages of 405 and 89, for a 35-17 win.
Rams at Panthers – Jerad Goff and the Rams’ ratios were 39 passes and 32 rushes, with yardages of 183 and 166, for a 30-27 road win.
Ravens at Dolphins – Lamar Jackson (and his sub) and Ravens’ ratios were 26 passes and 40 runs, with yardages of 378 and 265, for a 59-10 slaughter on the road. QB Jackson, the final pick of Round 1 last year, was 17 of 20, for 324 yards, an average of 16.2 yards per attempt, and 19.1 per completion.
In the game at Chicago, Aaron Rodgers and the Pack’s ratios were 30 passes and 22 runs, with (puny) yardages of 203 and 47, for a 10-3 road win. Green Bay’s pass/run ratio was 57.6%.
The big offenses of the Saints, Chiefs, Pats, Cowboys, Rams, and Ravens, mostly led by big-time QBs, all prevailed, with all but the Rams putting up gaudy passing yardages.
The pass/run ratios varied widely. Saints 67% passes, Packers 58%, Chiefs and Pats 56%, Rams 55%, Cowboys 52%, Ravens 39%.
I would be careful to note that these stats can be misleading, and they are the smallest of samplings. It would also make more sense to count sacks as pass plays, not running plays. Quarterback scrambles that resulted in positive yardage might also be viewed as (attempted) pass plays. And in several cases, the winning teams resorted to more runs after they had established healthy leads.
The statistic that cries out is that pass completions in the aggregate generate a great deal more yardage that do run plays. When teams can run up passing yardages like 403, 378 (twice), 370, and 366, the strength or frequency of a run game can appear to be of little importance.
The only winning teams that compiled impressive run yardages in the above sampling were the Ravens and the Rams – though even in these instances the passing yardages were (of course) greater.
At the same time, even when the run yardage was overwhelmed by the yardage gained through the air, the winning teams often did indeed “establish the run.” These percentage was all over the map. The Saints averaged 7.0 yards per rush, the Ravens 6.6, Rams 5.2, Chiefs 4.3, Pats 3.4, Cowboys 3.0, and Packers 2.1.
By the way, the Packers held the Bears to only 47 yards on 15 carries, for a 3.1 yard average. As TP commenters have pointed out, the Pack’s tackling was excellent. The Packers didn’t allow a run of more than 8 yards – I wonder how far back you’d have to go to top that stat. The Packers defense was stellar throughout this close game.
Application to Packers
This tiny glimpse at run/pass ratios doesn’t lend itself to sweeping conclusions. It does suggest, however – as seems obvious – that if you’ve got a top-tier throwing quarterback, you’d want to utilize that resource as much as possible.
Could it be that the run-heavy offense that Matt LaFleur espouses is a smart strategy for teams without a strong passing attack? For teams that have all the tools for a dominant pass game (fine QB, receiver corps, and pass blockers), however, would passing less than, say, 60 percent of the time, amount to squandering one’s talents?
And that begs this question: does Green Bay at this moment in its history have the tools for being a dominant passing team?
Perhaps the Packers should base their offensive strategy largely – and on a week-to-week basis – according to whether the defense they are facing is better at stopping the pass or the run.
Final thought: if a team has a dominant defense – which might now be the case for the Packers – does that favor going with a heavier run attack or passing attack?