1: You can’t run the football effectively.
While the majority of the Run and Shoot is predicated towards the pass, the run and shoot opens up lanes for the running game and it’s up to the coaches to utilize the run, not abandon it. In the NFL, many pundits claim that the run and shoot failed in part because the teams lacked a solid running game. This is simply not true. What they did lack was the conventional idea of revolving around the running game rather than the passing game. Take the following stats for example…
1990 Houston Oilers
Lorenzo White and Allen Pinkett combined for 234 carries for 970 yards at a 4.15 YPC rate and 8 TD. The Oilers had 5 games where they ran for over 100 yards as a team.
1991 Houston Oilers
Lorenzo White and Allen Pinkett again combine for 281 carries for 1,185 yards at a 4.22 YPC rate and 13 TD. The Oilers had 7 games where they ran for over 100 yards as a team.
1992 Houston Oilers
Lorenzo White had 265 carries for 1,226 yards at a 4.63 YPC rate and 7 TD. The Oilers had 8 games where they ran for over 100 yards as a team.
1993 Houston Oilers
Gary Brown and Lorenzo White combined for 326 carries for 1,467 yards at a 4.50 YPC rate and 8 TD. The Oilers had 10 games where they ran for over 100 yards as a team.
1989 Detroit Lions
Barry Sanders had 280 carries for 1,470 yards at a 5.25 YPC rate with 14 TD. The Lions topped 150 yards rushing as a team 5 times that season.
1990 Detroit Lions
Barry Sanders had 255 carries for 1,304 yards at a 5.11 YPC rate with 13 TD. The Lions topped 150 yards rushing as a team 5 times that season.
1991 Atlanta Falcons
Erric Pegram and Steve Broussard combined for 200 carries for 798 yards at a 3.99 YPC rate with 5 TD. Atlanta ran for over 100 yards as a team 7 times that season.
1992 Atlanta Falcons
Tony Smith, Steve Broussard, and Keith L. Jones combined for 250 carries for 970 yards at a 3.88 YPC rate with 3 TD. Atlanta ran for over 100 yards as a team 5 times.
1993 Atlanta Falcons
Erric Pegram had 292 carries for 1,185 yards at a 4.06 YPC rate with 3 TD. Atlanta ran for over 100 yards as a team 6 times.
1994 Atlanta Falcons
Craig Heyward and Ericc Pegram combined for 286 carries for 1,137 yards at a 3.98 YPC rate with 8 TD. Atlanta ran for over 100 yards as a team 3 times.
1995 Atlanta Falcons
Craig Heyward had 236 carries for 1,083 yards at a 4.59 YPC rate with 6 TD. Atlanta ran for over 100 yards as a team 6 times.
Even without the contribution of Barry Sanders in Detroit, the teams that ran the run and shoot offense were still able to get close to, or top 1,000 yards a team rushing on the season from their top two running backs. Not only were they able to run, but they were able to do so at a solid YPC for an NFL team. In every season except the 1994 Falcons, the teams were able to run for over 100 yards against an opponent in at least a third of their games.
2: The Run and Shoot offense strikes too quickly and can’t hold a lead.
This can be misleading because such an offense also allows a team to come back quickly when down. In games where the 1994 Falcons held a lead at halftime, they were outscored by their opposition 74 – 100 in the 2nd half. In those games, their time of possession was 254:41 compared to 285:19 from their opposition. That’s a difference of 31 minutes and 18 seconds, over a full half of football.
The 1995 Atlanta Falcons were outscored 67 – 72 and in those games, their time of possession was 260:43 to 229:35 from their opposition. Here, we see that they were still outscored by 5 points but held a 31 minute, 8 second advantage over their opponents in time of possession.
Without game stats for the other teams, it’s hard to say that this holds true for all run and shoot teams but we see that in the span of 2 seasons, the time of possession swings to favor the run and shoot team and yet they are still outscored (albeit by a much smaller margin).
3: Run and Shoot teams couldn’t make it to/win the Super Bowl.
Yes, run and shoot teams didn’t have great success in the playoffs but people forget that it’s hard to win when you miss the playoffs completely.
1989 Detroit Lions: 7-9 and finished third in the NFC Central. Missed playoffs.
1990 Detroit Lions: 6-10 and finished second in the NFC Central. Missed playoffs.
1990 Houston Oilers: 9-7 and finished first in the AFC Central. Lost the Wildcard game to Cincinnati 41 – 14.
1991 Houston Oilers: 11-5 and finished first in the AFC Central. Beat the New York Jets 17 – 10 in the Wildcard game. Lost to Denver 26 – 24 in the Divisional game.
1991 Atlanta Falcons: 10-6 and finished second in the NFC West. Beat New Orleans in the Wildcard game 27 – 20. Lost to Washington 24 – 7 in the Divisional game.
1992 Houston Oilers: 10-6 and finished second in the AFC Central. Lost the Wildcard game to Buffalo 41 – 38.
1992 Atlanta Falcons: 6-10 and finished third in the NFC West. Missed playoffs.
1993 Houston Oilers: 12-4 and finished first in the AFC Central. Lost the Divisional game to Kansas City 28 – 20.
1993 Atlanta Falcons: 6-10 and finished third in the NFC West. Missed playoffs.
1994 Atlanta Falcons: 7-9 and finished second in the NFC West. Missed playoffs.
1995 Atlanta Falcons: 9-7 and finished second in the NFC West. Lost Wildcard game to Green Bay 37 – 20.
From 1990 – 1993, Jack Pardee went 42 – 22 during the regular season and made the playoffs all 4 years with the Houston Oilers. In 1994, Pardee was let go after going 1 – 9 (He lost 5 games by 3 points during that stretch and just as easily could’ve been 6 – 4) and was succeeded by current head coach, Jeff Fisher.
Over the next four seasons, with a more conventional coach at the helm, from 1995 – 1998 Jeff Fisher went 31 – 33 and missed the playoffs all four seasons.
From 1994 – 1996 under June Jones, the Atlanta Falcons went 19 – 29 with Jones being let go after a dismal 3 – 13 season in 1996. He made the playoffs in 1995.
Dan Reeves was hired as head coach and over the next four seasons, went 30 – 34 with a Super Bowl appearance in 1998, his only playoff appearance during that span. The year after his Super Bowl appearance, partly due to key injuries such as RB Jamal Anderson, Reeves went 5 – 11 and 4 – 12. He finished out his Atlanta tenure with a 7 – 9 record in 2001, 9 – 6 in 2002 with a loss in the Divisional game, and went 5 – 11 in 2003.
From 1989 – 1995 with a pass focused offense, Wayne Fontes went 49 – 53 but made the playoffs four times, including three straight from 1993 to 1995. Upon being let go after a 5 – 11 finish in 1996, Bobby Ross went 22 – 26 with two playoff appearances in three seasons. Ross went 9 – 7, 5 – 11, and 8 – 8 during that span.
Mike Martz went 51 – 29 from 2000 – 2004 as head coach of St. Louis and made the playoffs five times including a Super Bowl appearance in 2001. While not a true proponent of the run and shoot, Martz strongly favors the pass and includes elements of the run and shoot in his offense.
4: The Run and Shoot isn’t effective in the red zone.
From 1988-1992, the Houston Cougars saw unparalleled success. In 1991, they were 40-43 (93%) with 36 TD and 4 FG (2 INT, 1 TO on Downs). They scored a TD on 84% of their red zone possessions that year. 1988 they were 43-45 (96%), 1989 they were 56-64 (87%), and 1990, they were 49-54 (90%). In all 4 years, they were 188-206 (91%). I think most teams would love to score in 9/10 red zone possessions.
In 2007, Hawaii finished first with a 76.36% conversion rate for touchdowns in 55 attempts. Texas Tech finished fifth with a 74.60% conversion rate in 63 attempts.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the red zone efficiency for past seasons in the NFL.
5: The Run and Shoot gets your quarterback killed.
While most of the run and shoot teams did allow high sack totals, there were also several years where some of them were comparable to great offensive lines in their sack totals. Like any great team, a good offense is only as good as its offensive line. Tom Brady, running predominantly out of the spread with one back to help block was only sacked 21 times in 2007. In comparison, the Mike Martz teams in St. Louis allowed 44, 40, 46, 43, and 50 sacks from 2000 – 2004. Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell threw 713 times in 2007 but was only sacked 16 times.
1989 Detroit Lions: 57 sacks
1990 Detroit Lions: 44 sacks
1990 Houston Oilers: 39 sacks
1991 Atlanta Falcons: 31 sacks
1991 Detroit Lions: 25 sacks
1991 Houston Oilers: 24 sacks
1992 Atlanta Falcons: 40 sacks
1992 Detroit Lions: 59 sacks
1992 Houston Oilers: 32 sacks
1993 Atlanta Falcons: 40 sacks
1993 Detroit Lions: 46 sacks
1993 Houston Oilers: 43 sacks
1994 Atlanta Falcons: 37 sacks
1994 Detroit Lions: 26 sacks
1995 Atlanta Falcons: 43 sacks
1995 Detroit Lions: 32 sacks
For comparison to great offenses at the time…
1991 Buffalo Bills: 35 sacks
1992 Buffalo Bills: 29 sacks
1993 Buffalo Bills: 31 sacks
1991 Dallas Cowboys: 38 sacks
1992 Dallas Cowboys: 23 sacks
1993 Dallas Cowboys: 29 sacks
1994 Dallas Cowboys: 20 sacks
1995 Dallas Cowboys: 18 sacks
1991 San Francisco 49ers: 24 sacks
1992 San Francisco 49ers: 32 sacks
1993 San Francisco 49ers: 35 sacks
1994 San Francisco 49ers: 35 sacks
1995 San Francisco 49ers: 33 sacks
1993 Green Bay Packers: 30 sacks
1994 Green Bay Packers: 33 sacks
1995 Green Bay Packers: 33 sacks