Leafing Through Pages: Analysis of Sports and Other Topics

07/22/2008

The Exaggerated “Demise” of the Run and Shoot As A Base Offense In 1996

Filed under: Pro Football — David Hunter @ 7:22 PM
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Many say that the run and shoot offense was killed off in 1996, after the Atlanta Falcons finished tied for second with the worst record in the NFL at 3-13. The New York Jets finished at 1-15 and the New Orleans Saints finished at 3-13.

The Atlanta Falcons scored 309 points on the year, finishing 6th amongst NFC teams in that regard. They managed to score 20, 17, and 31 points in their three wins that season. So… what went wrong? Many things, starting with quarterback Jeff George.

A year after the Falcons went 9-7 and made the playoffs, Jeff George started the first three games before blowing up at June Jones on the sideline after getting yanked in an eventual 33-18 loss. He would subsequently be suspended for the rest of the season after throwing for 698 yards with 3 TD vs. 3 INT.

Atlanta was forced to turn to 36 year old Bobby Hebert who had thrown 2,978 yards and 24 TD in 1993. He was effective throwing the ball in that he threw for 3,152 yards and 22 TD in only 13 starts but also turned the ball over 35 times by himself (25 INT, 10 fumbles). Still, that was an average of 242 passing yards per start, which is quite respectable. He finished 8th in passing yards, 6th in pass completion percentage, and 7th in passing touchdowns that year. The big statistic was the #1 spot in interceptions.

Well, we all know that the run and shoot is tailor made for quarterbacks and wide receivers. Their running back probably didn’t do that well, right? Jamal Anderson finished tied for 5th in yard per rush and in only 12 starts he had 1,055 yards on 232 carries. That would be good for an average of 88 yards per start and 66 yards rushing per game in 16 games.

Bert Emanuel, Terance Mathis, and Eric Metcalf combined for 198 catches and averaged 11.6 yards per catch. They also combined for 19 TD catches and had a long of 67, meaning that all three were very adept possession receivers.

If the run and shoot offense wasn’t the major issue… what was?

#1: Bad luck on the schedule. Their first win didn’t come until week ten, after they had started the season off with an awful 0-8 record. During that time, they had five losses in games that were decided by ten points or fewer and their first win was 20-17. Overall, on the season they played in ten games decided by ten points or fewer; only winning two of them.

#2: The differential in turnover ratio. In their 0-8 stretch the offense accounted for seventeen turnovers while the defense had only eight takeaways. On the year, the offense had 41 turnovers and the defense helped the team out by getting the ball only 23 times (with six interceptions).

#3: The defense was unspeakably bad. As a unit, they finished 30th in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed. They allowed 25 first downs via penalty (1.5 per game) and held only two opponents to games under 300 yards of total offense. They won both of those games. Their defense would disappear at times as when they wanted to be, they could be effective (5 games under 100 yards rushing and 6 games under 200 yards passing).

Of their three draftees in 1995, none were effective at all on defense. First round pick Devin Bush had 1 FR and played in only 11 games. Second round pick Ron Davis had 1 FR in only 12 games and 1995 was the only season he played in the NFL. Third round pick Lorenzo Styles didn’t start any games during 1995 and lasted only six years in the NFL, largely as a special teams player. In the 1996 draft they did not have a 1st or 2nd round pick. Their best pick, Juran Bolden, only played 9 games that year for them.

#4: Media backlash. This was the only other season in the very brief nine year existence of the run and shoot in the NFL where a team that employed the offense finished with fewer than six victories on the season. The year before in 1995, the Falcons with the same offense finished with 9 wins and made the playoffs. Jeff George had thrown for over 4,000 yards with 24 TD vs. 11 INT and Craig Heyward had run for over 1,000 yards. This, despite the defense still finishing 19th in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed.

The run and shoot had failed to win the Super Bowl, which in hindsight is what killed the offense in terms of teams being willing to run such a “radical” offense. In 1991 with the 24th ranked defense in yards allowed, Atlanta had still finished with 10 wins and it wasn’t the defense doing the job. Houston had a top 15 defense in yards allowed in six of its seven seasons and won 61 games but the run and shoot got yanked due to the lack of SB success. Ignoring the fact that they made the AFC Championship game and made the playoffs all seven seasons.

From 1990-1995, Atlanta had won 43 games during that time span with the run and shoot offense. The best their defense ranked in yards allowed was 19th, way back in 1990. From 1997-2002, Dan Reeves led Atlanta to only 46 wins with a far more conventional offense.

The media and critics sneered at the run and shoot and still do today, calling it a gimmick offense that doesn’t work over the long haul and won’t win the Super Bowl. It didn’t do Atlanta any favors and since they were the last team running this foreign offense, it only made sense for it to finally disappear when Atlanta “proved” that the offense didn’t work. Although in reality it was the defense that largely failed with a little help from the offense. In the three years prior, Atlanta had improved in wins each season from 6 to 7 to 9. Maybe it could have led to another 9 wins in 1997 because Reeves won only 7 games despite average 1 more point per game and 6 fewer points per game on defense.

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07/21/2008

Exposing the Running Game In the Run and Shoot Offense

Filed under: Pro Football — David Hunter @ 5:06 PM
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Many pundits and armchair quarterbacks derided the run and shoot offense for its inability to run the ball either for the duration of the game or inside the red zone. The red zone stands for the area from the goal line to the 20 yard line of the opponent’s field.

The pundits love to look at the 1996 Atlanta Falcons as the reason why the run and shoot proved fallible, ignoring the fact that their defense ranked 30th and they were starting 36 year old Bobby Hebert at quarterback. Coupled with those two factors was the lack of a proper, grind out the clock run game that many expect from their traditional offense. After all, defense and running the ball wins championships and the run and shoot offense just throws the ball all over the place. Run and Shoot? What run?

The 1984 Houston Gamblers of the USFL showed from the outset that with a smart coach, the run can be deadly if utilized properly. Mouse Davis had many games with at least 20 carries overall and productive results too.

vs. New Jersey: 20 carries for 87 yards
vs. Oakland: 28 carries for 206 yards
vs. Michigan: 22 carries for 148 yards
vs. Pittsburgh: 22 carries for 138 yards
vs. Oklahoma: 20 carries for 100 yards
vs. Jacksonville: 21 carries for 153 yards
vs. Denver: 26 carries for 234 yards
vs. Memphis: 24 carries for 117 yards
vs. Arizona: 23 carries for 101 yards
Total: 206 carries for 1,284 yards (6.2 YPC)

Pretty productive for 1984 but that was in the USFL. That was the secondary league and didn’t have the quality talent to match up in the National Football League (ignoring talent coming over such as Jim Kelly, Steve Young, and Reggie White). After all, that was only one season way back in 1984 with a pair of nobodies who combined for over 2,000 yards.

So we flash forward to 1989 with Jerry Glanville, head coach for the Houston Oilers. This is four years after Mouse Davis and the USFL got crumpled and thrown into the waste bin. Many experts still expected true I formation style smash mouth football, or if you were going to be radical, utilize that West Coast offense that San Francisco was having success with. Glanville had been with Houston for two seasons but this was the season where the run and shoot came to the forefront under Warren Moon.

vs. San Diego Chargers: 35 carries for 132 yards
vs. Buffalo Bills: 39 carries for 128 yards
vs. Miami Dolphins: 41 carries for 197 yards
vs. Chicago Bears: 32 carries for 140 yards
vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: 41 carries for 132 yards
vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 32 carries for 136 yards
vs. Los Angeles Raiders: 41 carries for 170 yards
vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: 34 carries for 140 yards
vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 30 carries for 135 yards
Total: 325 carries for 1,310 yards (4.0 YPC)

But a 4.0 YPC isn’t that impressive, right? Ignore the fact that he was putting up the above numbers with what was essentially a 4 man running back by committee and after all, it was Jerry Glanville. I mean, he didn’t have Mouse Davis on his staff, did he? No. He didn’t. Instead, the Mouse was off in Detroit helping drive defensive coordinators nuts with a guy by the name of Barry Sanders.

vs. Phoenix Cardinals: 27 carries for 159 yards
vs. Chicago Bears: 29 carries for 198 yards
vs. Minnesota Vikings: 34 carries for 153 yards
vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 27 carries for 139 yards
vs. Green Bay Packers: 34 carries for 210 yards
vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 28 carries for 122 yards
vs. Cleveland Browns: 29 carries for 146 yards
vs. Chicago Bears: 31 carries for 127 yards
vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 35 carries for 170 yards
vs. Atlanta Falcons: 26 carries for 179 yards
Total: 300 carries for 1,603 yards (5.3 YPC)

Wow… that looks pretty impressive, right? I mean, not only did Mouse run the ball 300 times in those 10 games (30 CPG) but he also had four that were over 170 yards on the ground. Hey, if the Run and Shoot could be so devastating on the ground then why didn’t the coaches just run it every time? Well, the key is balance and as the years progressed, some forgot to put the run in the run and shoot.

Although even in the “final” NFL season of the run and shoot, June Jones was still having success on the ground (and Bobby Hebert threw 22 TD but that’s for another post).

vs. Carolina Panthers: 19 carries for 119 yards
vs. San Francisco 49ers: 24 carries for 126 yards
vs. Detroit Lions: 22 carries for 116 yards
vs. Dallas Cowboys: 31 carries for 113 yards
vs. Carolina Panthers: 27 carries for 124 yards
vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 20 carries for 112 yards
vs. New Orleans Saints: 25 carries for 122 yards
vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: 31 carries for 146 yards
Total: 199 carries for 978 yards (4.9 YPC).

In eight games, they averaged a 4.9 yard per carry. Almost 1,000 yards in only half a season. Heck, they outran the Dallas Cowboys 113 yards to 56 in their regular season meeting. But… I thought that the NFL had figured out the run and shoot and sent it back to the stone age with its zone blitzing and pass coverages. A load of rubbish as the Atlanta Falcons were just as devastating as they were in seasons past. The difference? A horrible defense that allowed 29 points a game. Yet they still had a 4.9 YPC in half their games despite often having to play catch up…

“Well, that was over 10 years ago,” you argue. I mean, look at Hawaii and their lack of a running game. Who were they fooling? Turns out they were still fooling quite a few teams as evidenced by their running back committees.

1999: Avion Weaver and Afatia Thompson combined for 1,167 yards on 211 carries (5.5)
2000: James Fenderson and Avion Weaver combined for 620 yards on 124 carries (5.0)
2001: Mike Bass and Thero Mitchell combined for 936 yards on 181 carries (5.2)
2002: John West, Thero Mitchell, and Mike Bass combined for 1,114 yards on 169 carries (6.6)
2003: John West, Michael Brewster, and Mike Bass combined for 1,134 yards on 171 carries (6.6)
2004: Mike Brewster and West Keliikipi combined for 1,058 yards on 185 carries (5.7)
2005: Nate Iloa and Mario Cox combined for 714 yards on 101 carries (7.1)
2006: Nate Iloa ran for 990 yards on 131 carries (7.6)
2007: Kealoha Pilaries, Leon Wright-Jackson, and Daniel Libre combined for 797 yards on 124 carries (6.4)

Notice how in every single season, Hawaii was able to get over a 5.0 YPC and often times, in excess of an insane 6.0 on the ground even though they don’t conventionally run 20 times a game. Which would you rather have, the traditional 20 carries a game with a 4.0 YPC (80 yards) or roughly 12-13 carries a game with a 5.0 YPC (60-65 yards) but with the understanding that you’ll have many games around 20 carries? The run and shoot has evolved into more of a pass happy system but the run isn’t forgotten. So maybe the run wasn’t the focal point of the offense, but the idea that teams could not run in this offense (never mind run inside the red zone…) is yet another “truth” that media pundits love to repeat constantly without any statistical evidence to back it up. You don’t need a power back to run the football, just ask Barry Sanders. The goal of running the ball is getting as many yards as possible no matter if it means only running the ball fifteen times or thirty. Sure, you may kill the clock more with thirty carries but fifteen carries and fifteen completions could accomplish that same feat.

07/18/2008

How the Run and Shoot Offense Did Against Playoff Opponents During Regular Season

Filed under: Pro Football — David Hunter @ 8:02 PM
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Everybody is aware of the struggles that the Run and Shoot has had in the playoffs, in particular that none of the teams made it to the Super Bowl (ignoring the microscopic sample size of 1987-1995 that the offense existed compared to other systems like the WCO). Many people point to the loss to Buffalo as the turning point where the Run and Shoot “died out” after Buffalo came back from a 35-3 deficit to win. This post will be looking at the records that the teams had against their playoff opponents prior to facing them.

Of note, one weakness that I’ve noticed cropping up is how many close games (within 7 points) the Run and Shoot teams lost during the regular season and into the playoffs. This can be blamed on poor defenses overall (Rarely was a R and S team also sporting a top fifteen defense.)

1987 Houston Oilers vs. Seattle Seahawks: Met in playoffs. Won 23-20.
1987 Houston Oilers vs. Denver Broncos: Won 40-10 in regular season. Lost 34-10 in playoffs.
1988 Houston Oilers vs. Cleveland Browns: Won 24-17 and Lost 28-23 in regular season. Won 24-23 in playoffs.
1988 Houston Oilers vs. Buffalo Bills: Met in playoffs. Lost 17-10.
1989 Houston Oilers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Won 27-0 and Won 23-16 in regular season. Lost 26-23 in playoffs.
1990 Houston Oilers vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Won 48-17 and Lost 40-20 in regular season. Lost 41-14 in playoffs.
1991 Houston Oilers vs. New York Jets: Won 23-20 in regular season. Won 17-10 in playoffs.
1991 Houston Oilers vs. Denver Broncos: Won 42-14 in regular season. Lost 26-24 in playoffs.
1991 Detroit Lions vs. Dallas Cowboys: Won 34-10 in regular season. Won 38-6 in playoffs.
1991 Detroit Lions vs. Washington Redskins: Lost 45-0 in regular season. Lost 41-10 in playoffs.
1991 Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints: Lost 27-6 and Won 23-20 in regular season. Won 27-20 in playoffs.
1991 Atlanta Falcons vs. Washington Redskins: Lost 56-17 in regular season. Lost 24-7 in playoffs.
1992 Houston Oilers vs. Buffalo Bills: Won 27-3 in regular season. Lost 41-38 in playoffs.
1993 Houston Oilers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Won 30-0 in regular season. Lost 28-20 in playoffs.
1995 Atlanta Falcons vs. Green Bay Packers: Met in playoffs. Lost 37-20.

Overall Record in Regular Season: 11-5 (69% Win)
Overall Record in Playoffs: 5-10 (33% Win)

In simple terms, the playoffs are a crap shoot. Some of these Run and Shoot teams were going up against absolute juggernauts (Washington, Buffalo) but they also won games against very respectable opponents (Cleveland, Dallas).

The Run and Shoot could beat these teams and quite often did; to the tune of big points. Buffalo had lost to Houston the week before their playoff meeting. It’s just bad luck and bad defense at times. Combine those and more often than not, you’ll lose.

One thing that can’t be argued or denied… this offense could beat the best defenses in football. An offense can’t play defense and a lot of the media speak about how poor the Run and Shoot was in the NFL is just that, media speak. The “myths” have been mentioned so often, so much that it becomes an almost automatic concept that it is the truth. Dig a little deeper and you’ll see that like other offenses, many of the struggles were due to just plain bad luck and bad defenses.

07/10/2008

My Top 10 Are You Afraid of the Dark Episodes

Who can forget as a child watching Nickelodeon and hearing the creaking floor and swinging chair that told you it was time for Are You Afraid of the Dark and not being scared?

In memory of a classic show from the “Golden Age” of Nick shows, here is a Top 10 of the very best episodes. Join me in my trip down memory lane as I submit for approval of the midnight society…

#10: The Tale of Jake & The Leprechaun
Episode Part 1

This episode is memorable for the depiction of the leprechaun trying to take over Jake. One of the first episodes that left its imprint on me.

#9: The Tale of the Pinball Wizard
Episode Part 1

Memorable episode with a fun, unique theme that wrapped up the first season.

#8: The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner
Episode Part 1

Clearly a take of The Joker, but I remember seeing this episode for the first time and not only being drawn to the jester costume but terrified as well. A truly scary villain and the episode is great for the mixture of light hearted fare and genuine creepiness.

#7: The Tale of the Watcher’s Woods
Episode Part 1

Memorable episode that also featured a young Jewel Staite. Another underrated but solid episode.

#6: The Tale of the Water Demons
Episode Part 1

I remember this being one of the scarier episodes in part because of the fog and the involvement of water. Not good enough to crack my top five, but close.

#5: The Tale of the Renegade Virus
Episode Part 1

Another classic villain in a show that had several. Somewhat underrated but enjoyably scary.

#4: The Tale of the Hungry Hounds
Episode Part 1

This episode terrified me at the time and stuck with me like few others. Also gets a bonus for featuring a young Mia Kirshner.

#3: The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float
Episode Part 1

Take in the fear of swimming and add in a creepy monster and you get a really memorable episode. Starred a young Kaj-Erik (Kai) Eriksen.

#2: The Tale of the Thirteenth Floor
Episode Part 1

This episode still manages to make me wig and it’s mainly a result of the villains who just come off as creepy without really having to try. Also featured a young Aaron Ashmore.

#1: The Tale of Laughing in the Dark
Episode Part 1

The creepiest episode to air on the show, in my opinion with the most memorable villain as well.

Any episodes that you feel should be included?

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