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.