Leafing Through Pages: Analysis of Sports and Other Topics

01/11/2010

The Reason Barry Sanders Scored Few Touchdowns

Many fans talk about how Barry Sanders was often pulled at the goal line, allowing players to “vulture” touchdowns from him and wonder why he wasn’t considered a goal line option later in his career. I decided to take a look and see whether this really did happen and whether his percentage of TDs at the goal line really did drop off in later years.

1989: Scored 14 rushing TD, 0 receiving TD. He had 9 rushing TD 25 yards.
1990: Scored 13 rushing TD, 3 receiving TD. He had 8 rushing TD 25 yards. He had 3 receiving TD > 20 yards.
1991: Scored 16 rushing TD, 1 receiving TD. He had 9 rushing TD 25 yards. He had 1 receiving TD of 10 yards.
1992: Scored 9 rushing TD, 1 receiving TD. He had 6 rushing TD 25 yards. He had 1 receiving TD of 8 yards.
1993: Scored 3 rushing TD, 0 receiving TD. He had 1 rushing TD 20 yards.
1994: Scored 7 rushing TD, 1 receiving TD. He had 2 rushing TD 25 yards. He had 1 receiving TD of 5 yards.
1995: Scored 11 rushing TD, 1 receiving TD. He had 5 rushing TD 25 yards. He had 1 receiving TD of 9 yards.
1996: Scored 11 rushing TD, 0 receiving TD. He had 4 rushing TD 20 yards.
1997: Scored 11 rushing TD, 3 receiving TD. He had 3 rushing TD 25 yards. He had 3 receiving TD of 7, 17, and 66 yards.
1998: Scored 4 rushing TD, 0 receiving TD. He had 2 rushing TD 25 yards.

It’s interesting to note that of his 99 rushing TD, he scored inside of 10 yards on 45 of them (45%). He scored on runs longer of 25 yards a good 26% of the time, making him a true big play threat at RB. Also interesting is that he scored a fair amount of his receiving TD inside of 10 yards as well.

It’s also true that he did score a lot less from 10 yards in as his career advanced, making the claim that he was often pulled likely and somewhat curious given the success earlier in his career. From 1989-1992 he had 32 TD inside 10 yards. From 1993-1998 he had 17 TD inside 10 yards. The shift seemed to largely occur in 1993 when Sanders only played 11 games and larger sized RBs Derrick Moore (229 pounds) and Eric Lynch (224 pounds) started 5 games between them and scored 5 rushing TD compared to Sanders’ 3.

In 1994, Derrick Moore scored 4 TD on only 27 carries. In 1995, QB Scott Mitchell scored 4 TD on 36 carries. In 1996, QB Scott Mitchell scored 4 TD on 37 carries. In 1997, QB Scott Mitchell scored 1 TD on 37 carries and FB Tommy Vardell vultured 6 TD on 32 carries. In 1998, QB Charlie Batch scored 1 TD on 41 carries, RB Ron Rivers scored 1 TD on 19 carries, and FB Tommy Vardell again vultured 6 TD on 18 carries.

It’s extremely clear that the Detroit Lions turned towards QB sneaks in 1995 and 1996 at the goal line, then brought in Tommy Vardell who would score 12 TD on only 50 carries, an average of 1 TD every 4 carries.

If you combine the TDs vultured by Mitchell and Vardell from 1995-1998 (9 by Mitchell inside 10 yards, 12 by Vardell inside 10 yards), Barry Sanders instead of having 99 rushing TDs could have had as many as 120 rushing TD and an additional 40 yards rushing to bring his total up to 15,309 yards rushing.

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