NFL teams still need a good run D
October 17, 2017 3:00 AM
Like a giant leak on a sinking ship, one of the first signs of a poor pro football team is weak run defense. Stopping the run is essential to building a championship team.
The Top 8 teams at stopping the run last season? Cowboys, Titans, Patriots, Giants, Ravens, Panthers, Seahawks and Packers. Five made the playoffs, two made the conference title games and one won the Super Bowl.
Three years ago the Top 9 teams at stopping the run: Lions, Broncos, Seahawks, Ravens, Jets, Steelers, 49ers, Cowboys and Patriots. All were in the playoffs except the Jets and two made the Super Bowl. The Jets were the only team in that group with a losing record.
Great run defense has anchored Seattle’s dominance in recent years, with a pair of NFC titles and one Lombardi Trophy. Six years ago the Steelers, Bears, Jets, Chargers, Ravens were in the Top 8 – all playoff teams except one, and three met in the AFC/NFC Champion games. When the Steelers last made the Super Bowl in 2011 they were tops in run defense.
Who won the Super Bowl after the 2008 campaign? Those same Steelers, a team with the No. 1 overall defense, including No. 2 against the run.
Great defensive fronts stand out in more ways than one, setting the tone for their team’s style of play while forcing many opponents to game plan differently. For instance, when the Patriots play teams with great run defenses they essentially bail on the ground game and throw all day long. It’s surprising more teams don’t copy that.
Of course, forcing offenses to be one-dimensional is usually an asset for defenses, paring down what plays the opponent is likely to run each time. A defensive coordinator can focus on double-teaming a great wide receiver, for instance, forcing the offense to have even fewer options to go to. Many times that can all start with a strong run defense or pass rush.
When Carolina made its remarkable 17-1 run before losing the Super Bowl two years ago, the Panthers were fourth in stopping the run with 88.4 yards allowed per game. The previous time the Panthers made the Super Bowl (2003) they were No. 11 at stopping the run behind its fearsome front foursome, then fourth the following season.
Stopping the run in some capacity is essential for success in football. Think about how many third-and-short situations you see over the course of a game. If a team can’t stop the run, opponents can simply run the ball all day long, picking up first downs and controlling the clock. For perspective, here are the worst teams at stopping the run last season:
Yds rushing allw’d SU ATS
27th: Bears 122 3-13 7-9
28th: Broncos 130 9-7 9-7
29th: Bills 133 7-9 6-9-1
30th: Dolphins 140 10-7 8-7-2
31st: Browns 143 1-15 4-12
32nd: 49ers 166 2-14 4-11-1
More dogs than Super Bowl contenders in there. Surprising that the Broncos and Dolphins had winning records. Only the Dolphins made the playoffs, and got roasted in their only game, losing 30-12 at Pittsburgh.
The Steelers ran for 179 yards, 5.1 yards per carry, and led 20-6 at the half. The team with the super-soft run defense got blown out of the water. And the combined spread record of those Swiss cheese stop units: 38-55-4 ATS.
Not surprising that the worst teams in 2016 are at the bottom of the list, with the 49ers and Browns combining to go 3-29 SU, 8-23-1 ATS. Yes, it is still an age of passing the football, but run defense is an excellent place to start when examining NFL strengths and weaknesses each week.
History has not been kind to teams that are not stout against the run in midseason or postseason.