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Keeping offensive balance: Is it necessary?

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Jonathan Bales

I just came across an interesting article at the Star-Telegram that I wanted to share.  Jennifer Floyd Engel argues that what wins football games for the Cowboys isn’t running the ball a lot or keeping balance on offense, but running the ball efficiently in an effort to do what they do best–pass the football.

She’s dead on.  Fans wrote in again and again after the Cowboys’ win over Houston that the Cowboys won because they kept offensive balance.  They ran the ball 27 times, and threw it just 30.  That is what wins football games, right?

Wrong.  The Cowboys won because they threw the ball down the field with ease, set up in part by running the ball efficiently.  This was from my post-game review:

Yesterday’s game is a perfect example of why people tend to overvalue the importance of the running game.  People usually look at statistics ex post facto, noting the correlation between running performance and winning percentage.  The two are certainly correlated, but correlation does not always equate to causation.  In fact, passing performance has been shown to be much, much more indicative of a team’s success than success on the ground.

The reason rushing yards are so closely linked to wins is simple: teams that arealready winning run the football.  That says nothing about how that team came to gain a lead, however.

We saw just this yesterday, as the Cowboys actually had much of their success through the air.  Yes, the early efficiency of the running game helped, but it wasn’t until late in the game that Dallas “committed” to the run.  Actually, in the middle of the game (with the game still a one-possession contest), the ‘Boys threw the ball on 21 of 28 plays.  They racked up a lot of their carries and yardage at the end of the contest, as they ran the ball on nine of the final 10 plays.

Don’t get me wrong. . .running the ball is a huge part of the game and can make everything else much easier.  But the days of offensive balance are gone.  What wins in the NFL (and particularly for your Dallas Cowboys) is airing it out early and often, and running the ball efficiently is much, much more important than running it often.

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5 Responses to Keeping offensive balance: Is it necessary?

  1. Phillip Dagastanck says:

    Ah finally an article to support what I’ve thought all along

  2. James G. says:

    There’s one small problem.

    Cowboys are 32-7 whenever Romo throws 35 times or less. They are 7-13 whenever he has thrown more than 35 times. Since the team averages around 65-70 plays a game then the Cowboys would have to run the ball around 30 times a game. For no other reason, the Cowboys need a balanced offense because they win far more often that way.

  3. James–The high pass attempts are only correlated to losing, not a cause of it. When the team is ALREADY losing, it will have to throw the ball a lot. On the other end of the spectrum, teams that are ALREADY winning will tend to run the ball. The idea that running wins football games is absurd. Passing the ball and running it EFFICIENTLY as to set up the pass wins football games, and a “balanced” offense early in the game is only important insofar as running efficiency sets up big pass plays.

  4. James G. says:

    Jonathan-Thank you for responding to my comments. I consider a balanced offense to be appropriate for those points in the game where the team is not running the ball to eat up the clock or where they are not passing to catch up. Obviously, it would not apply to the two minute warning at halftime as well.

    I felt the baseline number of 35 passes would adequately absorb the majority of those other periods. Considering that Tony Romo threw more than 45 passes each time, they were minimal in the cases of all three Cowboy losses.

    The idea that running wins football games is an appropriate philosophy when you consider injuries to your offensive line, a history of drive stopping penalties on passing plays, and the anticipation of a defensive low scoring game.

    Concerning the latter, it is not absurd to suggest that you are winning with the running game by not losing with the passing game, whose creation of turnovers were repsonsible for 7, 6, and 7 points respectively to the Redskins, Bears, and Texans. All contrributed to or exceeded the margin of victory.

    A balanced offense and ball control are not unrelated.

  5. All great points James. Certainly a ball control offense is important and useful to a lot of football teams. Are the Cowboys one of those? I really don’t know. Originally I would say no. . .they are better than nearly every team and should try to extend the game, not shorten it.

    However, after watching them play through four games, it is clear they are at least slightly less talented and quite a bit less productive than I anticipated.

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