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NY Jets: Most NFL Teams Pass to Set Up the Run

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

"You run to set up the pass."

That has become a football cliche. You frequently hear announcers and other analysts say it.

Running effectively makes it easier to pass. A team that can run it frequently forces the other team to move its safeties up to play the run, exposing the deep part of the field in the passing game. Going to play action can make defenses charge hard expecting the run and leave big parts of the field open. It can also be tougher for defenses to get exotic. Defenses have a tougher time mixing personnel, namely putting in extra defensive backs to create confusion because they are less adept at playing the run. They also cannot be as creative with stunts and other movements on the defensive front because it might leave a gap exposed right as the back is hitting it.

This is certainly one approach teams take, but there is no rule it has to be the only one. Teams can also pass to set up the run. It has pretty much the opposite effect. A lot of throws early in the game also impact how the defense approaches its task. A heavy passing attack keeps safeties deep, leaving running room open. If the offense utilizes a lot of formations with extra receivers, the defense will put in extra defensive backs who aren't as good at playing the run.

Teams can also take a balanced approach, keeping the defense guessing. Sometimes a balanced approach is rooted in building a gameplan around a defense's weakness.

I took a look at approaches teams take. When we are talking about establishing either the run or the pass, we are talking about early in the game so using Pro Football Reference's play index, I looked at each team's run-pass ratio in the first quarter of games this season.

Despite the old saying about running to set up the pass, most of the teams do the opposite. In fact, the teams that run to set up the pass are the exception.

The Jets were around the middle and tended to be balanced, throwing 53.58852% of the time in the first quarter.

Teams that pass to set up the run (Throw over 55% of the time): 18

Pass Run
New England 68.04124 31.95876
New Orleans 63.68159 36.31841
Atlanta 62.63158 37.36842
Baltimore 61.87845 38.12155
Pittsburgh 60.56338 39.43662
San Diego 60.34483 39.65517
Oakland 60.11905 39.88095
NY Giants 59.56284 40.43716
Arizona 58.91089 41.08911
Denver 58.58586 41.41414
Detroit 57.55814 42.44186
Miami 57.40741 42.59259
Green Bay 56.48148 43.51852
Houston 56.1086 43.8914
Indinapolis 56.02094 43.97906
Cleveland 55.77889 44.22111
Jacksonville 55.55556 44.44444
Kansas City 55.26316 44.73684

Balanced (Both run and pass between 45% and 55% of the time): 12

Pass Run
Philadelphia 54.63415 45.36585
NY Jets 53.58852 46.41148
Washington 52.91005 47.08995
San Francisco 51.70455 48.29545
Buffalo 50.9901 49.0099
St. Louis 50.90909 49.09091
Cincinnati 50.54348 49.45652
Carolina 50.51546 49.48454
Tennessee 50 50
Minnesota 49.7561 50.2439
Dallas 49.74359 50.25641
Chicago 49.47917 50.52083

Teams that run to set up the pass (Run over 55% of the time): 2

Pass Run
Seattle 44.82759 55.17241
Tampa Bay 39.53488 60.46512