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How many NFL teams run to set up the pass?

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

“You run to set up the pass.” Other than “Defense wins championships,” it is probably the most overused cliche in the NFL.

Is it accurate? Every so often I like to take a look at how teams build their offenses.

I think one of the best ways to see what teams are trying to establish on offense is to look at their tendencies in the first quarter of games. If you actually are trying to run to set up the pass, it stands to reason you would run the ball frequently in the early stage of the game.

Using the Pro Football Reference Play Index and some math, I crunched first quarter tendencies.

Here are the results I found. I will term teams that run the ball at least 55% of the time are running to set up the pass. Teams that run the ball between 45% and 55% of the time are balanced, showing no tendency. Teams that run the ball less than 45% of the time are really passing to set up the run.

These are first quarter run rates.

Run to set up the pass

Baltimore 59.69%


Philadelphia 49.40%

Seattle 48.28%

Minnesota 48%

Detroit 47.74%

Oakland 47.48%

Washington 46.12%

Pittsburgh 45.64%

Indianapolis 45.63%

NY Giants 45.51%

San Francisco 45.13%

Pass to set up the run

Carolina 44.87%

Tennessee 44.72%

Dallas 44.53%

Cincinnati 44.34%

Denver 44.29%

NY Jets 44.21%

Buffalo 43.98%

Jacksonville 43.92%

Arizona 43.24%

New England 43.08%

Tampa Bay 42.51%

LA Chargers 42.47%

Houston 42.34%

Chicago 42.01%

Atlanta 41.13%

Cleveland 40.24%

LA Rams 39.91%

New Orleans 39.6%

Green Bay 38.6%

Miami 37.5%

Kansas City 32.89%


Only one team runs the ball on over half of first quarter plays, and approximately two-thirds of the league run it under 45% of the time. The cliche seems to be on shaky ground these days.

There are only ways to measure offensive philosophies. Perhaps we will explore some of them as the offseason moves along.