“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
NY Giants 45.51%
San Francisco 45.13%
Pass to set up the run
NY Jets 44.21%
New England 43.08%
Tampa Bay 42.51%
LA Chargers 42.47%
LA Rams 39.91%
New Orleans 39.6%
Green Bay 38.6%
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.