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Is the running game making a comeback?

Examining rushing to passing ratios

NFL: New York Jets at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

We have seen a significant revolution over the past few decades in how offenses typically run. Historically, the run game was the backbone of an offense. In recent years? Not so much, as the league has become “a passing league.”

However, some data suggests that trend may be changing.

Indeed, based on yards ratios, the run game seems to be making a bit of a comeback in recent years. While the passing touchdown to rushing touchdown ratio hovers around 2 (meaning 2 passing touchdowns for 1 rushing touchdown) in basically all years, the passing yards to rushing yards ratio has seemingly settled in around ~1.65 (meaning 1.65 passing yards for each 1 rushing yard), which is a huge fall from the ~2.25 number that was registered in 2015.

What this implies is teams are relying on the run game more than they were in recent years. This is likely due to the demonstrated success of rushing attacks like the one helmed by San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, and the ones quarterbacked by dual threat quarterbacks like the Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson or the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen. Indeed, the NFL is nothing if not a copycat league, so the success of those teams was always destined to be copied in due time.

What does all of this mean for the New York Jets? First, it gives some extra reason for the Jets to value running back Breece Hall, who was one of the best running backs in the league this year. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it gives reason to think the Jets average-ish run game [14th in Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) for run defense] may be more of a “need to improve” than a “want to improve” if they intend for their defense to remain one of the league’s best. Indeed, if the league is going to run more often, then the Jets need to be able to stop it at a high level. Absent that, they risk teams avoiding their stellar pass defense in favor of rushing yards that are allowed by teams with less than stellar run defenses.