The Green Bay Packers have showed off their much improved run game this season against stout defensive lines such as, the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions, but are they really the best running unit in the NFL? One group of statistics suggests that they are.
According to Football Outsiders, the Packers are the No. 1 running unit in the NFL in terms of adjusted line yards. They define adjusted line yards in a number of different ways. First, their formula takes into account all running backs' carries and assigns it to the offensive line based on four percentages:
- Losses: 120% value
- 0-4 yards: 100% value
- 5-10 yards: 50% value
- 11+ yards: 0% value
Second, they take these percentages and adjust them based on the down-and-distance, the opponent, and the difference in formation being run out of. Lastly, they adjust the numbers so that the adjusted line yards per carry is the same as the league average for running back yards per carry.
Confusing, I know. Check out the hyperlink above if you are still confused.
The upshot of their analysis is that through five weeks, the Packers' adjusted line yards is 4.47, .03 ahead of the Houston Texans for the top spot in the NFL. According to the table, the Packers have the highest average gain per carry by running backs, 5.01, which is nearly a half-yard better than the second best team.
Football Outsiders breaks down the running game a bit further in terms of power running and stuffed running. In the power running game, the Packers rank No. 7 in the NFL with a power run success rate of 80 percent. In the stuffed running game the Packers rank No. 3 in the NFL being stuffed on only 13 percent of its runs.
Football Outsiders also analyzed how well teams run in specific directions. They included five directions that teams run in: off the left end, left tackle, middle, right tackle and right end. Green Bay's best success has come when running the ball behind Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith and T.J. Lang. In fact, they rank No. 1 in the NFL when running the ball up the middle with an adjusted line yard average of 4.68. In contrast, the Packers are at their worst when running the ball behind Don Barclay, ranking 17th in the NFL when running off the right end with an adjusted line yard average of 4.48.
The Packers also appear to be much better in pass protection this season. Football Outsiders ranks the Packers as the No. 15 pass blocking unit in the NFL, a dramatic increase after last season when they finished second-to-last in sacks allowed. This season, they've given up 11 sacks in four games, which is still a bit on the high-side, however, a solid improvement.
It appears that Football Outsiders really does their homework when breaking down each team and its running success. It might be tough to consider the Packers the best running team in the NFL, but there has been a significant improvement in their running success from a season ago.
Currently, the Packers have the NFL's No. 5 rush offense in terms of yards per game. They're averaging 141 yards, which is nearly 35 more yards per game than last years' average of 106.4.
There a number of things to consider when viewing this information on Football Outsiders, however.
First, it's early in the season, the adjustments they make based on opponents is only at 50 percent, meaning that they aren't giving defenses full credit for their stoutness in the run game. Second, teams with a very good running back appear higher on the list than they may deserve because of the yards that said running back can get on their own. Lastly, in contrast with teams with a good running back, teams with a good offensive line and more mediocre running back will appear low on the list because the ratings can't fully separate a team's running back from its offensive line.
At the very least, the main take away from this is that the Packers have dramatically improved their running game and appear to be much more dedicated to it this season. Though they have struggled at times on offense this season, the Packers have added a dangerous second element to their already explosive offense. If they can keep everyone healthy and figure out how to use both correctly, they will be a tough team to defend in the regular season and hopefully beyond.
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