Four ground yards are no good and only seven yards matter
One of the screwiest rumors is that Paul DePodesta punched some numbers into his shiny new calculator and concluded that gains of four yards or less on the grounds have no value to a football team and that only gains of seven yards or more are beneficial.
That’s why the Browns attempted to use the deep ball versus New Orleans in freezing cold weather. Kevin Stefanski can be confident of keeping his job by adhering to the DePodesta game plan, according to one of Tony Grossi’s secret sources in The Land on Demand. The secret source, who purportedly worked in football operations claimed that “4-yard runs were of no value. Only runs of seven yards were of value. DePo came up with some magical score.”
In the Saints game, the facts are that the Browns aired it out with 31 pass attempts in that game versus 34 rush attempts. The Saints let Andy Dalton throw the ball only 15 times, and they ran the ball 39 times for 152 yards.
However, that was partly because Dalton split time with Wildcat quarterback Taysom Hill, who had a good game with nine rushes for 56 yards. If you discount quarterback runs, the Browns actually ran the ball more than the Saints, 31 to 30.
Just as a guess, the secret source might have been a fired assistant coach or intern associated with the running game, either a running backs coach or an offensive line coach or some such position. Since the secret source can only describe the stat as “magical” we can assume that he/she had not totally mastered the mathematical concepts. It seems that the source did not quite understand what DePodesta was communicating.
However, we can discuss the conundrum that the entire NFL is facing: What is the right mix of run versus pass plays in general, and specifically for the Cleveland Browns?
Purists like to run, run, run all the time like the 1964 Browns. However, some things have changed. The 1964 Browns threw 19 interceptions (5.7%) and had a completion percentage of 52.6%, which was pretty good back then. They fumbled 15 times, including six by quarterbacks. They had 435 rushes versus 344 passes.
So they ran a lot and didn’t turn the ball over when they did run. When they passed, they often turned the ball over and half the time didn’t make any yards. And they were World Champions.
The 2022 Browns played 17 games instead of 14, and they threw only 12 INTs and their percentage was only 2.2% versus 5.7% for their 1964 counterparts. Their completion percentage was 62.0% versus 52.6%. Plus, the pass interference calls so ridiculously favor the offense that it is not even funny.
Needless to say, the 2022 Browns made 6.9 yards per pass attempt and 4.7 yards per rush attempt. They had 15 fumbles, seven by quarterbacks. If we attribute quarterback fumbles to the passing game, they had 19 total turnovers versus eight for the running game.
Thus, the Browns still have an advantage in the run game and that’s why they continue to run the ball with Nick Chubb.
However, some teams limit their interceptions to under 10 per season. In that case, the analytics guys might very well want to know, “why are we running the ball at all if we are making seven yards per pass attempt versus four yards per rush attempt? Seven is more than four!”
One valid answer is, you still have to run the ball some of the time to keep the defense honest. The defense will shut you down if you are too one-dimensional. But it is certainly true that pass-happy offenses can thrive in today’s NFL. If you can have your druthers, you would druther pass than run today. That might be translated into some form of statistical analysis which might get a traditionalist run-oriented coach riled up. That seems to be what happened.
Now, what about the run-first offense? If you do not have a star quarterback, you can still win with a premier running game and top defense and special teams. However, the running game does not make up for an underperforming defense and mediocre special team’s play. The Browns found that out last season.
Trying to build an offense on big-play passing is not a conspiracy. It’s common sense in today’s NFL. However, one reason why the Browns’ ownership is challenged from time to time is that they have been associated with meddling in the past. Remember the Johnny Manziel debacle?