For years we have learned “running the ball sets up the pass”, but the NFL evolved to passing the football, and dispelled that cliche. Efficiency statistics showed that running stats were weakly correlated to winning percentages of 0.15 per How Coaches Think: Run Success Rate. Brian Burke’s article analyzed how running success rate is a better predictor on how the running game improves offenses and wins. He also outlines that efficiency statistics are a poor indicator because they only prove a basic concept; a poor rushing attack does not help move the ball effectively. Duh, right? Why waste time running the football if it rarely leads to moving the ball up and down the field?
Burke analyzes that successful runs, simply put, are runs that achieve the down and distance or situationally lead to scoring. “For example, if a play gains 3 yards on 3rd and 2, that would be a success. But those same 3 yards would be a failure if the situation were 3rd and 4.” Burke further explains that if a runner gets four yards or more on first down, and then cuts the distance-to-gain in half on second down, and finally gains the necessary yards on third down, those were successful runs.
This is not meant to be a summary of Burke’s article, that is linked here, but how it relates to the Vikings, who rarely struggled to run the football for years. Enter Adrian Peterson in 2007 who became attached to the phrase “He’s Loose”, after a big run. Peterson has averaged 4.9 yards per attempt, which should be expectation from a team’s highly paid franchised back, but his big runs skewed perception. 4.9 yards per attempt is only an average, but it does not tell the story of his poor run efficiency at times. 2012 was Peterson’s most efficient years, as he tallied 2097 yards, six yards per carry, and only 9 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record. 2015 on the other hand, was the opposite of efficient, Peterson only ran for 1485 yards on 327 carries (third highest).
Adrian Peterson has been a part of the Vikings for 10 years, but he wasn’t as helpful to the Vikings in 2015, not simply because of his efficiency, but because of his success rate. Peterson gained 4.5 yards per attempt which is an ideal number, but how successful was he? Per football Outsides Adrian Peterson’s success rate in 2015 was 45% (25th ranked), compared to 2012 where he was 49% successful (14th ranked). Now, that might not seem like a big difference, but the difference elevated Peterson to more yards per attempt of 6.0 and more overall rushing yards at 2097. The Vikings ranked 14th in points in 2012, but they ranked 16th in points in 2015.
Peterson’s run style though electric to watch, could at times be rather selfish. Peterson focused too much on the home run play which could result to touchdowns. When he wasn’t scoring in 2015, he wasn’t doing a good job helping his team in scoring opportunities. Studying yards alone as a way to define success rate isn’t enough, but how those yards result in points, even if it means only a field goal. This partly explains how Ezekiel Elliot (57%, 2nd highest) was important to Dak Prescott’s success 2016, or even how Thomas Rawls who ranked 1st in Success Rate at 62% helped Russell Wilson while Marshawn Lynch was hurt in 2015. “Based on Success Rate, passing and running correlate at 0.41, a much stronger relationship than the 0.09 correlation based on efficiency”
Dalvin Cook is key to the Vikings winning more football games. If the Vikings can maximize his success rate by their zone blocking scheme, it will not only help the offense, but Sam Bradford. With a poor running game last season, it was no surprise that the Vikings were not able to overcome the injuries on their offensive line. Having a good running game coupled with passing are highly correlated with wins when a team has a good success rate. “Based on Success Rate, running correlates with team wins at 0.40, much higher than the 0.15 correlation based on efficiency.” If Cook can contribute and restore the Vikings to middle of the pack, the Vikings will win more games.
Regardless of run success rate, passing the football can never be discounted. “No matter how you slice it success rate or efficiency stats, passing still reigns supreme, but running does set up the pass, as previously indicated.” The Vikings will need to find a way to increase their running game to further balance out their passing attack. Dalvin Cook, Jerick Mckinnon, and Latavius Murray will be crucial to making this happen.