One Carry — One Yard

A week before the Super Bowl, The Dallas Morning News’ Tim Cowlishaw identified McNabb’s running as the possible wild card in Philadelphia’s hand – a card that McNabb did not use. In fact, McNabb has been moving away from using his feet for a couple of years.

NFL “conventional wisdom” touts a QB’s passing ability as the key to his success. The praise heaped on QBs by TV analysts because “he’s looking down the field rather than looking to take off” contains a kernel of truth. Bypassing an open 40-yard pass to rush for 6 yards is a poor tradeoff. More generally, though, it is the gain and loss tied to the specific run-pass decision that matters. This calculus differs by QB, by game situation, and by opponent. Given that the Patriots used a 2-deep zone with man-to-man underneath coverage frequently, the running payoff was likely high. Such coverages aim to take away the shorter passing routes, but provide QBs with running chances because the defenders often turn their backs to the ball.

McNabb as a pocket-only QB makes about as much sense as having Randy Moss run 10-yard square-ins all afternoon. The other Eagles runners gained only 45 yards on 16 carries. McNabb ran (only) 41 times in the season for a 5.4 per carry average. He has averaged as much as 7 yards per carry before he bulked up.

The running QB topic sometimes flows with racial undercurrents, which is unfortunate. Yes, McNabb, Steve McNair, and Michael Vick are recent examples of QBs using their legs to great effect. In times past, Roger Staubach did the same, running about 50 times several seasons, while averaging 6 yards per carry. In the 1980s and 90s, Steve Young carried up to 76 times with a 6 to 7 yard average. The potential for injury also raises concerns. Anecdotally, standing in the pocket and getting whacked from all angles may be a more common cause of QB injury than running, especially given that the QB can avoid contact by sliding.

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Author: Brian Goff

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