To Pass Or To Run?

Rufio recently posted the thread The West Coast Offense: Ball Control Passing. In this post he describes how efficient an offense can become when they focus not so much on "the big play", but rather shorter, more calculated passes to help move the chains. Similar to how running the ball on first and second down can lead to 3rd-and-short, the WCO is typically all about using short-yardage passes to make it easier to convert 3rd-downs. Each will work if ran with talented and disciplined players, but many other factors are involved in deciding which is the better option.

So a debate began to arise and led me to ask: which is truly more effective, passing the ball or running the ball? I decided to check out to find out statistically what is more effective. Personally, I've always felt balance is vital to success (Rufio's reference to Bruce Lee - and ultimately a Taoist point-of-view - is the perfect explanation for this.) It doesn't really matter how the Browns go about being successful, but one thing is certainly evident by these statistics: we need to become a more efficient passing team.

Cleveland Browns Offensive Statistics:
1999 - Passing Yards: 2612, Rushing Yards: 1150, TOY: 3762, Record: 2-14
2000 - Passing Yards: 2445, Rushing Yards: 1085, TOY: 3530, Record: 3-13
2001 - Passing Yards: 2801, Rushing Yards: 1351, TOY: 4152, Record: 7-9
2002 - Passing Yards: 3412, Rushing Yards: 1615, TOY: 5027, Record: 9-7
2003 - Passing Yards: 2834, Rushing Yards: 1670, TOY: 4504, Record: 5-11
2004 - Passing Yards: 2824, Rushing Yards: 1657, TOY: 4481, Record: 4-12
2005 - Passing Yards: 3047, Rushing Yards: 1503, TOY: 4550, Record: 6-10
2006 - Passing Yards: 2898, Rushing Yards: 1335, TOY: 4233, Record: 4-12
2007 - Passing Yards: 3726, Rushing Yards: 1895, TOY: 5621, Record: 10-6
2008 - Passing Yards: 2380, Rushing Yards: 1605, TOY: 3985, Record: 4-12
2009 - Passing Yards: 2076, Rushing Yards: 2087, TOY: 4163, Record: 5-11
2010 - Passing Yards: 2989, Rushing Yards: 1646, TOY: 4635, Record: 5-11
*TOY- Total Offensive Yards

The most important statistics that stand out to me are the two years that we were most productive in the passing game are also the two years we had the best records, one of which led to our wild-card playoff berth in 2002. Although it's not a night-and-day comparison, the years we were most successful at running the ball never led to great seasons. 2007 being the exception, of course.

Super Bowl Champion Offensive Statistics
1999 - Passing Yards: 4353, Rushing Yards: 2059, TOY: 6412, Record: 13-3 (Rams)
2000 - Passing Yards: 2815, Rushing Yards: 2199, TOY: 5014, Record: 12-4 (Ravens)
2001 - Passing Yards: 3089, Rushing Yards: 1793, TOY: 4882, Record: 11-5 (Patriots)
2002 - Passing Yards: 3445, Rushing Yards: 1557, TOY: 5002, Record: 12-4 (Buccaneers)
2003 - Passing Yards: 3432, Rushing Yards: 1607, TOY: 5039, Record: 14-2 (Patriots)
2004 - Passing Yards: 3588, Rushing Yards: 2134, TOY: 5722, Record: 14-2 (Patriots)
2005 - Passing Yards: 2926, Rushing Yards: 2223, TOY: 5149, Record: 11-5 (Steelers)
2006 - Passing Yards: 4308, Rushing Yards: 1762, TOY: 6070, Record: 12-4 (Colts)
2007 - Passing Yards: 3154, Rushing Yards: 2148, TOY: 5302, Record: 10-6 (Giants)
2008 - Passing Yards: 3301, Rushing Yards: 1690, TOY: 4991, Record: 12-4 (Steelers)
2009 - Passing Yards: 4355, Rushing Yards: 2106, TOY: 6461, Record: 13-3 (Saints)
2010 - Passing Yards: 4124, Rushing Yards: 1606, TOY: 5730, Record: 10-6 (Packers)
*TOY- Total Offensive Yards

A couple things stand out to me with these stats compared to the Browns. First of all, 7 of out 12 times we had better TOYs than the Super Bowl teams compared to our 2007 team. But our average TOY in this time frame is about 4387 compared to the champs 5481 TOY. Also, only 2 of those teams shared the same record as our 2007 team, and 8 of the 12 had records of 12-4 or better. This proves to me that there's more to winning a Super Bowl than simply having a lot of offensive yards, but it certainly helps

In that same regard our passing yards average in these 12 years is 2837, which only beat out the Ravens championship team. The average passing yards gained by these Super Bowl teams is roughly 3574. That's a difference of about 46 yards each game. To make the same comparison with rushing yards, our average total comes to just about 1550 and the champs total out at 1907 which leads to about a difference of 22 yards per game.

The one thing that holds true in almost each of these statistics is a roughly 2:1 passing/rushing yardage ratio. In most of the cases concerning the Super Bowl champs the only time this ratio wasn't met was with teams that had very dominant defenses such as the Ravens, Steelers, and Giants. None of the offenses on those teams were very intimidating to the opposing defenses. They were simply told to not screw it up. Even the almighty Patriots fall into this category, which in retrospect makes sense because Tom Brady is all about managing the game, not breaking offensive records. The one year he tried to show off he and his team blew it against the Giants who had that same mentality the Patriots originally had - never stop attacking with your defense and make sure your offense doesn't screw it up.

My conclusion out of all of this is simply that the 2:1 offensive ratio is the most likely way of being successful on offense. And it simply takes more yards than what we've been producing to become a successful franchise. Especially taking a look at our 2009 season, our recent passing numbers are pathetic, but our rushing yards have been consistently good. Out of all of this I think these statistics raise an even more important debate: which is more important, offense or defense?

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