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Tavern talk: Big plays are key to winning

Most successful teams know that passing gets a lead, running keeps it. Michael Lombardi

Print This December 02, 2009, 05:06 PM EST

The other day on NFL Network, I made a comment about how the Saints win games violating almost every offensive principle such as time of possession and their rushes and completions. I’m not a big believer in establishing the run early in a game because all it does is establish that you’ll be kicking field goals. I do believe in making big plays in the passing game and then being able to run the ball late in the game. Most successful teams throw to score and get the lead, then run the ball to keep the lead. That’s why I always look at the rushes and completions after each game to determine the ratios.

Here are the current league leaders in this category:

Note: Bold-faced teams have winning records...

2009 Rushes and Completions

1 - NE  55.0
2 - Min  53.5
3 - NO  53.3
4t - Hou  51.6
4t - Mia  51.6
6 - Cin  51.5
7 - NYG  50.6
8 - GB  50.4
9 - Pit  50.2
10 - Ind  49.8
11 - Bal  49.7
12 - NYJ  49.1
13 - Ari  48.9
14 - Atl  48.6
15t - Car  48.2
15t - Ten  48.2
17 - Jac  48.0
18 - Sea  47.5
19 - Den  46.9
20 - SD  46.5

21 - Was  46.2
22 - StL  46.0
23t - Dal  45.8
23t - Det  45.8
25 - Phi  45.7
26 - KC  44.5
27 - Chi  44.2
28 - Buf  42.4
29 - Cle  41.6
30 - TB  41.5
31 - SF  40.9
32 - Oak  39.4

Avg  47.6

Now, this formula doesn’t ensure that a team will win the game, but it does go a long way toward winning the game. To win in the NFL, you have to be balanced, and one of the many things to love about the Saints this year is their willingness to run the ball on fourth-and-1 in the first half last Monday. In the past, they might have tried and failed, or they might not even have attempted a run and just thrown an option route. Their toughness this year allows them to call runs as they move away from being a finesse team (no wonder they don’t want to re-sign Reggie Bush) to a physically tough team.

The Chargers are low because they don’t have a running game and have moved from being LaDainian Tomlinson’s team to Philip Rivers’ team (he deserves to be mentioned in the MVP race). The Eagles are low because we all know they hate to call running plays, and the Cowboys at times struggle to complete passes as well as run the ball. Denver has been inconsistent in both areas at certain times this year, and these four teams are the only ones in the bottom half of this list that have winning records. Not being ranked high in this area is not a death sentence as evidenced by last year’s rankings:

Note: Bold-faced teams did not make the playoffs...

2008 Rushes and Completions

1 - Bal  53.3
2 - NE  53.3
3 - Atl  51.6
4 - NO  50.7
5 - TB  50.4
6 - NYG  50.0
7 - Hou  49.9
8 - Was  49.8

9 - Phi  49.3
10 - Min  49.1
11 - GB  48.8
12 - Mia  48.6
13t - Den  48.3
13t - Ten  48.3
15 - NYJ  48.1
16t - Ind  47.7
16t - Pit  47.7
18 - Jac  47.6
19 - Ari  47.4
20 - Car  46.9
21 - Buf  46.8
22 - Chi  46.1
23 - SD  45.8
24 - Dal  45.6
25 - Cin  45.2
26 - StL  44.3
27 - SF  44.1
28 - KC  43.1
29 - Oak  42.6
30 - Sea  42.4
31 - Cle  40.4
32 - Det  39.6

Avg  47.3

Pittsburgh was ranked tied for 16th last year but was dominating on defense, and the Cardinals were 19th. So it’s possible to reach the Super Bowl with a lower than normal number, but it will take being good in other areas to excel.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

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