Lance Zierlein

The Smash Mouth

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No Running Room for MoJo

Thursday, October 10, 2013

At least Lane Johnson made it out of Week 5. Eric Fisher missed last week with a concussion after a teammate ran into him the previous week, and Luke Joeckel was lost for the year due to a fractured ankle.

Running games in general have been much less effective this year for whatever reason and teams who relied on the zone-read last season aren’t getting those same yards this year. Then again, Oakland laughs at your inability to get rushing yards from your quarterback.

This week, I’ll tell you why Michael Roos will probably see his solid pass protection numbers take a dent, why the Seahawks' offensive line could derail their Super Bowl hopes, and we’ll compare the rushing attacks for each team from 2012 and the first five games of 2013.

Moving the Sticks

* If you are expecting your RB to put up any numbers whatsoever against the New York Jets defense, then he better be packing a lunch and hard-hat. The Jets have only allowed five rushes of 15+ yards all season and are limiting opposing rushing attacks to a success rate of just 36.2%, which is the lowest in the NFL.

* If you own Maurice Jones-Drew, then thoughts and prayers go out to your team. Wait until you see what the Jacksonville Jaguars' rushing attack looks like with Eugene Monroe and Luke Joeckel both gone. The tackle play was very spotty last weekend against the Rams, and the Jaguars have the least talented offensive line in the league right now. Not only will this affect MJD, but Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon's consistency could be affected thanks to a lack of time to throw for the quarterbacks.

* Saints RG Jahri Evans is still a solid player, but he’s not the guard he once was. Based on the tape, I would say Ben Grubbs is the better, more versatile guard of the two.

* That Seattle Seahawks pass protection is an absolute mess. LT Paul McQuistan is giving everything he’s got in place of Russell Okung, but his pass pro simply isn’t good enough and the same can be said for the inconsistencies from guards J.R. Sweezy and James Carpenter. The Seahawks have a Super Bowl-caliber team, but they had better not get Russell Wilson hurt due to poor pass protection.

* For whatever reason, the Atlanta Falcons keep trying to prove that they can run with power behind a line that lacks functional strength. The Falcons haven’t fixed their tackle issues, they aren’t good enough at right guard, and center Peter Konz has been disappointing so far this year. I applaud GM Thomas Dimitroff’s aggressiveness in recent drafts, but fixing the offensive line must take precedent in 2014.

The Big 4 Matchups

1. Adrian Peterson vs. Carolina’s defense - Peterson is still the best overall back in the game despite the fact that he’s having to work harder than ever for his yardage. Peterson has gained 46.5% of his rushing yards against 8+ men in the box and he’s facing a deep Carolina front 7 that features a rising star in Luke Kuechly.

2. OLB Bruce Irvin vs. LT Michael Roos - According to the STATS Ice data that many NFL teams use, Roos has given up just 1 sack and only 5 total pressures but he faces one of the fastest edge rushers in the game in Irvin. Roos can’t consistently handle Irvin’s explosiveness, so the Titans will have to stay in comfortable down and distance situations so they can utilize more 3-step drops.

3. Eagles o-line vs. Bucs d-line - The Bucs are winless and they have to win here if they want any shot to salvage their season. The Bucs' defense has been very good and the Eagles will be tested with Michael Vick (hamstring) out and with the zone-read element of the Eagles offense a non-factor. Philadelphia will have to prove it can pass protect for the less mobile Nick Foles as the Bucs are likely to be stingier against the run than the Eagles are used to.

4. Browns DT Ahtyba Rubin vs. Lions RG Larry Warford - The Browns have a stingy pass defense, so the Lions need to be able to get yards on the ground. Rookie guard Warford is a powerful run blocker, but he’s still raw. If he can handle the power and athleticism of Rubin, the Lions might be able to hit a few big runs. If not, the Lions will have a tough time finding running room at all since Phil Taylor should control the middle of the line for the Browns' defense.

Comparing Rushing Attacks from 2012 & 2013

* All data provided by STATS Ice
Quality Rush % - A rush must gain a certain % of yardage needed for first down (per down) to be considered “quality”.
Stuff % - Percentage of carries that result in 0 to negative yardage gained.
Clean Yards Per Attempt - I created this metric to show how many yards are gained pre-contact per rush attempt.

  2013   2012
Team Quality Rush% Stuff% Clean Yds/Att Quality Rush% Stuff% Clean Yds/Att
ARZ 42.6 18.3 2.05 38.1 25.6 1.66
ATL 53.6 24.7 2.09 40.5 21.2 1.62
BAL 32.8 25.6 1.19 45.7 15.3 2.45
BUF 46.6 18 2.65 50.4 15.6 3.16
CAR 52.4 15.3 2.50 49.6 19.7 2.28
CHI 43.6 21.4 2.39 43.2 18.9 2.35
CIN 52.9 13.8 1.86 45.6 15.8 2.08
CLE 42 20.5 1.63 45.2 17.4 2.14
DAL 45.6 13.6 2.65 49 17.2 1.63
DEN 45 12.6 1.88 48.9 18.7 1.95
DET 40.5 28.6 1.71 49.1 14.8 2.30
GB 50.9 11.3 2.45 43.6 15.7 2.13
HOU 47.9 15.3 2.07 46.1 19.5 2.14
IND 57 12.6 1.97 49.3 22 1.88
JAX 36.4 27.3 1.00 46.4 17.9 2.01
KC 42.4 16 2.69 49 18.8 3.11
MIA 41 20 2.00 49.3 16.6 2.57
MIN 49.6 17.1 2.15 45.7 21.2 2.77
NE 45.7 19.3 1.86 53.4 16.8 2.45
NO 44.4 23.8 1.20 47.8 17.8 1.99
NYG 42.5 28.7 1.39 51.1 18.3 2.48
NYJ 47.6 15 2.27 49 14.8 2.15
OAK 45.6 16.7 2.80 41.5 19.7 1.70
PHI 55.7 15.6 3.59 49.4 22 2.28
PIT 41.1 20.6 1.53 43.9 18.7 1.66
SD 48.4 10.5 1.59 41.8 15.8 1.62
SF 39.9 21.6 2.37 50 14.2 3.37
SEA 43.9 18.5 2.74 50.8 14.4 2.91
STL 43.1 17.4 1.35 44.6 18.3 2.16
TB 36 22.5 1.75 45.2 18.8 2.18
TEN 42.7 24.2 2.01 42.9 21.2 2.90
WAS 46.1 19.1 2.73 52.6 15.6 3.12

Notable Takeaways

* When you take a close look at the Quality Rush Percentage, you get a very clear picture of just how atrocious many of the running games are so far this year compared to last year. Last year there was only one team under 40% (Atlanta), but this year there are four teams under 40% (Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and San Francisco).

* I’m sure you realized that the' Baltimore Ravens' running game was struggling, but did you have any idea that their offensive line had played this poorly? The Ravens have fallen from a Quality Rush Percentage of 45.7 in 2012 to 32.8% in 2013, which is the lowest in the NFL (a drop of 12.9%). Add to that the fact that they are only allowing 1.19 free yards per carry before their running backs are being hit by defenders. That’s just awful.

* The Indianapolis Colts said they were going to commit to the running game and they have…. with success, I might add. The Colts have the highest Quality Rush Percentage in the league at 57%. While credit goes to the offensive line, the RBs have done more than their share. The Colts are giving their runners 1.97 clean yards per attempt which means that the Colts RBs are running hard and churning out yards after contact in order to get to such a high QR%.

* While Reggie Bush has hit a few big runs, the Detroit Lions are struggling to keep defenders out of their backfield as they are giving up a “stuff” on almost 29% of their carries (31st in the NFL).

* Thanks to some big runs by Michael Vick, a healthy offensive line, and an offense designed to allow LeSean McCoy to operate in space, it should come as no surprise that the Philadelphia Eagles have seen the biggest increase in Clean Yards and are the league leaders with 3.59 per carry.

* While the Arizona Cardinals aren’t blowing the league away with their rushing attack, they have seen their QR% go up, their stuffs go way down and their clean yards increase from 1.66 to a respectable 2.05. I think I might know one of their offensive line coaches.

* Just how deplorable has the New York Giants' offensive line been? Last year they were one of the steadiest run blocking units in the league. This year they’ve seen their clean yards drop by 1.09 ypc and their Stuff% has gone to a league worst 28.7%.

Lance Zierlein is sports talk show host on KMBE 790 AM in Houston, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @lancezierlein.
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