The NFL has, over the last few decades, evolved into a passing league. Changing rules and changing strategies have made passing more effective than ever, and as a result teams don’t run as much as they used to.
Washington interim head coach Bill Callahan would like to go back to the past.
Callahan said after Sunday’s 17-16 win over Miami that the most important thing to him is that Washington run a lot — which it did on Sunday, with 33 rushing attempts.
“I really thought we ran the ball well,” Callahan said, via ESPN. “Through three quarters, I thought we pounded it well . . . We came into the game thinking rush attempts. We wanted to have more attempts. We weren’t really concerned about the yardage but the attempts was really, really important.”
Callahan’s view may be shaped by the longstanding evidence that rushing attempts correlate with winning. Teams that run more win more.
But if that is what Callahan is thinking, he ought to think about the difference between correlation and causation. Winning teams usually run a lot because running is safer than passing for protecting a lead: Running results in fewer turnovers than passing, and running keeps the clock moving while incomplete passes stop the clock. Running a lot in the fourth quarter after you have a big lead is sound strategy.
And the idea that yardage doesn’t matter doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny at all. Obviously yardage matters. So while Callahan won on Sunday, merely running the ball a lot isn’t going to be enough to win many games going forward.