Cold Hard Football Facts: Running dominance doesn't lead to wins

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Kernels of conventional gridiron wisdom were crushed again in Week 6, ground into dust by the millstone of truth that is the Cold, Hard Football Facts.

Take, for example, the Giants-Browns battle on Monday Night Football.

The Giants were virtually unstoppable on the ground, ripping off 181 yards on 25 carries, for an utterly dominating 7.2 yard-per-attempt average (the Browns, for their part, averaged a healthy 4.8 YPA on the ground).

Along the way, the Giants extended their lead in the race to become the greatest running team of all time.

The record is currently held by the 1963 Browns, who averaged 5.74 YPA on the ground, thanks in large part to all-time NFL alpha-male Jim Brown (291 attempts for a then-record 1,863 yards and 6.4 YPA).

The 2008 Giants now average a truly historic 6.08 YPA on the ground. No team in NFL annals, not even Brown's Browns, has come close to running the ball as well as the Giants do this year.

But New York's dominance on the ground Monday night proved irrelevant -- as it so often does. Cleveland destroyed the defending champs, 35-14.


It's easy to find the answer. Police investigators, in the search for criminals, tell us to follow the money trail. Gridiron investigators, in their search for the source of victory, need to follow the passing trail.

And the Browns -- despite being pounded on the ground -- won the air battle handily. Cleveland averaged 10.7 yards each time Derek Anderson attempted a pass, easily outperforming the Giants, who averaged just 6.6 yards for each of Eli Manning'sattempts.

The Browns were not alone this week:

• Teams like the Browns, that won the passing battle in Week 6, went 11-3.

• Teams like the Giants, that won the rushing battle in Week 6, went 5-9.

These numbers are not anomalies. They're typical results week after week and year after year of NFL action.

Despite the protestations of pigskin "pundits" and desk-pounding ex-offensive linemen that teams need to "establish the run," victory in the NFL almost always goes to the team that passes the ball better.

Other examples from Week 6 are just as stunning as the Giants-Browns game.

Against San Diego, New England did everything the "pundits" say is key to winning in the NFL:

• The Patriots controlled the clock (31:34 to 28:26)

• The Patriots ran the ball better (26 for 106 and 4.1YPA to 28 for 98 and 3.5 YPA)

• The Patriots won the third-down battle (35 percent success to 30 percent)

Yet the Patriots were crushed, 30-10, by a Chargers team that utterly dominated through the air (11.3 YPA to 4.6 YPA).

San Francisco made the "pundits" plump with pride, too:

• The 49ers">49ers controlled the clock handily (33:19 to 26:41)

• The 49ers battled to a statistical draw on the ground (outrushing the Eagles 131 to 103, while each team averaged 4.9 YPA)

• The 49ers even won the special teams battle, returning a kick for a TD while the Eagles netted just 16 yards per punt.

Yet the 49ers lost by two touchdowns, 40-26, to an Eagles team that was more effective through the air (7.8 YPA to 5.3 YPA)

Chicago delivered a textbook performance in conventional strategy:

• The Bears won the third-down battle (56 percent to 42 percent)

• The Bears ran the ball more effectively, while stifling the Atlanta ground game (3.4 YPA to 2.5 YPA)

• The Bears defense limited Atlanta to just one touchdown.

Yet the Bears lost, 22-20, to a Falcons team with a far superior passing attack (10.0 YPA to 6.4 YPA). The Atlanta air assault included a critical 26-yard Matt Ryan-to-Michael Jenkins completion that set up the game-winning, last-second field goal.

Time and again the Cold, Hard Football Facts, just like the Browns, Chargers, Eagles and Falcons, prove conventional wisdom wrong.

Teams that run the ball well make the talking heads and ex-offensive-linemen happy. Teams that pass the ball well win football games.

Oh, and those Giants who were undefeated while dominating on the ground? They merely prove the pre-eminence of the pass: the Giants passed the ball more effectively than their opponents in each of their first four victories. When they finally lost the passing battle, they lost the game.