By Tim Weaver
NFL teams are notoriously resistant to change. However, the league’s late-blooming analytics revolution may finally be fundamentally changing the way they approach the game. The 2018 season featured an offensive explosion the likes of which the league has never seen. New records were set in touchdowns, passer rating and a host of other offensive numbers.
While dynamic passers like Patrick Mahomes and brilliant play-callers like Sean McVay are partially responsible, teams in general seem to be catching on to the idea that passing offers more success than running the ball, especially in first down situations early in the game. According to an analysis by Warren Sharp, this past year saw a dramatic change in first-half, first-down strategy:
“In 2018, the NFL saw a record 51.5% pass rate on first-and-10 in the first half. These plays averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, another record. And they averaged 67.6% completions, a third record.”
The previous year, teams ran the ball 52.8 percent of the time on first down in the first half. This is not a good strategy. Essentially, Sharp’s idea is what any Madden player worth their salt could tell you: rather than eStAbLiShInG tHe RuN, teams should pass to establish the lead and then run to protect...