Because of the tables they use, I won't copy/paste and mess up the alignment, but I found it an interesting beginning to looking into running plays and their success rates.
Would love to see success rates for 3rd and short for passing plays versus running plays though.
Here's the conclusion at least:
Teams donâ€™t generate rushing yards in three-, four-, or five-yard bursts. They gain it through punctuated equilibrium, waiting through dozens of minimal gains for a few big plays per game.
And those big plays arenâ€™t that big. Weâ€™ve focused on gains of ten or less in this article, ignoring the 10.5 percent or so of plays that yield more yardage. The vast majority of those runs gain 11-20 yards: 6.9 percent overall. Almost 25 percent of the rushing yardage gained in the NFL is generated on runs of 11-20 yards. There were 960 such runs last year: 30 per team, or just over two per team per game. Amazingly nearly 10 percent of all rushing yardage is generated on runs of 30 or more yards, plays which occur about four times per year for a typical team.
These distribution breakdowns are so interesting that they might seduce us into making some wacky conclusions. Keep in mind that all of these averages and distribution patterns are situation dependent. We might look at the data and suggest that teams stop running the ball altogether on second-and-10, but of course the Success Rate on passing plays would dip sharply if teams stopped threatening to run. These league-wide averages donâ€™t necessarily apply to individual teams, so teams with a quality running game may have different distributions that would suggest different optimal strategies. The Bell and Anderson data, for example, indicates that the Broncos have a more versatile running game than the average team, and observation (i.e. actually watching games instead of craning over spreadsheets) bears this out.
Without further study, we shouldnâ€™t leap to grand conclusions. But we know this much: if we expect to gain four or five yards on every running play, weâ€™re going to be disappointed most of the time. No wonder passing totals have been creeping up for decades. If all a handoff gets you is two yards and a cloud of dust, you might as well throw the ball.