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Super Bowl Intangibles Part 1, Rushing Game

   by Matt Fargo - 01/28/2008

It’s pretty common knowledge in football that winning the rushing battle usually means winning the football game. That is the case throughout the regular season, the playoffs and ultimately, the Super Bowl. Obviously, picking which team is going to win the rushing battle is not the easiest of tasks since if it was, everyone would be likely winning money on sports’ most wagered-on game. Let’s do some breakdowns and see who has the best shot to win the line of scrimmage for Super Bowl XLII.

The Rushing Game

Let’s take a look at some history first. Winning the rushing game usually means winning the Super Bowl but what exactly is the likeliness of that? Of the first 41 Super Bowls, the winning team had more rushing yards in 34 of those games which is pretty significant. More importantly for us and for the purpose of this article, the team with the greater rushing yard total is 30-11 ATS (73.2 percent). So not only predicting the rushing winner gives us the outright winner but it likely gives us a spread cover as well.

The Super Bowl winner has averaged 152.7 ypg through the first 41 big games while the losing team has averaged just 88.1 ypg. It can be argued that the winning team is likely sitting on the lead and piling on meaningless rushing yards while the trailing team is forced to abandon the run. Sure that is the case some of the time however looking at ypc averages strengthens the rushing theory. The winners have averaged over 4.01 ypc while the losing team has averaged 3.65 ypc.

The Super Bowl winner has been held to fewer than 100 yards only five times in the history of the big game, most recently Super Bowl XXXIV winner St. Louis. Seven times has seen the winner gain over 200 yards and its no surprise that the average margin of victory in those games was 20.3 ppg however this has not taken place since Super Bowl XXII in 1988. The most yards ever gained by a Super Bowl loser were 166 yards by Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV against the Giants.

Now on to this season. New England finished the regular season ranked 10th in rushing defense, allowing 98.3 ypg. However, if there ever was a season that skewed this average, this was the one. The Patriots did not lose this year and they were ahead the vast majority of the time in the second half which forced almost every team to abandon the running game. A better indication of how the rushing defense performed is to look at average per rush and New England surrendered 4.4 ypc which was tied for 26th.

The Giants used a strong running game for their success this year. They finished 4th in the league with 134.3 ypg and the fifth game of the season against the Jets was the turning point. New York rushed for 188 yards in that game and suddenly there was no slowing down the running game. The Giants averaged 99.3 ypg through their first four games prior to that breakout and 146 ypg in their final 12. They also finished with a 4.6 ypc average, good for 3rd best in the league.

As good as the offense was, the defense was nearly as dominant. New York allowed 97.7 ypg during the regular season which was 8th in the NFL and its 3.8 ypg average allowed was good for a tie for 4th with five other teams. New England averaged 115.6 ypg on the ground which was middle of the pack while its 4.1 ypc average was right there as well. The Patriots offense was successful around the passing game with no need for a running attack but it has been a turnaround during the playoffs.

The Patriots have averaged 147 ypg in their two playoff games and an even more impressive 4.9 ypc. However, the efforts did come against the 11th and 16th ranked rushing defenses to take it for what it’s worth. Lawrence Maroney is averaging 122 ypg during the playoffs and has been huge for the Patriots offense as he is averaging 5.2 ypc. If the Patriots can get that sort of production, it will be a huge accomplishment considering New York is allowing 83.7 ypg and 3.6 ypc during the playoffs.

The Patriots rushing defense has stepped up in the postseason as it has allowed just 92 ypg against two very good rushing offenses. However, the Jaguars had success with the passing game and stuck with that while the Chargers were without LaDainian Tomlinson, who rushed the ball just twice. They have allowed 4.18 ypc so it really hasn’t been complete domination. The Giants numbers have gone down considerably, averaging 108 ypg on 3.5 ypc in the three playoff games so that is a concern.

This is one of those rare occasions where we can actually look at a matchup from an earlier meeting in the season and this one happened to take place in the final regular season game. The Giants only rushed for 79 yards in the first meeting this season but they ran it only 19 times the entire game. They put up a solid 4.16 ypc average and if not for losing the time of possession by over 12 minutes, the running game could have been more vital. New England rushed for just 44 yards on 26 carries (1.69 ypc).

These comparisons are quite similar to what we saw last season. Chicago had the clear cut advantage in the running game during the regular season but that shifted in the playoffs to the Colts side and that edge carried over into the Super Bowl. Will we see a similar outcome? The shift of the rushing edge to the New England side during the postseason is not as significant and we will have to wait and see what effect this has on Super Bowl XLII. My opinion of that will be part of the winning side released soon.

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