Running Game
The running game in the NFL used to be the dominant strategy. Now, throwing the ball is all the rage, but the ground attack will be back. (Shaban Athuman/The Dallas Morning News)

The Running Game Will Return To The Spotlight Very Soon

It seems like ever since the late 2000s, the running game has become more of an afterthought with the explosion of the passing game. The strategy that dominated the 80s, 90s, and even early 2000s has seemingly faded away into more of a way to keep defenses honest, rather than a dominating way to win. However, I think the pendulum will swing the other way soon.

Offenses create situations, defenses react to them. That’s football in the most simple explanation possible. When defenses finally catch onto what offenses are doing, the offenses change what they’re doing. Whatever works is whatever is done, it doesn’t matter how pretty it is, the job just needs to get done. If there’s a mismatch, you bet an offense will take advantage of it. For so long, passing the ball has become a mismatch because it’s begin utilized more and more at all levels of football.

Offenses in college are getting more pass-happy. Throwing the ball has taken over bruising forward for yards with a fullback. Teams simply don’t do that anymore. Sure there are exceptions, but the new normal is pass first, run second. Bubble screens are replacing handoffs. 7 on 7 and flag football have taken over, it’s flashier, it’s prettier, and it’s preparing defenders to drop into zones instead of taking on pulling guards. That last reason is why I believe running the ball will make a major comeback.

A natural mismatch is in the making because defenses aren’t prepared to stop power runs and pulling guards. Linebackers are smaller and faster, but the disadvantage there is that they aren’t well equipped to handle a fullback weighing 250 pounds running right at their face trying to take their helmet off. Or a guard pulling with a full head of steam ready to flatten someone. Sure, smaller and faster help with stopping a high-flying air attack, but it’s a disadvantage when it comes to stopping someone head-on at the goal line. This mismatch is only getting worse with time, someone will figure this out soon.

Someone will see this first, and someone will take advantage of it. It’s a matter of if, not when. I just hope that the person who does bring back the running game doesn’t completely forget about effective passing concepts. That’s a trap the Baltimore Ravens have fallen into.

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