## The 1978 Patriots, Part I

Here’s what I wrote in my first post at Football Perspective:

I’ll be blogging about everything football-related, from Jerry Rice to Bobby Douglass, and from the 1978 Patriots to who is the greatest quarterback of all time.

The New England Patriots rushed for 3,165 yards, an NFL record that still stands. Take a look at the individual players on that team:

Games Rushing
39 Sam Cunningham* 28 FB 16 14 199 768 8 52 3.9 48.0 12.4 4
23 Horace Ivory 24 rb 15 3 141 693 11 28 4.9 46.2 9.4 5
32 Andy Johnson 26 RB 15 13 147 675 3 52 4.6 45.0 9.8 4
14 Steve Grogan 25 QB 16 16 81 539 5 31 6.7 33.7 5.1 9
44 Don Calhoun 26 rb 14 2 76 391 1 73 5.1 27.9 5.4 1
37 James McAlister 27 16 0 19 77 2 16 4.1 4.8 1.2 3
86 Stanley Morgan 23 PR/WR 16 16 2 11 0 6 5.5 0.7 0.1 6
29 Harold Jackson 32 WR 16 13 1 7 0 7 7.0 0.4 0.1 0
30 Mosi Tatupu 23 16 0 3 6 0 3 2.0 0.4 0.2 0
4 Jerrel Wilson 37 P 14 0 1 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 0.1 1
83 Don Westbrook 25 16 0 1 -2 0 -2 -2.0 -0.1 0.1 0
Team Total 26.2 16 671 3165 30 73 4.7 197.8 41.9 35

That Patriots team is clearly one of the greatest rushing teams in football history. Not only did that squad set the NFL record for rushing yards, but New England also led the league in rushing touchdowns (30; the other 27 teams averaged 15.7), rushing first downs (181; no other team had more than 160), and yards per carry (4.7; no other team was over 4.5).

Cunningham and Johnson powered the Patriots ground game

How do the ’78 Patriots compare historically? Let’s calculate the number of adjusted rushing yards over average produced by that team. The formula is straightforward: for each team, take their rushing yards, and add 11 yards for every rushing touchdown and 9 yards for every first down.1 For the Patriots, that means we start with 3,165, add 330 yards for the team’s 30 rushing scores, and 1,629 yards for the 181 rushing first downs; that produces a total of 5,124 adjusted rushing yards.

That’s the most adjusted rushing yards in NFL history, too. But to calculate Adjusted Rushing Yards over average, the next step is to calculate league average — in 1978, it was 6.20. The Patriots averaged 7.64 Adjusted Rushing Yards per Carry, so that’s 1.44 ARYPC over average. And since New England had 671 carries, that means the Patriots produced 962 Adjusted Rushing Yards over average. Finally, the final step is to pro-rate non-16 game seasons as if they were 16-game seasons.

This methodology — which is a bit weighted more towards using per-carry numbers than I generally prefer — still has the Patriots as the 13th best rushing team ever. Perhaps more relevant, it has New England as the 3rd best rushing team of the last 50 years, and only one team — the 2011 Panthers — has scored better since that ’78 squad.

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63PHI2013NFL1650025661913339727.946.48734
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150SDG1991NFL1646422481611434507.446.27540

I noted a few times that the Patriots set several NFL records: that qualifier is necessary because the AAFC’s 1948 49ers were just ridiculous, and stand out as the greatest professional football rushing team of all time.

Anyway, that’s it for Part I. What stands out to you about the ’78 Patriots? What else would you like to know/learn?

1. Note that since rushing touchdowns are first downs, we actually give 20 yards per rushing touchdown. Longtime readers may recall greatest adjusted rushing teams of all time.” target=”_blank”>this post of mine using this methodology, but I was a hack back then and forgot to make this adjustment. []
• Delevie

1978 Pats were an excellent team that had one of the cheapest owners in football. Chuck Fairbanks decided to go for a better contact before the season ended, killing any chance the Pats had at winning in the playoffs. Great O line, good defense, very good running QB. The QB was a mediocre passer, but with that line and the RBs they could have put up a fight against Steelers – oh well.

• Joe Wright

Two things. One, the 1976-78 Pats were as good as anyone in the AFC but had some bad luck and never quite broke through. Two, the most notable play of their season happened in the preseason, and most noteworthy player (for that reason for historical purposes, not their best player of course) therefore never played a down for them.

• Despite all the rushing success, I’m amazed that their leader only had 768 yards. In fact, I think Sam Cunningham (Randall’s brother, which always surprised me, considering how far apart their careers were) is the lowest franchise career rushing leader, with just 5,453 yards.

• sacramento gold miners

This is the classic case of the sum being greater than the sum of the parts. On the plus side, these ’78 Patriot backs presented different challenges to defenses, and the reduced usage per player was helpful. On the negative, there wasn’t a great back who could take over games, especially in bad weather. I believe they defeated the Oilers in the regular season, but as was mentioned before, the Chuck Fairbanks fiasco helped kill their postseason chances.

• Josh Sanford

They thew 25 picks and fumbled 35 times. But for laying an egg in Week 16, they finish the season with 3,300 yards rushing.

• Clint

The 1978 Broncos had 6 players with 200+ rushing yards. And between 1977-1979 they had 6 players with 100+ in each year. I wonder what the best example of this type of thing is. EX. Is there a team that had 6 players with 300+ rushing yards? That Broncos team almost did it. This Pats team almost had 5 with 400. That’s pretty impressive.