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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
No. Age Pos G GS Att Yds ▾ TD Lng Y/A Y/G A/G Fmb
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

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.

RkTmYearLgGRushYdsTDFDAdj RYAYPCLgAvgVALUE
1SFO1954NFL1244224982812539318.896.311525
2DET1936NFL1259128852217046577.886.001483
3CHI1941NFL1149521563011234947.065.001480
4SFO1948AAFC1460336633515254168.987.031345
5CHI1939NFL1143920432114836068.216.221271
6SFO1949AAFC1250627982611741378.186.351230
7CLE1963NFL1446026391513540198.746.451204
8BUF1975NFL1458829742616247188.026.391100
9SFO1953NFL1244322302612836688.286.421100
10CAR2011NFL1644524082613939458.876.601007
11CLE1958NFL1247525262412739338.286.74976
12BOS1933NFL12467226011023815.103.53974
13NWE1978NFL1667131653018151247.646.20962
14DET1997NFL1644724641912037538.406.25959
15CLE1966NFL1441521661811734178.236.21957
16RAM1954NFL1243221402411534397.966.31953
17BUF1973NFL1460530882015246767.736.35951
18GNB1960NFL1246321502913536847.966.42949
19SDG1963AFL1439522012011234298.686.58948
20RAM1951NFL1242622102211434788.166.50944
21CHI1934NFL13567284720030675.414.07934
22MIN2007NFL1649426342213140558.216.33927
23NYY1947AAFC1453429302712043078.076.56921
24CHI1935NFL1253920961314034996.495.22911
25SEA2014NFL1652527622014442788.156.42908
26NWE1976NFL1459129482415045627.726.39901
27PHI1945NFL103811638267425906.805.33895
28CRD1948NFL1253125602513540507.636.36895
29MIN2002NFL1647325072613940448.556.66895
30MIA1972NFL1461329602617047767.796.52890
31GNB1962NFL1451824603614541618.036.54884
32RAM1945NFL103721714196825356.815.33884
33CHI1942NFL114701881239830166.425.13878
34SFO1998NFL1649125441912939147.976.22862
35GNB1961NFL1447423502714239258.286.69860
36CLE1965NFL1447623311913337377.856.28852
37KAN2002NFL1646223782614039248.496.66848
38CLE1960NFL1238319301810730918.076.42843
39MIA1977NFL1451923661814338517.426.01834
40WAS2012NFL1651927092214442478.186.58830
41RAM1953NFL1242621482310533467.856.42816
42RAM1984NFL1654128641614043007.956.45813
43RAM1946NFL1140416831610227776.875.50808
44KAN1966AFL1443922741910634377.836.22807
45SEA2005NFL1651924572914240547.816.26803
46PIT1972NFL1449725202213139417.936.52800
47CIN1988NFL1656327102715944387.886.46800
48CHI1955NFL1248723881911836597.516.30787
49SDG2006NFL1652225783213741637.986.47785
50PHI2010NFL1642823241811635668.336.52777
51CHI1977NFL1459928111814142787.146.01772
52ATL2006NFL165372939913442447.906.47769
53BAL1956NFL1243222022110633877.846.52763
54SFO1993NFL1646321332613436257.836.19761
55RAM1956NFL1238419781510330707.996.52757
56DET1990NFL1636619271911231448.596.53755
57DAL1974NFL1454224542214740197.426.20750
58WAS1945NFL103941708157725666.515.33746
59CLE1947AAFC1447925572410837937.926.56745
60PHI1943NFL104591730189627926.085.07745
61STL1970NFL1442919981811031867.435.92741
62PHI1944NFL104241663237325736.074.98737
63PHI2013NFL1650025661913339727.946.48734
64PHI2011NFL1645022762013437028.236.60731
65DET1981NFL1659627952616745847.696.47729
66CIN1986NFL1652125332413440037.686.29727
67DEN2005NFL1654225392514541197.606.26724
68PIT1976NFL1465329713316348017.356.39721
69CLE1964NFL1443521631411933887.796.34721
70DET1937NFL1148420741212032866.795.77720
71DTX1961AFL1443921832311234447.856.41719
72STL1960NFL1248423561312736427.526.42713
73ATL2004NFL1652426722013340897.806.45709
74DEN1998NFL1652524682613539697.566.22706
75WAS1938NFL1138814241014728577.366.11705
76NOR1979NFL1655124762816042247.676.39704
77WAS1970NFL1444420211112232407.305.92701
78CHI1947NFL1244819592112232887.346.17701
79SFO1992NFL1648223152213537727.836.37700
80CHI1965NFL1447921312713236167.556.28693
81WAS1937NFL1145016041114930666.815.77685
82RAM1947NFL1245921711511233447.296.17685
83IND1985NFL1648524392213138607.966.55685
84DET1989NFL1642120532311733597.986.35684
85STL2000NFL1638318432611231378.196.41681
86CLE1952NFL1239417861210528637.275.98676
87CHI1943NFL104221651148425616.075.07676
88GNB1964NFL1449522762313337267.536.34673
89CLE1967NFL1444421391511933757.606.28673
90KAN2004NFL1649622893113838727.816.45673
91DAL1995NFL1649522012914137897.656.31665
92SDG2003NFL1641721461611733758.096.50664
93MIA1971NFL1448624291112136397.496.30659
94ATL2005NFL1653125461713939847.506.26658
95DAL1966NFL1447121222412435027.446.21657
96KAN2005NFL1652023822613839107.526.26652
97CHI1985NFL1661027612717646427.616.55648
98PIT2001NFL1658027741714842937.406.30639
99CHI1956NFL1253624682214039707.416.52636
100DET1994NFL164062080129430587.535.97635
101MIN2012NFL1648626341611338277.876.58628
102MIN2011NFL1644823181811835787.996.60620
103NYJ1982NFL93041317138722437.386.23618
104JAX2006NFL1651325412312739377.676.47618
105CHI1986NFL1660627002116644257.306.29615
106MIN1991NFL1646422011812535247.596.27614
107SFO1999NFL1641820951410231677.586.12611
108RAM1973NFL1465929251817747167.166.35604
109GNB2003NFL1650725581812738997.696.50603
110WAS1940NFL1140014021514728907.236.19601
111RAM1958NFL123451734189327698.036.74592
112DTX1962AFL1447924072111937097.746.66592
113SFO2012NFL1649224911712838307.786.58591
114DAL1971NFL1451222492513537397.306.30586
115SFO1988NFL1652725231814139907.576.46584
116OAK1971NFL1447321301912834917.386.30583
117SFO1952NFL124211905169729547.025.98582
118CHI1951NFL1253924082414139417.316.50581
119WAS1939NFL1141016931212529507.206.22579
120DEN2002NFL1645722662112536227.936.66579
121PIT1975NFL1458126332214942167.266.39578
122DEN1996NFL1652523622013437887.226.12576
123OAK1972NFL1452123762014539017.496.52576
124SEA1978NFL1656123942815040527.226.20572
125TEN2009NFL1649925921911538367.696.54572
126DET1934NFL13632274027030374.814.07571
127GNB1944NFL103951517167023235.884.98568
128DEN1997NFL1652023781813838187.346.25567
129HOU2010NFL1642320422011833247.866.52567
130GNB1935NFL124481562712527646.175.22565
131RAM1957NFL1247421421511233156.996.10564
132HOU1980NFL1657326351815542287.386.40563
133PIT1979NFL1656126032514141477.396.39563
134STL2001NFL1641620272010431837.656.30562
135SFO1985NFL1647722322013736857.736.55562
136NYG2008NFL1650225181913038977.766.65560
137CLE1959NFL1245721492011834317.516.59559
138DAL1968NFL1448020912213535487.396.38557
139CRD1949NFL1246721302110633157.106.21556
140MIN1965NFL1450522781913036577.246.28553
141PHI1992NFL1651623881913838397.446.37550
142WAS1999NFL1646320392312133817.306.12550
143MIN2013NFL1642320812310632887.776.48548
144JAX2010NFL1651223951414838817.586.52544
145MIA1973NFL1450725211611136967.296.35542
146RAM1959NFL1237117781510128527.696.59542
147BUF1991NFL1650523811612837097.346.27542
148DET1996NFL1638918101510529207.516.12540
149OAK2000NFL1652024702312838757.456.41540
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.