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When will a team go an entire game without running?

Belichick checks to see if anyone has gone a whole game without calling a run yet

Belichick checks to see if anyone has gone a whole game without calling a run yet.

The record for fewest rush attempts in a game is 6, set by the 2004 Patriots and tied by the ’06 Cardinals. The circumstances there are as you would expect. The Patriots fell behind 21-3 in the first quarter to the Steelers in 2004, and Pittsburgh owned the league’s top rush defense. In 2006, the Cardinals faced the Minnesota Vikings, owners of one of the greatest rush defenses in history. Minnesota allowed just 985 yards (the second lowest in modern history) on 2.8 yards per carry (the third lowest mark of the modern era) in 2006. That day, the Cardinals didn’t fall behind early, but called on Matt Leinart to throw 51 passes compared to just four Edgerrin James runs. It was not a winning formula, but I’m not sure Denny Green had the wrong strategy.

But will a team ever go a full game without attempting a run? In college, the floor has also been six runs, at least in recent memory. Baylor — with coach Guy Morris, who coached under Hal Mumme and next to Mike Leach at both Valdosta State and Kentucky — was the first, calling just six runs on the road against the 2006 Texas Longhorns. A year later in Austin, it was Leach who orchestrated the only other six-carry game since 2005. That day, he put the game in the hands of Graham Harrell (36/48, 466 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT), Michael Crabtree (9/195/2), Danny Amendola (8/82) and Edward Britton (8/125/1), but alas, the Red Raiders defense couldn’t stop Jamaal Charles.

I suppose we should wonder when the first 5-carry game will occur before asking about the first 0-carry game. But it’s a Sunday in the offseason, so I’ll throw this one out to the crowd. Will we ever see a 0-carry game? If so, how many years from now until it occurs? Against the Bills this year, the Ravens called 31 straight passing plays but still passed on “only” 86% of all plays from scrimmage. What will it take to get that percentage to 100?

  • Sunrise089

    31 straight ‘passing’ plays in the second to last sentence 🙂 Another one of those typos that makes me at first think I’m REALLY not getting the gist of what you’re trying to say…

    • Chase Stuart

      The streak of consecutive days with a typo is getting nearly as long as the streak of consecutive days with a post.

  • I think football will die before there is a zero-carry NFL game. Getting a big lead early wouldn’t be enough–the leading team would have to build up a lead essentially before allowing the other team to touch the ball, which is very, very difficult. And then the down team would have to have a good enough pass offense or bad enough rush offense to make passing every down look appealing. And the team with the lead would have to either have a bad enough pass defense or a good enough run defense to make abandoning the run an appealing strategy. And then they would have to have a coach and OC willing not just to call all passes but to deal with the guaranteed fallout from the mainstream football media screaming about how they made football into basketball.

    Basically, you would have to have the same perfect storm as those six-carry games but an even more extreme start. I think the odds of those circumstances occurring are so long that we will never actually see it.

    • Chase Stuart

      From a game script perspective, I think you’re right. But what about a coach who simply believes this as a matter of philosophy? I guess that’s probably a really long way off, too, since he’d have to prove it as an OC or in college for some time.

      • Yeah, they would have to somehow “prove” that it would work before anyone would give them a shot, and I think they they would have a VERY high bar to clear. Look at Chip Kelly, a guy who had a ton of success with his offense in college (Since I don’t follow college football at all, I’m not passing judgment on how much success. That’s a debate for people who know more than I.) and then had an excellent offense for one year in the NFL. People are still saying, “It’s a gimmick offense that will fail next year” or “His offense sucks; Nick Foles is just that good.” And that’s with the “old school” types constantly praising how often he runs the ball. I think people would be exponentially more critical of a literal pass-every-down approach. That, in turn, means that their production would have to be that much better.

        In addition, the owner/GM would have to be on board and willing to accept non-stop media bombardment and angry fans who would call for the coach’s head every time they didn’t score 50 points and win. That may be the even more difficult part, since owners and front offices (understandably) tend to be responsive to fan pressure.

  • Sunrise089

    Chase – I feel a little dickish pointing them out, but I think I only mention things that substantially alter meanings and initially confused me. I’ll stop if you’d rather leave them be though.

    • Chase Stuart

      I 100% want everyone to point out all typos and other mistakes. This is a one man shop and it’s easy to edit on the fly, so I need all the editors I can get (even if it’s after it’s published). I feel bad that I can’t seem to go a day without an error, but not too bad since I’m a self-proclaimed good enougher.

  • Wade Iuele

    If you limit this to RB carries (excluding QB runs and WR sweeps) then it doesn’t seem unreasonable to have a zero-RB-carry game. I can imagine an empty-set offense with a good running QB that spreads defenses wide and runs only when the safeties get too deep.

  • Dave

    Being an avid Pats fans, I sort of remembered that Pats-Steelers. I remembered that they got spanked and that the Pats had Kevin Faulk as their lead back. After checking out the game script and other games that season, Faulk was the lead back because Corey Dillon was out. The Pats didn’t have a #2 back. So, without Dillon, the Steelers knew the Pats were throwing and that made for a tough day for Brady.

    But is all good, they won the Super Bowl that year. And returned the favor to the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.

  • Jason Slater

    Im not sure it will ever happen. We all hear of the term ‘video game numbers ‘, but if it even feels inherently wrong to pass EVERY PLAY while the average fan plays a meaningless game of Madden against his buddy, I doubt any ‘real life’ coach/coordinator would employ this philosophy with anything of actual importance on the line. The ideas of ‘keeping the defense honest ” and “eating up clock” are deeply ingrained in football culture/rhetoric, and I don’t see a coach having such a ridiculous amount of success or a run defense being that incredible

  • Jason Slater

    while equally as bad against the pass that a professional offense would completely abandon an entire facet of its gameplan. It would have to take a very unique set of circumstances , even in todays pass-happy NFL .

  • Richie

    Do you have some data handy showing the highest pass/run ratio games of recent years? (in other words how often do teams even get close to that 2004 Patriots game?)

    I think that a zero rush game could happen any time by circumstance. But I wouldn’t rule out the idea of a coach employing a zero run strategy in the future. But that seems like it would take at least 5 years before it might happen.

  • Dave

    Wondering when the last zero pass game was for a team. I think that would happen before a zero rush game.