Regular readers know that I am not a big fan of yards per carry to measure a running game, on either the team or the individual level. That also goes for team defense. If you look at this year’s standings, though, and compare a team’s record to its yards per carry allowed, you will in fact notice a correlation.
And a moderately strong one at that. The correlation coefficient between a team’s winning percentage in 2017 and that team’s yards per carry allowed is 0.37. That indicates a positive correlation between the two stats, but… well, there isn’t supposed to be a positive correlation. This means that allowing more yards per rush is correlated with winning more games. See for yourself:
The #1 rushing defense, as measured by yards per carry, belongs to the 0-13 Cleveland Browns. The #32 rushing defense, as measured by yards per carry, belongs to the 10-3 New England Patriots. The five worst rushing defenses all belong to winning teams that will almost certainly make the playoffs (with the exception of the Chargers, who just have a good chance to make the playoffs). The two best rush defenses, by far, belong to the Browns and Broncos.
Rushing and rush defense aren’t the most important elements of a team’s game, but they’re certainly not unimportant. Measuring them by yards per carry, though, is rarely a good idea.