The main purpose of running the football is to get consistent positive yardage and shorten the distance needed to pick up the first down in order to open up the play book. Assuming the ball carrier (s) take care of the football, you're less likely to turn the ball over.
Obviously, at the end of the game, it's used to run out the clock.
The main purpose of running the football is not
to get big plays. Big plays are a bonus
when you run the football. The problem with relying on a big play running game is...you're better off just throwing the ball instead.
Even the best big play running game in the NFL will be inferior to even an above average passing attack in yards per attempt.
Adrian Peterson averaged 6.0 yards/carry this past year. The NFL average this year in net yards/pass attempt (passing yards - sack yards / pass attempts + sacks) was 6.25 yards per pass attempt. If a team averaged 6.0 yards per rush like Peterson, that would rank 20th in the NFL as a passing game.
Again, big runs in and of themselves are obviously
a good thing. But relying on the big run at the expense of having an actual running game
is not a good trade off.
Which brings me to Barry Sanders. That was Barry Sanders, in a nut shell. Not only were his yards/carry averages heavily distorted by several big runs every season, but when you subtract his big runs from all his other runs, his averages tended to be dreadful.
Take 1995, for example. If you subtract the 16 20+ yard runs Sanders had that year, and you subtract the 1 20+ yard run Loville had that year, Loville actually had the higher yards per carry.
Yes, the big runs count
. And in this case, the difference in the rest of the two backs' running is narrow enough that I'd still take Sanders over Loville based on the big plays making up for Loville's slightly higher bread-and-butter running average.
But for backs who don't totally suck ass like Loville, that was not the case.
Emmitt Smith, for example, averaged ~3.9 yards/carry when all his 20+ yard runs from the 1995 season were subtracted. This in comparison to Sanders averaging ~3.1.
The big runs do not make up for this kind of difference in the effectiveness of the running game
. Barry Sanders was a home run hitter. And, well...that was it. He did nothing else. He danced around, hoping to break the big one, on every carry.
And because he was a running back, you had to feed him the ball 300+ times per season in order to get those 16 20+ yard runs or so. If you want a big play, you'd be better off throwing the ball. Heck, even with Scott Mitchell at quarterback, you'd probably be better off passing. You certainly wouldn't be much worse.
The other problem is, you never knew when he was going to break the big one. He might get you a 40 yard run in a 14-14 game in the 3rd quarter. Great.
Or...he might get you a 22 yard run when you're down 24-10. Who cares?
He's probably a large part of the reason you're down 24-10 to begin with. While you were waiting for him to break the big one, he was making it 2nd and 9 and then 3rd and 13 on the opening drive of the game. Then, not surprisingly, you didn't convert 3rd and 13.
This is all everyone else's fault, of course. It's just that the offensive line was sooooooooooo baaaaaaaad.
You never hear the end of this garbage. It's as if these people think poor Barry Sanders was a downhill, between-the-tackles runner who wanted a fullback in front of him and he just couldn't do it because, for 10 years, he had the worst offensive line in the history of the universe.
Jeff Hartings, Lomas Brown, Kevin Glover...they sucked. Ray Roberts, Mike Compton...worst linemen ever, not even serviceable.
All those blocking tight ends they brought in? The fact that they ran a variation of the run-and-shoot for nearly all the years Sanders played there, spreading the field and giving him plenty of space to work with?
Oh, forget that. He was so exciiiiiting, it clearly couldn't have been his
fault. Leading the league in carries for loss every season? Why, his offensive lines were just soooo bad they not only couldn't get any movement, but they just let guys throw them aside and blow up plays in the backfield, over and over again. Sanders was dodging 11 defenders on every single carry.
Man, just imagine if he had Emmitt's o-line! He would've averaged 7, 8, 9, 10 yards/carry! Yeah, I'm sure Barry Sanders would have loved that. The man whose father whined to the press about the Lions putting a fullback in front of him under Bobby Ross would have loved to play in the Cowboys' smashmouth, between-the-tackles running attack, lining up behind Moose Johnston and trying to squeeze through 650 pounds of blubber in each hole, plowing through the front 7. That's Barry, all right.
No, actually, here's Barry
At :21, he can have the 35/36 if he wants it. He doesn't, though. Better to lose 2.
At :41, he can attack 2 and work off the center. Nah, let's just dance instead.
1:09, he can either hit 4 off the good combo block, or bounce it. Nope...tip-toe, cut the other way, flip over backwards, and get your dick sucked for passing up a better run.
1:43, no, let's not play off the end's over-pursuit. Why would you want to do that? Russell Maryland might make the play, but you've got some space to work with. Oh, but that would be too obvious. Cut the other way, then get stopped by Maryland anyway because you have no feel whatsoever.
2:53, this is supposed to bounce. But Barry doesn't care what it's supposed to do.
At 3:09, he sees a great cutback right away but wastes time dancing. Maryland was in no position to spin out of that block in time if Sanders had hit that with authority.
4:05, what the hell is he doing?
Meanwhile, for anyone who wants to see how overrated the Cowboys' offensive line was (even more overrated than the Lions' line was underrated), here's Emmitt Smith pounding the hell out of the Packers in the 1995 NFC Championship game:
I especially love how it's always been cool to claim Emmitt was a product of the talentless fatasses the Cowboys put up front (with the exception of Larry Allen), but Terrell Davis
...oh, he was just so great. Hmmm, I wonder which back got the larger holes. Gee, that's a tough one.