Michael Lombardi's article on SportsIllustrated.cnn.com today addresed what he called "three common misperceptions" in today's NFL. I had a very big issue with the way in which he addressed the first of his "misperceptions."
The first misperception: You Must Establish The Run
First off, in the wake of the Indianapolis Colts' high-flying antics over the last several seasons, and even before that, the offensive displays put on by the so-called "Greatest Show on Turf," I wouldn't say that this misperception is exactly prevalent anymore.
Second, though, and more importantly, Lombardi throws a bunch of statistics into his article in order to back up his claim. But the statistics - given that he doesn't show where he's getting his data - may very well be misleading.
Lombardi says, for example, that five of last year's playoff teams were 26th or lower in first-half rushing attempts. Where, exactly, were the other seven? We don't know, but given that none of those other seven playoff teams (according to NFL.com) ranked lower than 12th in the league in total rushing, while the five teams that he cited averaged 17th (with none placing in the top 12), we can make some assumptions.
Earlier in the column, in his first use of the "first-half rushing attempts" statistic - one which I attempted, but failed, to find via Google - Lombardi noted that the Minnesota Vikings ran the ball the most in the first half of any team, and that the Oakland Raiders ran the ball the second-most in the first half. He failed to note, however, that there were good reasons those teams ran the ball so much, and that they failed: their offenses were completely unbalanced.
Both the Raiders and the Vikings had excellent running backs - Justin Fargas in Oakland and Adrian Peterson in Minnesota - but quarterback play and wide receiver play that could most generously be termed inconsistent. They ran because they had no other choice, and they were unsuccessful (albeit only marginally unsuccessful in the case of the Vikings, who very nearly did make the playoffs) because their opponents knew that they had no other choice.
It's all very well and good to establish the run - but the point of establishing the run is to open up the field for the passing game. If you don't have a passing game - and the Vikings and Raiders, again according to NFL.com, had the 28th and 31st-most passing yards in the league, with the 29th and 32nd-most passing attempts - then establishing the run won't help you very much over the course of the game.
Lombardi is a good columnist, don't get me wrong. He's eloquent, and he definitely knows football. In this case, though, he lets his zeal to make a point get in the way of good intellectual sense, and the result is a significantly weaker article than would have otherwise been possible.