There are a ton of old sayings out there. It’s easy to confuse them or combine them. But one obvious observation about NFL football this season and this weekend: You pass to score and win in the regular season, but you ran it to win this weekend in the playoffs.
Russell Wilson and Tom Brady each threw for 198 and zero TD. Colin Kaepernick threw for 196 and 1 score. Peyton Manning had 230 yards and 2 TD.
Those were the WINNING quarterbacks. Where are all the record-breaking passing stats? What happened?
A commitment to running happened.
NFL teams rushed for a combined 2,117 yds in 2013 playoffs, 3rd-most rush yards through Divisional Weekend under current format (since 1990) according to @ESPNStatsandInfo.
What is funny about this? People are criticizing the Chargers for not throwing enough, even though they were one of the most balanced teams in the NFL this year.
Back to the question what happened.
I think there are layers to the answer.
1. You do whatever it takes to win.
2. Coaches tend to be more conservative with play-calling knowing that turnovers lose games and you are more likely to beat yourself by throwing it than running it.
3. You attack weaknesses. That is most certainly what Denver and New England were both willing to do.
4. You play to your strength. The Seahawks and 49ers won this year playing defense and running the ball. So for them, it’s just the game plan. Doesn’t mean they didn’t try to get big plays out of their passing game, they just didn’t force it.
5. Weaker teams are weeded out.
6. Score dictates play-calling.
7. So does weather.
8. Injuries and personnel effect those choices too.
So pick one, or pick them all.
I think the reality barring all the cliches is this: You have to run and throw when you are required to do each.
If your strength is running, then that’s fine, but you will need to come up with big passing plays to win games and win a title.
If your strength is throwing, then that’s fine, but you will need to grind out yards on the ground at some point to win games and win a title.
The NFC teams are run-first teams (#2 and #3 in attempts). They must excel in that area, but Wilson and Kaepernick will be called on to throw and they must deliver on those opportunities.
The AFC teams are pass-heavy teams (#1 and #5 in attempts). The quarterbacks must play well, but they are going to need to run it when the defense is overloading the passing lanes, when they need to pick up short yardage, and when they are trying to run down the clock.
Is the NFL still about running the football to win a championship?
No, not necessarily. Every team needs to play well, but history shows us there are a lot of ways to win championships. Scoring is really the most important thing an offense can do. Doesn’t matter how you do it. You play to your strengths and hope whatever weaknesses you have aren’t exposed.