Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The worst running games in NFL history

Since my posts about the worst teams in NFL history seemed so popular, I thought I'd try and revisit the topic. But since I've already covered some of the worst teams ever, I didn't think I could top my previous efforts. Instead, considering that the Vikings had the best running game in the NFL last season, I thought I'd go in the opposite direction and try to find some of the worst rushing teams in NFL history. They say that today is the era of the passer in the NFL, and, consequently, the earlier days were dominated by the running game. If that's true, then these teams need a history lesson.

* The NFL Record and Fact Book lists the 1940 Philadelphia Eagles as having the fewest rushing yards ever in a season for an NFL team, and it's hard to argue with that. In the Eagles' eighth season, they managed a paltry 298 yards on the ground all season. Adrian Peterson alone rushed for just two yards less than that in one game in 2007. True, the season was only 11 games back then (and the Eagles went 1-10), but that still averages out to just 27 yards per game.

There might be a catch, though. Note that quarterback Davey O'Brien is listed has having 100 carries for -180 yards. Since sacks wouldn't become an official statistic for another 40 years, I'm guessing that his sack yardage is counted among that negative yardage. Even so, there are probably some legitimate runs in there, and, if you removed all of O'Brien's negative yardage, you'd have just 478 total rushing yards for the team. My Record and Fact Book lists the 1946 Detroit Lions and the 1944 Boston Yanks as #2 and #3 in fewest rushing yards for a season, with 467 and 471 respectively, and that's including negative rushing yardage for likely sacks. I think that cements the 1940 Eagles as the worst rushing team of all time. If only Donovan McNabb had been born 60 years earlier (and, being black, allowed to play in the league).

* The last team to rush for less than 1,000 yards in a non-strike year? You have to go all the way back to the AFL and the 1963 New York Jets, who managed a paltry 978 yards on the ground (while giving up 2,129). Even for the pass-happy AFL, this is the only team in the league's history with such an anemic rushing game. Fullback Mark Smolinski led the team with 561 of his career 1,323 rushing yards, and his reasonable 3.7-yard average would make you think they should have given him the ball more. Then again, when you have a quarterback named Dick Wood on your team, you probably want him going long... the tight end... long as it isn't man-to-man...

...OK, I'll stop now.

* When I got my first Strat-O-Matic football set in the late '80s, it included cards from the 1986 season. A friend and I took five teams each and played a kind of mini-season. I took the Jets, Bears, Bengals, Giants, and the New England Patriots, just because the Patriots had been so bad for so long (by my reckoning), I wanted to see if I could win with them. And the '86 Patriots were a pretty good team overall, winning their division at 11-5 and making the playoffs.

Then I took at look at the team's running back cards. Here were the average yards per carry for each of the team's backs:

Craig James: 2.8
Robert Weathers: 2.8
Tony Collins: 2.6
Reggie Dupard: 2.6
Mosi Tatupu: 2.4

I passed a lot with that team. When I did run, it came as such a surprise to Ted (my opponent) that he would likely be in some sort of prevent, three-man rush, six DB defense -- and I'd get maybe four or five yards. With a good roll.

As a whole, the 1986 Patriots only managed 2.9 yards per carry, and that's including quarterback Tony Eason's 4.9 average on 39 runs. All this came just a year after the Pats' 1985 Super Bowl run, where James and Collins average 4.7 and 4.0 yards per carry on the season. Maybe they were still sore from the pounding the Bears gave them in Super Bowl XX.

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