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The Bears Running Game in the Trenches (or in a ditch?)

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Wcg_thumb_notes_medium A couple of weeks ago, we looked at running back Elusive rating (link).  Elusive rating breaks down a running backs performance based on the yardage he gets after first contact or avoiding a tackler.  According to those results, Matt Forte & Chester Taylor, have a lot of work to do.  This week we'll look at runs for no gain by our backs, and how the Bears offensive line run blocks. 

I've mentioned them before, but ProFootballFocus does some excellent statistical work in rating NFL players at all positions.  Sam Monson wrote an article titled, "Runs for No Gain" which looks at the relationship of offensive lines and running backs. (link)

The running game is a complicated process at the NFL level. Between the performance of the running backs themselves, the performance of a line of blockers working in harmony in front of them, and the performance of each of the eleven defenders on any given play there are a massive amount of variables that go into every rush, all of which ends up as a simple figure -- a rush for X number of yards.


The numbers show a clear and stark correlation with the performance of a team’s offensive line during the 2009 season, as you would expect. But there are also some players who managed to buck that trend and some interesting dynamics within teams between players that of course are rushing behind the same set of blockersd

Firstly, a look at just how strong the relationship between the performance of an O-line is and the ability of rushers to avoid no-gain runs. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson managed to rank ninth in the Elusive Rating, and fumbles aside, is widely considered one of the league’s toughest runners. But with 23.8 percent of his rushes last season for no gain or worse, he had the ninth-poorest percentage figure in the NFL. His stable mate in the Minnesota backfield, Chester Taylor, was one of the eight other rushers to record a poorer mark. This matches up clearly with our grading data, which shows Minnesota had the league’s worst run blocking unit on offense last season.

Chester Taylor had 27 carries (out of 103) that went for no gain last year (58th).  Out of 32 teams, PFF had the Minnesota offense has the 32nd ranked run blocking unit.  No wonder he did poorly.  The all-world Adrian Peterson had 87 out of 367 carries for no gain (53rd). 

If we look at the FootballOutsider's stats.  The Minnesota offensive line did not rate so poorly, but still not good. (link)  Minnesota had an adjusted line yards ranking of 20th, Power Success of 23rd, & Stuffed rank of 31st. 

We can't make too many predictions with all this data about Chester Taylor's ability to push forward for some hard yards, because his "No Gain" stats were in line with his running mate & the quality of his offensive line.

But why are we talking so much about the Vikings?  What about the Bears?

Matt Forte had 54 carries out of 258 carries that went for no gain.  That percentage of 20.9% puts him at 44th in the league.  The Bears run blocking ranked 20th according to PFF.  According to FO, Chicago's offensive line had an adjusted line yards ranking of 19th, Power Success of 25th, & Stuffed rank of 16th.  Chicago's O-line was slightly better than Minnesota's in run blocking and as a result Forte's runs for no gain were slightly better.  Adrian Peterson's 1,383 yards, 4.4 ypc, and 18 TD's has more to do with him being awesomer than Chester Taylor (or Matt Forte) and not the quality of Minnesota's offensive line. 

The Bears' offensive line was pretty mediocre when run blocking; Matt Forte had mediocre "No Gain" run stats.  The big question is what improvements will both make this coming season.

The "No Gain" article is meant not to draw absolute conclusions about a specific running back or a specific offensive line.  But when they see outliers or major differences between teammates, you can infer about a back being great (or bad) or a product of a great (or bad) offensive line.

The final mention goes to the Oakland Raiders, and this time it’s for something positive. According to our grades, there were only four teams to finish the season with a poorer mark for run blocking on offense than Oakland, and so naturally you would expect that their running backs ranked fairly low down in this study. But quite the opposite is true.

Darren McFadden narrowly fails to crack the top 10, finishing in 12th with just 15.4 percent of his rushes failing to gain yardage. But Michael Bush is the standout of the study, topping the list of runners with 11.4 percent of his 123 carries failing to gain yardage. Bush’s figure is a clear 2 percent better than anybody else in the study, and the next three players all ran behind excellent run-blocking units.

NoGainExcel <-click here to download spreadsheet of data.

Top Ten (includes all playoff stats): Michael Bush, Shonn Greene, Tashard Choice, Pierre Thomas, Fred Jackson, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk (NE 2nd best Run Block rating), Ricky Williams, Jason Snelling, Ray Rice.

Bottom Ten: Derrick Ward, AP, Knowshon Moreno, Kevin Smith, Jerious Norwood, Ahmad Bradshaw, Chester Taylor, Glen Coffee, Steve Slaton, & last is Donald Brown.

For more statistical analysis of the Bears' offensive line, see here & here.