Football statistics are great — but smart statistics are even better. Numbers can always lie, and they won’t ever tell you the complete story, but to use that as an excuse for never trying to better the raw data already to hand would be folly.
We have used yards per carry as a statistic for decades, breaking down a runner’s total yardage by his number of carries. Adrian Peterson ended the 2012 season rushing for an astonishing 6.0 yards per carry on his way to 2,097 — but what was he realistically averaging on normal runs?
We decided to take a look, and to try and weed out the breakaway runs that otherwise skew a player’s average. When we looked at all runs on the season, there was a leveling out point for the frequency of yardage gained. This figure stood at 10 yards. This means that most runs in the NFL gain 10 or fewer yards, and anything above that is a figure that potentially skews a runner’s average mark.
So instead of chasing a blunt average, we are going to look at a player’s rushing average using only runs of 10 or fewer yards, with anything that went longer than that given a capped value of 10 yards and still included in the average. This way his average isn’t dragged upwards by one run of 90 yards, but rather we get a more accurate view of what a runner is getting every down. In short, we get his Pulse Rate.
Reining in ‘All Day’
The first and most obvious thing to note is the demise of Adrian Peterson. The man they call ‘All Day’ may have been a threat to break it all game long, but in terms of what he was churning out every snap, he was far more feast or famine. When you look at the stats we already have on the site, that’s not really that surprising. Peterson gained 1,184 of his 2,097 yards (56.5%) on breakaway runs, or runs over 15 yards. That percentage is by far the most of any other runner, and his 40 runs of 15 or more yards is 16 more than any other back.
Peterson’s season was utterly ridiculous, but the Vikings weren’t necessarily able to rely on him having the best Pulse Rate in the league every game. His mark of 3.68 yards per carry ranks just 22nd, dropping him from his gaudy 6.0 raw average.
By contrast, running behind the league’s most dominant offensive line has left Kendall Hunter sitting at the top of our list from his 72 carries. Those carries went for 371 yards on the season, giving him a raw average of 5.2 yards per carry, and he was consistent enough that when we dampen the effect of those longer runs it falls only as far as 4.49 per carry, good enough to top the table.
The Workhorse Backs
Arguably the most impressive figure though is that from C.J. Spiller, a player most would have imagined to have been heavily reliant on longer runs to boost his average. When you look at the numbers, Spiller was indeed at the sharp end for those breakaway runs. His 16 runs of 15 or more yards ranked fifth in the NFL, and those runs accounted for 39.9% of his rushing total for the season, lower than only Peterson and Jamaal Charles, and yet his Pulse Rate remains one of the best. The explanation lies in the number of negative or poor runs he had. Spiller was stopped behind the line of scrimmage for no gain on just 15.5% of his runs, one of the better marks in the NFL. Peterson by contrast, adding further context to his score, was stopped on almost a quarter of his runs, 24.5%.
Marshawn Lynch tops the list of the workhorse backs, followed closely by Alfred Morris, who was aided by the creativity of the Washington offense on his way to a PR of 3.89 yards per carry.
1 Kendall Hunter 72 323 4.49
2 C.J. Spiller 207 875 4.23
3 Marcel Reece 59 241 4.08
4 Andre Brown 73 297 4.07
5 Lamar Miller 51 206 4.04
6 Marshawn Lynch 315 1267 4.02
7 Justin Forsett 63 250 3.97
8 Ahmad Bradshaw 221 874 3.95
9 Willis McGahee 167 650 3.89
10 Alfred Morris 335 1303 3.89
11 Frank Gore 259 1003 3.87
12 Joique Bell 82 315 3.84
13 Pierre Thomas 105 403 3.84
14 Robert Turbin 80 303 3.79
15 Ben Tate 65 244 3.75
Behind the Chains
At the other end of the scale all three of Arizona’s runners prop up the foot of the table, casting more light on the poor performance of the Cardinals’ running attack and blocking up front. Darren McFadden lies perilously close to the foot of the table despite the other members of the Oakland backfield faring much better, lending more weight to the notion that McFadden just wasn’t a good fit for the Raiders’ scheme in 2012.
Most worrying for a team playing in the NFC Championship game this weekend though is the Pulse Rate the Falcons have been able to expect from Michael Turner this season. When the Falcons can get their blocking functioning, Turner can have still have big games, just as he did against Seattle last week, but when they can’t, which has been most of the year, Turner has been completely unable to get up to speed before being taken to the ground. The Falcons have been able to rely on him for an average of only 2.93 yards this season when his long runs are mitigated. That isn’t enough to move the chains on a consistent basis and has put Atlanta behind the count more times than they can afford to be against the 49ers.
60 Isaac Redman 110 348 3.16
61 Chris D. Johnson 276 869 3.15
62 Peyton Hillis 85 267 3.14
63 Jacquizz Rodgers 94 295 3.14
64 Bryce Brown 116 355 3.06
65 Jonathan Stewart 93 284 3.05
66 Toby Gerhart 50 152 3.04
67 Alex Green 134 405 3.02
68 Michael Turner 222 651 2.93
69 Rashad Jennings 101 270 2.67
70 Darren McFadden 216 563 2.61
71 Jackie Battle 95 244 2.57
72 Beanie Wells 88 211 2.40
73 LaRod Stephens-Howling 110 253 2.30
74 Ryan Williams 58 133 2.29
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