Between the Tackles

| December 18, 2013

Between-the-TacklesIn the first of two pieces looking at inside vs. outside runs, Matt Claassen looks at the best and worst runners from around the league in each category. For Part 2, click here.

General expectations are that bigger, more powerful backs will typically have more success running between the tackles due to their size and perceived ability to break tackles. In contrast, small and/or speed backs are expected to be better outside the tackles where more ‘open space’ exists.

In addition to our Signature Stats, found among the vast amount of data in our Premium Stats section is each player’s rushing statistics broken all the way down to individual gap. With this data we can take a look at what frequency a player runs between the tackles as opposed to outside, and which players are the most and least productive in particular areas. While this breakdown may offer an idea of how each player is performing, I want to emphasize that our grading system will still provide a better understanding as to a player’s overall performance.

*To qualify for this study, a player must have a minimum of 80 total carries. Reverses and other atypical runs have been omitted and non-running backs have been excluded from the NFL averages. Inside runs are defined as rush attempts between the offensive tackles in either ‘A’ or ‘B’ gaps, while outside is considered ‘C’ gap and out.

Rush Direction Percentages

woodhead-insetA running back’s skill set, running style, and the offense’s scheme are among the many influences that factor into a running game. The NFL as a whole has roughly averaged a 55:45 ratio towards runs between the tackles this season. The difference between running backs on opposite ends of the spectrum spans nearly 30%.

Looking at this season’s numbers, Ray Rice has the third-most inside attempts and easily the highest percentage of inside runs among qualifiers. Rice’s 70.1% ranks as the fifth-highest rate since 2008. Two Houston running backs rank in the Top 10 with the Texans’ zone run scheme. Danny Woodhead makes a curious appearance, especially considering teammate Ryan Mathews ranks below the NFL average. However, many of Woodhead’s snaps come when in shotgun formation and defenses are likely spread out more than usual, which could lead to the higher rate.

Top 10, Inside Rush Attempts Percentage

# Name Team Inside Rush Attempts Inside Rush % Outside Rush Attempts Outside Rush %
1 Ray Rice BLT 138 70.1 59 29.9
2 Montee Ball DEN 68 64.2 38 35.8
3 Bilal Powell NYJ 94 63.5 54 36.5
4 Ben Tate HST 114 63.0 66 36.5
5 Fred Jackson BUF 109 62.6 65 37.4
6 Marshawn Lynch SEA 161 61.9 99 38.1
7 Eddie Lacy GB 153 61.7 95 38.3
8 Pierre Thomas NO 84 61.3 53 38.7
9 Arian Foster HOU 74 61.2 47 38.8
10 Danny Woodhead SD 56 60.2 37 39.8
  NFL Average     54.3   45.7

.
Mike Tolbert, who has played over one-quarter of his snaps at fullback and is one of the biggest backs in the league, surprisingly has the highest percentage of carries outside the tackles. That proportion continues throughout the Panthers’ backfield as they clearly prefer to run outside. If Jonathan Stewart had enough carries to qualify, he would have been slightly ahead of his two teammates. Tolbert is hardly the only big, physical back on the list though.

Top 10, Outside Rush Attempts Percentage

# Name Team Outside Rush Attempts Outside Rush % Inside Rush Attempts Inside Rush %
1 Mike Tolbert CAR 54 58.1 39 41.9
2 DeAngelo Williams CAR 103 57.5 76 42.5
3 Frank Gore SF 138 57.0 104 43.0
4 Le’Veon Bell PIT 111 56.1 87 43.9
5 Matt Forte CHI 144 55.8 112 43.4
6 Trent Richardson CLV/IND 91 55.5 73 44.5
7 Zac Stacy SL 112 55.4 90 44.6
8 LeSean McCoy PHI 141 52.4 128 47.6
9 Steven Jackson ATL 67 52.3 61 47.7
10 DeMarco Murray DAL 92 51.7 86 48.3
  NFL Average     45.7   54.3

 

Rushing Production

Inside

murray-insetIt is impressive anytime a player averages nearly seven yards per carry on such a large representation; DeMarco Murray’s 86 inside attempts rank 27th and it makes one wonder what he could be achieving if given more opportunities. Murray’s average currently sits as the second-highest since 2008, behind only C.J. Spiller’s 7.01 average last season. The big surprise may be Reggie Bush’s presence near the top, considering many believe the narrative that he is not a ‘between-the-tackles’-type running back. However, 65.5% of Bush’s yardage has come on inside carries, the fourth-highest proportion in the league. If he finishes near his current average, this will be the second time in three years he has ranked in the Top 5 in yards per rush.

Top 10, Rush Yards Per Attempt – Inside

# Name Team Attempts Yardage Yards Per Rush
1 DeMarco Murray DAL 86 595 6.92
2 Donald Brown IND 38 236 6.21
3 LeSean McCoy PHI 128 720 5.63
4 Reggie Bush DET 117 616 5.26
5 Alfred Morris WAS 138 704 5.10
6 C.J. Spiller BUF 95 484 5.09
7 Andre Ellington ARZ 49 241 4.92
8 Rashad Jennings OAK 89 422 4.74
9 Bobby Rainey TB 69 313 4.54
10 Ben Tate HST 114 515 4.52
NFL Average 4.15

.

The Jets and Falcons each find their two top runners near the bottom on inside productivity. Neither team has given their backs much help with below-average blocking up front, but it is still surprising to see Steven Jackson at the bottom of the list considering his physical running style.

Bottom 10, Rush Yards Per Attempt – Inside

# Name Team Attempts Yardage Yards Per Rush
NFL Average 4.15
39 Bilal Powell NYJ 94 320 3.40
40 Chris Ivory NYJ 94 302 3.21
41 Jacquizz Rodgers ATL 50 157 3.14
42 Darren McFadden OAK 59 179 3.03
43 Rashard Mendenhall ARZ 90 267 2.97
44 Mike Tolbert CAR 39 115 2.95
45 Maurice Jones-Drew JAX 121 356 2.94
46 Willis McGahee CLV 69 196 2.84
47 Bernard Pierce BLT 78 216 2.77
48 Steven Jackson ATL 61 150 2.46

.

Outside

ellington-insetShowing how dynamic he can be, Andre Ellington is the only running back found in the Top 10 for both inside and outside attempts. Chris Ivory has the largest difference in yards per carry by path, averaging over three more yards per rush to the outside. Ivory’s five longest runs—all at least 30 yards—have been outside the tackles. Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson continue to be two of the best beyond the tackles. Forte has the most outside yards this season, which puts him in the Top 5 for five of his six seasons since entering the league. Peterson ranks second after amassing over 1,000 yards outside the tackles last year.

Top 10, Rush Yards Per Attempt – Outside

# Name Team Attempts Yardage Yards Per Rush
1 Andre Ellington ARZ 42 294 7.00
2 Chris Ivory NYJ 63 403 6.40
3 Matt Forte CHI 144 788 5.47
4 Giovani Bernard CIN 60 328 5.47
5 Jamaal Charles KC 109 579 5.31
6 Adrian L. Peterson MIN 132 685 5.19
7 Knowshon Moreno DEN 96 475 4.95
8 Fred Jackson BUF 65 308 4.74
9 Daniel Thomas MIA 44 208 4.73
10 LeGarrette Blount NE 49 227 4.63
NFL Average 4.05

.

There is a strong representation by the AFC North teams, which historically seem to prefer power run games, with five of the bottom players. Rice’s struggles have been well documented, but he has been especially ineffective on outside runs with just three of his 59 carries going for more than six yards. It is notable that the Saints, Bengals, and Cardinals are among those that possess other running backs that are considerably more successful to the outside.

Bottom 10, Rush Yards Per Attempt – Outside

# Name Team Attempts Yardage Yards Per Rush
NFL Average 4.05
39 Pierre Thomas NO 53 191 3.60
40 Jacquizz Rodgers ATL 42 151 3.60
41 Rashard Mendenhall ARZ 96 310 3.23
42 BenJarvus Green-Ellis CIN 81 234 2.89
43 Le’Veon Bell PIT 111 320 2.88
44 Doug Martin TB 51 145 2.84
45 Bernard Pierce BLT 59 161 2.73
46 Willis McGahee CLV 68 183 2.69
47 Trent Richardson CLV/IND 91 231 2.54
48 Ray Rice BLT 59 115 1.95

.
PFF Stats offer a look at the game you can’t find anywhere else, but, as always, we suggest you first rely on PFF player grades for the best sense of overall performance for any player. The grades take into account much more than any one statistic ever will and that’s why they’ve become a valuable tool not only for fans and media to use, but for the teams as well as they incorporate PFF grades into their player evaluation processes.

Part 2 of this look at inside vs. outside runs where Matt discusses Yards After Contact, click here

 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @PFF_MattC