I have always held the belief that running the ball and stopping the run is what wins Super Bowls; however, this year's playoffs seem to indicate otherwise. The AFC Championship game is going to feature the worst running team in the NFL facing the best, while the NFC Championship game will feature two teams that rank better in passing offense than running offense. The Jaguars have long identified themselves as a run-first team, but with passing offense becoming more and more successful in the NFL, should they consider a commitment to the pass?
I'm inclined to think that they shouldn't, but the need for a passing game is obvious. By no means is a strong running game a hinderance to an offense, but when it is the only element to an offense, it struggles to be successful. No teams displayed that better this weekend than the Ravens and Jets. When the Colts committed their defense to stopping the Ravens #5 ranked rushing offense, Joe Flacco was unable to capitalize and posted a 48.4 QB rating.
The Chargers had a similar strategy to stop the #1 ranked rushing offense of the Jets, forcing Mark Sanchez to beat them with his #31 ranked passing offense. The Jets were moderately successful on the ground, but good defense ultimately won the game for the Jets. Steve Weatherford was quite busy, punting 8 times for the Jets. Had it not been for a couple timely interceptions from Philip Rivers and three missed field goals from Nate Kaeding, another passing-oriented team very well could've advanced to a Conference championship.
Traditionally, the thought has been that a strong running game is a necessity because the winter weather will slow down the air attacks. That element has been avoided by the final three pass-first teams. The Saints, Vikings and Colts have all stayed cozy in their domes and the Conference Championships will be no different as both will be played in domes. The pass-friendly environments have surely been an asset for these passing teams.
What is clear is that teams in the NFL must have a passing offense at least adequate enough to punish a defense for focusing on their running back.