Fun with Stats: Which affects the average rushing yards per game of a team more - O-line experience or age of running backs?

   For all of those who do not know me, I have been a consistent reader of BCC for over a year.  I'm 17 and go to high school in Jacksonville, FL.  I hardly comment, but I've made it my mission now to be a more active member. 

   I am a big fan of statistics.  Though there are many intangibles that factor into the game, such as 'want-to' and desire, I have figured that the most telling characteristics of an effective NFL rushing attack its the experience of the offensive line and the age of the running back.  See more after the jump.

   I did two statistical analyses on how to measure effectiveness of an NFL rushing game.  I would generally consider an effective running game to average around 100 to 120 rushing yards per game or better.  I did the tests using data from last year, and as to make the test more accurate to solely running backs, I omitted any rushing yards that quarterbacks gained (sorry, David Garrard). My reasoning for excluding quarterbacks was because quarterbacks are, on average, older than running backs, and therefore offset data.  Also, the data was taken from the 2009 season.

   I believe that younger running backs have more productive seasons on average than older ones do, but this statistic can be overturned when a good offensive line is available (see: Tomlinson with inexperienced line last year and producing with experienced Jets line).

Here is the data table I created so that you can see all of the information.

NFL Teams Average Yds Per Game
Average Age Total Starts of O-Line
Arizona 86.9 22 329
Atlanta 108.5 26 295
Baltimore 128.9 24.7 260
Buffalo 94.5 25.5 91
Carolina 140.6 24 313
Chicago 79.3 23.3 463
Cincinnati 111 27 203
Cleveland 122.7 26.3 297
Dallas 122.9 24.3 578
Denver 99.3 26.5 354
Detroit 78.9 25 349
Green Bay 95.3 27.3 412
Houston 84.4 25 157
Indianapolis 75.7 24 386
Jacksonville 99.6 24 296
Kansas City 93.6 26 246
Miami 118.3 29 254
Minnesota 116 25 329
New England 112.1 29.2 440
New York Giants 100.8 25 525
New York Jets 155 26.8 560
New Orleans 122.6 24.5 215
Oakland 89.8 25.3 207
Philadelphia 85.7 25 241
Pittsburgh 100.9 26 256
Saint Louis 98 26 296
San Diego 76.3 26.7 199
San Francisco 84.1 24 268
Seattle 87.9 27.7 193
Tampa Bay 77 28 276
Tennessee 139.3 24 507
Washington 78.8 27.4 392


The first test compared the total combined games of experience of each NFL offensive line with the average rushing yards per game. A few interesting stats popped out at me-

1) The Cowboys had the most experienced line.  However, they had 578 combined starts, which actually is concerning and explains why their offensive line blew up this season.  Since their line was so old, they could not hold much longer. There was a clear correlation between combined starts and rushing productivity - they averaged about 122 yards per game on the ground.

2) The Jets, who have also experienced similar offensive line struggles this year, (but not to the degree of the Cowboys') had 560 combined starts.  Clearly, there is a correlation between age of offensive line and the likelihood of breaking down, as they did this season.  They led the NFL in rush yards per game at about 155.

3) Sometimes, stats do not tell the whole story.  The Colts had an ideal combined starts number (386) - but they were primarily excellent in pass blocking (not run blocking).  The Colts were last in the NFL with about 75 rush yards per game.  And here is an example of why quarterbacks do make a difference in the run game - without Garrard, the Jaguars averaged about 100 yards per game on the ground, but with him?  125 yards per game.  The same goes for the Packers and Aaron Rodgers.

   Basically, what I found from that test was that offensive line experience plays a huge factor in determining effectiveness of running the ball.  There are enough anomalies, such an injury and 'off-seasons' to denounce stats, but they are extremely useful when looking at the big picture.

The next test compared the average age of running backs on each team with the average rushing yards per game.  Here were some interesting qualities of this experiment:

1) Just because the running backs are young on a team does not mean that they will be extremely successful. While I predicted that age would play a larger factor, I was mostly wrong.  The Cardinals had the youngest average age of running backs (once again, excluding quarterbacks and running backs who did not manage to rush for 100 yards).  However, the Cardinals also had one of the lowest rushing averages per game.  Though Beanie Wells had a good rookie season, he was young and still learning the ropes of the NFL.  Yes, he was young - but some experience is needed to truly excel.

2) So what young running backs with NFL experience broke out? Chris Johnson.  The Titans had what I considered to be the perfect average age at 24.  In his sophomore season, CJ dominated because of his skill, experience, and youth.  He also had a dominant offensive line. Arian Foster is a great example of what Chris Johnson was doing last year, except not to the same degree.

3) Teams with old running backs still performed well. The top three oldest ages on average belonged to the Patriots , the Dolphins, and the Jets.  None of these teams had a designated number one running back, but they still performed due to a decent offensive line and experience of running backs.  Signs of age were clear, however, as Ronnie Brown and Fred Taylor both went down.

I hoped you liked this analysis.  If there's enough interest I will do more.

FanPosts do not necessarily reflect the views of the authors of Big Cat Country or SB Nation.

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Big Cat Country

You must be a member of Big Cat Country to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Big Cat Country. You should read them.

Join Big Cat Country

You must be a member of Big Cat Country to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Big Cat Country. You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.