NFL clichés don’t come much more hackneyed than “a good run game is key in the playoffs” but the first week of the postseason serves to prove how true it is. The 49ers topped the team rushing charts for the Super Wildcard Weekend with 181 yards and unsurprisingly they had the most comfortable win of the weekend. Conversely bringing up the rear of the rushing category were the Buccaneers who lost to the Cowboys by 17 points. What has changed recently is who bares the burden of moving the ball on the ground. Gone are the times when a “bell cow” running back shoulders the responsibility of moving the chains. Quarterbacks are becoming increasingly important in rushing attacks, even if their running plays aren’t designed.
Is running the new passing?
It’s not just a playoff phenomena, six of the top 12 rushing quarterbacks during the regular season took their team to the playoffs (it would have been seven if Lamar Jackson hadn’t suffered a knee injury). Four of those quarterbacks won in the wildcard round and only one of them did not run for a first down, Trevor Lawrence. That’ll have to change next week if the Jaguars are to cause the Chiefs defence some issues. Daniel Jones ran for seven first downs last week, more than any other player so that’s something the Eagles defence will have to worry about when they play the Giants.
Keeping up with the Jones’
Jones lead all quarterbacks for rushing yards as he guided the Giants to a (technically) underdog win in Minnesota. His 17 attempts is an extreme example of how a mobile quarterback can win their team a game but all but one team who progressed had a quarterback with more than 3.4 yards per carry. In the Buccaneers game Tom Brady didn’t even attempt to run against the Cowboys defence and that allowed them to sit back in zone coverage and blanket his receiving options. Only the Vikings lost after their quarterback scored a rushing touchdowns this week.
Brian Daboll’s old stud quarterback Josh Allen ran for two first downs, averaged five yards per carry but only ran four times which is almost three attempts fewer than his season average so that might be something for the Bengals to focus on next week. Allen also completed just 58.97% of his passes and he threw two interceptions. Allen has only had five games with a worse completion rate this season. His worst completion rate was 52% and that came against the Ravens who the Bengals just beat twice. Tyler Huntley and the Ravens offered some hints for the Bills in their game in Cincinatti too. Huntley recorded the eight most rushing yards in Super Wildcard Weekend as he carried for 54 yards on nine carries.
The new kid on the block
Even quarterbacks who weren’t exactly integral parts of their team’s rushing attacks were mobile enough to evade the pass rush in the playoffs. Brock Purdy only ran four times for 16 yards but he did score a rushing touchdown and he eluded pass rushers a number of times.
Even though Seattle lost the 49ers Geno Smith did demonstrate how important a quarterback’s movement is against San Francisco’s suffocating defence. He ran for 28 yards from four attempts and extended drives by making two first downs. Dak Prescott will have to carry the ball more effectively than he did against a limp Tampa Bay defence if the Cowboys are to progress. Prescott carried seven times in Tampa but only made 24 yards, although he did score a rushing touchdown and made two first downs.
Why is it important?
A mobile quarterback is key for most passing offences in the NFL today, especially with inexperienced quarterbacks or ones who take a little longer to work through their progressions. Bootlegging the quarterback or “moving the pocket” gives receivers more time to separate from coverage and provided there’s some decent blocking and the quarterback is moving away from the pass rush it affords the tight ends and running backs time to find a pocket of space. Elijah Mitchell found acres of space for his touchdown reception, even if Purdy did accidentally bootleg away from the defence.