Every week in the NFL, we see teams build two and three touchdown leads only to see their opponent come back to make the game close, tie it or win. A lot of this has to do with the fact that professional football offenses have gotten so much better it is almost impossible for defenses to keep them bottled up for 60 minutes. One could make a case that teams inability to run the football has a lot to do with it also.
It used to be in pro football that every successful team had a solid running game. The belief was that teams ran the ball to set up the pass. It was also believed that teams passed to put points on the board and ran to hold onto the ball. A team had to have balance it was said. They had to be able to run and throw equally in order to keep the defense off balance and play any style their opponent wanted to.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers had Jerome Bettis on their team they would get a lead going into the fourth quarter and just give the ball to him play after play. Bettis would get first down after first down and run the clock down to the point where when the opponent got the ball back they didn’t have enough time to make a comeback. For years, the Steelers did not lose a game in which they led by 10 points or more going into the fourth quarter.
Sunday night against the Indianapolis Colts, the Steelers jumped ahead 10-0 in the second quarter. Unable to run the football Pittsburgh continued to throw. This allowed the Colts defense to work to their strength of rushing the passer. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis caused Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlsiberger to fumble twice and the Colts scored 10 points off of them. Pittsburgh had lost the lead by halftime and had to come from behind to win.
In the last three weeks, we have seen the Minnesota Vikings blow double digit leads in the second half of losses the San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions. The Oakland Raiders blew an 18 point lead to the Buffalo Bills. And the New England Patriots blew a 21 point lead to the same Bills.
In all of these games the team which was ahead could not run the football or didn’t try to run it.
The Vikings have one of the best running backs in the NFL in Adrian Peterson and couldn’t open the holes for him to run the ball. This forced them into one third down after another which they could not convert. By continuing to give the ball back to their opponent the Vikings gave each too many chances to score and they did.
The Raiders can run the ball, but opted to throw. A game which the Raiders had control of turned on an Oakland turnover. Unable to run the ball and squelch the rally Oakland watched their lead disappear and saw the Bills come from behind to win 35-31.
Buffalo did it again on Sunday as New England built a 21 to nothing lead in the first half. Coming into the game Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had thrown for close to 1,000 yards. With the lead he continued to throw and ended up being intercepted four times. Buffalo turned the turnovers into points and won the game.
As long as teams continue to emphasize the passing game and neglect the run they will struggle to hold on to leads and lose games.
It’s hard to win games with a one dimensional offense.