Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
In the 2012 season, the New Orleans Saints threw the football more than any team in the NFL, except one. As a result, Drew Brees and the Saints recorded more net passing yards than any team in the league—landing just three yards short of 5,000.
Yet, the Saints’ offense was streaky. It was second in the league in total yards and third in points. A few games come to mind, though—Denver, at Atlanta, San Francisco and at New York (NFC)—where the offense struggled mightily.
In each of those games, Drew Brees was ineffective and/or made huge mistakes (more on this later).
Now take a look at Sunday’s Super Bowl contestants.
Believe it or not, the NFC representative, the San Francisco 49ers, threw the ball the second fewest times in the league. Still, the team finished 23rd in net passing yards. That number certainly isn’t great but it proves that San Francisco was tremendously efficient when either Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick dropped back to pass.
The AFC champion Baltimore Ravens were not as modest. The Ravens threw the football the 15th most times in the league—which places them almost exactly in the middle-of-the-pack. Interestingly, the teams’ net passing yardage also ranked 15th.
Despite the common assertion that in today’s NFL, a team “must throw the ball to win,” Baltimore and San Francisco earned trips to "The Big Easy" by throwing the ball efficiently and effectively—not simply more often than other teams.
These two teams also ran the football with great volume and efficiency.
The 49ers ranked in the top-10 in every meaningful offensive rushing category in 2012. With 492 attempts on the year, it ranked seventh. The team's 2,491 yards placed them fourth in net rushing yards, and their 17 rushing touchdowns were good for the sixth in the league. Finally, their 5.1 yards per carry ranked as the third best mark in the league.
Some of the effectiveness can be explained in greater detail by more intelligent men (such as Trent Dilfer or Bucky Brooks). It is clear, though, that Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and LaMichael James (after Kendall Hunter was lost for the year with an Achilles injury) keyed the most dynamic and explosive rushing offense the NFL has seen since…maybe ever.
It is not up to Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael to copy the ever popular “Pistol” offense to increase rushing effectiveness. Instead, the team should simply heed Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman’s commitment to the run game.
It should then take a look at the way Baltimore runs the ball with power run formations—either from 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end) or 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends). It needs to understand that Pierre Thomas is eerily reminiscent of Ray Rice, and Mark Ingram can reprises the role of Bernard Pierce.
It should be noted that Baltimore ranked no lower than 12th in any of the rushing categories used to describe San Francisco’s rushing success this season. Also, it should be noted that since the beginning of the 2010 playoffs (when the Saints captured their lone Super Bowl championship), the team who has run the ball more successfully in the playoffs is 33-10.
In other words, rushing success not only helps a team make the playoffs, but it is crucial to who wins and loses once in the “tournament”. Sean Payton and his offensive staff must heed that advice.