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HomeSportsTitans GM Ran Carthon is wrong about the run game in 2023

Titans GM Ran Carthon is wrong about the run game in 2023

Ran Carthon’s thoughts on the centrality of a running game in the modern NFL seem... at odds with the approaches of recent championship teams.

Ran Carthon’s thoughts on the centrality of a running game in the modern NFL seem… at odds with the approaches of recent championship teams.
Photo: AP

With NFL combine workouts slated to start tomorrow with D-linemen and linebackers taking the field, many of this upcoming draft’s top prospects had the opportunity to speak with the media about the opportunity and what they expected moving forward. It wasn’t just prospects though. Many general managers from around the NFL were also in attendance and answered questions of their own.

Normally, GMs in this position tend to avoid speaking directly about the prospects that they’re looking forward to seeing. They can’t afford to give away any secrets about who they’re targeting in the draft. They will, however, talk endlessly about their teams and what they hope to accomplish in the upcoming season. When Tennessee Titans’ GM Ran Carthon took the podium, he spent much of his time talking about the team’s quarterback situation. Obviously, that’s a hot-button issue with the team currently, but that’s not the quote that stuck out to me. This is:

This is the kind of speech you’d expect a head coach to give his team in the locker room. Considering Carthon is a former NFL player with a Super Bowl title under his belt, that makes sense. He played running back too, so it was easy to anticipate his preference for the run game. He also spent the last six years as an executive for the San Francisco 49ers, who’ve had lots of success rushing the football in that span. Clearly, he believes that’s how good teams win games — by running the football and playing tough. However, as any fan can tell you, that’s absolutely not the case anymore. It may have been the case when Carthon was a player back in 2006, but you’d be remiss to dismiss the last decade of football and every Super Bowl champion to have come in that span. Sure, you can have some success in the NFL with that strategy, but the road is much more daunting and difficult to overcome.

Where do the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive strengths lie? What about the 2021 Los Angeles Rams and their flurry of star halfbacks? What about the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who led the league in pass attempts? Tell me again, who led the Chiefs in rushing during the 2019 season? Not a single player reached 500 rushing yards for them. None of these teams were very great at running the football, relying on stellar quarterback play and stout, timely defense to win their championships (yes, I know the Chiefs’ defenses have never been that great, but Mahomes was good enough for that not to matter).

In fact, each of the last seven Super Bowl winners ranked inside the top eight in the NFL in Expected Points Added (EPA) per dropback. Take a guess how many finished top-eight in EPA per rushing attempt? ONE! The 2018 New England Patriots were exactly eighth.

2022 — Kansas City Chiefs

  • Dropback EPA: .274 (first in NFL)
  • Rush EPA: -.019 (tenth in NFL)

2021 — Los Angeles Rams

  • Dropback EPA: .183 (fourth)
  • Rush EPA: -.089 (20th)

2020 — Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Dropback EPA: .239 (fifth)
  • Rush EPA: -.032 (tenth)

2019 — Kansas City Chiefs

  • Dropback EPA: .246 (second)
  • Rush EPA: -.094 (13th)

2018 — New England Patriots

  • Dropback EPA: .181 (eighth)
  • Rush EPA: -.031 (eighth)

2017 — Philadelphia Eagles

  • Dropback EPA: .144 (seventh)
  • Rush EPA: -.093 (12th)

2016 — New England Patriots

  • Dropback EPA: .267 (second)
  • Rush EPA: -.077 (11th)

After that, you get to the old man Peyton Manning Broncos team that won it all despite being 28th in dropback EPA (-.041) and 15th in rush EPA (-.119). That’s an outlier. It’s also almost a decade old at this point. That team relied on an incredible defense to win it all. They definitely didn’t rely on CJ Anderson to carry them. They relied on holding Cam Newton to a 43.9 completion percentage, AKA preventing the opposing team from having a solid passing offense. You know, those Panthers had more rushing yards on fewer rushing attempts (118 yards on 27 attempts) than the Broncos (90 yards on 28 attempts), but who came out victorious?

Now, you might think that the Super Bowl losers tend to be better at running the football. That’s somewhat true. It’s definitely the case for the 2015 Panthers (-.022 Rush EPA, second in NFL), 2016 Atlanta Falcons (.001 Rush EPA, third in NFL), 2017 Patriots (-.042, fourth), 2018 Rams (.066, first), 2019 49ers (-.061, sixth), and 2022 Philadelphia Eagles (.072, first). Wouldn’t you rather be the team that wins though? I mean, since 2017, the Titans have been eliminated from the postseason four times. The quarterbacks who beat them were Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and Joe Burrow, in that order. All of those guys were/are considered top-tier quarterbacks who led very effective passing offenses. Those teams didn’t beat the Titans with their effective rushing (aside from maybe the Ravens, but that has a large part to do with the quarterback position as well); they won with stellar quarterback play.

Sure, the NFC was filled to the brim with effective rushing teams near the top this year. The final four teams in the NFC — Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, and Dallas — all ranked within the top-12 in the NFL in rush EPA in 2022. However, it’s much easier to win with that strategy when the best quarterback in the NFC outside of Jalen Hurts was…Geno Smith? Kirk Cousins? Jared Goff? The AFC is loaded with Mahomes, Jackson, Burrow, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, and Trevor Lawrence. Every one of the guys I just mentioned made the playoffs. You know who didn’t? The Derrick Henry-led Titans.

Is an effective run game a good thing to have? Absolutely. It’s never bad to be better at certain aspects of the game, but to refer to high-level quarterback play as “Golden State Warriors football,” is a disservice to all the championships won with that brand of football. If the Titans want to win a championship, they have to beat the teams that have been playing that brand of football, and frankly, they haven’t been able to recently. Furthermore, when was the last time the Super Bowl was held in a cold weather environment? Most of the time it’s held in warm weather states or domed arenas so that fans enjoy their experience watching the game. That ability to play in cold weather certainly won’t help in that situation, so what is this statement even for? It goes against what the best teams in the NFL are doing and doesn’t even help the team should they reach the most coveted stage in the league.

As a 49er fan, I have faith that Carthon can manage his new team appropriately moving forward, but this statement would worry me if I were a fan of the Titans. When grilled by media about the Titans’ quarterback situation, Carthon did at least say he would keep every position, including quarterback, in mind during the draft and free agency. I can only hope that he is serious and is looking to improve at that position. Otherwise, that Titans team is in for a long ride on the treadmill of mediocrity.



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