When Cam Newton’s career-high of 139 carries was mentioned in a press conference a few weeks back, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh simply replied, “I’d bet the over on that one. I’d bet the over for sure on that one.”
In a league that’s becoming increasingly focused on passing the football, the Ravens have decided to pivot in a completely different direction. After announcing Lamar Jackson as their starter in Week 11 last season, the Ravens ran the ball 316 times over the next seven weeks. The Seahawks were a distant second with 246. Only four teams had even 200 attempts. The Packers only ran the ball 333 times the entire season.
Because of this, the Ravens have justifiably been at the center of a lot of conversations this offseason. Their draft and free agent acquisitions along with just about every quote from Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman indicate they’re all-in on Jackson. And it might just be crazy enough to work.
Designed Quarterback Runs Are Incredibly Efficient
Using data since the start of 2016 NFL season, we can look at how designed quarterback runs have compared against all other runs. For the purpose of the analysis, “Designed QB Run” excludes all scrambles, kneels and sneaks.
|Designed QB Run||0.15||56%|
|Read Option Handoff||-0.04||42%|
Designed QB runs are not only far and away the best in terms of Expected Points Added per Attempt (EPA/A) and Positive Percentage (Positive%, or percent of plays with positive EPA), but also are the only common run type that results in a positive EPA on average.
Designed QB runs also have the highest Boom% (percentage of plays that result in an EPA above one) of all run types at about 17%, six percentage points higher than the next closest. At least some of this is usage related, as up to this point QB runs have been more used selectively or in short-yardage situations. But it is worth mentioning that Jackson led all runners with at least 100 designed runs in Boom% last season, three percentage points higher than Aaron Jones who finished in second.
The other less-talked-about side of mobile quarterbacks is their impact on the running game as a whole. In nine games with Joe Flacco as the starter last season, Ravens running backs averaged minus-0.11 EPA/A and had a Positive% of 38%. In the final seven games with Jackson as the quarterback, Ravens backs had an EPA/A of 0.04 and a Positive% of 46%. Gus Edwards, who seemingly came out of nowhere, finished the season as the league leader in Positive% at 57%, and it’s probably fair to attribute a lot of this to the threat of Jackson as a runner.
Designed Quarterback Runs In Short Yardage
As mentioned, QB runs have generally been used more selectively. One area in particular that QB runs have always been effective, albeit criminally underused, is in short-yardage situations. The following table looks at third or fourth down runs with three or fewer yards to go. Again, scrambles and kneel downs are excluded. QB sneaks are also included as their own run type.