Searching for their first win in Week 3, the Washington Redskins encountered a Houston Texans defense that ranked last in the NFL against the pass.
Naturally, associate head coach-offense Al Saunders called runs on nine of his team’s first 10 snaps.
The Texans adjusted by putting more players near the line of scrimmage. And, like a fisherman who reels in his catch, Saunders cashed in.
Three hours later, the Redskins had a 31-15 victory, Mark Brunell had an NFL single-game record (22 consecutive completions) and the Redskins had 495 yards of offense.
It was a perfect example of offensive balance, something nearly every team strives to achieve, a near-equal amount of run and pass plays with the same result — first downs and points.
“Anytime you’re balanced, you have more versatility and are able to do more things,” Saunders said. “If you’re one dimensional as an offense, you’re restricted.”
Balance has long been a football buzzword. Some teams, like the Redskins, want their play-calling to reflect a nearly 50-50 split between rushes and passes. Other teams, like Atlanta or Indianapolis, rely on their running and passing games, respectively.
But is balance overrated? If a team has a superstar quarterback or a Hall of Fame-caliber running back, why not lean on them more?
Saunders is a staunch proponent of balance.
“Being able to pass it and run it effectively is important,” he said. “There will be games in a season where you have to run the ball to take advantage of the personnel you’re playing, but if you’re an offense than can only run the ball, you’re not balanced and when you do have an opportunity to be successful in the passing game, you won’t be able to do it and your chances of winning aren’t as high.”
Through the first half of the season, the Redskins and Buffalo Bills are the NFL’s most balanced teams with only one more pass attempt than rush. The Redskins have 228 rushes and 229 pass attempts (not counting sacks).
But that balance hasn’t resulted in as many yards, points or victories as the Redskins envisioned before the season. They’re 3-5 heading to Philadelphia on Sunday.
Detroit has the biggest pass-rush differential (134) and Philadelphia has 90 more passes than rushes. The NFL’s average differential is 48.8.
Only six teams have more runs than pass attempts, led by Atlanta’s 77 more rushes. The Falcons are the NFL’s only team with more rushing yards than passing yards. They are one of several teams with winning records that have a significant difference between their run/pass production. Atlanta (5-3) leads the league in rushing, but is 30th in passing.
“That’s directly attributed to the quarterback,” Saunders said. “You have to play to the strengths of the players you have. Everybody in Atlanta would tell you that they wished Michael Vick was a better drop-pack passer because then the other components of the offense would have a better chance to succeed. The only way you can get your perimeter players involved, most of the time, is throwing them the football.”