The Dolphins value run defenders, but does it lead to wins?

In the NFL the tradition of stopping the run was a recipe for success; however, does it continue in an era of modern football?

NFL teams still value run defense, and many continue to invest in interior defenders skilled at closing off running lanes. The battle between run blockers on the offensive line and run stoppers on defense defined the NFL for decades.

However, the league has changed into a pass first offense where scoring has become normal. The league that averaged 18.7 points per team game in 1993 morphed into one averaging 24.8 points per team game last season. Last season was an all time record.

Introduction

Teams believe stopping the run is important, or they wouldn’t spend premium picks to acquire players adept at that skill.

What I would like to know is if a good interior run defense contributes to winning football games Does a stout defensive line encourage teams to throw the ball more? Does it impact how many points a team scores?

ESPN analyst Brian Burke came out with a fantastic metric, the run stop win rate. It basically measures an opponent’s effective rushing ability. This usually decreases as a defense’s number of run stops wins on a play increases. It’s based on a defense’s performance. It takes into account the technique played and amount of rush snaps a lineman has faced.

Taking into account of the run stop win rate and the factors included into it the metric is actually called “run stop wins over expected” (RSWOE).

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Metric by Team

TeamRun Stop Wins over Expected (RSWOE)
NYJ101.2
LAR46.7
LV38.1
KC37.6
MIA33.8
TB30.3
PHI26.2
TENN24.3
BUF23.0
WFT20.0
NE19.9
LAC18.4
BAL15.2
NYG10.6
CIN8.4
PITT8.2
NOLA7.0
GB4.8
DEN2.3
JAX0.7
ARI0.6
CHI0.0
SF-5.4
IND-5.8
CAR-8.9
SEA-9.2
DET-12.3
HOU-17.1
CLE-21.2
DAL-64.9
MINN-93.7
From: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Note: There is no pattern between RSWOE and other measures of defensive performance. No correlation exists either with defensive points allowed or team scoring margin.

Analysis

Being good at stopping the run does not appear to help defenses prevent opposing offenses from scoring, meanwhile being bad at stopping the run does not hurt either, except in critical situations.

Per PFF these were the best teams stopping the run:

Of the top 10 best run defenses, only five made it to the postseason, with the Saints and Rams making runs in the postseason.

Metric Correlation with Wins/Expected
Dropback %.25
EPA/play.08
1st down rush %.08
Points scored.06
Points Allowed.04
Point Margin.02
3rd down conv. %.01
Def. success rate-.17
Rush yards % of offense-.26
From: ESPN Stats & Information Group. Data Populated from 2017-2020

The strongest correlation tested suggests that the more dominant the interior run defense, the more an opponent will drop back to pass — and the less it will try to run.

Diving into the Deep end

In terms of the Dolphins, Miami has invested heavily into the interior defensive line. Brian Flores’ scheme dictates iDLs to eat up space, push into the backfield and apply pressure on the Quarterback— allowing Linebackers to clean up the play and gain box score statistics.

Three of Miami’s top five run defenders are iDLs. Davis, Sieler and Wilkins do not get the same praise as an Xavien Howard or Andrew van Ginkel, they help them get the praise.

Not to mention picking up Adam Butler and John Jenkins this free agency to create depth in the interior defensive line room. Nothing wrong with having fresh legs in crucial moments in-game.

Adam Butlers PFF grade may not be the best, but he has been decent as a rotational DT with the New England Patriots

John Jenkins has consistently performed well as a run defender, which helps the Dolphins depth chart and personnel rotations.

Conclusion

In short, if a defense has a great run defense, an offense will pass more. Today’s era of modern football means a team is efficient passing the ball compared to running it.

While the conclusion might not bode well for those teams who invest in run stuffers along the iDL, the data suggest that teams also need an effective against the pass.

Unless a defense is dominant against the pass and the run, it may make sense to have opposing offenses run the ball more and pass less.

Fortunately, the Dolphins have a top 5 passing defense returning from 2020 that consistently produced turnovers and shutdown aerial attacks, if the Dolphins can get better at stopping the run and continue being a top five passing defense they will be dangerous.

In a league that rewards teams that pass early, often, and successfully, daring an offense to pass can backfire.

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Author: Hussam Patel

Head Contributor for Dolphins- Around the Block Twitter: HussamPatel

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