For weeks, actually more like months, word around Arrowhead is that successful teams run the football and stop the run. Simplistic as it may sound, it’s not only a formula for winning at Arrowhead, but rather a league-wide trend.
When looking at NFL rushing differential (rushing yards gained – rushing yards allowed/games played), most of the league’s best records are leaders in that category.
NFL Rushing Differential Leaders
1. N.Y. Jets – 86.2 differential, 4-1 record
2. Pittsburgh – 71.3 differential, 3-1 record
3. Kansas City – 68.3 differential, 3-1 record
4. Houston – 62.8 differential, 3-2 record
5. Atlanta – 62.2 differential, 4-1 record
The remaining one-loss teams are all in the top-half of the league as well. Those include Chicago, New England and Baltimore. Also, it’s not a surprise to see winless Buffalo round out the league ranked 32nd in rushing differential with a -76.0 yards per game differential.
Run the football. Stop the run. It’s a proven way to win games in the NFL.
“If you look at our three victories this year, the run game has been huge to us and in the two we’ve gotten beat we’re throwing it too darn much,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said via conference call yesterday. “I think it has a lot to do with our success and I’m sure that Kansas City is feeling the same way. It seems to go hand-in-hand.”
The Texans were in the minority when they won a Week Two overtime thriller in Washington. That day, QB Matt Schaub threw for 497 yards, a career best. League-wide, teams with quarterbacks that throw for 300 or more yards own just a .242 winning percentage (overall record of 8-25). Going further, Houston is the only team this season to emerge victorious with a 400-yard passer. The crop of 400-yard passers is 1-6 this year for a winning percentage of just .143.
Anyway, Kubiak is right. The Chiefs do feel the same way, and running the football goes hand-in-hand with Kansas City’s success on gamedays.
Last weekend, in Indianapolis, Kansas City had its least-productive rushing output of the year (113 yards) and gave up its most rushing yards of the season (97 yards). Of course, last week also happens to be the Chiefs lone blemish in 2010. For the Texans, they’ve racked up 564 rushing yards in their three wins, but just 148 yards on the ground in their two losses.
“They’ve run the ball very well,” Haley said of Houston. “They’re not a lot different than us in some ways, in that they run the ball well and they do a good job of stopping the run defensively.”
It’s as if this week’s game is the polar opposite from last weekend in Indianapolis. Against the Colts, each team’s respective strength matched up against an opponent weakness. This week, it’s more about strength vs. strength in the categories that the teams tend to care about most.
Most notably, for strengths, the Chiefs and Texans both rank in the NFL’s top-five running the football. When it comes to stopping the run, they both rank in the top six. It’s a sign that Sunday’s matchup may be a gut-check game that borders on who plays a more physical brand of football.
Ironically, that’s another area in which the Chiefs and Texans are similar. Each felt the need to address their physicality this off-season as well
“I think that one of the places we’ve failed, or I should say hurt us and caused us not to be a playoff team last year, is that we weren’t physical enough as a team,” Kubiak said. “That was a big thing that we tried to address as a football team going into camp, getting more physical. That starts with running the ball and stopping the run.”
The Chiefs spent over 30 of their training camp practices in full pads. Like Kubiak did with Houston, Haley dialed up the intensity and contact for Kansas City’s 2010 training camp. So far, it’s paying off for clubs as each sit atop their respective divisions.
“We beat on each other more this camp then we ever have,” Kubiak explained. “It’s a touchy deal now days in this league with the number of bodies that you have, but we felt that the only way to get better and close out games was to get more physical. It was addressed in camp in the way we practiced and how we went about that first month.”
Strength vs. strength. Most believe that the winner of the running war will determine Sunday’s winner.