You hear the phrase all the time: The NFL is a 'passing league'.
After a season filled with record-breaking performances through the air, going into the postseason that phrase was tough to argue with. In 2013, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning rewrote the NFL's history books, throwing for an unprecedented 55 touchdowns. In addition to Manning's exploits, nine quarterbacks threw for over 4,000 yards on the season, a number once viewed as extraordinary a decade ago.
Flash back 10 years. Only two league quarterbacks reached the 4,000 yard passing total. In that same 2003 season, Brett Favre lead the NFL with 33 touchdowns, which would rank him tied for fourth this year and 22 behind the league's leader (Manning's 55). The league is more throw first than ever, yet, after eight playoff games, a familiar formula seems to be re-emerging.
While watching the NFL Today pregame show before the start of yesterday's San Diego and Denver matchup, an interesting graphic flashed on the screen. It listed this year's playoff winning teams, and showed one stat that they all shared in common. Each winning team (Denver would go on to do this later) had amassed at least 100 yards rushing, including five squads who rushed for at least 167 yards in their playoff victories.
This was no more evident than in Foxboro, as the New England Patriots ran for 234 yards in their playoff win over Indianapolis. The Patriots, led by arguably the greatest quarterback of this generation in Tom Brady, ran the ball 63 percent of the time on offense, averaging 5.1 yards per carry as they bullied their way to a spot in the AFC Championship Game. As every Texans fan knows, new head coach Bill O'Brien's professional experience was working with that Patriots offense in New England.
'Three yards and a cloud of dust' is the adage used to describe old school football, where teams emphasized the running game over everything else. During this postseason, that mantra has returned to the forefront with teams riding their rushing attacks to the next round. The Broncos, known for Manning's aerial prowess, gashed the Chargers for 133 yards on the ground in their 24-17 win on Sunday.
This trend bodes well for the Houston Texans, who at the height of their success in past years featured an offense based on running the ball and dominating time of possession.
Although the coaching staff has changed and perhaps the offensive philosophy along with it, since 2011 the Texans have sported a 14-5 record when a back passed the 100-yard mark. The return of a healthy Arian Foster gives the Texans a proven weapon in the backfield next season.
If the Texans are fortunate to make a playoff run in 2014, they might find a familiar style of play awaiting them.