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Arizona Cardinals stats: Numbers on running the ball on 1st down

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We break down the numbers by game and the trends in wins and losses.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Not too long ago, in one of my Carson Palmer stats articles, one of the readers wanted to know about how the Arizona Cardinals ran the ball on first down over the course of the season.

So it took some homework and looking back at each of the gamebooks and play transcripts, but I have the numbers.

Basically, I sense some thinking -- the Cardinals lost games because they didn't run the ball enough or the Cardinals won more down the stretch because they started running the ball more on first down.

What do the stats actually say?

Have a look at the numbers, broken down by week, for the entire season, in wins, in losses and split up from Weeks 1-7 (when the Cards started 3-4 inconsistently) and Weeks 8-17 (finishing up 7-2 and playing much better offensively.

Arizona had 471 first down plays. I excluded all the plays negated by penalties. I counted sacks as passes and scrambles as passes as well (there was only one Palmer scramble on first down all season). I also excluded the 12 first down plays over the course of the season that were not passes or runs. There was one field goal attempt, one spike to stop the clock and 10 kneeldowns. So the numbers I used were 459 first down plays.

Here are the numbers by week and totaled for the season:

Week W or L 1st down runs 1st down passes % runs on 1st dwn 1st dwn rushing yards 1st down YPC
1 L 14 17 45.2% 42 3.0
2 W 16 16 50.0% 62 3.9
3 L 8 17 32.0% 53 6.6
4 W 10 17 37.0% 36 3.6
5 W 13 13 50.0% 40 3.1
6 L 11 17 39.3% 59 5.4
7 L 8 23 25.8% 5 0.7
8 W 16 8 66.7% 115 7.2
10 W 15 14 51.8% 37 2.5
11 W 11 18 37.9% 13 1.2
12 W 19 12 61.3% 49 2.6
13 L 13 18 41.9% 51 3.9
14 W 18 11 62.1% 54 3.0
15 W 20 11 64.5% 64 3.2
16 W 21 6 77.8% 90 4.3
17 L 12 16 42.9% 40 3.3
Total 225 234 49.0% 810 3.6

As you can see, over the course of the season, it was pretty even, and they weren't particularly great at it, with a 3.6 YPC average. That also includes Andre Ellington's 80-yard scamper on first down against the Atlanta Falcons.

So what about the numbers in wins and losses? The numbers are very different.

1st down runs 1st down passes % runs 1st down rushing yards 1st down YPC
In wins 158 126 55.60% 560 3.5
In losses 66 108 34.00% 250 3.8

There is nothing surprising here, except for one thing -- the yards per carry. And note this, the Ellington 80-yarder came in a win. Take that one carry away and the YPC in wins drops all the way to 3.1.

In terms of the number of running plays on first down, there is no surprise. When teams are losing, they pass more because time is against them. But there is more discussion ahead.

How about the breakdown from the early part of the season, when the offense struggled more and later in the season, when the offense was doing much better and the team ran the ball much more effectively overall?

Record 1st down runs 1st down passes % runs on 1st dwn 1st dwn rushing yards 1st down YPC
1 thru 7 3-4 80 120 40.0% 297 3.7
8 thru 17 7-2 145 114 56.0% 513 3.5

Clearly, the team ran the ball more over the final nine games of the season, but they only lost twice. The lost four of their first seven, so the numbers look much different in terms of attempts.

Looking over all the numbers, you can see week by week, there is no real pattern. The game plan changed depending on the team and depending on how the game went.

Week 1 against the Rams was a close game for most of the game. The run/pass balance was pretty even. They won in Week 2, and it was a close game. It was completely balanced.

But Week 3 they fell behind early and by a lot against the Saints. They had to pass the ball.

In Week 4 against the Bucs, a comeback win, they had to throw to come back. In Week 5,  a win, it was balanced.

Against the 49ers in Week 6, it was a close game until late and then that is when the play balance went out of balance.

Against the Seahawks in Week 7, they were simply unable to do anything. They stopped and were behind.

In essence, I did not see a trend where the playcalling philosophy changed as the season went on. I saw game plans tailored to opponents and game situations dictating how it went.

Bruce Arians did not simply start calling more running plays. It was simply better to call running plays on first down. So, unfortunately, there is no great revelation to be given. Most games started out pretty even in terms of first down playcalls and then the game situation dictated what would happen later.

Are you surprised by those numbers? What stands out? Discuss it.