It was an exciting week in the NFL. The first round of the playoffs showed different aspects of the rushing attack. Of the four games, three of them were won by the Rusher Rating Differential leader. The only exception was the Denver Broncos.
 
Let’s dig into each of the games.
 
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans
 
Heading into the game, everyone knew that the Texans were going to establish the run. With one of the best one-two punches in the league with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, Houston worked the ground game effectively the entire regular season.
 
However, Cincinnati’s workhorse Cedric Benson gave the Bengals a strong running game. With both teams starting rookie quarterbacks (a first in NFL wildcard playoff history), running the ball was going to be important.
 
The game did not disappoint, as both teams worked to establish the run and both teams were rather effective. Benson scored first on a one-yard run in the first quarter. Foster answered about three minutes later with an eight-yard scamper to tie the score. A pair of field goals later, Houston’s defense stepped up as J.J. Watt intercepted an Andy Dalton pass and ran it in for a score.
 
By the fourth quarter, Houston had a 24-10 lead and continued to work their ground game efficiently. With slightly over five minutes left in the game, Foster scored his second touchdown to seal Houston’s first playoff victory in franchise history. Foster finished with 24 carries for 153 yards and a Rusher Rating of 140.53.
 
Cincinnati’s leading rusher (based on yards) was not Benson, who finished with seven carries for 14 yards and a Rusher Rating of 116.53. It was Brian Leonard with 34 yards and a Rusher Rating of 105.56. However, it was Benson who led the team in Rusher Rating.
 
Houston Texans Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Arian Foster 24 153 6.38 2 0 140.53
Ben Tate 9 37 4.11 0 0 75.34
James Casey 1 0 0.00 0 0 52.78
T.J. Yates 1 -2 -2.00 0 0 52.78
TOTAL 35 188 5.37 2 0 132.41
 
Cincinnati Bengals Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Brian Leonard 3 34 11.33 0 0 105.56
Andy Dalton 3 17 5.67 0 0 83.87
Cedric Benson 7 14 2.00 1 0 116.53
Bernard Scott 6 11 1.83 0 0 62.84
TOTAL 19 76 4.00 1 0 127.50
 
It was no surprise that the Texans had the lead in team Rusher Rating: 132.41 to Cincinnati’s 127.50. They also had the edge in Real Running Back Rating with a 98.64 for Foster, compared to the 84.81 turned in by the combined effort of Leonard, Benson and Bernard Scott.
 
Player Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Arian Foster 3 29 0 140.53 98.64 -41.89
 
Player Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Brian Leonard 6 36 0 105.56 72.22 -33.34
Cedric Benson 1 -2 0 116.53 69.92 -46.61
Bernard Scott 3 29 0 62.84 52.02 -10.82
TOTAL 10 63 0 125.79 84.81 -40.98
 
 
Finally, let’s look at Rusher Rating Differential for both teams. The Texans finished with the better Rusher Rating Differential with a 4.91.
 
Team Rushing Attempts Offensive Rusher Rating Defensive Rushing Attempts Defensive Rusher Rating Rusher Rating Differential
Houston Texans 35 132.41 19 127.50 +4.91
Cincinnati Bengals 19 127.50 35 132.41 -4.91
 
Final score: Houston Texans 31 – Cincinnati Bengals 10
 
 
Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints
 
You knew that this game was going to be a shootout, with both teams relying on the passing game. Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees set multiple passing records during the regular season and Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford was on fire the last quarter of the season, setting his own historical marks. Both passers amassed over 5,000 passing yards during the regular season.
 
The Lions started well and maintained a lead or tie through the first half. Starting in the second quarter, runs by Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles broke things open for the Saints. That led to New Orleans tying the game.
 
The second half was a different story. The New Orleans offense took charge and never looked back. A strong passing attack, combined with an effective running game put the Saints in control of the game.
 
Detroit managed only 10 rushing attempts throughout the game for a mere 32 yards on the ground for a Rusher Rating of 123.11.
Detroit Lions Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Kevin Smith 6 21 3.50 0 0 71.98
Titus Young 1 8 8.00 0 0 96.67
Nate Burleson 1 2 2.00 0 0 63.75
Matt Stafford 2 1 0.50 1 0 108.30
TOTAL 10 32 3.20 1 0 123.11
 
 
Conversely, New Orleans racked up 167 rushing yards on 36 carries for a Rusher Rating of 131.01.
New Orleans Saints Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Pierre Thomas 8 66 8.25 1 0 150.82
Darren Sproles 10 51 5.10 2 0 133.54
Chris Ivory 13 47 3.62 0 0 72.62
Devery Henderson 1 4 4.00 0 0 74.73
Drew Brees 4 -1 -0.25 0 0 52.78
TOTAL 36 167 4.64 3 0 131.01
 
 
But, it was not just the running game where New Orleans dominated. They also won in Real Running Back Rating. Thomas and Sproles combined for 10 catches for 89 yards out of the backfield. Compare that to Kevin Smith with two catches for 20 yards.
 
Real Running Back Rating for the leading rushers in the game:
Player Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Pierre Thomas 6 55 0 150.82 104.08 -46.74
Darren Sproles 4 34 0 133.54 92.72 -40.82
TOTAL 10 89 0 141.22 97.92 -43.30
 
Player Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Kevin Smith 2 20 0 71.98 58.00 -13.98
 
 
Finally, let’s look at Rusher Rating Differential.
Team Rushing Attempts Offensive Rusher Rating Defensive Rushing Attempts Defensive Rusher Rating Rusher Rating Differential
New Orleans Saints 36 131.01 10 123.11 +7.90
Detroit Lions 10 123.11 36 131.01 -7.90
 
Final score: New Orleans Saints 45 – Detroit Lions 28
 
 
Atlanta Falcons vs. New York Giants
 
It was expected that this game would be a battle of the rushers. Michael Turner versus the tag team of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. It was duo of Jacobs and Bradshaw that won out as the New York Giants defeated the Atlanta Falcons 24-2. Not only did they have a productive rushing attack, but the Giants put up the best Defensive Rusher Rating of the week, holding the Falcons to 64 yards rushing.
 
Both teams struggled in their first few possessions. On the third series, Atlanta started utilizing Turner. As a result, they were able to put together a decent drive. It did not generate points, as the Giant defense held on downs.
 
On the next Atlanta drive, they went back to what worked for them: the running game and short passes to their backs. The Giants started to do the same thing. They pounded Jacobs and tossed short passes to Bradshaw. That loosened up the Falcon defense and the Giants were able to drive the ball and the momentum shifted in the Giants’ favor.
 
In the second half, Atlanta moved away from the running game, whereas the Giants used Jacobs and Bradshaw. That helped New York get to a 17-2 lead, where they could then focus mainly on their rushing attack to burn time off of the clock.
Atlanta Falcons Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Michael Turner 15 41 2.73 0 0 67.78
Julio Jones 1 13 13.00 0 0 105.56
Jason Snelling 2 7 3.50 0 0 71.98
Matt Ryan 3 3 1.00 0 0 58.26
TOTAL 21 64 3.05 0 0 69.50
 
 
New York Giants Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Brandon Jacobs 14 92 6.57 0 0 88.83
Ahmad Bradshaw 14 63 4.50 0 0 77.47
Eli Manning 2 13 6.50 0 0 88.44
D.J. Ware 1 4 4.00 0 0 74.73
TOTAL 31 172 5.55 0 0 83.22
 
 
Real Running Back Rating for the leading rushers in the game:
Player Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Jason Snelling 2 9 0 71.98 49.86 -22.12
Michael Turner 1 5 0 67.78 48.07 -19.71
TOTAL 3 14 0 68.27 47.88 -20.39
 
Player Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Brandon Jacobs 2 8 0 88.83 59.23 -29.60
Ahmad Bradshaw 5 22 0 77.47 53.00 -24.47
TOTAL 7 30 0 83.15 56.24 -26.91
 
 
Finally, let’s look at Rusher Rating Differential.
Team Rushing Attempts Offensive Rusher Rating Defensive Rushing Attempts Defensive Rusher Rating Rusher Rating Differential
New York Giants 31 83.22 21 69.50 +13.72
Atlanta Falcons 21 69.50 31 83.22 -13.72
 
Final score: New York Giants 24 – Atlanta Falcons 2
 
 
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos
 
The Pittsburgh Steelers are known for their defense. As the season progressed, the Steelers moved up the Rusher Rating Differential charts to finish in the top ten (seventh overall). But, they needed to face Tebow-mania in the mile high city. With Pittsburgh’s leading rusher Rashard Mendenhall out, the load would rest on the shoulders of Isaac Redman.
 
Denver started the game establishing the run, but were relatively ineffective. Pittsburgh knew that if they wanted to win the game, they needed to force Tim Tebow to throw the ball. Tebow struggled the bulk of the season with his passing game, but this day would be different.
 
The Broncos were able to put up a 20-6 lead by halftime and it forced Pittsburgh to change their gameplan. In the third quarter, Redman ripped off a couple of beautiful runs to help drive the Steelers down the field and Pittsburgh was able to get back into the game.
 
However, it was a fumble by Willis McGahee that helped the Steelers. They were only down by seven points at the time and Denver was driving to increase their lead. The turnover resulted in Pittsburgh tying the game with 3:48 left in the fourth quarter.
 
In the first non-sudden death overtime on NFL history, it was the passing game that won it for the Broncos. On the first play, Tebow tossed an 80-yard pass to take the victory.
Pittsburgh Steelers Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Isaac Redman 17 121 7.12 0 0 91.83
Antonio Brown 1 18 18.00 0 0 105.56
Ben Roethlisberger 3 15 5.00 0 0 80.21
Mike Wallace 1 1 1.00 1 0 111.04
John Clay 1 1 1.00 0 0 58.26
TOTAL 23 156 6.78 1 0 128.16
 
Denver Broncos Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Willis McGahee 19 61 3.21 0 1 45.25
Tim Tebow 10 50 5.00 1 0 132.99
Lance Ball 4 11 2.75 0 0 67.87
Eric Decker 1 9 9.00 0 0 102.16
TOTAL 34 131 3.85 1 1 85.68
 
 
Real Running Back Rating for the leading rushers in the game:
Player Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Isaac Redman 2 21 0 91.83 70.66 -21.17
 
Player Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Lance Ball 1 6 0 67.87 49.61 -18.26
 
 
Finally, let’s look at Rusher Rating Differential.
Team Rushing Attempts Offensive Rusher Rating Defensive Rushing Attempts Defensive Rusher Rating Rusher Rating Differential
Denver Broncos 34 85.68 23 128.16 -42.48
Pittsburgh Steelers 23 128.16 34 85.68 +42.48
 
Final score: Denver Broncos 29 – Pittsburgh Steelers 23 (OT)
 
 
Weekly Rusher Rating Leaders
 
Finally, let’s look at Rusher Rating leaders for the week. First, individual Rusher Rating:
Player Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Pierre Thomas – NO 8 66 8.25 1 0 150.82
 
Real Running Back Rating:
Player Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD Rusher Rating Real RB Rating Diff.
Pierre Thomas – NO 6 55 0 150.82 104.08 -46.74
 
Offensive Rusher Rating:
Team Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
Houston Texans 35 188 5.37 2 0 132.41
 
Defensive Rusher Rating:
Team Attempts Yards Yards per Attempt TD Fumbles Rusher Rating
New York Giants 21 64 3.05 0 0 69.50
 
Finally, Rusher Rating Differential:
Team Rushing Attempts Offensive Rusher Rating Defensive Rushing Attempts Defensive Rusher Rating Rusher Rating Differential
Pittsburgh Steelers 23 128.16 34 85.68 +42.48
 
 
How the Rusher Rating is Calculated
 
Here is how each component is calculated:
 
Average Yards Gained per Attempt (YD) = [Total Yards/(4.05 * Rushing Attempts)]
 
Percentage of TDs per Carry (TD) = [(39.5*Touchdowns)/Rushing Attempts]
 
Percentage of Fumbles per Carry (F) = [2.375-((21.5*Fumbles)/Rushing Attempts)]
 
Adding these components together and adjusting to a scale of 158.3 (the same as the NFL Passer Rating System) yields:
 
Rusher Rating = [(YD) + (TD) + (F)] * (100/4.5)
 
 
How the Real Running Back Rating is Calculated
 
Now, we look at the Real Running Back Rating. Here are the updated equations with the receiving components:
 
Average Yards Gained per Attempt (YD) = [Total Yards/(4.05 * Rushing Attempts)]
 
Percentage of TDs per Carry (RUSHTD) = [(39.5*Touchdowns)/Rushing Attempts]
 
Average Yards Gained per Reception (REC) = [Receiving Yards/(9*Receptions)]
 
Percentage of TDs per Reception (RECTD) = [(27.5*Touchdowns)/Receptions]
 
Percentage of Fumbles per Touch (F) = [2.375-((21.5*Fumbles)/(Rushes + Receptions))]
 
Adding these components together and adjusting to a scale of 158.3 yields:
 
Rusher Rating = [(YD) + (RUSHTD) + (REC) + (RECTD) + (F)] * (100/7.5)
 
 
Ken Crippen is the executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to preserving football history. You can follow him on Twitter: @KenCrippen.