Common Misconception About NFL Passing Debunked

Max Staley
Kirk Cousins is one of the top play action passers in the NFL.
Kirk Cousins is one of the top play action passers in the NFL. / Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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If you've seen an NFL game at any time in the past few seasons, you've almost certainly heard the following theory. The best way to set up the pass is by establishing the run. It's a theory that makes sense when you think about it. Of course, if you make the defense overcompensate to stop one aspect of your offense, you should be able to counter-attack with the other.

However, according to the data, that theory isn't necessarily true.

Simply put, there's very little correlation between an effective running game in the first half and an effective passing game in the second. It's reminiscent of the misconception surrounding the use of play action.

While conventional wisdom would suggest you need to establish the run to really make play action effective, the data actually suggests that the misdirection and confusion created is disruptive enough. In other words, you don't need to establish the run to maximize passing efficiency, and the same can be said for play action.

None of this is to say the run game isn't important, but it doesn't seem as tied to the passing game's success as we thought it was.


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Max Staley is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Max Staley also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username mstaley1212. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in their articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.

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