clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What is the most important element to a successful running game?

There are several factors which help determine if a team is successful running the ball in the NFL.

Syndication: The Enquirer Kareem Elgazzar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Pittsburgh Steelers were last in the NFL in rushing in 2020.


As unpleasant as it is to bring up the subject, ignoring the problem does not help in overcoming it. The Pittsburgh Steelers struggled with running the ball last season and need to make vast improvements for 2021. One obvious step was using their first-round draft pick on Najee Harris in hopes that it more prolific runner will ease some of the stress on the Steelers ability to run the ball.

But is having an improvement at running back the most important thing to improving the run game?

Here are three different elements of the run game which helps determine its success.

The Scheme

One of the main elements in being able to run the football at the professional level is play design. With some of the greatest athletes in the world lining up on both sides of the ball, simply thinking one team will constantly be better than the other could spell a recipe for disaster. Being able to disguise your intentions on each play keeps the defense from simply sending more personnel to the right spot than what a team can handle. Even tipping your hand to show that you are running the football allows the defense to act accordingly and throw everything they can to stop it.

When it comes to scheme in the running game, it can allow players who may not be as strong completely across-the-board to have more success if the scheme is effective. If the scheme is very vanilla and an original, even having superior players can greatly diminish the success of a team’s ability to run the ball.

The Blocking

After drafting up a good game plan to be able to run the ball, players who aren’t actually touching the pigskin have to come through and do their job in order to have success. If one or two players are giving a free shot at the runner in the backfield, it’s hard for him to continually turn nothing into something. Therefore, the ability of players to make quality blocks in the running game can greatly improve the results. If a running back isn’t getting touched until they are three yards downfield, they will continue to be able to churn out yards. But if a running back is constantly running for his life five yards in the backfield, it’s difficult for him to continually make plays.

I’ve said this for some time, dating back to my days coaching high school football: A good offensive line can make an average running back look good, but a bad offensive line can make a good running back look average or worse.

The Runner

A great play could be called. The offensive line could all make fantastic blocks. But if the running back, or whatever other position could be handed the ball, doesn’t do their part it’s all a moot point. The player has to be able to read the blocks to make sure they are not simply running directly into where the defender is being pushed. There are times when players have to see the opening and hit the proper lane, or cut back based on adjustments that have to be made in play due to what the defense is trying to do. Additionally, the player must hold onto the ball first and foremost.

Believe it or not, I’ve seen good play calls and good blocking by an offensive line only to see the runner pile straight into the back of his own player.

So those are the three major elements of the running game and how they work together for success. Before looking at which one may be the most successful, let’s look at a scenario for the Pittsburgh Steelers from the 2020 season:

In Week 1, Benny Snell Jr rushed for over 100 yards on 19 carries against the New York Giants. Was the success running the football that day based on his ability as a runner, the blocking of the offensive line, or the fact the Steelers had yet to put any of their offensive scheme on tape for other teams to try to come up with ways to stop it? I only ask this question because it does help to think of examples before determining which element is more important.

So now it’s your turn. What element of the running game do you think is the most important in it being successful? Make sure you vote in the poll and leave your thoughts in the comments below.


What is the most important element to a successful running game?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    The Scheme
    (36 votes)
  • 39%
    The Blocking
    (140 votes)
  • 6%
    The Runner
    (24 votes)
  • 41%
    All three are equal
    (148 votes)
  • 1%
    Other (please leave an explanation in the comments)
    (7 votes)
355 votes total Vote Now