Which stats separate winners from losers in pro football?
According to a computer-aided analysts of the NFL, four stats most often associated with winning teams are: running plays on offense and defense; and yards per pass attempt on offense and defense.
This season, the important statistic is the number of rushes by a team's opponent. Simply stated, the more a team's opponent rushes, the less that team wins.
This statistic, through the first five weeks of the NFL season, shows a 65 per cent correlation to the team's won-lost record.
The correlation percentage shows the degree to which two factors vary up and down with each other. The higher the percentage for one of the variables (such as opponents' rushes), the more important it is to a team's won-lost record.
The other statistics having an important bearing on a team's won-lost record are the number of rushes by that team, 48 per cent correlation; yards per pass attempt, 33 per cent, and yards per pass by the team's opponent, 31 per cent.
Charts I and II accompanying this article show the NFL team standings on rushes and opponent rushes through week five.
It is obvious from Chart I that if your opposition runs the ball more than 40 times a game you have whipped cream fo a defensive line. The Kansas City Chiefs are the weakest team on this stat, allowing 45 rushes per game. They have not won. Seattle and San Francisco allow 44 rushes. These three teams have one victory and 14 losses.
By comparison, the strongest teams, Oakland, Baltimore and Denver, allow 28 to 29 opponent rushes. They have won 14 games. The Broncos knocked off the Raiders last week. If Oakland had played any other team, there is a good likelihood the top three teams on this important defensive stat would still be undefeated.
A second important stat is the number of rushes on offense. In 1977 it correlates 48 per cent with the average team's won/lost record compared to 46 per cent for all of last season. It is a reliable indicator of team strength.
Teams with 40 rushes per game are potential champions. By comparison teams that run the ball 30 times are playing non-competitive ball. At 3 and 2, Cleveland and Houston, running 32 to 33 times per game, are borderline teams. If they maintain this modest rushing attack, chances are they will not make the playoffs.
A thire stat of importance separating winners from losers is yards per pass attempt (quarterback sacks are counted as unsuccessful attempts).
The yards-per-pass statistic measures the marriage between the passer and receiver. League leaders on this stat usually have wide receivers with 9.2-9.3 speed in the 100 yard dash. The current leader St. Louis has Mel Grey; last year's leader, Oakland, had Cliff Branch; and the Colts, tied with the Raiders in '76 averaging 7 1/2 yards per toss, had Roger Carr.
This year the Jets are newcomers to the top of the list. Not since Joe Namath was in his prime have they been near the 7-yards-per-pass level. New York is the most improved team on this important passing stat up 74 per cent from '76. The reason: Wide receiver Wes Walker is earning 22.5 yards per completion (compared to a league average of 12.5). Walker's is the best completion figure on the list of leading receivers.
A fourth stat of importance according to the computer analysts, is opponent yards per pass attempt allowed. Undefeated Dallas leads the NFL, allowing only 3.06 yards per opponent toss. By comparison, Seattle gives up 7.75 yards per pass.
The most improved team on yards per pass allowed is San Diego. The Chargers give up only 3.16 yards, 51 per cent better than '76. Their improved defensive secondary and stronger pass rush account in large part for their 3-2 record.
San Francisco and Cincinnati have lost the most ground, down 51 per cent and 52 per cent. In the first five weeks of the season teams have found success throwing long against Paul Brown's Bengals. In Ohio, where football is almost a religion, allowing 6 1/2 yards per pass might be considered immoral. Since this stat accounts for 31 per cent of the average team's won/lost record, without improvement the figure bodes ill for Bengal playoff chances.