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Jim Feist’s Week 7 NFL Betting Tips

The Value of Run Defense

Jim Feist

Jim Feist

Like a giant leak on a sinking ship, one of the first signs of a poor pro football team is weak run defense. Stopping the run is essential to building a championship team. Who won the Super Bowl in January? The Steelers, a team with the No. 1 overall defense, including No. 2 against the run. In 2007, the eventual champion NY Giants were No. 8 against the run.


The year before that the Colts had the worst run defense in the NFL, yet won the Super Bowl. That is true, but it also was an aberration. Even that doesn’t tell the whole story, as the Colts’ run defense was suddenly dominant in the postseason. The mid-season addition of DT Anthony McFarland, moving LB Rob Morris inside and the return of hard-hitting safety Bob Saunders all coincided with the Indy playoff run, led by their defense. Their Super Bowl opponent, the Bears, were No. 1 in total defense and eighth against the rush.

In 2005, the Carolina Panthers were 4th in the league at stopping the run behind its fearsome front foursome. They made it to the NFC Championship game. The team just ahead of the Panthers was the Steelers, who won the Super Bowl. In 2003 the Patriots finished No. 3 against the run with the addition of NT Ted Washington. In 2004 they let Washington walk, but added Keith Traylor and rookie Vince Wilfork to the line and finished No. 6 overall against the run. Both those teams won the Super Bowl.

Back in 2001 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the No. 1 overall defense, a solid 6th against the run and celebrated a title. Stopping the run in some capacity is essential for success in football, both on the field and when handicapping picks. Think about how many third and short situations you see over the course of a game. If a team can’t stop the run, opponents can simply run the ball all day long, picking up first downs and controlling the clock. After five games in 2009, here’s a list of pro teams allowing the most yards rushing per game:

Yds rushing allowed – SU – ATS

22nd: Redskins – 119 — 2-3 — 1-4
23rd: Rams – 125 —– 0-5 — 1-4
24th: Falcons – 127 — 3-1— 3-1
25th: Chiefs – 132 —- 0-5 — 1-4
26th Texans – 140 —-2-3 — 2-3
27th: Chargers – 151 — 2-2 — 1-3
28th: Bucs – 152 —– 0-5 — 1-4
29th: Bills – 154 —– 1-4 —  2-3
30th: Panthers – 155 — 1-3 — 0-4
31st: Raiders – 161 — 1-4 — 2-3
32nd: Browns – 170 —1-4 — 2-3

Only one of those teams has a winning record straight up or against the number. Four (Redskins, Texans, Bills, Panthers) have been the biggest busts in the NFL. The combined record of that defenseless group against the run was 13-39 straight up and 16-36 against the number.

Atlanta was expected to have some defensive problems, as they struggled at times last year and they are replacing 5 defensive starters. As bad as Carolina has been, at least there is some hope. They were able to plug in 340-pound DT Hollis Thomas, a 14-year veteran, who joined the team two weeks and made a difference, as the Redskins had 74 yards rushing, just 3.1 ypc. Changes on the field that could influence handicapping picks, both sides and totals, must be kept track of each week.

However, there is not a lot of hope for the other teams on that list. The Raiders look like one of the worst teams in history, with holes everywhere, while the Redskins and Chargers have had some off the field bickering going on. San Diego GM A.J. Smith called out his defense during the bye week, saying, “We’d better get out act together.”

This is a good example of why winning cures so many internal problems. The Falcons have a weak run defense, but it’s something the players are positively working on, such as “We’re getting better.” The Chargers, though, have disappointed in a division they were expected to roll through and so there is some venom being spilled.

Go back to 2008, the worst teams against the run were the Lions, Raiders, Chiefs, Rams, Browns, Broncos, Packers, Falcons, Colts, Texans, Bills and Bengals. What stands out? Only two playoff teams, but not a single playoff victory among the group.

By contrast, of the 11 worst teams against the pass last season, the list includes the Falcons, Cardinals, Dolphins and Chargers. All made the playoffs, plus two other teams (Broncos, Jets) that were in the race on the final day of the regular season.

It is more important to stop the run first when handicapping picks. That is why talented run stuffers are in high demand, such as nose tackles Casey Hampton, Wilfork and John Henderson. Run defense is an excellent place to start when examining strengths and weaknesses each week, and for potential future bets as history has not been kind to teams that are not stout against the run in the postseason.

Jim Feist is the recognized leader in the sports information and sports gaming industry.


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  1. If you cannot stop the run, you cannot stop the clock or get your defense off the field. Your defense wears down faster and thus starts giving up easy touchdowns.

    A championship team begins and ends with their offensive and defensive lines. Its not the big armed quarterback, the speedy running back, or the head case prima donna wide receiver. It is all about the hogs up front.