The Running Game: CFL vs. NFL

It's well known that the pass is more prominent in the CFL than the NFL. I've read a lot about the difficulties American quarterbacks have in adjusting to the CFL game, and a fair bit about receivers. I don't recall ever hearing anything about how the running game is different between the two different forms of gridiron. Is the running game more or less the same as in American football, just used less, or are there significant differences in the running plays themselves?

You must be a lot more versatile as a CFL back in my opinion.
You get less touches in the CFL so you need to be able to block, catch, and of course run.
There's also a lot less power backs in the CFL because of the limited downs, you need a guy that can rush for 5-6 yards per carry, not 3 or 4.

the Unlimited motion in the Canadian game really helps to create a more workable running game.

remember that in the NFL, the running back cannot move forward until the ball is snapped, while up in the CFL the running back can begin to move towards the line before the QB has the ball, meaning that all the QB has to do is turn sideways and hand the ball off. so the running back has a head start before he even gets the ball.

I think that the run in the CFL helps set up the pass..

while the NFL, it's the Pass helps set up the run.

And the dline is a yard off.

ya if you look at it closely, the 1yd is an advantage to the Defense. it gives them that extra step to get into the hole and plug up the gap. many teams like to run Search type plays when they run and it makes it a lot more difficult to run when you have no holes

Given the added area to defend and the yard neutral zone, I'd bet the CFL yards per carry average is markedly higher than that of the NFL. This is balanced of course with the one fewer playable down in the CFL.

I'd estimate the value of the running games in the respective leagues as about equal.

just don't tell that to the CFL haters out there...

cflisthebest, one of the larger NFL haters out there, takes joe's spot on assessment of the difference between the value of the CFL and NFL's running games which concludes that they are equal. Which basically refutes cflisthebest's assessment that says that the defence in the CFL is in a better position to stop the run because of, get this, in the CFL they are a yard off the ball of all things. And uses Joe's assessment to say that none of the CFL haters believe that and that this is a win for the CFL. Are you really going to take "they're equal" as a win against the CFL Haters. I just wish that people would appreciate both games for what they are and stop dissecting the differences instead of enjoying them. If it was the same brand of football everywhere it would get boring.

Also just so you know cflisthebest, that extra lines makes it way easier on the Offense to run, not the defence to stop it, which is demonstrated by some rudimentary stats:
I added up the top 9 rushers (9 teams) in the cfl last year and averaged their average (obviously not the actual average per run, but all things equal rushes it would be) and came up with 5.89 yds.
I then did it for the NFL for 2010-11 as well and to no surprise to anyone who watches football, their top 9 guys had a much lower average of 4.61 yds. I also did their top 32 runners (32 teams) and came up with 4.44 yds per carry.(Quaterbacks were not included in either tally).

But like joedatav says, the NFL get 4 downs to get ten and the CFL gets 3 so it kind of equals out. (2 downs 11.78 yds in the CFL, 3 downs 13.32-13.83 yds if you get an "average" run everytime) Maybe not equal but close enough.

But I just thought it would be funny if I pointed out some "CFL defendors"/NFL haters as well as the NFL only crowd can't realize that there are merits to both games and that both games have their strategies, both games are fun to watch, and some people prefer the other one.

(obviously the above was a somewhat simplified statistical analysis, I only used one year, and taking the average of the average is pretty shotty stuff, but I think it gets the point across)

Here's a good article that Paolo posted in the 'other football' section here.

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This from the article is so true:

It used to be said that in order to be competitive in the NFL, you had to be able to run the ball and stop the run. That's not the correct formula anymore

I personally think that both the CFL and NFL right now is what you want in the rb position is an average back or slightly better than average, as a runner, but a back who is really good at picking up blocking assignments. The key are the receivers who have become more the stars and again a decent qb who can get the ball to them. But I'll take an excellent receiver over an excellent rb who can't pick up blocking assignments any day.

And cflisthe best, CFL haters, I find, are usually people who are not very knowledgeable about football, 3 or 4 down variety. They do make for a good laugh though with what seems to be jealousy or something that our league exists. :stuck_out_tongue: :wink:

I believe Ricky Williams stated that the differences between the CFL vs NFL running game was that in the CFL you are required to be much more versatile as a back, while in the NFL your position is much more specialized and exclusive.

I'm a CFL lover, not a CFL hater, but I don't agree with the base premise of this thread:

It's well known that the pass is more prominent in the CFL than the NFL.
The days when the NFL was three yards and a cloud of dust and the CFL was two offences passing the ball 45-50 times each are over. Nowadays, I would wager that the run-pass ratio is fairly similar in the two leagues.

Here's what Sports Illustrated wrote recently:

In 1990, NFL teams threw an average of 483 times a season. That number rose to 540 in 2010. "We're never going back to a running game," says Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. "Now fullbacks run once a year. We're going to stay a passing league." In the '80s the Giants bulked up the middle of their D to stop Dallas's and Washington's strong running games and won two Super Bowls. These days there may be a few games in which an offense runs on 60% of its plays, but far more frequently the ratio is 60% pass, 40% run.

my... I can think of a lot of guys I know who are so in love with running the ball in the NFL that aren't going to like this!

I do believe that if the NFL had our wider field, that they'd be able to come up with more complex plays. they are very limited in what kind of patterns they can run within the 10 yds they need for a first down. And yet you watch the CFL and you will see there are more types of plays and pass patterns being used.. pretty much because the CFL has a wider field of play and this allows them to do more creative patterns.

I've always felt that the extra down in the NFL has allowed for teams to not have to be as inventive.

That is a key diffence I find between the two brands. In the NFL you have to be much more precise in your assignments as does the QB when throwing the ball

Another difference is the level of preparation that goes into a game. NFL teams between all their staff really are working 24/7 preparing for the next game. They have rosters big enough to have full scout teams. Bigger staff which allows them to do more video work, staff training, quality control.

Where in the CFL you have a very limited roster, resources and very minimal practice time to work with.

I like making car analogies and I would compare the two this way. NFL is like Formula One and the CFL is like NASCAR or Rally.

Nah… Nascar has the more limited range of motion. You have to put the NFL there.

my... I can think of a lot of guys I know who are so in love with running the ball in the NFL that aren't going to like this!

But if they don't have the stupid egos, they just have to suck it up and admit it. The fact is with the bump rule being called in the NFL now, you pass to win, you run simply to give some balance and that is not what the NFL was not that long ago. In fact in some ways I might say the running game is more important in the Canadian game but not sure why I'm saying that other than I think 3 downs makes it more creative in how you use the run compared with having an extra down. It's how and when you use it.

This is a fantastic thread and almost everyone has made some solid and accurate contributions.

Big backs at ~230 plus who are lead rushers, with plenty of historical precedent since 1970 in the NFL to back up that point, are less common than ever actually in BOTH leagues though it seems there is almost always at least one star/lead rusher who is an exception.

Right now that's Jerome Messam in the CFL and Beanie Wells, Michael Turner, and LeGarrette Blount in the NFL.

I would agree for sure along the lines of some others that a solid starting CFL back has to have more versatility and broader skills too. It's a head-scratcher though that Martell Mallett has not found work in the NFL.

There is a trend at hand in both leagues now though in the use of "running back by committee."

We have seen this all season in Edmonton and Calgary for example well before other teams implemented the scheme perhaps out of necessity to due injury of the starting back.

In the NFL we see the strategy with ball control offences though the league is dominated more than ever by the passing game.

The running game is anything but on the decline in my view.

All the same, the importance of obtaining a top back out of college has diminished. When you pull for example the top rushers for the season so far in the NFL

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only 1 of those with at least 200 yards in four games is a rookie with 3 in their second year. Of these, Blount was not even drafted. Top back last year, Arian Foster as undrafted, also was injured and is not on the list yet.

Note in no particular order the following teams who play ball control offence, if not for years, often using a committee of backs nowadays:

Steelers (historically, but we'll see this year)
Houston (changed from spread offence last year)
Oakland (new offence and leading rusher in the league, Darren McFadden)
San Francisco (new offence)

Interesting. I knew passing was on the rise in the NFL, but I didn't know it was to that extent. I don't know what the overall pass:run ratio is for the CFL, but the ratio on first downs is 61:39 this season, according to Mark Masters ( ... more-49611), not far from the NFL overall average.

The CFL being a passing league isn't really the premise of the thread, anyway. It's just an introductory remark. I was mainly curious about how the rule differences affect the running game itself, rather than the pass:run ratio. I suppose I could ask the same question about the passing game in the CFL, though that's a bit more obvious to me, because of the unlimited backfield motion.

well, depending on how you see that. It without question makes the 4th and one type situations harder because the D can stand up the Oline and make a pile. Going for it on 4th is no gimme that's for sure.

As for on other plays, I am not so sure I agree, nor disagree...undecided on that if you will. The extra step can help the D, but it also give the OL more time to rotate their upper body to deflect a push.

bottom line, if you have a good running game in the CFL, you can be a lot more successful on offense.

because now you have options if your running back can average 5yds per carry. allows you to use more of your playbook instead of having to pass 9 times out of ten when it’s 2nd and 9 or 8…

it’s much better when you can get 4-5 yards or even more on 1st down.

but in the NFL it’s not necessary to get 4-5 yds on a run because you have 2 more downs to get the extra yards anyway.