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If your RB has 20 carries, you just might win

Posted by Chase Stuart on August 17, 2007

We've all heard a sports analyst say "Team A is 19-1 when RB X has 20 or more carries in a game", as if giving RB X twenty carries in a game is what causes the team to win. While it's clear that the causation runs the other way, I was curious what exactly were the average winning percentages that correlated with a certain number of carries in a game.

The table below displays the winning percentages from all games in the past decade, when a team's leading running back in that game (as measured by number of carries) had X number of carries:


#Car Gm Win Win%
39+ 10 9 0.900
38 8 7 0.875
37 13 11.5 0.885
36 18 17 0.944
35 10 8.5 0.850
34 23 21 0.913
33 28 24 0.857
32 37 33 0.892
31 72 63 0.875
30 72 57 0.792
29 73 64 0.877
28 99 79 0.798
27 120 96.5 0.804
26 164 126 0.768
25 151 114 0.755
24 198 143 0.722
23 213 142 0.667
22 267 175 0.655
21 267 171 0.640
20 270 151.5 0.561

Rudi Johnson tops the list with a 43-carry game in week 10 of the 2003 season, a 34-27 victory over the Texans. The one loss at the top occurred in 1999 when Ricky Williams rushed 40 times for 179 yards, but the Saints still fell to the Browns, 21-16. Cleveland was involved with the one 38-carry outlier, too. In 2004, Lee Suggs rushed for "only" 143 yards on 38 carries in a 10-7 loss to Miami.

When a RB gets "only" 25 carries, that's a pretty good sign that his team is going to win. RBs with exactly 25 carries were on teams that won three out of every four games, but RBs with 20 carries only were on the winning team 56% of the time. While announcers often use the "20 carry rule", it seems like 25 might be the true magic number.

Let's break that table down into some more manageable tiers, though:


#Car GM Win Win%
35+ 59 53 0.898
30-34 232 198 0.853
25-29 607 479.5 0.790
20-24 1215 782.5 0.644

I don't think there's anything groundbreaking in the data, although it's nice to get some empirical evidence. If a team is giving its RB thirty-five or more carries in a game, chances are that: 1) that team is winning and/or going to win; and 2) it's a pretty close game. Thirty-three of the 59 games were decided by seven points or less, and only six involved 20-point victories. It makes sense that you'd only keep riding your star RB if it's a close game.

For what it's worth, when a team has a RB get 20 or more carries in a game, that team has won 71.6% of its games over the past ten years. I'm not sure what I would have guessed, but at least it gives me some baseline against which to compare. So the next time an announcer mentions that the Chargers are 37-18 when Tomlinson gets 20 or more carries, I'll know that that rate isn't very successful at all.

Doubling up
Only four times in the past decade has a team had two RBs get 20 carries in the same game. In week sixteen this year, Deuce McAllister (27-108) and Reggie Bush (20-126) led the Saints to a 30-7 victory over the Giants, while DeShaun Foster (28-102) and DeAngelo Williams (21-82) helped the Chris Weinke-led Panthers beat the Falcons, 10-7. Also in week 16 but this time in 2002, Ladell Betts (20-116) and Kenny Watson (20-110) carried the Redskins to victory over the expansion Texans, 26-10. Three years earlier, the Bills performed the same feat against the Redskins, with Antowain Smith (20-68) and the unforgettable Jonathon Linton (24-96) helping Buffalo double up Washington, 34-17.

Individual RBs

How do the individual RBs fare? Here are the 25 RBs with the most 20-carry games from 1997 to 2006. Note: for players like Curtis Martin, this is not a career list, since they were active before 1997.


player #gms #wins Win%
Antowain Smith 29 24 0.828
Edgerrin James 81 67 0.827
Ahman Green 46 38 0.826
Eddie George 68 55 0.809
Warrick Dunn 34 27.5 0.809
Jamal Lewis 50 40 0.800
Marshall Faulk 39 31 0.795
Terrell Davis 34 27 0.794
Jerome Bettis 58 45 0.776
Deuce McAllister 35 27 0.771
Rudi Johnson 33 25 0.758
Ricky Watters 32 24 0.750
Tiki Barber 46 34 0.739
Priest Holmes 41 30 0.732
Shaun Alexander 59 43 0.729
Stephen Davis 47 33 0.702
Thomas Jones 30 21 0.700
Ricky Williams 47 32 0.681
LaDainian Tomlinson 55 37 0.673
Curtis Martin 83 55 0.663
Emmitt Smith 49 32 0.653
Fred Taylor 61 38 0.623
Clinton Portis 41 25 0.610
Corey Dillon 57 34 0.596
Travis Henry 32 17 0.531

Travis Henry just barely breaks .500 when he gets 20 carries in a game, despite being on pretty decent teams for his career. In 20+ carry games, his teams went 2-1 in 2001, 5-3 in 2002, 6-5 in 2003, 0-3 in 2004, 0-0 in 2005, and 4-3 last season. Henry's teams actually lost five straight games from 2003-2006 when he had 20+ carries, losing by 17, 3, 3, 14 and 3. It's not too surprising seem Smith and James on top of the list here, as they've been on two of the winningest teams of the last half-decade.

I'm not sure if there's much else to learn from this list, but at least you'll have something to refer to next time you see a RB get his 20th carry of the game.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 17th, 2007 at 12:00 am and is filed under General, Statgeekery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.