Thomas Rawls Rushing Yards Prediction

It is 5AM on Sunday. What better to do than use my remedial math skills combined with a pinch of gut instinct to predict how many rushing yards our new hero Thomas Rawls will have today in a big game against the Steelers? Nothing. There is nothing better to do.

Let’s begin

The Steelers run defense comes into the game ranked 6th in the NFL in yards allowed at 93.0 rush yards per game. As I have previously detailed, that ranking is inflated by opposing offenses choosing to pass the ball against their hideous pass defense. For our purposes this morning, I wanted to see how that rush defense did relative to the rush offenses they faced.

Opp RushY vs PIT Opp Avg Rush Yds +/- Rush Avg
New England Patriots 80 92 -12
San Francisco 49ers 111 100.1 10.9
St. Louis Rams 71 126 -55
Baltimore Ravens 191 97.9 93.1
San Diego Chargers 52 82 -30
Arizona Cardinals 55 119.7 -64.7
Kansas City Chiefs 138 120.9 17.1
Cincinnati Bengals 78 113.6 -35.6
Oakland Raiders 139 97.3 41.7
Cleveland Browns 15 75.6 -60.6

The Steelers have faced 10 opponents with an aggregate rushing average of 102.5 yards per game. They have held those opponents, on average, 9.5 yards below their normal output. That means teams usually put up about 91% of their typical rushing totals against Pittsburgh. Keep those 9.5 yards and 91% numbers tucked away for future math silliness.

The Thomas Rawls Affair

Rawls has had his own impact on the Seahawks running game and on opposing defenses. First, let’s look at how the Seahawks rushing totals in the four Rawls starts compared to the averages of the rush defenses they faced.

Opp Seahawks RushY Opp Avg Rush Yds Allowed +/- Rush Avg
Chicago Bears 159 128.5 30.5
Detroit Lions 110 112.5 -2.5
Cincinnati Bengals 200 100.4 99.6
San Francisco 49ers 255 126.2 128.8

The Seahawks have outpaced their aggregate opponent average rush yards allowed (116.9) by 64.1 yards in the games Rawls starts. You can see that the Seahawks have not faced a rush defense that looks as statistically strong as the Steelers when Rawls starts. That is more than a little deceiving. Cincinnati, for example, has allowed 89.3 rushing yards per game in the nine games when they were not facing Rawls and the Seahawks.

Rawls was not responsible for every one of those rushing yards. He has been as high as 84.5% of the rush total (vs CIN), and as low as 43.6% (vs DET). Overall, he has accounted for 73.2% of the Seahawks rushing yards in the games he has started.

Projecting his total rushing yards vs Pittsburgh

There are a few different ways we could take these numbers and try to predict Rawls rushing total against the Steelers. 
First, remember that the Steelers allowed opponents an average of 9.5 yards per game less than their combined rushing average, and the Seahawks averaged a 64.1 yards per game more than their opponents defensive rushing average when Rawls started. For pure simplicity and curiosity, let’s average those two numbers (-9.5 and 64.1). We wind up with 27.3 yards.
Those numbers are both relative to the average rushing yards allowed by the defense. If you apply that number to the Steelers average of 93.0 rushing yards allowed per game, you get 120.3 rushing yards projects for the Seahawks today. Now we figure that Rawls accounts for an average of 73.2% of the Seahawks rushing totals in his starts, and you wind up with…88 yards rushing for Rawls.
That sounds reasonable. We could stop there, but where is the fun in that? 
Remember that the Steelers held opponents to about 91% of their average rushing totals. Well, we know the Seahawks average rushing total is 148.6 yards per game, so why don’t we just multiple 148.6 by 91% and see what we get? That gets us 134.8 yards. Apply the Rawls percentage of that, and now we get a projected total of 99 yard rushing for Rawls. 
That seems plausible as well. But something feels a bit off about that. The team has averaged far more than 148.6 yards in the games Rawls has started, so why penalize him for those games? The team averaged 181 yards rushing when Rawls started. Take 91% of that, and you get 164 total rushing yards projected for Seattle versus Pittsburgh. Multiply that by Rawls’ portion (73.2%), and you get 120 yards rushing for Rawls.
So, Thomas Rawls will finish with either 88, 99, or 120 yards rushing today, or something completely different. You can bet on it.

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