Date of Completion

Spring 5-1-2017

Thesis Advisor(s)

Thomas Miceli

Honors Major



Behavioral Economics | Econometrics | Economic Theory | Other Economics


In this paper I attempt to answer the question of whether or not teams in the National Football League (NFL) rush less with a better running back. This seems counterintuitive, but game theory supposes that this is true. Defenses facing a better running back will generally expect the offense to rush more and therefore defend the run more often. The offense, foreseeing the defense’s actions, will choose to pass more to counteract the run defense. This is the basis of the difference between the strategic effect and the direct effect in mixed strategies. The direct effect is when a player takes an improved strategy more often. The strategic effect is when a player takes an improved strategy less often. I attempt to verify the game theory assumption that the strategic effect dominates the direct effect by analyzing data from all 32 NFL teams over 14 seasons. The data measures offenses’ play selection, rushing efficiency, passing efficiency, and ratings for running backs, quarterbacks, and offensive lines. After running regressions and analyzing specific cases, the results show that game theory is incorrect and the direct effect dominates the strategic effect. Teams rush more often with a higher rated running back than with a lower rated running back.