This is a football phrase used to describe a play which involves running the ball up the field as opposed to passing the ball. As one of the only two basic options for a play call, a running play is typically called about fifty percent of the time, especially on teams with a good offensive line and skilled running backs. On teams with better receivers and a great quarterback, passing plays are called more often than running plays. A running play will typically involve the quarterback handing the ball off to another player, usually a running back, who runs up the field.
Prior to the popularity of passing in the modern game of football, running plays were called much more often, almost seventy-five percent of the time. This was because running backs and other rushers were better, more efficient, and scored more often. Quarterbacks were not as accurate and receivers were not as fast and athletic as they are today. In the modern game, a running play may involve a running back, tail back, half back, or possibly even another quarterback tasked with running the ball on a given play.