THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FADING BACKFIELD: COMMUNITY VERSUS ELITE
By Saif Khan, Spetember 19th, 2014
Take a look at the NFL these days. You don’t really see too many teams positioning their offenses around single star running backs as was seen back in the day when you had guys like Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Marshall Faulk, LaDanian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis, Ahman Green and so many other star names leading the backfield of teams. In recent seasons, many NFL teams have shifted to having a community of backs rather than just one elite star rusher. Given, there has been more injuries, more so in the recent years, however I still feel that more teams are becoming more and more comfortable running with two to three running backs. So the question arises, is this a good strategy going forward or is it better to have an every down back and only have backups when needed?
When answering these questions, both sides need to be looked at. One would have to look at a team/teams that have a star running back, who is the backbone of the team vs. the ones that don’t feel the need and are quite content using a community of backs in a pass heavy league. The first team example using one back effectively is the Kansas City Chiefs. Jamaal Charles is the running back for the Kansas City Chiefs. When I say running, I mean running! This team uses him for rushing, catching, blocking, you name it! This guy delivers. The Chiefs are a strong all around team but they know that without Charles running for them every down, it may be a different story. In the 2013 NFL season, Charles rushed for 1,287 yards. His receiving yards topped the roster as well at 693 yards receiving. I rest my case. Jamaal Charles means pretty much everything to Kansas City’s offensive scheme. This season (2014), Charles is dealing with some minor on-going injuries so I guess the downside of this strategy may have finally caught up with the KC Chiefs.
Lets look at the other side, an example of having a back not used effectively. The second team that comes to mind is the 2013 struggling Minnesota Vikings with a halfback that doesn’t need much or any introduction, Adrian Peterson. In his career, AP has run for 10,115 yards. He put up 1,266 yards itself in 2013. The year before that, Peterson ran for a little over 2000 yards. 2013 average yards per game was 90+yds. You can’t tell me that those numbers aren’t something teams aren’t threatened by and aren’t thinking about every time they have to match up their rush defenses against. So the point has been made that this guy is a star of the backfield.
Now lets look at the team that is running him. The Vikings dealt with, for lack of a better word, a lot last season. QB struggles and question marks, Wide Receiver gaps, Weak Tight End…Man that looks terrible on paper! They went through QBs like candy, but lets leave that for another article. Even with all the struggles, the Vikings were able to depend on AP. They just needed to give him the ball and let him do the rest, but here is where the problems arose. The QBs that he had handing him the ball were below average, not to mention the offensive line wasn’t impressive either. Here is a situation where having one star running back fell short because he wasn’t being used effectively for the simple reason of passing attacks being the main focus when it comes to offense these days. Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and unprepared Josh Freeman were on the field trying to prove their worth as the next franchise QB for the Vikings and in result, AP didn’t get the touches he should have and when there should have been a lot more rushing, there was under-par passing. Unfortunately, AP’s off field behavior has created such a stir that his future is uncertain.
Time to look at the other side of the coin, teams using a community of backs. United In Orange…you guessed it, The Denver Broncos. The Denver Broncos have been extremely open about how content they are with giving a team of running backs the ability to take the field and prove their worth. Last season, the Denver Broncos had Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball and even low on the depth chart, C.J. Anderson rushing. Yes, I know the common argument is when you have Peyton Manning (PFM!!!) as your quarterback, who needs a running back??? The answer is in the question. Peyton Manning is getting up there in age and actually depends on his RBs a lot.
A running back has many roles and having a good one actually makes a difference. In this situation, backs behind Peyton, act as ‘security blankets’. If you remember last season, Knowshon Moreno (now with the Miami Dolphins) was Manning’s go to passing back. Moreno gave Manning his check-down security. Most of the time, Moreno would save Manning when no one was open. Actually, Manning used him a lot even when he didn’t have to. Knowshon also was known for his pass protection skills and threw in some great blocks to protect his QB.
Now here is where the disadvantage, of rushing with a community, comes into play. When Moreno was rushing really well and had a lot of momentum as games progressed, it was halted by a constant obligation to involve the other RBs in some way or another. Yes I agree between exhausting plays, you have to rest your starting back, but they did this when Moreno was ready to burst through defenses. The Broncos definitely paid for this when they were seeing costly fumbles happen in games. A 2013 example…hmmm…remember the 24-7 lead the Broncos had over the New England Patriots? After Montee Ball fumbled, that lead was carelessly trimmed down. Ohhh yeah, who could forget Hillman’s fumble on the 3yd line against the Colts? The Broncos were on the verge of a comeback and this fumble not only ruined that opportunity, it ended in a loss.
There may be many arguments for or against rushing with a community versus centralizing an entire offense around an elite RB. I guess it all depends on whether or not you believe rushing is still important to the game. For me, having an effective RB allows a QB the ability to breathe for one or two plays and still move forward on the field. Also, poses a threat to teams that have amazing pass defenses. Different situations and systems may call for different things. Having a below average QB, average WRs, these would be situations when teams may have to depend on rushing to win games. Whether that being with one star or a community, I’ll leave that up for you to decide…