2011 Playoff Top Twelve: Running Backs

In continuing the week-long NFL playoff theme of ranking the playoff teams in their respective aspects of the game, today’s Top Twelve will be running backs.  But, it is not individual running backs, it is more the team’s running game.  I tried to incorporate their corps of running backs, their offensive line, and even a bit of the coaching staff’s “commitment to the run.”  The list will have teams with their main running backs in parentheses, but the “analysis” (if you want to even call it that) includes the o-line and offensive scheme, as well.  By the way, I do not put much stake in “NFL rushing rankings” because I think all of those rankings are flawed by (1) such a high variance in game situations (e.g. winning or losing early, weather conditions, etc.) and (2) such a small sample size (16 games) against such varying schedules of opponents.  However, I did include them with the write-ups in an effort of full disclosure.

12). Seattle Seahawks.  (#31 – 89 ypg:  Marshawn Lynch – 573 yards, 3.5 avg; Justin Forsett – 523 yards, 4.4 avg)   Get used to this trend going on here with the Seahawks being ranked #12 in the playoff rankings.  I actually like the Marshawn Lynch pickup, and I am not really that low on Justin Forsett either, but this team has proven all year that they really cannot get anything done on the ground.  It might have to do with the fact that they were often playing from behind, but it might also have to do with the fact that they really just are not very good.  Their o-line is very shaky, and Lynch is a guy that was not even good enough for Buffalo (and any other team that could have traded for him).  The Seahawks were, for the majority of the season, the worst rushing team in the entire NFL (they were “passed” by Arizona in Week 17), so it is hard not to say they are the worst rushing team among the playoff qualifiers. 

11). Indianapolis Colts.  (#29 – 93 ypg:  Donald Brown – 497 yards, 3.9 avg; Joseph Addai – 495 yards, 4.3 avg; Javarris James – 112 yards, 2.4 avg; Mike Hart – 185 yards, 4.3 avg; Dominic Rhodes – 172 yards, 4.6 avg) 

I wonder how many yards I could rush for if I had Peyton reading defenses for me

This might sound a bit odd, but I think the Colts rushing attack is more aided by its quarterback than any other team in the NFL, with the possible exception of the Eagles.  And, no, I am not confused and mistook Peyton Manning for Randall Cunningham.  I know that Peyton is slow and almost awkward when he tries to scramble.  But, he has such a grasp on the defensive formations and his own o-line’s blocking schemes, that I think he calls even better audibles to running plays than he does to passing plays.  Time and time again, I will see him go to the line, step back, change the play, and then just run a simple handoff to a running back that goes 8 yards before he is even touched.  And, that is why, well, the Colts are still at #11 here.  Their running backs stink.  Donald Brown is a decent back, if he is your third-down, change-of-pace kind of guy, but as a lead back?  He is bad.  Joseph Addai is still not healthy, though he did play okay in Weeks 16 & 17, but he is not even that good when healthy.  And, Javarris James, while related to the great Edge, is no Edge.

10). Green Bay Packers.  (#24 – 100 ypg:  Brandon Jackson – 703 yards, 3.7 avg; John Kuhn – 281 yards, 3.3 avg; Aaron Rodgers – 356 yards, 5.6 avg)   I actually debated making this team even lower because I do not think this running attack puts fear into anyone.  But, I think this is just about as low as I can justify putting them because the bottom two teams have proven all year that they just cannot run the ball.  This team, at least, tries to do it.  And, it is not totally their fault, as they lost their workhorse back, Ryan Grant, in Week One.  They have turned to Brandon Jackson, who has been, well, just okay.  He is not a terrible north-south runner.  He hits the holes well, but he does not make anyone miss and is actually a complete non-factor in the passing game.  John Kuhn is a goalline threat, but that is it.  This team will live and die on the passing game.

9). New Orleans Saints.  (#28 – 95 ypg:  Chris Ivory – 716 yards, 5.2 avg; Pierre Thomas – 269 yards, 3.2 avg; Julius Jones – 193 yards, 4.0 avg; Ladell Betts (waived) – 150 yards, 3.3 avg; Reggie Bush – 150 yards, 4.2 avg)  

Does a repeat depend on Reggie's health?

This team cannot run the ball effectively either.  This is a real sign of the change in the league that one-third of the playoff teams have almost completely ineffective running games.  And, there are at least two more on this list whose running games are not exactly “feared” in any way.  This Saints team has been stricken by injuries in the backfield this year, as Reggie Bush missed most of the season with a broken leg and Pierre Thomas has missed most of the season with some sort of mystery injury.  Both are now relatively healthy, which is how I can justify moving this team ahead of the Packers, but they still are not that good, as they still rely on the unproven Chris Ivory and the proven-to-be-bad Julius Jones far too much.  The o-line is okay, but is much better in pass protection that opening up holes for backs.  Like the Colts and Packers, this team will not be knocking people off this month with a hard-nosed running attack.

8). Chicago Bears.  (#22 – 101 ypg:  Matt Forte – 1069 yards, 4.5 avg; Chester Taylor – 267 yards, 2.4 avg; Jay Cutler – 232 yards, 4.6 avg)   I actually really like Matt Forte and Chester Taylor as a 1-2 punch out of the backfield.  I think that, because of this senseless obsession with fantasy football, Matt Forte has become really underrated among the general public because he did not live up to his high fantasy projections last year.  But, the guy is a very good dual-threat running back.  The same goes for Chester Taylor, who was sorely missed on the Vikings this year.  But, all that being said, I think that those two are so good, in large part, because of their ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, and right here, we are only judging rushing attacks.  Also, I think that this team could be a lot higher if they had a different mentality.  Mike Martz does not like dive plays or even off-tackle runs.  He likes to spread the field.  I am not saying that this offense would be better another way; I am just saying that the running attack would be better if they, ya know, actually ran the ball consistently.  But, even with Martz and the gunslinger QB, Cutler, they are still scary on the ground, especially in Chicago in January.

7). Baltimore Ravens.  (#14 – 114 ypg:  Ray Rice – 1220 yards, 4.0 avg; Willis McGahee – 380 yards, 3.8 avg; Joe Flacco – 84 yards, 2.0 avg) 

I hope the movie busted blocks because the real-life "Blind Side" has been a bit of a flop so far

While the bottom five teams pretty much fell into place, I had a lot of trouble trying to order the next three teams.  I went back and forth several times between these three and finally decided that the offensive lines of the other two teams I was considering in this group are just so far superior to the Ravens that they had to be ranked above, even though neither of those teams has anyone with near the ability of a Ray Rice.  The Ravens – and Rice – have actually struggled to run the ball effectively this year.  They are committed to do it with Rice and Willis McGahee, but their yards per rush attempt (3.8) was better than only four NFL teams this year.  Their offensive line has been a disappoinment, and Rice has not really taken that next step in his rushing ability.  McGahee continues to have a nose for the endzone, but has not been much of a factor at all between the twenties.  Even with all the talent in the backfield, this team could struggle this year to generate any consistent running attack against the good playoff defenses they are bound to face in the AFC gauntlet.

6). New York Jets.  (#4 – 148 ypg:  LaDainian Tomlinson – 914 yards, 4.2 avg; Shonn Greene – 766 yards, 4.1 avg) 

I would never count out one of the two best RBs I've ever seen, but LT looks like he's just about done

Yes, I know that this team is #4 in the NFL rushing rankings (with two of the teams ahead of them not making the playoffs), but as I said in the intro, I put very little emphasis on those rankings.  As good as he was in the beginning of the season, it seems as if LdT has hit a real wall.  And, what happened to the Shonn Greene that looked like Michael Turner on steroids in the playoffs last year?  He has been pretty bad this year.  I think this team has really missed Thomas Jones this year (more on Mr. Jones a lot later in this post…if get me).  I do, however, strongly believe in this offensive line.  It will not take much rejuvenation from LdT or Greene because D’Brickashaw (maybe the greatest first name since the invention of the first name) and Company are that good.  The substance on that line is the reason that I even have this team even this high and not down with the bottom-feeders. 

5). New England Patriots.  (#9 – 123 ypg:  BenJarvus Green-Ellis – 1008 yards, 4.4 avg; Danny Woodhead – 547 yards, 5.6 avg) 

He might be best known for his annoyingly overused nickname, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis has had a quietly excellent season

I think one of the most under-reported stories of this season has been the emergence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a legitimate threat out of the backfield for the Patriots.  Green-Ellis, with 80 yards on Sunday, became the first 1000-yard rusher for New England since “Clock-Killin'” Corey Dillon in 2004.  This story was so underreported that I actually had to look it up myself (usually all things Patriots are all over ESPN and the like).  Everyone talks about – and rightfully so – the incredible season for Tom Brady, but Green-Ellis and fellow backfield-mate, Danny Woodhead, seem to get forgotten.  The Pats, for all their successes this decade, have not won a Super Bowl since beating the Eagles six years ago.  That year was, maybe not coincidentally, that same year that Corey Dillon ran for 1,000 yards.  But, this year, the Pats have a serious running attack, and it all starts up front.  As good as Green-Ellis has been, the o-line has just been outstanding.  One of the best run-pass combination lines in football, this Patriots team has committed more to the run and it shows in their ability to open up holes.  This offense is downright terrifying.

(By the way, if you get a chance, go here and select one of the links for the video of Danny Woodhead posing as a Modell’s salesman trying to sell Danny Woodhead Patriots jerseys.  It is pretty entertaining and really makes him out to be a pretty down-to-earth kind of guy.  But, the most telling part of it – for me, at least – is looking at him standing next to regular people.  There is a middle-aged woman who appears to be towering him.  And, yet, this guy has been taking the NFL by storm in the second half of the season.  It is awesome to see, though I am a bit hesitant to start talking about how “anyone can make it – just look at 5’5″ Woodhead.”  That is a bit ridiculous because, though he was not blessed with even average size, he was blessed with off-the-charts athletic ability.  So, it is not like this is your average office worker, who decided to have a go at the NFL.  But, either way, he has been awesome.)  

4). Pittsburgh Steelers.  (#11 – 120 ypg:  Rashard Mendenhall – 1273 yards, 3.9 avg; Isaac Redman – 247 yards, 4.8 avg; Ben Roethlisberger – 176 yards, 5.2 avg)  It was not long until Rashard Mendenhall broke out on the NFL stage.  He is a very talented back, who was drafted by a team that flat-out knows how to run the ball.  Mendenhall, and to a lesser extent Isaac Redman, have held down the fort and compensated for a rather poor offensive line all season.  Throw in the scrambling ability of Big Ben and the strong commitment to the ball-possession running game, and you have got yourself a very, very good rushing attack.  There is a reason that this team went 3-1 (and an overtime game against the Ravens short of 4-0) without its All-Pro quarterback.

3). Atlanta Falcons.  (#12 – 118 ypg:  Michael Turner – 1371 yards, 4.1 avg; Jason Snelling – 324 yards, 3.7 avg; Matt Ryan – 122 yards, 2.7 avg)  I love the Falcons style of play.  They still have a little bit of that “three yards and a cloud of dust” offensive mentality that was so effective for so long in the NFL.  Michael Turner (and his misnomer of a nickname, “The Burner”) is a grueling, hit-you-in-the-face kind of back that lives on wearing down defenses, so that he can punish them in the fourth quarter.  And, when Turner needs a break, they just throw Jason Snelling in there to do more of the same.  Matt Ryan is an okay scrambler, and the offensive line makes up for in size and continuity what it may lack in athleticism.   This is just a grueling team that is very comfortable in that role.

2). Philadelphia Eagles.  (#5 – 145 ypg:  LeSean McCoy – 1080 yards, 5.2 avg; Michael Vick – 676 yards, 6.8 avg; Jerome Harrison – 239 yards, 6.0 avg) 

Is LeSean McCoy the best back no one ever talks about? Either way, he's just another example of the fantastic drafting of our Philadelphia Eagles

Call me homer all you want, but remember that it was just yesterday that I ranked Michael Vick as in the middle of the pack as far as quarterbacks go.  It may be strange to think about, but this Eagles team has a truly elite rushing attack.  In fact, it took every non-homerish bone in my body to keep me from making them number one on this list.  Hear me out.  The Eagles were #1 – BY A MILE – in yards per rush.  They averaged an absolutely mind-boggling 5.4 yards per rush attempt.  The next best were the Oakland Raiders at 4.9.  That means that they were 0.5 yards per rush better than any other team in the NFL, and 0.7 yards per rush more than the next best playoff team, the Chiefs.  To put that in perspective, after the Birds and the Chiefs, the next best playoff team in this stat is New England, who averaged 4.3 yards per rush.  And, 4.3 yards per rush is only 0.7 higher than the WORST team in the NFL (Arizona).  So, the margin between the Eagles and the next best playoff team in this statistic is the same margin as the Patriots (the third best playoff team here) and the worst team in the NFL at rushing efficiency.  That is astronomical.  And, if you want to say, “Ya, well, they still are not running the ball when they have to,” then I will point you to the first Dallas game in Week 14.  The Birds got the ball, up three, with over four minutes to go.  They just handed the ball off to LeSean McCoy repeatedly, who completely iced the game.  They have been running on running downs and still doing it effectively.  The offensive line has had its ups and downs in pass protection, but they have been massive in the running game.  To be honest, I think that I am over-compensating for any possible homerism here by not having the Eagles as #1.  My only rationale for keeping them at #2 is that I am still not convinced that Andy Reid is completely committed to the run, and that some of these stats may be inflated by Michael Vick scrambles – even though, I believe these should be counted as running plays.  And, finally, I think that this team still struggles in goal-line situations.  I am not nearly as confident in them scoring on 3rd-and-Goal at the 1 as I am with the #1 team on this list…

1). Kansas City Chiefs.  (#1 – 164 ypg:  Thomas Jones – 896 yards, 3.7 avg; Jamaal Charles – 1467 yards, 6.4 avg) 

The perfect running back complements - Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones - lead the league's best rushing attack into the playoffs

This rushing attack seemingly has it all.  They have the dynamic, homerun hitter in Jamaal Charles, and the tough, experienced, “get you 3 yards when your season depends on getting 2” guy in Thomas Jones.  They also have a stark commitment to the run and an offensive line big and tough enough to dominate.  Again, I think that I am catering to my fear of homerism here, as I think the Eagles combination of McCoy and Vick is more scary, more dynamic, and probably better than Charles and Jones, but I cannot go against this rushing attack because I have been a believer all year in these two.  And, as I said above, on 3rd-and-Goal (or even 3rd-and-1 in the middle of the field), this team picks up the yards.  The Eagles do not have a Thomas Jones to lean on when they absolutely need 2 yards.  But, it is very close – and that is saying something when you are talking about an Andy Reid team.

This entry was posted in Top Twelve and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to 2011 Playoff Top Twelve: Running Backs

  1. Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your post seem
    to be running off the screen in Chrome. I’m not
    sure if this is a format issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I figured I’d post
    to let you know. The design and style look great though!

    Hope you get the issue resolved soon. Thanks

  2. Hurrah! At last I got a webpage from where
    I be able to truly obtain useful facts regarding
    my study and knowledge.

  3. luotto says:

    I have read so many content on the topic of
    the blogger lovers but this piece of writing is actually a fastidious piece of writing,
    keep it up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *