Running Backwards in the NFL: What Happened the Rushing Threats of Last Season?

With this season of injuries and surprises, this is one question that is begging to be asked.  With the New York  Jets LaDanian Tomlinson making an earlier comeback in the season, he has demonstrated he still has some legs. But threats of last season vanished this season for the most part.  Most of it is due to game planning, but I believe the NFL has evolved into a pure West Coast Offense, depending on running backs more as receivers and screens.  The game planning of the NFL is no longer the ground and pound of the good old days.  Heck, even a couple of years ago with the Chicago Bears and their power duo of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson.

Starting with the Miami Dolphins, the once potent running back Ronnie Brown of last season has simply disappeared off the Dolphins offense.  He was integral part of the offense last year, running with power and speed.  In the game against the Tennessee Titans, he did get another touchdown, but he had 12 attempts for 11 yards. True, the Dolphins have a playmaker in wide receiver Brandon Marshall, but he can only do so much. The Dolphins won the game, but was won by tight end Anthony Fosano and their kicker Dan Carpenter.  Ronnie Brown didn’t play such a major part of this offense.

With the Jacksonville Jaguars, this has been the second game that Maurice Jones-Drew actually produced on the ground. I think it helped they were playing at home, quarterback David Garrard was at home, and it was against their rival Houston Texans.  It was the second time he got over 100 yards on the ground and scored a rushing touchdown, actually two of them.  If he can get started over the next few games, he may be able to redeem himself as a potent rushing threat.  The New York Giants and the Tennessee Titans won’t make that easy however.

With the Dallas Cowboys, it has been the tandem of Felix Jones and Marion Barber. They used to be the 1-2 punch from the Cowboys over last year.  Some of it has been Wade Phillips from over the season, and the general malaise the team had.  However, underneath new head coach Jason Garrett, both of these running backs are still being used as receivers, more than rushers.  Felix Jones made an astronomical run on the New York Giants during the third quarter from a pass from Jon Kitna, but he had only 44 yards rushing. Felix Jones has become a victim of the West Coast offense.

But as these NFL teams transitioning into a pure West Coast offense, running backs with 100 yards plus on the ground may become a dying species.  Most of these running backs have transformed into secondary receivers off screens and such. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and Denver Broncos Knowshown Moreno can testify to these changes.  Some teams have kept the old school power running back, like the Cleveland Browns with Peyton Hillis.  But I think in a few more years down the road, it could be over.

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