A Solid Running Game Makes a World of Difference
In the National Football League, effectively running the football can be the difference between an average team to a great team. Today’s NFL is a passing league but there has to be some kind of run game to provide a balance to the offense.
The Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots are known for Tom Brady and his passing attack. But the Patriots understand the importance of running the football. They ranked 7th in rushing yards, and 5th in rush touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount – a big, bruising back – led the running back group with 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns. Ironically – Blount has played for both the Tennessee Titans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Teams having to show respect to both the pass and the run prevents an offensive unit from become predictable and one-dimensional.
Below is a table illustrating what the Tennessee Titans running back stables were able to produce in 2015 and 2016.
What a difference a year makes, right? DeMarco Murray had more total yards and touchdowns in the Titans “exotic smashmouth” approach. He had a comeback season and helped put Tennessee on the NFL map.
Rookie addition Derrick Henry proved he is going to big a sledgehammer and really began to have a better feel for the speed of the NFL game. Contributions of both Murray and Henry opened up some opportunities in the passing game.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a top 5 rushing team in 2015. Doug Martin showed out, earning a Pro Bowl nod and a new 5 year, $35.75 million dollar contract extension.
Martin wasn’t the same in 2016, and the Buccaneers finished 24th in total rush yards. Jacquizz Rodgers was the new addition to their running back stable, and he led the team in rushing yards.
The Buccaneers were a dominant rush team in 2015 and the Titans run game was obsolete. Poor offensive line play (which will be discussed in Part 5) crippled the Titans as no teams showed any respect to the run.
The Titans were one-dimensional and really only had one player in the passing game that defenses had to show respect to in mismatch nightmare, Delanie Walker.
Tampa Bay – on the other hand – had Mike Evans wreaking havoc, stacking yards and stretching the field, which opened up things for the run game.
Things changed a year later. The 2015 Titans and Buccaneers were polar opposites in terms of production in the run game. In 2016, it was the Titans that produced a 1,000+ yards season.
In 2016, the Titans doubled their rushing touchdowns and demanded respect. The passing game didn’t get quite the boost as expected as the team finished ranked 25th in 2015 and Tied for 25th with the Green Bay Packers.
This is primarily due to teams not respecting the level of talent the Titans had at the receiver position. No Titans receiver demanded attention in comparison to the focus placed on Evans.
What will Year 3 Yield?
Titans GM Jon Robinson was busy in the offseason in addressing the receiver talent. He could afford to, due to having his QB, RBs, TE, and OLine set on the offensive side of the ball. He added receiving targets in Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Eric Decker that should command respect. If the running game in Nashville stays consistent, this offense could be one of the NFL most dynamic.
The Buccaneers are hoping their running game can rebound from last season and return to form. DeSean Jackson will help open up things by helping Evans stretch the field. 5th Round Rookie RB Jeremy McNichols produced at the college level despite having average size and the Bucs are counting on him to help out.
Both teams invested in their offense. If the running game can be productive, both offenses could flourish.