NFL offenses have changed over the last decade. For example, let’s say your team is facing a 3rd-and-2. What are the chances the offense runs the ball? Years ago, it seemed more than likely, now that isn’t the case.
The NFL today has adapted to the passing game, where dinky three-yard completions are of high percentage.
Upon the transformation of the current NFL, running backs have regressed. Workhorses are no longer emphasized and the current shelf life of them seems to get younger and younger.
Not to mention that the draft can find quality starters throughout the rounds or even undrafted. Ahmad Bradshaw, DeMarco Murray, LeSean McCoy and the trio of Redskins runners; none of which were selected in the first round.
Additionally, about half of the franchises around the league have adopted either a two-running back system or by committee. (Redskins, Giants, Cowboys, Packers, Lions, Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers, 49ers, Rams, Cardinals, Patriots, Jets, Bills, Texans, Chiefs and the Broncos.)
Typically, teams in multiple-back situations have personnel that have a different strength. One could be a short-yardage back, one is the best on third down or another can be great in pass protection.
Either way, front offices league wide have found roles for backs and they can only be utilized in that specific skill. So where does that leave the Redskins' running back chart?
As of now, there’s Evan Royster, Roy Helu, Jr., Tim Hightower and the emerging Alfred Morris. They all can do something different too. Royster is great in pass protection and can pick up solid yardage; Helu is the unit’s best playmaker and pass catcher; Hightower is good in goal-line situations and a receiver out of the backfield; and Morris looks like that downhill, short-yardage guy.
Is this enough for the offense? My answer is yes. Although I really like the potential talent of the four players, none of them are going to be Pro Bowlers. I’m fine with that.
Let’s look at the previous Super Bowl winners: Giants (Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs were decent last season), Packers (James Starks and Ryan Grant were decent as well), Saints (Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush were OK) and the Steelers (Willie Parker lead the team in rushing with 791 yards, via profootball-reference.com).
So what does that tell you? To me, it shows that we don’t need Chris Johnson, Arian Foster or Adrian Peterson giving the offense over 1,500 rushing yards.
Am I slightly undervaluing the importance of a running game? You could say that. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more deflating to an opposing defense than bleeding out the clock and dominating the time of possession. However, that can be remedied with high-percentage passes.
In regard to the Redskins, Mike Shanahan has been able to find running backs from anywhere. In Denver and in Washington, Shanny has discovered productive backs almost every year. With that being considered, we certainly have expectations for this year’s crop of running backs, but Shanahan has been incredibly unpredictable; thus damning avid fantasy football users like myself.
After two full seasons under his belt, he now has the team that he has hand picked. Royster, Helu and Morris all were drafted, and Hightower was traded here for relatively nothing.
What I have observed over the past couple years is that he’ll pick a running back for that game and stick with him. Sometimes for too long; remember Ryan Torain last year? Awful. What I would prefer is to find a way to utilize at least three of them throughout every game.
Put Hightower in on third downs, let Evan Royster run the clock down and give Helu more opportunities to make plays. I don’t see why they all can’t coexist on a game-by-game basis. If Alfred Morris continues his success this preseason, then I would find a way to keep four of them on the roster.
This approach will keep all of them fresh throughout the year and have defenses prepare for multiple running styles.
I have a tendency to think out loud (which is exactly what I’m doing currently), however, I’m still buying into the running back-by-committee approach.
Say what you want about Mike Shanahan and Co., but this is his wheelhouse. He knows what he is doing in the rushing attack, and there should be no reason why they can’t improve upon last season, even though Helu’s lingering injuries and Hightower’s knee scare me.
As we are closing in on Robert Griffin’s professional debut, the running attack is going to have a major role in keeping the face of the franchise at bay.
A running game is a rookie quarterback’s best friend, and offensive linemen take pride in creating lanes for their playmakers.
If the Redskins want to become successful this season, they are going to need help from all of them. Again, it doesn’t need to be record breaking, but a reliable component of an offense that might finally be dangerous.