Week 3 Report Card for All Starting RBs

Robert HoffmanCorrespondent ISeptember 26, 2011

Week 3 Report Card for All Starting RBs

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    Despite further erosion of the ground game across the NFL, there were some impressive Week 3 performances by the league's starting running backs.

    These performances also included what these running backs contributed in the passing game, which was often impressive.

    One notable missing name from the list is the Cleveland Browns' Peyton Hillis. The former Arkansas Razorback and Pro Bowl runner was sent home with strep throat and fever symptoms.

    Hillis had 54 touches in the first two weeks of the season, including 94 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Colts in Week 2.

    Each team has been assigned a grade based on how their starting running back performed this week.

    Also, I took into account if a team officially started one player, but then quickly went to another runner who was technically going to get most of the carries in the first place. In this instance, the runner with the majority of the carries will account for most of the grade.

1. Oakland Raiders: Darren McFadden

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    McFadden is sure making up for the initial slow start to his NFL career. On Sunday, McFadden rushed for 171 yards on 19 carries in the Raiders' 34-24 win over the New York Jets.

    Additionally, it was his 70-yard bolt with the Raiders trailing 17-7 that should make the league take notice. The former star from Arkansas has that top-end speed back from his college days.

    So far in 2011, he has carried the ball 61 times for 393 yards (best in the NFL with a 6.4-yard-per-carry average).

    The only thing tempering Raiders fans excitement about their bell-cow back is that he reportedly exited the Jets game with a groin injury.

    Grade: A+

2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew

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    Poor "Pocket Hercules."

    The 5'7", 208-pound bowling ball just keeps rolling and yet his team is awful. He really deserves better. This week the Jaguars fell 16-10 to the woeful Carolina Panthers despite Jones-Drew's 24 carries for 122 yards.

    Jones-Drew did break off a 39-yard run, but did not score any touchdowns which lowers his grade just a bit.

    Unfortunately, while the Jags break in a RAW rookie quarterback in Blaine Gabbert (12-for-21 with 139 yards passing, albeit in awful weather conditions), Jones-Drew is going to get a lot of carries without a lot of chances for reward in terms of scoring opportunities.

    Grade: A

3. Miami Dolphins: Daniel Thomas

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    Thomas carried the ball 23 times for 95 yards. He also caught three passes for 27 yards and a 10-yard touchdown.

    Thomas, a rookie, is one of the players I referred to in the introduction. Technically, Reggie Bush is the starter, but he clearly has been replaced by the former Kansas State Wildcat. Bush carried the ball 11 times for a measly 24 yards and also had a costly fumble that likely cost Miami points.

    Thomas did miss a block that got Chad Henne sacked by linebacker Chris Gocong for an eight-yard loss.

    Still, he runs hard to the hole and rarely takes a loss. He is one of the few bright spots on an abysmal Miami team that inexplicably lost to a below-average Cleveland Browns squad that is now 2-1 on the season.

    Grade: B+

4. Philadelphia Eagles: LeSean McCoy

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    On the surface, one looks at LeSean McCoy's 24 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown and says he must have had a great game.

    This is where the devil is in the details.

    The Eagles failed to punch the ball into the end zone twice in goal-line situations. In the first situation, McCoy had two chances to get in from the 3-yard line and couldn't. Later in the game, head coach Andy Reid didn't even call McCoy's number instead going to fullback Owen Schmitt who could not convert.

    However, the most damning play might have been McCoy's decision to go laterally on a 4th-and-1 at the Giants' 43. The failed conversion led to New York's go-ahead score and eventual 29-16 victory.

    Grade: C+

5. Houston Texans: Ben Tate

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    Another solid running effort in a loss. Notice a trend here?

    Tate carried the ball 19 times for 82 yards but arguably would have had bigger numbers if the Texans didn't get involved in a 40-33 aerial shootout with the Saints.

    Houston had four drives inside the 20-yard line that ended in field goals. On three of those drives, you have to wonder if the Texans shouldn't have fed Tate the ball more often.

    Grade: B+

6. New York Giants: Ahmad Bradshaw

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    The clear lesson with Bradshaw in the team's victory over the Eagles was that less sometimes equals more.

    Bradshaw only had carried the ball 15 times for 86 yards and was below 10 carries for much of the game.

    However, he also caught five passes for 53 yards and an 18-yard touchdown grab to put the game on ice. In today's NFL it's often better when your running back(s) (Brandon Jacobs also had a 40-yard touchdown catch) can be effective as a change of pace rather than the focal point of an offense.

    Grade: A

7. New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram

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    Mark Ingram has been just pedestrian as the earliest running back taken in the 2011 NFL draft. The former Alabama tailback has rushed for just 129 yards on 36 carries. Against the Texans, he had just nine carries for 38 yards, but he also ran for the game-winning 13-yard score.

    Ingram has yet to offer anything in the passing game, and with Drew Brees running the show in New Orleans, he has to make the most of limited opportunities, which might not be his forte. Ingram would seem to be the kind of back who gets stronger with the more carries he gets. That's a problem in this offense.

    Grade: C (without the touchdown it's a D)

8. Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice

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    Ho-hum, just another all-around effort by the Baltimore Ravens running back. He had eight carries for 79 yards and caught five catches for 83 more, for a total of 162 yards of offense.

    When healthy, Ray Rice is one of the most valuable running backs in the game. Who knows what kind of numbers Rice might have put up if the Ravens weren't already in 21-0 cruise-control mode after the first quarter on their way to a 37-7 pasting of the winless Rams?

    Grade: A

9. St. Louis Rams: Cadillac Williams

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    Williams had a decent day with 18 carries for 75 yards, but there are two realities the Rams need to face here. Cadillac does not replace what a healthy Stephen Jackson brings to the table, and when you are down 21-0 after the first quarter, the running game becomes an afterthought.

    Grade: C

10. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall

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    I thought this was the year that Rashard Mendenhall broke out into an elite NFL running back.

    Through three games, I couldn't be more wrong.

    In a 23-20 nail-biter of a victory against the Indianapolis Colts, Mendenhall ran the ball 18 times for only 37 yards. He only has 148 yards rushing on the season and doesn't seem to have the burst he exhibited at times in 2010.

    Ben Roethlisberger might be able to bail out the Steelers a lot of the time with an emerging superstar receiver in Mike Wallace (five catches for 144 yards and a touchdown), but Pittsburgh is going to need more from the running game if they expect to compete with the elite teams in the conference.

    Grade: F

11. Indianapolis Colts: Joseph Addai

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    Addai came to play on Sunday night. Not only did he rack up 86 yards on 17 carries, but watch the video of his six-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 20 in the fourth quarter. This is a player running hard and not wanting his team to fall to 0-3. Unfortunately, Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter does not a quarterback make.

    Grade: A-

12. Cleveland Browns: Montario Hardesty

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    Hardesty's 14 carries for 67 yards aren't going to convince Cleveland fans to hold off on the chicken soup to help heal regular Pro Bowl starter Peyton Hillis, but Hardesty clearly played a role in the Browns' 17-16 win over the Dolphins.

    He helped set up Cleveland's first two scores and had a 10-yard reception on a crucial 4th-and-4 on the team's final drive that ended in the game-winning touchdown pass to Mohamed Massaquoi.

    Grade: B+

13. New York Jets: Shonn Greene

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    The good news for Shonn Greene is that he had his highest rushing total of the year.

    The bad news is that it was still only 59 yards and Greene is still averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season. Despite a good offensive line, at least on paper, the Jets can't run the ball. Backup LaDainian Tomlinson has been just as ineffective with 62 rushing yards all season.

    Against the Raiders, the lack of a running game for a team built on the run was a huge factor in the loss.

    Grade: F

14. Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson

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    Want more proof that the running game as we knew it is largely dead?

    Arguably the league's best back in Adrian Peterson rushed 17 times for 78 yards and a touchdown, but it hardly mattered as the Vikings squandered a 20-point first-half lead in a 26-23 loss to the Detroit Lions.

    Peterson rushed for just five yards in the second half on five carries. In the old NFL, a team with a running back like Peterson would have likely been able to milk the clock and hold that big of a league. Now, double-digit comebacks are commonplace.

    Grade: C

15. New England Patriots: BenJarvus Green-Ellis

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    Green-Ellis is in a no-win situation, at least statistically. The Patriots only run the football to give quarterback Tom Brady an occasional breather. They also are more than content to split carries among Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead. Hence, Green-Ellis rushed just nine times for 16 yards.

    What this means for the rest of the league is that a team that creates turnovers (no easy task) has a shot against New England because they are one-dimensional and can't bleed the clock.

    Brady threw four interceptions against Buffalo and surprise, the Bills overcame a 21-0 deficit to win 34-31.

    Grade: D

16. Buffalo Bills: Fred Jackson

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    Jackson was a beast for the Bills and one of the primary reasons this team is now 3-0.

    He might have only carried the ball 12 times but he had 74 yards rushing and a touchdown that tied the game at 24. Just as importantly, he pulled down five catches for 87 yards.

    His 38-yard catch on a slant set up Buffalo's winning score.

    Need I say more?

    Grade: A+

17. San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore

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    Right before the start of the season, Gore signed a three-year extension for $21 million.

    Gore carried 17 times for 42 yards in the 49ers 13-8 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. On the season he has 59 carries for just 148 yards. That's a 2.5-yard-per-carry average.

    The bottom line is that injuries—most recently an ankle sprain suffered on Sunday—and mileage are signaling the end to his career, which makes San Francisco's investment a really bad business decision.

    Backup Kendall Hunter had the game-winning touchdown with a seven-yard dash, but his other eight carries totaled only 19 yards.

    Grade: F

18. Detroit Lions: Jahvid Best

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    Best is the best example of why you have to consider running backs for both their running and receiving skills.

    On the ground, Best gained 14 yards on 12 carries. Dreadful.

    But, he also caught five passes for 74 yards, including a 60-yard catch and run that set up a five-yard touchdown grab by Calvin Johnson and pulled the Lions to within three points.

    Grade: B-

19. Carolina Panthers: Jonathan Stewart/D'Angelo Williams

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    I have to consider Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams co-starters since they both had 10 carries in the team's monsoon-soaked 16-10 win over the Jaguars.

    Stewart was much more effective with 59 yards, while Williams only had 18. This can't be extremely surprising since a power back is likely going to do better than a speed back in these weather conditions.

    Grade: C

20. Green Bay Packers: Ryan Grant

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    Grant's 17 carries for 92 yards in the Packers 27-17 victory over the Chicago Bears is nothing less than impressive statistical numbers.

    One thing to keep an eye on however. Grant was extremely impressive through the third quarter when he had piled up 84 yards.

    In the fourth quarter, in crunch time, Green Bay still had to rely on Aaron Rodgers' arm and primarily their defense to hold on for the win. Grant only had eight yards in the final 15 minutes.

    Grade: B

21. Kansas City Chiefs: Thomas Jones/Dexter McCluster

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    Unfortunately for the Chiefs, since Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles went down with a torn ACL in Week 2, the team has had to fall back on a committee of Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster.

    Jones lugged the ball 14 times for 31 yards. McCluster was slightly better with nine carries for 45 yards.

    Kansas City lost to San Diego 20-17 to stay winless in 2011.

    Grade: D

22. Cincinnati Bengals: Cedric Benson

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    Benson put up average numbers with 64 yards on 17 carries, which pretty much sums up Benson as a running back: average.

    There were only 454 total net yards in the San Francisco-Cincinnati game making an instant contender for worst game of the year.

    Grade: C-

23. Seattle Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch

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    Lynch carried the ball 19 times for 73 yards in Seattle's 13-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

    Yes, I swear the game actually happened even if no one on the East Coast saw it.

    Seriously though, Lynch is like my poor man's Cedric Benson. He's average or slightly below it and everyone knows it.

    Grade: C

24. Chicago Bears: Matt Forte

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    Forte had nine carries for two yards.

    Two yards.

    The Bears rushed for 13 yards total.

    Forte somewhat redeemed himself with seven catches for 80 yards, but it was largely irrelevant in terms of having an impact on the game.

    Jay Cutler isn't going to consistently win games by himself and the Bears need much more out of Forte, especially when he takes a handoff.

    Grade: C-

25. Arizona Cardinals: Alfonso Smith

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    Confession time.

    I didn't even know who Alfonso Smith was before writing this article.

    Oh, that's because his 17 carries for 54 yards were the first of his NFL career. Technically, I believe Chester Taylor was the starter but he carried the ball just eight times for 20 yards.

    It might be Smith's last carries and yards if starter Beanie Wells and backup LaRod Stephens-Howling can return to action by next week.

    In fairness to Smith, third- or fourth-string running backs usually don't start their first career game and set the NFL world on fire.

    Grade: D

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: LeGarrette Blount

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    Blount was a workhorse and an effective one in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' hard-fought 16-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons. He carried the rock 24 times for 81 yards.

    While Blount didn't really make any significant individual plays, his ability to pound the ball allowed quarterback Josh Freeman to be conservative and yet accurate. Freeman attempted 32 passes, completing 22 of them for a modest 180 yards.

    The Bucs' win was the first against its bitter rivals in six games.

    Grade: B+

27. San Diego Chargers: Ryan Mathews

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    When you think about a San Diego Chargers' win you automatically assume that quarterback Philip Rivers had a big game. Well, by his standards, 24-for-38 for 266 yards is not a great effort. Throw in two picks and no touchdowns and it's a very un-Rivers-like day.

    San Diego's 20-17 win was due to Mathews who piled up 98 yards on 21 carries and caught four passes for 51 yards. To boot, two of his runs went for touchdowns including one where he outran the Chiefs to the pylon to give the Bolts a 17-10 lead.

    With the exception of a 120-yard and three-touchdown rushing day in the Chargers' 2010 season finale (a 33-28 win over Denver), this was Mathews' best day as a professional.

    Grade: A+

28. Atlanta Falcons: Michael Turner

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    After back-to-back games of 100 yards rushing or more, Turner laid the proverbial egg with 20 yards on 11 carries. Make no mistake, it cost the Falcons too in the team's 16-13 loss to Tampa Bay. Keep in mind, that Atlanta had Matt Ryan throw the ball 47 times and still the team only scored 13 points total.

    A more balanced attack, whether it's Michael Turner or Jacquizz Rodgers getting the pigskin, might be a smarter idea for Atlanta over the long haul.

    Grade: F (based on Sunday, but expect the grade to come back up next week)

29. Denver Broncos: Willis McGahee

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    Okay, get ready for the two worst performances combined by a pair of starting running backs.

    In fairness to Willis McGahee, his 22 carries for 52 yards wasn't as bad as it sounds, especially for a running back who has half as many carries (50) in the last two weeks as he did in all of the 2010 regular season. His 28-carry, 101-yard effort in a win against Cincinnati in Week 2 probably had muscles aching where he forgot he had muscles.

    Grade: C

30. Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson

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    Are we beginning to learn why you don't give big contracts to running backs anymore?

    Johnson's new contract earns him on average $13.4 million per year. The way I figure it that comes out to roughly $840,000 per game.

    Johnson had 13 carries for 21 yards on Sunday.

    He has 98 yards rushing on the year. Which means that he is earning somewhere around $25,000 per rushing yard. Embarrassing.

    Maybe with his four catches for 54 yards he can replace Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt who is now out for the year with a torn ACL.

    Grade: F

31. Washington Redskins: Tim Hightower

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    Hightower had just 41 yards on 14 carries but chipped in five catches for 39 yards and the game's only touchdown, a one-yard pass from Rex Grossman to give the 'Skins a 16-9 lead. That's okay production, but not good enough in the Redskins' 18-16 loss to the Cowboys.

    Grade: C+

32. Dallas Cowboys: Felix Jones

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    Lost in the headlines of Tony Romo persevering through broken ribs or rookie kicker Dan Bailey booting six field goals in Dallas' victory over Washington, Jones had quite the performance on the national stage of Monday Night Football. He had runs of 29 and 40 yards on his way to 115 yards on 14 carries.

    The Cowboys hadn't had a run over 10 yards this season prior to Jones' effort. He also had three catches for 40 yards.

    Grade: A