NFL: Pros and Cons of the Two Running Back System

Nick VandiverCorrespondent IJune 11, 2008

Over the course of the 2007 season, something seemed to keep popping up all around the league. Nobody knew where it came from, and it was a surprise to most. In some cases, it was a good thing. In others, not so much. But it was a new tactic that could revolutionize pro football.

I'm talking about a two running-back system.

Last year, more than 60 different quarterbacks started in an NFL game. This instability, whether due to injury or bad performance, seems to be the root of this new two-back system.

Without a real franchise quarterback, most teams turned to their running game. It's obvious that if you run the ball 80-90 percent of the time, your star running back is going to get tired.

So teams like the Chargers, Falcons, and Jaguars came up with a brand new idea. What if they had two good running backs? They could share carries, each one would get a period of rest, and the tired defense wouldn't be able to handle having to deal with fresh legs each new series.

The Chargers obviously milked it for what it was worth. Even LaDainian Tomlinson needs a break every now and then. So the Chargers got Michael Turner, and look at what happened.

LT would a break every once in a while, and Turner would go in. Then Turner would tear up the defense. When LT had his break, he would go back in. And so on.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Having to deal with a rested and fully energized running back every series tends to wear out a defense. Many other teams saw the advantages that those teams gained from having two backs. So they decided to use this idea.

The Falcons acquired Jerious Norwood a few years ago, and used him to complement Warrick Dunn. The Jaguars had Fred Taylor, but they got Maurice Jones-Drew to give him a rest.

Even the Patriots implemented it in their gameplan this last season. They used several all-purpose backs like Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk. And, if they ever needed to run the ball, they had Laurence Maroney. It obviously worked to their advantage.

Since then, many teams have attempted the use of multiple running backs in a game. It seems to be fairly effective, especially for teams without a great passing game. Some head coaches are even changing their permanent system to involve two running backs, like John Fox from Carolina.

He intends to use both DeAngelo Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart in the run game. Both have certain skills they bring to the table, and each makes the other better.

There are some disadvantages to this, though. Take Fred Taylor, for example. He already has over 10,000 rushing yards. Since he now has to share carries with Maurice Jones-Drew, his numbers will go down.

On his own, I think Fred Taylor could have put up the kind of career numbers to put him in the Hall of Fame. Now that he is losing time, his chance severely goes down. It might not be a huge deal if Taylor was only in his 20s and still had plenty of years left.

But Fred Taylor is now in his early 30s, and he's not going to play for six or seven more years. To put up elite numbers with half as much time as he needs, he would have to become a 32-year-old Adrian Peterson overnight.

Even the great Adrian Peterson felt the effects of the system. Had he not shared carries with Chester Taylor, Peterson could have possibly hit 1,500 yards or more. Taylor finished the year with 844 yards and 7 touchdowns.

If all of those yards and touchdowns had gone to Peterson, he would have set an NFL for rushing yards in a season and had more than 20 total touchdowns.

All in all, I think that, for the good of a team, having a two back system is incredibly handy. For the good of the running backs, it just seems to be a burden.

Everyone in the NFL plays in NFL because they want to. They wouldn't be there if they didn't want to play football and help their team. So when he a player suddenly plays less, he feels as if his opportunity to help his team is being taken away. His numbers go down. And when numbers go down, money is lost.

Nobody likes to lose money.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.