Top Ten Running Backs Going Into 2013 Season

As the NFL has evolved into more of a passing league, it seems that the importance of the running back position should wane. However there is nothing more powerful than a rushing attack to wear down your opponent or take time off the clock. What we have seen is the evolution of the type of back in most instances. Gone is the huge bruiser to lean on the defense and he has been replaced with a smaller, shiftier type of back. The type to take a handoff in a stretch running play whether the quarterback is under center or from the Pistol and Shotgun formations.

Do you realize Jamaal Charles has rushed for over 1,000 yards 3 times in a 5 year career??

Do you realize Jamaal Charles has rushed for over 1,000 yards 3 times in a 5 year career??

The best can operate in multiple sets as well as run routes to catch the ball in space. However there are a few throwback types who smash into the line and come off traps, sweeps, and multiple tight end sets as well. Each team needs to adapt their offense to the type of running and passing plays suited to their back’s ability. To make this list, running backs need to be able to break the first tackle. Well here we are with the Taylor Blitz Times best NFL running backs coming into the new season.

10. Maurice Jones-Drew – Jacksonville Jaguars: Although he’s led the league in rushing with 1,606 yards in 2011, Drew is coming back from a major leg injury where he missed most of 2012, and has carried a heavy load the last four years. He has been the Jaguars offense and could be on the verge of possibly burning out as Michael Turner did. This year we’ll have to watch if he’s able to slip tackles and power through arm tackles as he has over his 7 year career. It’s those 954 runs between 2009-2011 that worry us about burning out. He should be good for 1,000 yards this year but we’re keeping our eye on him.

9. Chris Johnson-Tennessee Titans: Did we say gamebreaker?? Well CJ2K is still on the launch pad down in the volunteer state. With a head coach who is a Hall of Fame lineman in Mike Munchak, it’s expected the Titans will come together on the line. This former 2,000 yard rusher stands on the launch pad destined for another big year, yet the vision of that coming is beginning to wane. However he did flash his explosiveness with a 94 yard touchdown last year. In all he ran 276 times for 1,243 yards and 6 TDs.

Spiller could be the Buffalo Bills second 2,000 yard rusher behind OJ Simpson.

Spiller could be the Buffalo Bills second 2,000 yard rusher behind OJ Simpson.

8. CJ Spiller-Buffalo Bills: Last year he burst onto the scene as the electrifying talent Bills brass and fan base had been expecting. The team needs to quit with Fred Jackson and give the ball to this game breaker 25 times a game. He was on his way to bust status after two years of flashes once he got onto the field. However an injury to Jackson left Spiller as the only runner in town and he exploded for 1,244 on just 207 carries. That is 6.0 yards a crack!! The same average as Peterson who ran for 2,000 yards. This year it should be his year and his team as he shows 2012 was no fluke. He also accounted for 43 receptions for 453 yards and combined for 8 touchdowns.

7. Alfred Morris-Washington Redskins: A surprise rookie performance was turned in by Morris, who was a fourth round draft choice. His 1,613 yards and 13 TDs were among the best in football but let’s ask a fundamental question: Was his performance indicative of his talent or was he the beneficiary of RG III carrying out read option fakes?? He was the second option when it came to rushing the football in many a defensive coordinator’s game plan. Year two will be interesting to watch how teams play him.

Yet you can’t underscore he was a tough durable low center of gravity back that thrived in the Redskin’s offense. He’s shifty enough, he seldom took a real big hit with most of the plays being stretch type runs. It reciprocated in holding linebackers honest and allowed Griffin III to rush for another 815 yards and 7 more TDs. He did disappear in the playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks once Griffin III went down. Would he be nearly effective if he played with another quarterback??

6. Frank Gore-San Francisco 49ers: One of the last of a dying breed, the do everything power back. One huge beneficiary of the new Pistol offense is Frank Gore. There are still running plays where the 49ers line up in power formations but in large part Gore isn’t facing downhill charging linebackers. The Pistol forces teams into 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 nickel variations where the linebackers are a step behind on the front side of the read option.

They are not attacking the run lanes like they do in a traditional sense and this will lesson the wear and tear on a running back entering his ninth year. For the first time in many years, Gore looked fresh the entire season. He started all 16 games while rushing for 1,214 yards 8 TDs while averaging 4.7 yards per rush. His carries will be split between Kendall Hunter and LeMichael James to keep him fresh for the stretch drive. So expect his totals to be a little less also.

NFL Network dubbed him "The Muscle Hamster" as he has shown tackle breaking power in his first season.

NFL Network dubbed him “The Muscle Hamster” as he has shown tackle breaking power in his first season.

5. Doug Martin-Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A shifty power runner in an Emmitt Smith type roll yet he has a better downfield burst. If you’re new to the Taylor Blitz Times, we have touted him as an NFL ready back and produced an article on his Heisman Trophy legitimacy before his senior season at Boise St. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201301120den.htm His rookie campaign saw him rush for 1,454 yards 11 TDs while catching 49 passes for another 479 yards and a touchdown.

Last year it started when he burst onto the NFL scene with a national televised game against the Vikings. That night he ran for 137 yards with a touchdown while catching 3 passes for another  79 yards and a touchdown. He had a 41 yard run and a 64 yard touchdown on a screen. Just when folks began talking about him he breaks out with his masterpiece. He showed there was another runner on the field that night along with Adrian Peterson.

The following week out in Oakland, in front of his bay area family, Martin ran for 264 yards with 4 touchdown runs of 67, 70, and 41, and 1 yards. For much of the fourth quarter Fox was airing his exploits to all other games since he was so close to the all time record. Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Jim Brown, OJ Simpson, nor Corey Dillon had ever run that far as a rookie in a game. No SEC back including Bo Jackson has ever run that far in an NFL game period. Only Adrian Peterson as a rookie ran farther. We’re talking all of NFL history here. He will be a candidate for 1,500 yards again down in Tampa.

4. Jamaal Charles-Kansas City Chiefs: The most underrated running back in football. We have heard former Chief now analyst, Bill Maas proclaim he is a smallish type back. The saving grace for the Chiefs offense last year was former Texas Longhorn Jamaal Charles. Last year he ran with enough power to break tackles and have a Pro Bowl season with 1,509 yards. He had a whopping 5.3 yard average and don’t forget he was a Pro Bowl performer in 2010, when he rushed for 1,467 yards and an even better 6.4 yard average. This is no fluke. He’s only going into his sixth season. Now with Alex Smith and a good passing combo, he should keep up the pace set last year.

Texans Super Bowl hopes ride with Foster.

Texans Super Bowl hopes ride with Foster.

3. Arian Foster-Houston Texans: Going into his 5th season, the Texans couldn’t be more solid at running back with Arian Foster leading the charge. Next to Adrian Peterson, no back in football has been more productive than Foster’s 4,264 yards and 39 TDs over the last three years. He is not the flashy runner breaking the huge play like CJ2K or Adrian Peterson, but he’s a steady performer that churns out important first down after first down as the Texans closer.

2. Marshawn Lynch-Seattle Seahawks: No runner sets the tempo for his football team like Lynch. He brings a physicality and attitude to the Pacific Northwest that is infectious and goes over to a swarming defense. He has been the lightning rod ever since his famous 67 yard touchdown run to oust the defending champion Saints in the 2010 wildcard game.

Although he’s entering his seventh season, he doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear on him. In 2009 & 2010 he only carried the ball a combined 320 times as he played for both Buffalo and Seattle. Last year he thundered for 1,590 yards and 11 TDs as he powered the Seahawks into the playoffs. This is the only running back in the game today that raises the level of the entire football team with his play. Expect another 1,500 yard season easily.

Peterson is the best in the game today and is already a Hall of Fame talent.

Peterson is the best in the game today and is already a Hall of Fame talent.

1. Adrian Peterson-Minnesota Vikings: The 21st century version of Eric Dickerson is absolutely a Hall of Fame running back. Yes you read that correctly. He’s a Hall of Fame runner already. Less than 7 months from damaging his MCL and ACL, he burst for 2,097 yards in a season where the Vikings eased him in. In year’s past we had Jamal Lewis and other runners who tore their ligaments and came back, but they had nearly a full season they sat out or eased themselves into the game first. Not Peterson.

What’s startling is this is the season he’ll hit full stride and should break Eric Dickerson’s record of 2,105 yards. Last year he broke breathtaking runs when he was the Vikings only legitimate offensive weapon. Now with quality receivers on the outside in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Pro Bowl TE Kyle Rudolph, defenses can’t key on him.

You do realize that he already holds the all time rushing record of 296 yards which is also the rookie record as well. When he get’s to Dickerson’s 2,105 yards, he will be the only back in league history to have two 2,000 yard seasons. There have been only 2 runners who have held these records at the same time. Both OJ Simpson and Jim Brown made the Hall of Fame along with Eric Dickerson. Peterson is already among that group. Another 2,000 yard season will cement it.

Next: Washington Redskins 2013 Preview

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2013 Houston Texans Preview – The Time Is Now

JJ Watt was a finalist for the Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of The Year

JJ Watt was a finalist for the Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of The Year

When you think of the 2012 NFL season, most football fans thought the Houston Texans were an imposter when asked if they were a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Although they had rushed out to an 11-1 record, they failed to capture the imagination of fans or pundits outside Houston.

Sure they had defeated the eventual champion Baltimore Ravens 43-17 in week 7. However mind numbing losses to Green Bay (42-24), and a Monday night massacre in New England (42-14) late in the season, cast doubt on their Super Bowl legitimacy as the playoffs neared. They did finish 12-4 winning a Wild Card game before losing in the AFC Divisional round to the Patriots. Yet the question remains… Who are the Texans?? Are they a team moving up to elite status or are they beneficiary of the AFC as a conference becoming weaker??

Texans QB Matt Schaub will turn 32 this season.

Texans QB Matt Schaub will turn 32 this season.

Quarterback: Caught in that same identity vortex is quarterback Matt Schaub. Twice in the last four years he has been a Pro Bowl performer yet he leaves you wondering. Coming into last year the team and it’s fans were buoyed with optimism after backup TJ Yates led the team to a Wild Card win the year before. The overall feeling was if they could make it this far without Schaub, they should be able to compete for a title with him being healthy for the playoffs. The fact that they didn’t advance any further raises doubt if they can win it at all with Schaub at quarterback.

Make no mistake this team is better with Schaub at the helm but this may be his make or break year with the Colts coming on strong. In 2012 he completed 350 of 544 passes (64.3%) for 4,008 yards 22 TDs with only 12 interceptions. The perception was he didn’t perform when he faced the league’s elite. To that there is some truth but early in the season he carved up the Denver Broncos with 4 TD passes in a 31-25 victory on the road. He had his chance to show the nation when they lost to New England on that December Monday Night 42-14. In that game he looked disengaged, not the leader you’d want at quarterback, and couldn’t make a play to turn the momentum.

For most, he sits in that abyss of good quarterbacks that aren’t thought of as championship signal callers. Right where Joe Flacco was last year and where Matt Ryan sits this year. This is Schaub’s make or break year. This will be his 7th season as quarterback of the Texans and 11th overall after coming over from Atlanta. Its ironic that he and Ryan are both in the same position. Had Schaub not signed with Houston, he would have taken over the Falcons after Michael Vick’s dog fighting conviction. Yet he’s still a good quarterback that has to prove he can be a championship one. The nucleus of this team is aging and at 32 when the season starts, Schaub will be right there with them. Houston is playoff calibur at quarterback until proven otherwise.

Arian Foster has been among the best running backs in football.

Arian Foster has been among the best running backs in football.

Offensive Backfield: Going into his 5th season, the Texans couldn’t be more solid at running back with Arian Foster leading the charge. Next to Adrian Peterson, no back in football has been more productive than Foster’s 4,264 yards and 39 TDs over the last three years. He isn’t the flashy runner breaking the huge play like CJ2K or Peterson, but he’s a steady performer that churns out important first down after first down as the Texans closer. This is a running back in the prime of his career and has a solid back in Ben Tate (4.3 yards per carry in 2012) to back him up. The offense runs through the one cut and go running game Foster brings to the table. In 3 of the Texans 4 losses last year, Foster failed to rush for 50 yards. Part of it was Coach Kubiak abandoning the run once they fell behind. The Texans are Super Bowl quality at running back and should get a 1,300 yards from Foster this season.

Receivers: A fascinating study is Andre Johnson. When you’re watching him on game film, he doesn’t look as quick as he did a few years back. He seems to only be explosive in spurts now and really gets by on guile.You do realize he’ll also be 32 years of age when the season kicks off. He was the prime target in this offense gathering 112 passes for 1,598 yards, yet only caught 4 touchdowns. What’s missing now is the big play element from the offense with Johnson and TE Owen Daniels (62 rec. 716 yds 6TDs) as the intermediate threats.

With 818 receptions for 11,254 yards in his career, Johnson's numbers are approaching all time great status.

With 818 receptions for 11,254 yards in his career, Johnson’s numbers are approaching all time great status.

It looks as though the Texans realize this and released WR Kevin Walter who was the intermediate receiver across from Johnson. What they need is exactly what they let go in 2011, a Jacoby Jones. Right now this offense is missing a home run hitter that can take the Safeties deep. Houston anointed 2nd year wideout Keshawn Martin to the starting line-up to be the X receiver but he’s unproven. Look for the Texans to add this element in the draft or a free agent signing to compete with Martin. If they can address this they can upgrade their ranking. As it stands they are playoff quality because teams know they can’t get deep and clog the routes 20 yards or under.

Offensive Line: In today’s NFL, the offensive line is measured by how well they can protect the passer by most pundits. However here we grade beyond that. This group allowed only 28 sacks last year which was good enough for 7th best in the NFL. Left Tackle Duane Brown was an All Pro while making the Pro Bowl with Center Chris Myers and Guard Wade Smith. However Smith and Myers will each be 32 by the time the season kicks off. They’re young at the tackles but older on the line’s interior.

One aspect of the game they could use some improvement is run blocking. How can we say that about a group that had 3 Pro Bowl members and a 1,000 yard rusher?? Very simple. Foster isn’t a back that dances. He takes the ball on “Belly” and “Stretch” plays, makes a cut and then goes up-field. However they are 30th in negative rush plays to the strong side with 20 and 31st to the weak side with 28.  Further evidence is when it’s 3rd or 4th and goal or less than 2 yards, this group only converted 57% of the time to the strong side which was 20th in the league. This team could only run up the middle where they did convert 75% of the time in obvious power situations. So it’s obvious they struggle with younger more athletic defenders. This will only get worse over time and lowers their ranking to average. 

Defensive Line: This group begins and ends with JJ Watt who is the premier defensive lineman in the game. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year had a career season with 81 tackles, 20 1/2 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 16 defensed passes. Sixteen?? That is an obscene number. One thing they should do is move him around more so he can’t be game planned out of being effective. That is what New England did and he wasn’t a factor in the playoff game or the 42-14 loss.

In Houston’s 3-4 the interior linemen are primarily space eaters to clog the line and allow the linebackers to make the tackles. The Texans were 7th in defense overall and 7th against the run. Earl Mitchell held down the point at Nose Tackle and weakside Defensive End Anthony Smith did move crash the pocket for 7 sacks. In this 3-4 he’s limited from a lot of outside moves because Defensive Co-ordinator Wade Phillips likes to send linebackers like he did with the departed Conner Barwin. Because of Watt’s presence this is definitely a Super Bowl caliber group. Twenty seven and a half sacks from a 3 man line?? Come on now…

If Cushing can have a bounce back year....watchout! Will he be inside or outside??

If Cushing can have a bounce back year….watchout! Will he be inside or outside??

Linebackers: We just mentioned the loss of Connor Barwin who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. This team can hopefully get a healthy year out of Brian Cushing who could be moved back outside. In fact last year’s infirmary list included Cushing, Darryl Sharpton, Tim Dobbins, and Barrett Ruud missing a combined 27 games last year. This was the Achille’s Heel of the defense but that is understandable when you’re playing second string all year.

Bradie James was the leading tackler on this team with 76 stops and had 1/2 a sack. With so many players injured it’s almost impossible to gauge how effective this group will be. They do have pieces in place and we’ll have to see if they are going to draft an outside linebacker or what we believe… Brian Cushing will go back outside. If they can get their linebackers on the field we think they can be good. However since we haven’t seen them hit the field yet we have to grade them as below average.

If Ed Reed can hold up this season, he can transform this defense from a good one to a great one.

If Ed Reed can hold up this season, he can transform this defense from a good one to a great one.

Secondary: With a stout pass rush that produced 44 sacks and 11 forced fumbles, this group should have had more than 15 interceptions. CB Kareem Jackson was the leader in that department with 4, and Jonathon Joseph went to the Pro Bowl with 2 picks. The Texans needed to desperately improve their secondary that ranked 20th against the pass. They needed a spark… Enter Ed Reed.  We’ll see if Reed will make a huge difference. Had this been 2008, we’d immediately say yes. With him going into his 12th year, we’re taking a wait and see approach

Last year’s Free Safety Glover Quinn was second on the team in tackles with 85 yet intercepted just 2 passes. Now you know why the Texans went after Ed Reed. SS Danieal Manning will come up and make a hit but these guys are limited cover guys. This group is playoff caliber if Reed plays like he did in Baltimore. The Chancellor would like to see more out of this group when it comes to coverage. Could see another draft pick used on corner and safety as well. They need some insurance to keep coverage on slot receivers. With the addition of Reed this is now a playoff caliber group.

Overview: This team is on the verge of having to retool on the offensive side of the ball. They are at a collective age where a crash could happen at any time. Schaub, Johnson, and the center of the offensive line all being over 32 years of age?? Tight End Owen Daniel will turn 31 in November. You better believe the time is now for this group. They couldn’t pull past the Colts while Manning was there and now they have to put up with a completely new Colts regime. One that gained confidence beating the Texans in the finale last year 28-16.

In reality this has been the AFC South’s best team since 2010 yet they couldn’t get that landmark win to push themselves to the top of the conference. The Chancellor’s crystal ball sees more of the same as they won’t make it past the divisional round of the playoffs and may actually be a wildcard entrant. Look at the relative age of this team. Just remember the NFL is a long season for all these thirty somethings. This will be their last year as a playoff team as well…

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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

2011 AFC South Previews and Predictions

With the NFL season a few days away, the Colts are starting to realize what life will be like without Peyton Manning. His inability to recover fully from neck surgery has given the front office a gaze into the near future when he will not be under center. The Colts spent a majority of this year’s draft improving the offensive line, it’s a given he will take some shots as this line develops. The images of an aging Brett Favre taking hit after hit have to be dancing in Coach Caldwell’s mind, and Manning has been placed as doubtful on the injury report for week one against the Texans.

Just in the nick of time too as Texan linebackers Mario Williams and Brian Cushing were going to come screaming at him off the corners. It seems as though the Colts are after one last hurrah where a division rival from Texas has grown in leaps and bounds. Last year they fielded the NFL’s leading rusher in Arian Foster. His 1,616 yards and 16 TDs to go along with the production of perennial Pro Bowl wideout Andre Johnson, should make this the best offense in the division.  Coach Kubiak is on the “hotseat” and hopes new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips can improve his defense. These developments are happening at just the right time in our eyes. Circle week 4 when this team hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers to find out if they are for real or not.

2011 AFC SOUTH PREDICTIONS

Houston Texans 10-6 *

Indianapolis Colts 9-7

Tennessee Titans  5-11

Jacksonville Jaguars 3-13                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            For the first time since they moved from Houston in 1996, the Tennessee Titans will be moving in a new direction without Jeff Fisher. The team he left behind has some pieces but made a mistake in not retaining Kerry Collins. He could have provided some continuity as the team develops #1 draft pick Jake Locker. Now he will help shape the Colts (when Manning returns) gameplan when they face his former team. Furthermore the contract renegotiation for the services of RB Chris Johnson are over, yet the subsequent holdout normally mean hamstring problems. Something to watch as this team brought in Matt Hasselbeck to be the transition quarterback.

Now we have the swan song for Jack Del Rio coming up. It looked like his team had been regressing since that playoff loss to New England a few years back. If you remember, Coach Rio in a stunning move, cut starting QB Byron Leftwich and handed the keys over to David Garard to generate more offense. that was 2007, so what does that have to do with 2011?? Lets just say same time same channel. As we went to press yesterday, Del Rio released starting quarterback David Garard. This time there is only rookie QB Blaine Gabbert to handle the offense.  He’s simply lost it with this move. In his defense, the last time he made this bold move, Garrard had provided a second half spark in many games during the previous season. Maurice Jones Drew will see mammoth 8 man fronts and will see a long season. The Titans were picked to finish last when this move came across the wire.  Looks like a recipe for disaster.

As for the Colts, this looks like the end of a remarkable run. This team won 115 games during the 2000’s which included a Super Bowl triumph in the 41st edition. As time has gone on they have drafted low for many years and now the team is devoid of any star power outside of Manning. Even if he is healthy, he masks many deficiencies. Yet with the loss of defensive sparkplug Bob Sanders there is a lot to overcome. With the emergence of the Jets and re-emergence of the Ravens with superior secondaries, the Colts deficiencies at receiver have shown up in their last few playoff losses. Each of which have come in the first round…only this year the Colts won’t make it that far.

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Next up: AFC North