A little while ago, I referenced a ProFootballFocus article which shows Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk as middle of the road running backs. Out of the 63 running backs who saw considerable amount of playing time last season, Maroney and Faulk finished 29th and 35th, respectively. That's pretty average. This means that our running backs were doing a pretty minimal job of avoiding opposing players and were usually taken down when a defender got a hand on them.
A new article, also by ProFootballFocus, examines how frequently a running back is stopped before reaching the line of scrimmage. Surprisingly, Dance Dance Maroney and 3rd Down Faulk did well. Extremely well. Out of running backs with 75+ carries (including playoffs), they finished 6th and 7th overall at getting runs of over 1 yard. And, due to the conclusion of the "elusiveness" (or lack thereof) of these players, it's clear that it's not really of their doing that they rarely get tackled for negative yardage.
At the other end of the scale, neither Laurence Maroney nor Kevin Faulk ranked higher than 29th in the Elusive Rating, but because New England had the second-best run-blocking offense, those same players were able to rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in percentage of runs for no gain. Maroney failed to gain yards on 28 of his 195 carries, and Faulk on just 11 of his 76 carries, meaning both players failed to gain yardage on less than 15 percent of their carries for the season. Neither graded exceptionally well throughout the season, or recorded high scores in the Elusive Rating, but they were able to avoid unsuccessful runs because of the performance of the blockers in front of them.
So the Patriots running backs should give a big "thank you" to our offensive line for getting them back to the line of scrimmage- and maybe afterward they'll work on getting some big yardage.
Some other interesting tidbits:
- The Top 10 running backs on this list has 5 players from the AFC East. Alongside Maroney and Faulk, there's New York Jets' Shonn Greene (#2), Buffalo Bills' Fred Jackson (#5) and Miami Dolphins' Ricky Williams (#8).
- #1 on the list is Oakland Raiders' Michael Bush. How is a Raider at #1?
- 8 out of the top 10 players belong to a team that, according to Pro Football Focus, has a top 11 Run Blocking offense.
- The New York Giants are the only team with a top 7 Run Blocking offense not to feature a running back in the top 10 (but they do have a player in the bottom 10!)
I guess what I take away from this article is how great of a job our offensive line has done- and how poorly our running backs have done. If we've had concerns about our running game for so long, and I know I have, ever since we've been lacking a dominant runner, there must be something missing from our running game. If our offensive line is doing everything possible to get our running backs positive yardage and they're still getting minimal yardage per carry (21st in the league), something must be changed in our running back core.
So thank you, offensive line, for getting our running backs back to the line of scrimmage.
Now, running backs, gain some yards after you get there!