NFL: Cities Where the Running Game Still Matters

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In the NFL, the “west coast offense” is a term used to describe an offense that places a greater emphasis on passing the football than on running it.

If this is true, then in the modern age of football, it would seem that just about every team runs some form of a “west coast” offensive style.

The numbers seem to support it, as well. Look at all of the big-name franchises in the NFL in the past few years. The ones that have become household names once the season reaches the playoffs in January.

The debacle at running back for Green Bay hasn’t stopped Aaron Rodgers from leading the team to a Super Bowl win and an offense that can outscore just about anyone.

Tom Brady has never really had any form of an elite supporting cast, especially at running back. Still, the quarterback makes the most of what he has in the shotgun formation, and it seems to have worked out just fine.

However, there are certainly those teams out there who are holding onto that traditional – we’ll call it “trench football” – style of play. These are teams that have essentially diverged from the rest of the league, and have proven that their style of offense can work.

On teams like the Texans, Bears, and Vikings, you won’t find the most elite of quarterbacks. What you find is a quarterback that can throw the football enough. That, and a running game that pulls a lot of weight.

For Houston, Matt Schaub certainly isn’t a pushover under center. However, with an average of 132.7 yards on the ground each game, good for 8th in the league, Houston is able to repeatedly set up it’s veteran quarterback with effective play-action calls.

Arian Foster and Ben Tate have both become dangerous weapons for the Texans, but let’s focus on Foster for a moment. He brings a career average of 4.5 yards every time that he carries the ball. For that reason, Houston gladly handed him the ball again and again, as he totaled 351 carries this last season. With a workhorse that gets his hands on the ball that often, Schaub was called for a play-action pass a total of 25% of the time. That’s a fourth of the plays that Houston ran all year long. Those plays are the main reason for Andre Johnson’s longest plays of the season, and another effect of play-action? It sucks the linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage. Time and time again, we saw Owen Daniels or Garrett Graham break open in the middle for first down yardage because the linebackers were playing catch-up.

For the Chicago Bears, Matt Forte was his usual self, racking up an average of 4.4 yards per play. Although he had about 100 less carries than Arian Foster did, he still carried a lot of the load on the Chicago offense. Now, with 1094 yards in 2012, he doesn’t seem to be the main factor when the Bears have the football. However, he is the main running back in a system that averaged 123.1 yards per game on the ground. While that number is good for 10th in the league, their passing offense is ranked a dismal 29th. So while the Bears are successful on a stout defense, most of their yards gained doesn’t come through the air from Jay Cutler.

And lastly, who can forget the outstanding performance by Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson?
This is by far the best example of a team straying from the “west coast” style. Christian Ponder, in effect, acts as more of a game manager than anything. He was one of just eight quarterbacks who didn’t eclipse the 3,000 mark in yards passing. However, that’s because practically every play you gave the ball to Peterson in 2012, something good happened.

The star Vikings running back finished the season just nine yards short of the NFL record for rushing yards in a season, coming off of a torn ACL. And obviously, 2097 yards rushing on just 348 attempts isn’t something you can look away from. Peterson has become the epitome of a running back leading his team, as his MVP award clearly shows.

So while the era of a running back’s dominance may seem to be numbered, a few teams are still holding on. And you’ll likely spot a few of them in the playoffs this year.

Let us know what you think!