Top Rushers for 2014 NFL Playoff Teams
By Chris Malumphy
Even though its impact has been diminished in recent years, the running game remains important in the NFL. Just remind yourself of last year's Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks who continued their domination this season by relying upon a stellar defense, the relentless running of Marshawn Lynch, and the running, perhaps as much as the passing, of quarterback Russell Wilson. In Dallas, the splendid running of DeMarco Murray helped Tony Romo have his best season as a passer. Le'Veon Bell proved to be a key asset for the Steelers. Justin Forsett came out of nowhere in his seventh season to give the Ravens a balanced attack. Without Jeremy Hill, the Cincinnati Bengals would have needed to rely ever more heavily on the erratic Andy Dalton and Eddie Lacy provides Green Bay's opponents with something to worry about other than Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Even Peyton Manning became reliant on running back C.J. Anderson to help cover for an aging and tired arm.
Of the 12 playoff teams, six had running backs who topped 1,000 yards. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Le'Veon Bell, perhaps the most dynamic of the lot, may not see action due to injury. Bell not only gained 1,361 yards on the ground, but also caught 83 passes for another 854 yards.
Not all the playoff teams had top backs, however. In fact, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson totaled as many or more yards rushing than the top backs on five playoff teams: Broncos, Panthers, Bengals, Patriots, Cardinals. The Cardinals have an additonal achilles heal entering the playoffs to go along with the most woeful quarterback situation--a leading rusher, Andre Ellington, who gained only 660 yards. If the Cardinals put up any offense at all, Bruce Arians will deserve Coach of the Year accolades. Bill Belichick and the Patriots couldn't even put forth a running back to match the Cardinals top totals. Discounting the 266 yards LaGarrette Blount gained earlier in the season playing for the Steelers (which left him with 281 for New England), the top rusher on the Patriots squad was Jonas Gray with 412 yards.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the running game in today's NFL is that it provides balance and stops defenses from solely concentrating on thwarting the passing game. Passing greats like Dan Marino and John Elway (before Terrelle Davis), know the difficulty of going up against top defenses three or four games in a row with no running game support. Same holds true today.
|Leading Rushers for 2014 NFL Playoff Teams|