NFL Running Back Challenge: Guess Who!

In the NFC North, a division that features the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, the running game has been a staple of offenses for decades.  Arguably no division in football has a stronger tradition than this one.  Granted these teams have been playing longer than most.  Nonetheless, when your honor roll includes names like Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Gale Sayers, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung and others, it is tough to argue.

Associated Press -- Tom Dahlin

In the midst of this tradition stand two running backs (to be identified later), yet to enter the pantheon, who have been mentioned in connection with the inability and/or prospect of Brett Favre winning another Super Bowl.  As the title hopes of the Vikings are popularly tied to the success of Adrian Peterson, an implicit indictment is made of the backs who played with Favre in Green Bay.  Favre, now quarterback of the Vikings, led the Packers to a Super Bowl victory in 1996.  Beginning in 1994, the Packers were ranked in the Top 10 in offense (total yards) for 9 of the next 11 seasons.  Is the indictment valid?

In the minds of some, one of those backs is clearly superior to the other — but I wonder.  Objectively, and to the naked eye, there probably isn’t much room for debate.  But, statistically, a conversation is well worth having.  Take a look at their numbers:

Single-season career high rushing yards

Running Back A: 1760     Running Back B: 1883

Single-season career high carries

Running Back A: 363     Running Back B: 355

Single-season career high yards per carry

Running Back A: 5.6     Running Back B: 5.3

Single-season career high receptions

Running Back A: 21     Running Back B: 72

Single-season career high receiving yards

Running Back A: 268 Running Back B: 594

Single-season career high touchdowns

Running Back A: 13     Running Back B: 20

Single-season career high fumbles

Running Back A: 9  Running Back B: 7

For the many years after 1997 that the Packers failed to win a Super Bowl, much less more than a single playoff game in a season, the running game was not a weakness.  Nor is it a weakness this season in Minnesota.

Perhaps Favre and his fan club should look closer at the reasons for coming up short in those seasons.  The Packers had a solid ground game and the capacity to compel defenses to respond to play action fakes.  They had receivers capable of running solid routes, beating deep coverage and scoring in the Red Zone.  They had capable tight ends, too.

And if you think the Vikings, with Favre and Adrian Peterson, are a lead pipe lock to get to the Super Bowl, think again.  Right now, with an injured Antoine Winfield, the Vikings are ranked 8th defensively (yards allowed), but only 18th with respect to points allowed.  The Ravens just scored 31 and came up a stiff breeze short of 34.  When it comes to keeping teams off the scoreboard, the Vikings, for all the success of Leslie Frazier have NOT BEEN RANKED IN THE TOP 10 since 1998.  (And that’s including two games against the Lions every year.)

At some point before its all over, Brett Favre will have to prove he can still win games for this team.  It looks like the things that sunk the 2008 season of the New York Jets have been remedied.  Favre is looking as good now as he’s looked in since 2007 when the Packers were 13-3.

Who's Number 1?

But what of the previous decade?  What about the New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons?  Not everyone will show up with a rookie kicker (Baltimore) or Shaun Hill in uniform and Frank Gore  in sneakers (San Francisco).


  1. Okay,T3, I suspected Ahman Green and then went to football reference to verify because I must have fallen asleep that year Green had 1883 yards! Not only that but he also had 50 catches for 363 that same year. Wow.

    It seems that his injury in 2005 had a big effect. pre-injury he had 4.7 yards a carry his first seven years in the league, and his five year run with the Pack before injury is pure hall-of-famish

  2. Good job, Modi.

    So, as good as Peterson is — and he’s very, very, very good — I think Favre is delusional if he thinks that AP is going to be the difference. He had a guy who did absolutely everything in Ahman Green and it wasn’t enough. The Vikings defense, for all their prowess against the run, still allows teams to score and they struggle against the pass. They have a strong team, but they still have work to do.

    Some folks are actually impressed by his passing totals. When you throw 51 balls and average 6 yards per attempt and can’t punch it in, you’re playing into the other team’s hands — whether you’re aware of it or not…and you’re losing that game.

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