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.
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.
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).