Is Rotating Running Backs Detrimental to Cowboys’ Offense?
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Article contributed by Vince Grey
You simply can’t have too many good running backs, and having three who could arguably start for a number of NFL teams can’t possibly be bad thing.
So to be perfectly clear, this isn’t about the number of running backs on the roster.
Rather, it’s about the touches those backs receive, and particularly the manner (and time) in which they receive them.
All this sharing and rotating series?
Not a fan.
Indeed, I seriously question if playing Jones, Choice, and Barber in what appears to be a set predetermined rotation is actually harming our offense at times.
But Vince, what about the idea that these days you must rotate two or more running backs to keep them fresh and injury free?
Horse bleep. NFL copycat drivel.
Yes, defenders are stronger and faster than ever. So? Everyone is stronger and faster than ever. Even if you want to accept the idea that defensive players are now superior physical specimens to runners (which I don’t), that’s more than offset by these factors:
- Defenses, generally, don’t tackle as well as in prior eras.
- There are now new rules protecting ball-carriers from most of the savage hits that used to be legal (or at least rarely called).
I won’t even go into all the spread offensive formations. In any case, it seems a wash to me, at worst, as to whether running backs have it tougher than they did years ago.
Yet, over the past couple of seasons, I’ve seen more than a few Cowboys games where one running backs or the other appears to be in the zone, ripping the opposing defense apart, only to be pulled and benched to allow the others their turn. When one back is dominating a defense, I see it as a detriment to take him out for an entire series or three because of a pre-meditated script.
Yes, it is a luxury to have three talented running backs. The more the merrier. I want as many as we can carry on the 53-man roster.
Having them available is one thing. Having some prearranged schedule where all three play this series or that, then sit, regardless of how the game is playing out, is quite another.
As an example, let’s say Felix starts the game, and he’s playing, oh, just okay–not poorly, but nothing special. Same with Barber. The offense is struggling to move the ball, much less score.
Then, Choice comes in and immediately starts rocking. Four yards. Nine yards. Five yards. 12 yards. Picking up significant ground. Running hard, picking up blitzes, catching passes, and moving those chains.
The next offensive series, Felix/Barber are in and Choice is back on the bench–not to be seen for another few series other than perhaps third down.
Because It’s In The Script.
I think that’s patently ridiculous.
If one runner is having a dominant performance, why not let him play as much as he can? So what if Choice has 30 touches that particular game, and the other two share 10-15 touches, or less? The next game, Barber might decide to become “The Barbarian” again and run for 150 and 3 TDs on 25 carries, or Felix might go for 200+ on 20.
The beauty of this plan is that, over the course of the season, the overall optimal ratio will be restored. So, if the coaches hope to implement a 40/30/30 ratio with Jones, Barber, and Choice, for example, that ratio can still be reached by season’s end without approaching it in every game. In this way, statistics wins out–the large sample size of 16 games makes sure the best running back will receiver the most touches.
Further, not only will the ratio be reached, but it will automatically be the optimal distribution. Perhaps what is best for the Cowboys isn’t a 40/30/30 split, but a 50/30/20 ratio. Well, instead of pigeon-holing yourself into one particular distribution, riding the hot hand will, almost magically, automatically optimize this split.
Look, you’re going to have games where the entire group is playing well, and you’re going to have games when they’re all struggling. In those cases, rotating is fine, but when one running back appears to be head-and-shoulders above the others, throw that rotation script aside and ride that horse until his tongue is hanging out.