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November 29, 2007
by Dave Nye
Big name NFL running backs are, of course, big names for a reason. They're familiar to us because they do what they do consistently and we enjoy watching them play. They're stars because they're great players; that's no argument. But now that this year's discussion is on the table with backups performing like starters, we're starting to ask questions like, "can anyone do it"?
It's not a matter of giving too much credit to top name running backs. Its more a matter of giving too little credit to everyone else. Its too much being blinded by the bright stars of the game and being too quick to forget the pieces in place that allow them to shine.
There are certainly many factors involved, but you can't talk about the interchangeability of running backs without mentioning the holes they're running through. Or what about the fact that there are play callers on the sidelines getting them the ball? Ya know, the other guys on the team.
I'm led to feel like we all kind of know this in the back of our heads - that football is truly a team game where there are so many moving parts that need to come together for big plays to materialize and big players to grow - but when great things start happening, the Adrian Peterson-esque love affairs are too hard to resist. We fall in love with the man with the ball - not the men paving the way, or the blocking schemes that create the holes.
Last week, John Madden discussed why offensive lines are under-appreciated: mostly it's that they have no stats. It's too bad that you need stats to receive due credit, but its definitely a good point. No offensive linemen is on a fantasy roster - how could he be? Yet 3 of the top 5 salaries in the NFL in 2006 went to offensive linemen - and two of those guys play for, surprise surprise, the same team as Adrian Peterson. Teams know this stuff, why can't fans?
This is not a new concept. And maybe since there's no line in the box score for 'good block' or 'gaping hole made for running back', there's just no love. But what's it going to take to catch on? Seems like pass protection and blocking are the NFL's version of "intangibles". Where's Bill Walton when you need him?
There's nothing wrong with stroking the star players. In fact, at this point, it's probably too hard to break the habit. But when one of those guys deflects some praise and credits his teammates, instead of calling him modest, I'll just agree with him.