The Kansas City Chiefs‘ turnaround success in 2010 came in part as a result of their great running back tandem: Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones combined for over 2,300 yards rushing.
The Chiefs’ success is not uncommon in the NFL today. The New York Giants’ tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined for over 2,000 yards in 2010. The New York Jets combination of LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene combined for 1,600 yards. Denver Broncos’ head coach John Fox‘s former team, the Carolina Panthers, used the tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart had over 2,200 yards in 2009.
More and more, teams are finding that having one running back is too much of a burden for any one player to carry. Look at the Cleveland Browns’ Peyton Hillis: his first 100-yard game was the third game of the 2010 season, yet his carries went down from 21 to six between Weeks 14 and 17, and his yards-per-attempt went from 5.1 to 2.2 in the same range.
The Broncos are an excellent position to shift some of the running burden away from Knowshon Moreno and towards the two-running back system. Moreno sustained an injury that limited him to 14 games in 2010, something that seems to be more common in single-running back systems in the NFL.
Williams is apparently unhappy with the fact that Fox was released in Carolina and may want to rejoin him in Denver. Kim Constantinesco makes the case for Williams in Denver, and it is easy to see him fitting in. His grinding style would give Fox a one-two combo with Moreno, a speedier runner, that could revive Fox’s success in Carolina in 2009. Swapping the two every few plays, few first downs, or series gives the Broncos a solid tandem.
A key piece of the move, however, would be the Broncos having a solid third running back. Williams played six games in 2010 and 14 games in 2009. While neither Williams nor Moreno can be considered injury-prone given those histories, the risk exists. Lance Ball showed some potential, and at 25 years old, has productive years still ahead of him. Ball could be considered a viable replacement to either starting running back if one were to get injured.
An effective run game makes even more sense when you factor in second-year quarterback Tim Tebow. Having a defense prepared for run opens up easier passes for Tebow like wide receiver screens and quick slants. Play action plays are more effective when you draw the linebackers and defensive backs in, which can open up the vertical game and give Tebow confidence in throwing long.
Imagine plays with Williams and Moreno split back with Tebow under center. Williams goes to the middle, Moreno goes right and Tebow goes left. Who has the ball? Which one do you cover? While the thought of an Air Force-style offense like this is probably not going to happen, it would be very easy for Fox to install specialty plays like this, as well as option-style plays. All of this would be a supplement to the excellent passing game the Broncos pieced together last season.
The Broncos aren’t far away from the two-running back system. It could be the future of the run game in Denver.
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