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Surveying The AFC North - The Running Backs

Let's continue with our tour of the AFC North by each team's strength at each position. We began with the division's QBs, which can be found here. Let's move on to the the RBs.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Depth Chart - Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Gary Russell,   Justin Vincent, Stefan Logan, Cary Davis (FB), Ryan Powdrell (FB)

2008 Team Rushing Statistics - 460 attempts (9th in NFL), 1689 yards (23rd) , 3.7 yards/attempt (29th), 105.6 yards per game, 16 TDs (11th)

2008 Individual Statistics


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Willie Parker 11 210 791 71.9 3.8 34 5 3 13 1.2 4.3 5 0


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Rashard Mendenhall 4 19 58 14.5 3.1 12 0 2 17 4.3 8.5 11 0


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Mewelde Moore 17 140 588 34.6 4.2 32 5 40 320 18.8 8 25 1


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Gary Russell 13 28 77 5.9 2.8 15 3 1 -2 -0.2 -2 -2 0


 

Baltimore Ravens

 

Depth Chart - Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, LeRon McCalin (FB/R), Jalen Parmele, Matt Lawrence

2008 Team Rushing Statistics - 592 attempts (1stt), 2376 yards (4th), 4.0 yards per attempt (25th), 148.5 yards per game, 20 TDs (7th)

2008 Individual Statistics


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Willis McGahee 13 170 671 51.6 3.9 77 7 24 173 13.3 7.2 35 0


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Ray Rice 12 107 454 37.8 4.2 60 0 33 273 22.8 8.3 40 0


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - LeRon McClain 16 232 902 56.4 3.9 82 10 19 123 7.7 6.5 25

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Cincinnati Bengals

Depth Chart - Cedric Benson, Gary Russell, Kenny Watson, DeDe Dorsey, James Johnson

2008 Team Statistics: 420 attempts (21st), 1520 yards (29th), 3.6 yards per carry (30th), 95 yards per game, 6 TDs (32nd)

2008 Individual Statistics:


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Cedric Benson 12 214 747 62.3 3.5 46 2 20 185 15.4 9.3 79 0


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Chris Perry 11 104 269 24.5 2.6 25 2 20 71 6.5 3.5 12 0


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Kenny Watson 9 13 55 6.1 4.2 7 0 3 4 .400 1.3 3 0


 

Cleveland Browns

Depth Chart: Jamaal Lewis, Jerome Harrison, Lawrence Vickers, Patrick Allen, Charles Ali

2008 Team Statistics: 409 attempts (24th), 1605 yards (26th), 3.9 yards per attempt (26th), 100.3 yards per game, 6 TDs (32nd)

2008 Individual Statistics:


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Jamal Lewis 16 279 1002 62.6 3.6 29 4 23 178 11.1 7.7 18 0


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Jerome Harrison 15 34 246 16.4 7.2 72 1 12 116 7.7 9.7 23 1


Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Lawrence Vickers 11 10 31 2.8 3.1 10 0 10 78 7.1 7.8 21 0

 

 

Analysis and Ranking of AFC North Running Games

 

Blitz's Rankings:

  1. Baltimore Ravens
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Cleveland Browns
  4. Cincinnati Bengals

Explanation and Analysis

First, a word on those things being considered in assessing the division's best running games. Most notably, it should be noted up front that the respective offensive lines are not being considered. We will break down the OLs of each team in future weeks, but for now we're just considering personnel and the offensive 'identities' of the four AFC North teams.

Baltimore - Putting Baltimore as the top ranked running game heading into the 2009 season seems perfectly reasonable to me, but there are a couple of important variables that could swing things in another team's favor as the season progresses. As it is every year, health and injuries will be of paramount importance for Baltimore and their running game.  The last time that Willis McGahee was on the field, he was being carted off after a vicious hit from Steelers S Ryan Clark. McGahee is a warrior no doubt - he's returned from serious surgery already in his career. At 28 years of age, McGahee's window is closing to truly be an elite, every down type of back.

Fortunately for him and the Ravens offense, he doesn't have to be. In the stable for Baltimore is also bruising RB/FB LeRon McClain and 2nd year back Ray Rice. Both flashed signs of brilliance last year and I'd suspect all three will be deployed to some extent by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

That brings me to my final point though about Baltimore and their offense heading into year two of the Joe Flacco era - how, if at all, will Cameron change his general approach to handling Flacco's maturity and progress. Remember, in his first year, the Ravens led the league in rush attempts despite not being particularly efficient doing so. To his credit though, the Ravens stuck with the ground game, the logic of course being minimizing the burden needing to be carried by Flacco and letting the Ravens perennially solid defense keep ball games close.

What will happen this year? Will Cameron be similarly cautious? Or will he open things up for Flacco and the passing game so, feeling he's more than ready to handle additional responsibilities with the play book and game plan? Obviously he is more equipped to handle more situations, but my theory is that too often coordinators take the shackles of young QBs too early if they were starters in year 1. It's not that Cameron needs to keep the training wheels on Flacco all year - there will be situations and matchups worth exploiting - but I generally contend that if Cameron decides to be more aggressive this coming year (generally speaking), than the Ravens could be in for a longer season than most imagine.

 

Pittsburgh - Obviously the play of the offensive line will go a long ways towards determining what kind of year Pittsburgh will have rushing the football. Pittsburgh didn't quite shake the moniker of being known as a smash-mouth physical run oriented team last year despite being bottom of the barrel rushing the ball. But for those of us who actually followed the team, it was obvious that the Steelers offense was far from physical and far from consistently effective pounding the rock.

Part of that was weak offensive line play, part was head scratching play calling, part was bad luck injury wise to FWP and Rashard Mendenhall, and perhaps part was even what I was alluding to with Flacco and Cameron in the previous paragraphs - that is, part of Pittsburgh's troubles running could have simply been the product of Bruce Arians putting more responsibility and trust in his 100+ million dollar QB than was arguably prudent.

Anyway, this should be an interesting year for Pittsburgh's rushing attack. Mendy is on schedule to return 100% healthy and (hopefully) with a chip on his shoulder, FWP is in a make-or-break year of sorts for his future financial situation, and Mewelde Moore will I'd imagine be there to fill in the gaps and as an emergency option if necessary. 

We'll see if Pittsburgh addresses the position in this year's draft at some point, and if the OL they presumably are eying will be able to have an impact in 2009. We'll see one more time if it was foolish to count out Willie Parker, and we'll discover if Kevin Colbert and his staff were wise in their selection of Mendenhall in last year's first round. An interesting year indeed in this department.

 

Cleveland - This is running long but Cleveland should be considered a sleeper of sorts in 2009 after just an abysmal 2008. It's hard to clearly label the Browns rushing attack as putrid last year because they simply found themselves behind in so many games. That's on their defense more than anything. The Browns OL is actually becoming a strong suit for them and if they can just keep themselves in more games and get better play out of the QB position, Jamal Lewis and the Browns rushing attack should be better in 2009.

There are however a lot of miles on the odometer for Lewis. His backup, Jerome Harrison, is a pretty good football player, but depth is a concern for Cleveland at the position and they may very well look to upgrade their via the draft at some point on either Day 1 or Day 2.

 

Cincinnati - The big news of last week in Pittsburgh and the division was the release of Gary Russell by the Steelers. He was picked up shortly thereafter by the Bengals. In 2008, the Bengals got a steal of a deal when they picked up Cedric Benson. The Bengals offense had to contend with similar issues that Cleveland did - that being they found themselves trailing in most weeks. Not to mention, the Bengals had Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB, which gave opposing defense next to no reason to fear the passing game, despite the two top flight WRs on the Bengals roster.

Can Benson follow it up in 2009? Various reports have Bengals players citing his excellent attitude and work ethic. I personally don't think it was fair how he was written off as a thug and prima donna in the first place. So he wasn't the greatest teammate at age 22 and had a run in with the law while drinking with friends on his boat. Does that make you unsalvagable as a character guy or person? Not in my book. If Carson Palmer is able to play a full season, I wouldn't at all be surprised to see Benson continue his upward trajectory as he hits the peak years of his physical prime, not to mention the years when he's got the most at stake for his financial future.