Insider: All About the Running Backs

Although the role of running back has been devalued with the emphasis and rule changes based squarely on passing the football, this NFL Notebook praises the players who we take first in fantasy football.

Rice-Gate Continues

Following the Baltimore Ravens 12-7 loss on Monday Night Football at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the nation was treated to linebacker Terrell Suggs comments indicting offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for a poor game plan.

“It baffles me that Ray Rice only had six carries,” Suggs sounded off. “This is a Pro Bowl running back we’re talking about.”

Whereas Suggs has a point his numbers were a bit off as Rice had eight carries for just 28 yards.

Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron agreed with the linebacker’s assertion.

“Hey, I agree with him wholeheartedly. In every game, we have to make sure Ray Rice is involved,” Cameron said.

Rice isn’t concerned about the lack of attempts.

“My carries will be there when the offense has success,” Rice said. “I’m not begging for carries.”

With a team like Baltimore where there is a clear divide between offense and defense and Suggs comments, however accurate they may be only accentuates the split. With offensive coordinator Cam Cameron not returning fire on Suggs, he could lose even more respect in the locker room.

Murray Getting Scaled Back

Dallas rookie running back DeMarco Murray is now in the Cowboys record books following his 25 carry, 253-yard performance in his very first start against the St. Louis Rams.

“I never thought in a million years that I’d ever have a day like this,” Murray said. “This is what I’ve been working hard for since my Pop Warner days.”

Where everyone in Baltimore admits that Ray Rice didn’t get enough work, the Cowboys are taking the opposite approach and want to limit DeMarco Murray’s touches.

“Certainly the trend in the NFL over the last 15 or 20 years is to use multiple backs,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “The days of Emmitt Smith carrying it 30 times a game for 16 straight weeks, I don’t know if those exist anymore.”

There are certain concerns with keeping the talented Murray healthy, as he suffered injuries throughout his college career at Oklahoma that kept him from challenging some of Billy Sims and Adrian Peterson’s Sooners records. At 6-foot, 227 pounds Murray has a lankier type of build and there’s a question whether we can the type of pounding that a featured back does. Dallas can’t afford any more injuries at the position as Felix Jones has gone down and Tashard Choice has been mostly ineffective.

Murray will likely get a good dose of work this Sunday when the Cowboys take on the Philadelphia Eagles who have struggled stopping the run. Philadelphia is 27th in the NFL allowing 4.8 yards per carry and 23rd overall in rushing defense, allowing nearly 125 yards per game.

Who Are the Top Workhorses?

The current trend in the NFL is more tandem type of backfields to keep running backs healthier. Although bad for fantasy owners, it makes sense as some of the league’s top teams- Green Bay, New England, San Diego and New Orleans all split carries.

The league’s top workhorse is Chicago running back Matt Forte, who touches the ball on 53 percent of the Bears offensive plays. Forte has the most yards from scrimmage in the league with 1,091 and is third in the NFL in rushing with 672 yards.

“Matt Forte, he’s just a great player,” coach Lovie Smith said. “He’s proven that every time he’s played all year.”

Next on the list is Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew has touched the ball on 51 percent of the Jaguars plays and is second in the NFL in rushing with 677 yards. The Jaguars run-heavy offense doesn’t light up the scoreboard often, but it would be downright abysmal if MJD wasn’t there.

The NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson is next on the list, touching the ball on exactly half of the Vikings plays. Peterson has 712 yards rushing this season, and with their switch from Donovan McNabb to Christian Ponder, expect Peterson to continue carrying the bulk of the load.

Rounding out the rest of the Top 10 are Baltimore’s Ray Rice (46 percent), Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (45 percent), Buffalo’s Fred Jackson and San Francisco’s Frank Gore are at 44 percent, Atlanta’s Michael Turner and Denver’s Willis McGahee at 43 percent, and Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson and New York’s Shonn Greene at 42 percent.

Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie

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