NFL: Week Sixteen, 2008

Debating those MVP RB's

by Rick Rockwell

Who is the most important running back in the National Football League (NFL)? Maybe even more important than the top quarterbacks? Some of the answers are obvious. Some are not.

The obvious choice: Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. Peterson currently leads the league in rushing (1581 yards). He’s a punishing runner with breakaway speed and moves. Although the Vikings have a stout defense, the main reason they are leading their division and have the inside track for a playoff spot is because of Peterson. To stop his running, opposing teams load up at the line of scrimmage, which opens up the passing lanes. A solid but ordinary quarterback such as Gus Frerotte (the fans in D.C. will chew on the irony if the Vikings make the playoffs with Frerotte at the helm) raises his level of play with Peterson in the backfield.

Right now, Michael Turner of the Atlanta Falcons is right behind Peterson on the rushing charts with 1421 yards. Turner is one of the key reasons the Falcons are back in the playoff chase this year (the other reasons being rookie of year candidate Matt Ryan at quarterback and a smothering defense led by defensive end John Abraham). Turner also proves his worth by his absence. Just ask the San Diego Chargers if they miss Turner, who was the backup to LaDainian Tomlinson for years and often provided a second punch behind Tomlinson. Tomlinson is having an off year, having not even cracked a thousand yards rushing for the season. The inconsistent Chargers’ problems are more than the loss of Turner but he has proved to be a greater loss than expected. And if the Falcons get to the playoffs, you can credit Turner who broke off clutch runs in key games.

Even in D.C., as the city’s team recedes in the playoff hunt, running back Clinton Portis (1337 yards) has shown his importance. However, for all the wrong reasons. Portis and how he has undercut and undermined his head coach is worthy of at least a column or two all on his own. But for now, let’s just leave it at this: Jim Zorn hitched his wagon to the very talented Portis and now that Portis is banged up and feeling underappreciated his team’s season is as lost as the sense of professionalism and team spirit in D.C.’s locker room.

All of the running backs mentioned above are the engines of their teams’ offenses. But perhaps the most important running back barely cracks the top ten in total rushing yards. That would be Brandon Jacobs of the World Champion New York Giants. Anyone who watched the Giants implode on national television in Dallas last weekend knows Jacobs’ worth. Much like how the Chargers miss Turner, the Giants sorely needed Jacobs against the Cowboys. Sure, the Giants have other backs who they use in a rotation with Jacobs (one of the reasons Jacobs doesn’t lead the league in rushing, and also due to some injuries the past few weeks). And certainly, not all of the Giants’ recent woes are from missing Jacobs: a banged up offensive line has something to do with it too.

But Jacobs is the type of back who doesn’t just get his team to the playoffs. He’s a closer. He’s a bulldozer. He’ll run over opponents all the way to the championship, just like last year. At 6’4” and 264 pounds, Jacobs is a runner like Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, the legendary Steelers back, or Larry Csonka of the Dolphins from the 1970s. Like those backs, Jacobs wears defenses down, throwing himself into the scrum and then he rolls up tremendous yards to close out games.

Peterson and Turner are great backs to have if you are in the playoff hunt. But Jacobs is the back you want to go deep into the playoffs. If the Giants are going to repeat, keeping Jacobs healthy and feeding him the ball will be key components as the season heads into January.

Week 16 Office Pool Predictions

Game of the Week: Panthers at Giants (Giants)
Upset Special: Bengals at Browns (Bengals)

Dolphins at Chiefs (Chiefs)
49ers at Rams (Rams)
Jets at Seahawks (Jets)
Cardinals at Patriots (Patriots)
Steelers at Titans (Steelers)
Packers at Bears (Bears)
Bills at Broncos (Broncos)
Falcons at Vikings (Vikings)
Ravens at Cowboys (Cowboys)
Colts at Jaguars (Colts)
Chargers at Buccaneers (Buccaneers)
Eagles at Washington (Eagles)
Saints at Lions (Lions)
Texans at Raiders (Texans)

Last Week: .688
2008 Season: .637

For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:

  • The D.C. Universe,
  • Gun Toting Liberal, and
  • The Liberal Journal.

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