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Running Game Success: Running game success is about more than the runner…

Updated: May 15, 2020

I thought it might be worth taking a second level look at the results of top rushing teams in week 4 and some of the seasoning behind why these numbers/results were so effective. Obviously, the RB’s get all the credit when it especially comes to the fantasy angle of points attributed to a team based on yards and carries. I’m here to say there is a common denominator to these results that extends beyond picking a talented back to play each week. A passing games success and the ability to keep the quarterback upright can commonly be attributed to the offensive-line but more specifically the offensive tackles. These guys protect the edges, the quarterbacks blind side and can determine the outcome of a pass play almost as much as the QB or the WR himself. Show me a solid set of tackles and I’ll show you a solid pass game. In the run game, however, the focus should be no further from the ball than the guy who snaps it each and every play. The center is totally under-rated and off most people’s radar but in the running game, he is the maestro. He orchestrates the group from his pre-snap calls to making the adjustments post-snap. He scoops, he helps, he passes off stunts and combos onto linebackers on the second level.  His communicative skills have to be excellent and he must see, adjust and get others on the right blocks. He is the guy who gets everyone on the same page. Run, Run, Run Here is a closer look at several teams that got results in the “run game” in week 4 of this young season, in my opinion, because of their center. New Orleans Saints The New Orleans Saints ran the ball 32 times for 170, 5.3 per carry and, yes, they were bolstered by the big play ability of Alvin Kamara. But, I think the fact that their center, Max Unger is healthy and calling the shots is going to go a long way toward Kamara’s numbers being consistent for the long haul. Max is a former all-pro who clearly see’s things like a QB and gives the Saints stability. A former college OT who see’s things big picture and can make adjustments on the fly because of his natural instincts. They dominated the Giants up front this week. I’m giving Max much of this credit. Dallas Cowboys The Dallas Cowboys offensive line has had a reputation that has been a bit blown out of proportion over the last few years. Of course, RB, Ezekiel Elliott is talented but the loss of Travis Fredrick, their starting center, cannot be under estimated. Joe Looney has moved in and started all 4 games to date. It is only fair that the line and the run game went thru a period of adjustment. The first two weeks were shaky but the last two weeks vs Seattle and Detroit has shown that Looney is settling in, feeling comfortable making calls. The 35 carries/183 yds that their running game was credited with this week, has as much to do with Looney’s play at center as anyone else’s on that offense. The Big Uglies Play Big These next 2 examples are indicators of the O’line and the RB seeing things together and finding a groove. New England Patriots New England’s center, David Andrews has started many games his first 4 years but not until this past Sunday has he had a back with the talent to be effective on all 3 downs, lining up behind him, like Sony Michel. The Pats had 40 rushes for 175 and Sony went over 100 yds for the first time in his career. Sure, the Dolphins played soft and uninspired but look for the Pats to now have a run game unlike the ones that have been patch-work, at best in the past. You watch, David Andrews will start to get some mentions for being Pro-Bowl worthy if this continues and it would be warranted. Chicago Bears The other center-RB combo that jumped out at me this week is in Chicago where all the spotlight has been on a defense that is totally worthy of it. Cody Whitehair is fast becoming one of the top center in the entire league. The former Kansas St offensive tackle (I love the fact that he has played on the edge in the past) now has a back in Tarik Cohen who is dynamic and explosive in both the run and passing games. Matt Nagy and his scheme is a great fit for both OC and RB. 31 rushing attempts shows a willingness to be physical and even though Cohen is not the downhill power-back, he is the weapon this offense has lacked. Los Angeles Chargers The Chargers are a team that has struggled to run the ball consistently for the last 5-6 years. They have had to try and trick their way thru gadgets and short passing game originality to control the ball. That has changed this year with the addition of Mike Pouncey at center. He is tough, he is strong and he is powerful enough to knock defenders off the line of scrimmage. They have not had that, in years. To that end, Melvin Gordon has taken his game to the next level. The Chargers have always been easily pushed around up front and Phillip Rivers has had to make everything right. Now Phillip has help with a run game, a leader and some much-needed physicality upfront with the addition of Pouncey. Gordon’s numbers should do nothing but get better. Fantasy Tip of the Week So when looking ahead and selecting your team to play each week, take a look at the injury reports and make sure your teams center has a reasonable chance to play if you want to have that particular RB in your lineup. Look for the center that’s smart, comfortable in his teams’ scheme. Rookies at that position are risky, even for a fantasy RB selection process.

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