News that Shaun Alexander is getting ready to return to the Seahawks lineup reminds us that no running back is having a fantasy year in 2006. Shaun was slowed and now has been sidelined by a cracked bone in his foot. The Chiefs Larry Johnson has been a weekly injury report listee with a neck injury and has struggled behind a much changed offensive line and alongside a new QB.
But the running backs of the NFL are more than Shaun and LJ. And even though those two were the objects of affection for all Fantasy players in August, you'd think that by now if not them, then who?
LaDainian Tomlinson? Nice season. Not spectacular. Not after the seasons he's had and not after the jaw-dropping seasons Shaun and LJ had last year. Tiki Barber (don't leave us Tiki, pleeease) has great yards but ZERO TDs. Not a Fantasy player's fantasy.
So what's happened to the running backs of the NFL? Why isn't there a breakout back making us sit up and go WOW.
One answer is that some coaches are getting smarter about their teams and the health of their RBs and frustrating the hell out of Fantasy managers. They're not wearing out their No. 1 back, they're sharing the load at what seems a much greater rate. I know my friend Josh is probably snickering right about now for my using the words ‘smarter' and ‘coaches' in the same sentence, and it made me pause, too. But some coaches really are smart and as for the rest, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then.
No one is using the two-back system more effectively than the Patriots, and with the Pats we have no problem talking about a smart coach. (Weird, too, but that's for another day.) Laurence Maroney has 361 yards and 3 TDs, Corey Dillon 328 and 4. Nice, not spectacular but the Pats are 5-1 and the effective running backs have kept the pressure off a struggling bunch of receivers. One of Maroney or Dillon might reach 1,000 yards, or neither might. You think it matters to Belichick?
The Giants have Tiki piling up the yards while he stays out of the end zone like it's mined. Brandon Jacobs is doing what he's supposed to and getting those red zone TDs. Not so good if Tiki's your No. 1 Fantasy back, but it's working great for the Big Blue Team of Destiny.
Even the Jets, (the Jets!) are making the several-back offense work and as a result seem to have uncovered a jewel in rookie Leon Washington. The Jets aren't doing it with two main backs, but four.
We've got a lot of weeks ahead of us to see whether this trend (May we call it a trend? Thanks.) stands up or if the pressure of big late-season games turns it around. But for now, it looks like the Bears will be a two-back team with Benson and Jones and we think they are the NFC's best bet for the Super Bowl. We know the Patriots are going to stay the course (Oops, sorry, banned phrase.) and they're starting to get the Super Bowl feel, too. And do you think the Colts miss Edgerrin James? Not with their combo of Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes going so well. You think Edgerrin James misses the Colts? His god-awful numbers for the god-awful Cardinals are 161 for 432 and 2 TDs. That's a 2.7-yard average, so he's not only a solo act at RB, he's doing it without an offensive line.
The Vikings are one team bucking the trend with Chester Taylor making you rub your eyes at his success. Did you see his 95-yarder last week? But if you look around the league, you see the multi-back attack working in a lot of places. New Orleans. Carolina. Baltimore. Atlanta, where the second back is also the No. 1 QB. As a fan of those teams, it should make you happy; as a Fantasy manager, not so much. But have hope: Last season at game 7, LJ had 344 yards and 4 TDs as the No. 2 back in a two-back tandem. Then Priest Holmes got hurt and LJ went for 1,351 and 16 TDs in nine games. Now we're not hoping that anyone gets hurt but we are hoping that someone has a finish like that.