NFL

Ground and Pound Teams – Part 2

on

As our short “Ground and Pound” series concludes, we’re going to be looking at five new teams that need to focus on controlling the game on the ground. This is not to say their current quarterback isn’t capable of airing it out, but life will be easier if they’re able to establish a ground attack because it’ll open up things more in the air.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Minnesota Vikings – A season ago, the Vikings were without superstar running back Adrian Peterson for pretty much the entire season, as he was suspended for abusive discipline towards his son.

The absence of Peterson was very noticeable. Matt Asiata was their leading rusher with only 570 yards on a 3.5 yards per carry average. Overall, Jerick McKinnon ran the ball at a more efficient rate (4.8 ypc), but he received limited carries (113).

Teddy Bridgewater had an up and down rookie campaign, which is expected. The Louisville product completed 64.4 percent of his passes while tossing 14 touchdowns to go along with 12 picks. It would only seem natural for Bridgewater to improve in Year Two, but handing the ball off to Peterson is still Minnesota’s best option.

The age backs tend to slow down at is 30, which is how old Peterson is. With that being said, Peterson only appeared in one game last season, so the six-time Pro Bowler doesn’t have quite the wear and tear as your prototypical guy his age.

Also, when you look at Minnesota’s receiving corps, you begin to ask yourself, “who does Bridgewater have to throw the ball to?”

Minnesota’s best receiving option is Mike Wallace and he’s coming off a rather disappointing stint with the Miami Dolphins, so at the end of the day, just feed AP.

Dallas Cowboys – When it comes to efficiency, Tony Romo had the best season of his career in 2014. Romo posted career-highs in completion percentage (69.9 percent) and quarterback rating (113.2).

Why was Romo so efficient?

First and foremost, when you consider how dominant the Cowboys are up front, it was easy for them to pound the rock with DeMarco Murray, who ended up leading the league in rushing. As a team, Dallas ranked second in rushing, only trailing the Seattle Seahawks.

With those points factored in, it allowed the pressure to be taken off of Romo. The 35-year-old quarterback only attempted 435 passes last year, which was his lowest total since 2010.

Now with Murray no longer in the picture, Dallas will most likely experience a drop off in their run production, but that isn’t to say they should completely abandon the run game. Newly acquired Darren McFadden is determined to prove he’s capable of being a reliable back in this league.

“I just want to go out there and continue to show people what I can do,” McFadden said. “I still don’t think the world has seen the best of Darren McFadden.”

The main knock on McFadden is his inability to stay healthy and with that in mind, Joseph Randle will probably receive the bulk of the carries. Randle has shown flashes of his potential, but now it’s time for him to prove he’s a steady, every downs back.

Cleveland Browns – There are a lot of question marks surrounding the Browns offense heading into the regular season and deservedly so. This is a unit that hasn’t endured sustained or even momentary success in recent memory.

All signs point to Josh McCown being the starting quarterback Week One against the New York Jets, which is cause for concern in it’s own right. In a perfect world, McCown is your backup, but when you’re Cleveland, your options are limited.

To make matters even worse, Cleveland’s receiving corps features guys like Brian Hartline, Dwayne Bowe, Andrew Hawkins and etc. None of those names scream out No. 1 receiver and when you don’t have a quarterback capable of making others look better, your best bet is to rely on the running game.

When you look at Cleveland’s running options on paper, the names won’t ‘wow’ you, but they have some young guys with potential in Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West and rookie Duke Johnson.

And if Cleveland’s front office doesn’t feel comfortable moving forward with them, there’s been some speculation of possible interest in Ray Rice.

General manager Ray Farmer addressed the Rice chatter.

“Right now, I’d say it’s all premature in my mind,” Farmer said. “We’re interested in seeing what our young guys can do. Focused on them. Giving them the opportunity to demonstrate whether they can or they can’t.

“I think we’ve got some talented young guys. Ray’s had his career. We kind of know what he is. We think we know. There’s a lot of tape.”

Cleveland’s defense is legit, but with their limited offense, this team will have to win ugly and it starts with pounding the rock.

Jacksonville Jaguars – It’s no secret that Blake Bortles had a rough rookie campaign, as he only tossed 11 touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions. If you’re a Jaguars fan, it’s only natural to believe Bortles will show signs of tremendous improvement in Year Two.

In that same breath, Bortles won’t be able to fully flourish until Jacksonville shows the ability to establish a consistent running attack.

Here’s where rookie T.J. Yeldon comes into play.

Back during OTA’s, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny was very impressed with Yeldon’s ability.

“He looks really good in short-area change of direction,” Posluszny said. “He looks really, really good there. It’s, ‘How does a guy move in space? How athletic is he?’ That’s what stands out. With him, he definitely has it.”

Last year, Jacksonville ranked 21st in rushing and with them trailing in most games, it put tons of pressure on Bortles when opponents knew they had to pass.

If Yeldon is able to perform at a fairly high level as a rookie, it will allow things to open up more for Bortles in the aerial attack.

New York Jets – Until Geno Smith returns, journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick is the man under center moving forward.

Prior to Smith’s unfortunate injury, there were already major question marks about him as a starting quarterback. He came out of West Virginia with tons of hype and expectations, but his first two seasons in New York were so underwhelming that most believed this upcoming season was a make or break campaign and if he comes back, that will still be the case.

If Smith does indeed regain his spot back, everything offensively shouldn’t fall on him because the run game should be the primary option.

New York has five experienced backs in Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Zac Stacy, Daryl Richardson and Stevan Ridley.

It appears that Ivory has the inside track to be the starting guy, but head coach Todd Bowles isn’t fully committing to anything just yet.

“If we are running the ball well, and [Ivory’s] getting some nice runs in there, he’s getting some carries, he can easily [be an every-down back],” Bowles said. “He’s built to do that. But we have other guys that we don’t want to wear down that we want to play also, so it will be a feel of how the game is going.”

As the season gets closer and closer, make sure to look out for these five teams and see if they take my advice. Also, in case you missed Part One of the ‘Ground and Pound’ series, you can find it here.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.