Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Many that cover the NFL have been calling it a "passing league" for the past few seasons. There's a lot of evidence to back that notion, but there are also statistics backing the strong emphasis of the running game in today's NFL.
"In today's NFL you have to be able to throw the football". How many times have we heard that over the past two or three seasons? Today's NFL has been labeled "a passing league" where a team needs to have a capable, if not elite quarterback to may any damage in the league. With the ushering in of a few young guns led by Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, and Colin Kaepernick; as well as the grizzled veterans consisting of the Manning brothers, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, it's hard to deny that notion.
But, as you look around the league and at the teams who made the playoffs this season, seven of the twelve teams have either built their offense's around running the football and/or have it play a major role in their team's success: the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and Washington Redskins. Furthermore, five of those seven teams had running backs on the Pro Bowl roster, with the Redskins' Alfred Morris getting snubbed as a possible sixth. And, as you know by now, two of these teams are facing off in the Super Bowl this Sunday in the 49ers and Ravens.
Two of those teams also frequently boast "the pistol offense", allowing an athletic quarterback contribute heavily in the run game with the Seahwaks as an additional team that uses it from time to time. Still, six of the seven boast a "franchise running back", with the Bengals being a possible seventh, depending on how one views BenJarvus Green-Ellis and his value to the Bengals. One could also easily make the case that the Vikings would not have even sniffed the postseason if it wasn't for Adrian Peterson's 2012 season that was the second-best rushing performance in NFL history.
If one were to look at other competitive teams around the league, quality backs are on their rosters. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a prime example, as are the Chicago Bears. There is also some evidence contrary to the "passing league theory" that is currently an en vogue phrase to use. For instance, the Detroit Lions have their franchise quarterback and an All-World wide receiver, but have only one playoff appearance since they've both been there. Sure, Detroit's secondary is deplorable, but they haven't been able to run the ball effectively for quite some time.
Attached to the devaluation of the running game and players at the position is the perception that "a team can find an effective running back anywhere". There are examples of this being true with Washington's Morris and Philadelphia's Bryce Brown, but the impacts of high picks in 2012 like Doug Martin, Trent Richardson and David Wilson also speak volumes.
To wholly debate the fact that it might not be a passing league isn't really much of a debate to have. It's obvious that teams need to have a capable quarterback under center to have a chance at the postseason--2012 proved that. But, 2012 also showed us that contributions of the running backs seems to be overshadowed by this era of the quarterback. The top-12 successful teams this year showed us that.