NFL is a pass-first league but teams still need versatile runners

It was only a few years ago that everyone was shouting about the development of NFL into a passing league and how the role of the running back had been diminished. It was claimed that the running back was outdated and that they would become nothing more than a red-zone threat '“ within 20yards of the goal line. However, this season, two rushers are strong contenders for the NFL's most valuable player.

Philadelphia Eagles safety Corey Graham cant stop LA Rams running back Todd Gurley scoring. Picture: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

The evolution of the NFL into a passing league is undeniable but what people didn’t see was how a running back could have a significant impact in that passing game. Traditionally a running back is handed the ball by the quarterback, and he tries to find the predesignated gap in the opposition defensive line and run the ball downfield.

For many years that was the way the game was played, “smash-mouth football” as it was dubbed.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Then the position developed as the passing game moved around it and, all of a sudden running backs were being graded on their ability to block while the quarterback looked for a pass. Finally, the role became a more active part of the passing game with rushers also expected to catch some passes.

That brings us to 2018, when the new breed of running back is expected to complete all of these roles, often at the same time. This year, the LA Rams’ Todd Gurley and Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliot have exemplified this both having over 1200 yards running the ball and 500 in the passing game.

This isn’t a fluke as both these players have been putting up numbers similar to this for the last few seasons, in fact, their teams have developed playbooks around the ability of these superstars knowing that this will offer the best opportunity to disrupt defences.

But both Elliot and Gurley will know that they can’t sit back on their laurels as other teams are now looking for similar players.

This year, the Giants’ Saquon Barkley and Phillip Lindsay in Denver are battling it out for offensive rookie of the year, while Gurley’s fellow University of Georgia alumni Nick Chubb, drafted by the Browns, and Sony Michel of the Patriots are also showing how useful it is to have a running back who can do it all.

It is almost play-off season and, while the teams are nearly all decided, the battle for home field advantage rages on. As in any sport being the home team brings its benefits but in the NFL that has a tendency to mean playing somewhere below freezing in January.

Kansas City Chiefs have one of the best records in football but after a loss division rivals the LA Chargers, they could still end up with a wild card slot and a dreaded road trip to Chicago. The Cleveland Browns also continued to upset the apple cart by holding on to beat Denver and keep their name in the play-off reckoning.

The Pittsburgh Steelers picked up a much-needed win in another tightly fought game that ended with the New England Patriots’ superstar quarterback Tom Brady throwing hopeful passes into the end zone. The win means the Steelers stay above the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC East and, while the Patriots still look like a shoo-in for the play-offs, they aren’t currently in a position to get the first round bye that typically signals a Super Bowl appearance.

The Indianapolis Colts stopped the Dallas Cowboys from scoring any points as they kept the pressure on the Tennessee Titans with their seventh win in eight games as the battle for the final AFC Wild Card place heats up. That shutout was bad news for Dallas, as a win would have shut the door on their divisional rivals the Washington Redskins.

Atlanta Falcons season is over but they humiliated the Arizona Cardinals in a blow out that was reminiscent of the team who made the Super Bowl two years ago.

It is not all bad news for the Cardinals, though, as its now a two-horse race with Oakland Raiders for the number one draft pick in April.

The Raiders lousy week got worse as Cincinnati beat them days after the city of Oakland started court proceedings about their impending departure with any return to Oakland for the last season before their move toLas Vegas being ruled out by the organisation.