Scout NFL Roundtable: Rushing Attack

Get the scoop on teams who are going to be fielding a better rushing attack in 2007 -- and some that may slip in production for a variety of reasons. Sixteen of's NFL team experts provide you with the outlook for their teams in this exclusive report.

Craig Massei,
San Francisco 49ers

In his second NFL season last year, Frank Gore burst onto the scene with the most prolific season by a running back in the 61-year history of the 49ers franchise, leading the NFC with a team-record 1,695 yards rushing. So it's a pretty simple and straightforward answer regarding whether the Niners will improve on their rushing production in 2007.

Of course they will. Because Gore says they will. And the 49ers have all the pieces in place for it to happen.

Even though Gore went off in 2006, the 49ers' team total of 2,172 rushing yards wasn't even close to the team record of 2,544 set by the Garrison Hearst-led 1998 team. But expect San Francisco to challenge that record this season. Gore already has stated his personal goals are a 2,000-yard season and even to challenge Eric Dickerson's NFL record of 2,105 yards that now has stood for 22 seasons.

Gore is complemented by a tremendous blocking fullback in Moran Norris, has a versatile set of reserves fighting for backup carries behind him, and in front of him stands a cohesive offensive line that's becoming one of the finest run-blocking units in the league. Now that first-round draft pick Joe Staley has been added to the line mix, it should only get better. And though it's pretty good already, so should San Francisco's rushing game.

Charlie Bernstein,
Jacksonville Jaguars

Although the Jaguars finished third in the NFL in rushing in 2006 and return all of their key components from that fantastic rushing attack, I expect them to be less productive on the ground in 2007. They can no longer "sneak up" on teams with that powerful ground game. 

In 2006, the team was forced to make a commitment to running the football, and opposing defenses really didn't play with an extra man in the box to stop them until very late in the season. In 2007, that will no longer be the case, and teams will force the Jaguars 24th-ranked passing attack from a year ago to beat them.

The Jaguars have a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter and the team returns it's starting quarterback in Byron Leftwich, both of whom will impact this year's ground-game production.  Koetter has more of an attacking philosophy and the team will have much more confidence throwing the football with Leftwich behind center. So even though the Jaguars return their talented running back tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, as well as Greg Jones, they will likely call fewer running plays and thus have less overall rushing yards.

Todd Korth,
Green Bay Packers

Unless the Packers swing a deal for a veteran running back like Larry Johnson or Corey Dillon, Green Bay will enter the 2007 season with a young, untested backfield that features Vernand Morency, Brandon Jackson, and Noah Herron at running back, and Brandon Miree and DeShawn Wynn at fullback. All five players have a total of six starts in their NFL careers. Miree is the "veteran" of the group with three NFL seasons under his belt. The others have two or less.

Despite the youth and departure of Ahman Green (Houston), Green Bay should be able to improve its rushing attack behind an offensive line that has returned all five starters and played well as the season progressed last season.

Jerry Langton,
Indianapolis Colts

Joseph Addai
Although they lost Dominic Rhodes and his 641 rushing yards to Oakland, the Colts will probably have a more productive rushing attack this year. The primary reason is simple: second-year back Joseph Addai will get more carries. 

Although he didn't start a single regular-season game, the faster, stronger Addai rushed for 440 more yards than Rhodes and sported a gaudy 4.78 per-carry average, much better than Rhodes' 3.42. With a year under his belt, Addai should be even better. 

He also has some help in speedsters DeDe Dorsey and Kenton Keith, both of whom have fresher, quicker legs than Rhodes. Moreover, there should be increased competition on the offensive line as Ryan Lilja, Jake Scott and Tarik Glenn are playing for contracts, Tony Ugoh and Charlie Johnson are vying for expanded roles and Rick DeMulling has returned from NFL oblivion (Detroit). 

The addition of a viable slot receiver in first-round pick Anthony Gonzalez should further terrify safeties into playing off the line against the Colts.

John Crist,
Chicago Bears

After trading away leading rusher Thomas Jones and handing the starting job to Cedric Benson, this could be the most important question for the NFC Champions on offense this season.

The Bears struggled to run the ball the first half of 2006, but the combination of Jones and Benson came on strong down the stretch and developed into quite a one-two punch. While Benson looked to be the better back at times, it was Jones who became the first Midway Monster since Neal Anderson to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and was the only productive member of the offense in Super Bowl XLI. 

Special-teams standout Adrian Peterson and diminutive rookie Garrett Wolfe are now second and third, respectively, on the depth chart, so look for Benson to get 20-25 attempts week in and week out.

While I do expect Benson to have a better performance from a statistical standpoint than Jones did last year, I believe the team's rushing output as a whole will take a hit because the aging offensive line is a year older and neither Peterson nor Wolfe may be a reliable change-of-pace.

Alain Poupart,
Miami Dolphins

For all their offensive problems in recent years, the Dolphins actually have had decent success running the ball, so one would think things should only improve with a better passing game. And the arrival of Trent Green indeed should make the Dolphins passing game better.  In addition, third-round pick Lorenzo Booker's tremendous speed should allow him to break a couple of long runs here and there. That's a threat the Dolphins haven't had in recent years. 

The offensive line is a question mark, but that's no different than it's been around Miami recently, so it's not a major factor. So we're thinking Ronnie Brown, fresh off a 1,000-yard season, should be able to help the Dolphins have a successful -- if unspectacular -- running game in 2007.

Chuck Hixson,
Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles didn't truly realize that they even had a running game until Jeff Garcia took over as their quarterback last season. Actually, the change came when Andy Reid turned over the offensive play calling to Marty Mornhinweg, who put the ground game to work. 

Turning Brian Westbrook loose was a way to take some pressure off Garcia in the absence of Donovan McNabb. Now, with McNabb coming off his second consecutive season with substantial time lost to injury, the ground game will be a way of keeping him healthy.

The final numbers on the ground game for 2007 will likely be better, because the attack will be there from Week One rather than starting in Week Ten of the season. Westrbook proved himself to be durable enough to carry the load and Correll Buckhalter and newcomer Tony Hunt should help carry enough of the load to keep the ground game strong. The offensive line is strong, if not spectacular, and showed themselves ready to lead the running attack last season.

Aaron Wilson,
Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens' revamped running game should be more productive this year with the depature of Jamal Lewis and the addition of Willis McGahee due to having a more athletic, versatile runner as the centerpiece of the offense to work in tandem with a blocking corps that's getting younger and more mobile.

Baltimore dipped to 25th in the league in total rushing last season, a far cry from its 2,066-yard glory with Lewis back in 2003 when he was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Now, the Ravens are banking $40 million on McGahee that he can breathe life into a dormant running game.

Jon Scott,
New England Patriots

Laurence Maroney (AP)
As the 2007 season approaches, the Patriots have questions about their running game. With Corey Dillon now a member of the Pats alumni it will be up to Laurence Maroney to carry the load as the primary back. Maroney will have some help, but it may not be enough to help him avoid injuries like the one that sidelined him at the end of last season, or the shoulder injury he's recovering from now.

The Patriots finished 12th overall with 1,936 yards (3.9 yards-per-carry average) on the ground in 2006. They may not have as many attempts (499) this year because of all the receiving weapons at their disposal, but their efficiency should improve. 

The Patriots are expected to use spread offense formations to create space for the slashing Maroney. The second-year back has proven that he can get to the hole quickly, so expect more big runs of 20+ yards from him this year than the seven he had in 2006.

Matthew Postins,
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jon Gruden lost confidence in his running game last year for two reasons -- his offensive line regressed due to injuries and an inexperienced right side, and Cadillac Williams became a tentative runner as his holes evaporated. The line should be a bit better thanks to the year's worth of snaps RT Jeremy Trueblood and RG Davin Joseph got as rookies, and the signing of LT Luke Petitgout. He's certainly not a Pro Bowl left tackle, but he's better than last year's starter, Anthony Davis. 

As for Williams, he worked out in bare feet most of the offseason to strengthen the feet that have given him trouble the past two years. By all accounts he is in great shape. Plus, Jeff Garcia should be a more effective quarterback than Chris Simms was last year, thereby lessening defense's chances of putting eight players in the box to stop the run. 

If the line improves, Gruden uses Williams judiciously and gets Michael Pittman more involved, I expect the ground game to improve, potentially to the Bucs' 2005 level.

Denis Savage,
Oakland Raiders

Oakland's rushing attack can't be much worse than its meager production in 2006.  A porous offensive line and running backs who couldn't create their own running room led to a ranking of 29th in the league in yards per game. 

Enter Tom Cable.

Cable, the architect of the NFL's leading rushing attack in 2006 with Atlanta, brings accountability that wasn't present a year ago.  He builds his scheme around his players rather than trying to force a  scheme upon the personnel and will put a Raiders line that was blasted last season in position to succeed.  The Oakland offensive line isn't as bad as last year might indicate and should rebound to provide a stable attack that will do damage in '07.

Tim Yotter,
Minnesota Vikings

The short answer is that the Vikings should be significantly improved in the rushing game despite Chester Taylor setting a franchise record with 303 attempts last year. The issue then was that Taylor became worn down and battled through "body soreness" for a 4.0-yard average. He did that with an offensive line that looked confused last year. 

Now the offensive line has a year of experience in a new offense and new zone-blocking scheme. Oh, and the addition of rookie Adrian Peterson will take numerous carries off of Taylor and add explosiveness to the edges. 

While the Vikings may end up with more rushing attempts this year – head coach Brad Childress preaches ball control – each attempt should be more effective and keep defenses off balance with a Taylor-Peterson combination running behind a more comfortable offensive line.

Stan Jones,
Tennessee Titans

LenDale White
The Titans have probably the most questions to be answered about their running game than any other team in the league. After the departure of 2006 team-leading rusher Travis Henry to the Denver Broncos, no one seems real sure who will be expected to carry the load at running back this season. 

The first candidate is Chris Brown, who was re-signed late last month in hopes that his veteran leadership will help solidify the position. Brown led the team in 2004 with 1,067 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns but has been inconsistent in his production due to lingering injuries throughout his career. 

Second-year player LenDale White and 2nd-round selection Chris Henry will also be vying for playing time. Throw into the mix a second-year quarterback, and a consistent rushing attack will be difficult for Tennessee to create. The only bright side may be that the entire offensive line returns intact, anchored by Pro-Bowl center Kevin Mawae. 

But the expected results for the Titans' offense don't look very good for the upcoming season .

Ken Palmer,
New York Giants

There is absolutely, positively no way that the Giants running game will be as successful this season as it was in 2006, when the franchise's all-time leading rusher, Tiki Barber, rolled to 1,662 yards. 

New York is hopeful that it can post a decent enough running game with the tandem of Brandon Jacobs, getting his first crack at being the top gun, and Reuben Droughns, who has twice put up 1,200-yard rushing seasons. But to think they'll even come close to replacing Barber would be foolish. 

Not only was Barber superb rushing the ball, but he was equally adept catching it out of the backfield and pass-blocking as well. No matter what the current duo does, it can't possibly come close to Barber level.

Barry McBride,
Cleveland Browns

Cleveland has been home to some of the greatest backs in NFL history, but trouble running the football consistently has been a Browns trademark since their return in 1999. 

To fix that, GM Phil Savage signed left guard Eric Steinbach to an extremely generous free agent contract and picked LT Joe Thomas with the third selection in the draft. The Browns will also make a change at right guard after letting veteran Cosey Coleman leave during the off-season. To cap off the rushing re-make, the Browns traded away RB Reuben Droughns and signed ex-Raven RB Jamal Lewis.

Whether Cleveland can take advantage of Savage's investment depends largely on two factors: the resurgence of Lewis, whose declining production in Baltimore convinced Ozzie Newsome to let him move on, and the ability of the Browns to successfully pass the ball. 

Droughns' average yards per carry dropped off significantly once quarterback Charlie Frye took over, a symptom of opposing defenses being less concerned about the pass and stacking the line to stop the run. If new players and a new offensive system can deal with those two issues, the Browns rushing attack could return in 2007.

Jim Wexell,
Pittsburgh Steelers

New coordinator Bruce Arians has folks convinced he's going to pass the ball more, but he'll probably only mirror what Ken Whisenhunt did during the 2005 playoff run -- the same amount of passing but on earlier downs. So to that end, Willie Parker should come close to his 1,494 yardage total last year. 

The backups -- Najeh Davenport, Verron Haynes, Kevan Barlow -- are as uninspiring as they were last year, but the offensive line should play better since Willie Colon is putting heat on Max Starks at right tackle.

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