With the final month of the NFL regular season often come coaching changes. Just this week, we saw the Carolina Panthers part ways with Ron Rivera, making him and Jay Gruden, formerly of the Washington Redskins, the two coaches that have already lost their jobs this year.
That’s two teams now in need of a new head coach for the 2020 season, with more likely to come by the end of the month. Naturally, if I were conducting a coaching search, I’d look at hiring a person who will emphasize the run game. And not just because I played running back, but because the best teams at the end of the season tend to have a good, if not great, ground attack. If you look at the top eight rushing offenses right now, seven of those teams hold a playoff spot. So today, I’m here to point out some run-game gurus who deserve a promotion. Here we go:
Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy: Bieniemy was my coach at UCLA in the mid-2000s, and he did an incredible job of not only coaching, but teaching a young Maurice the nuances of playing the position and how small details can affect the big picture, not just the run game. Fast-forward about 15 years, and Bieniemy has become a prime candidate for a head job, having already interviewed for a number of NFL head-coaching vacancies last offseason. Although he isn’t the primary play-caller for the Chiefs (that’s still Andy Reid), Bieniemy still has a ton of input. He’s been in this position since Matt Nagy left for Chicago and has handled the responsibilities well. Bieniemy has worked with Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, Jamaal Charles during some of his best seasons in Kansas City and, in his first year as an NFL offensive coordinator, no doubt played a role in Patrick Mahomes’ MVP campaign. He knows how to handle adversity — look at what the Chiefs have been through over the last two years — and has the experience and know-how to still put out a highly functional product, no matter who’s on the field. Promotion: Head coach.
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49ers assistant HC/TEs coach Jon Embree: Embree has a great understanding of how his players, especially tight ends, fit into the run and pass games. He’s coached some of the NFL’s top tight ends throughout the years, including Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City and now George Kittle in San Francisco, and he knows how valuable that position is when it comes to the offense. (If you’ve watched New England’s offense at all this year, then you know what I’m talking about.) A branch from the Shanahan coaching tree, Embree possesses the leadership and knowledge to be successful as a head coach and offensive play-caller. Promotion: Head coach/offensive play-caller.
Eagles assistant HC/RBs coach Duce Staley: After a 10-year career as an NFL running back, Staley joined the Eagles’ staff as an intern during the 2010 offseason and has moved up the ranks through several coaching eras, working with Andy Reid (2010-12), Chip Kelly (2013-15) and Doug Pederson (2016-present). With Kelly, Staley helped LeSean McCoy have his best seasons. But the coach’s greatest contribution was his impact on the Eagles’ Super Bowl-winning team, which finished the season with a top-three rushing attack spearheaded by LeGarrette Blount. Staley has worked with talent levels across the board and understands what it takes to be a successful coordinator or play-caller in this league. Promotion: Offensive coordinator/play-caller.
Ravens OC Greg Roman: What Roman is doing with Lamar Jackson in Baltimore speaks for itself. His young quarterback is running at a record-setting pace, and the Ravens have the league’s top-ranked rushing attack. Roman does a phenomenal job building around his players’ skill sets and catering game plans to them. People often forget that Roman had success with dual-threat quarterbacks before Jackson. As an offensive coordinator in San Francisco, Roman built an offense that best suited Colin Kaepernick’s style and ended up earning a trip to the Super Bowl because of it. Then as the OC in Buffalo in 2015 and ’16, Roman led a top-10 scoring unit that featured another dual-threat QB, Tyrod Taylor. With the way the NFL is trending, Roman has proven he can coach, scheme and win by crafting creative run-centric offenses. Promotion: Head coach.
Vikings RBs coach Kennedy Polamalu: Polamalu started coaching the position back in 1994 and has helped several quality backs, from Reggie Bush at USC to Fred Taylor and myself in Jacksonville. Polamalu is everything a coach embodies as a mentor, teacher and father figure. He’s an educator who gives his players all the necessary tools to succeed, and having been around plenty of different offensive schemes and learning from great coaches throughout the years, there’s no doubt that Polamalu would prosper at a higher position. Promotion: Offensive coordinator.
Vikings assistant HC Gary Kubiak: Before going aboard the Vikings’ ship, Kubiak was known for turning unheralded backs into 1,000-yard rushers, including former sixth-round picks Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson (in Denver), Steve Slaton and undrafted free agent Adrian Foster (in Houston) and Ray Rice (in Baltimore). So just as everyone expected, bringing in Kubiak last offseason has paid off for Minnesota and Dalvin Cook, who’s in the middle of a career year. While Kubiak certainly has the credentials to return to the head of the table with some franchise, the bigger question is whether he’d actually take the promotion if presented to him. After all, he did step down from the top job in Denver after the 2016 season due to his health, so it’d make complete sense to me if he’s content not having all the extra responsibility. Promotion: Head coach.
Now, let’s get to the weekly rankings …
Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his TOP 10 each week for the final month of the 2019 season. His rankings are based on this season’s efforts alone. Here is MJD’s list heading into Week 14.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.
Check out the FedEx Air NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote.
2019 stats: 12 games | 235 att | 1,167 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 12 rush TDs | 75 rec | 644 rec yds | 4 rec TDs
McCaffrey holds strong at the top of the running back ranks heading into the final quarter of the season with 1,811 scrimmage yards through 12 games — ahead of the pace set by the last four RBs to win MVP since 2000 ( Adrian Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, Marshall Faulk). McCaffrey is on pace for 2,414 scrimmage yards this season, which would be third-most in a single season in NFL history, and no player this decade has had more than 2,400 yards in a season. Every week, I’m amazed by the tear the Panthers’ RB1 is on.
2019 stats: 12 games | 223 att | 1,046 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 12 rush TDs | 48 rec | 490 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
The entire state of Minnesota held its breath when trainers tended to Cook and Stefon Diggs after the running back’s third-quarter fumble. After seeing Diggs back in the game and hearing Cook should be good to go this weekend against the Lions, all Minnesotans can finally exhale.
2019 stats: 12 games | 232 att | 1,140 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 11 rush TDs | 17 rec | 200 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
The Titans RB1 has turned it on over the last three games, averaging 165.3 rush yards per game with five total rush TDs. Henry is punishing defenders and finishing runs to put the Titans in good position to make a playoff push. The remaining schedule won’t be easy, with games against the Raiders, Saints and two vs. division-leader Houston, but the former Heisman Trophy winner knows how to get it done this time of the year.
2019 stats: 12 games | 227 att | 990 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 39 rec | 326 rec yds | 1 rec TD
The Cowboys still hold the lead in the NFC East race, but it feels like an uphill battle heading into Chicago. This offense has been streaky, and facing the Bears’ fourth-ranked scoring defense won’t make things easier. Zeke’s production has diminished since Week 10 (62.3 rush yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry with one rush TD) and Dallas was 1-3 as a result. I’m looking for Zeke to replicate his first-half numbers down the stretch (92.6 rush ypg and 4.7 ypc with six rush TDs). So are the Cowboys.
2019 stats: 12 games | 218 att | 1,061 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 18 rec | 146 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Jacobs’ performance was one of the few positives for the Raiders in their blowout loss to Kansas City. The rookie bounced back from his worst game of the season and finished with 104 yards on the ground. With four weeks left, Jacobs leads all rookies in scrimmage yards, scrimmage touchdowns, rush yards and rush TDs.
2019 stats: 12 games | 238 att | 1,175 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 31 rec | 245 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
The current rushing yards leader is coming off a season-low performance of 58 rush yards against rival Pittsburgh. The entire Browns’ offense struggled in this one, which ultimately led to the team’s first loss in a month. And though the Browns likely won’t make the postseason, Chubb’s got a real chance to claim the rushing title in his second season for this reason alone: The Browns have three games against poor run defenses left on the schedule, including the Bengals’ last-ranked run defense twice.
2019 stats: 8 games | 120 att | 468 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 4 rush TD | 20 rec | 123 rec yds | 1 rec TD
As I pointed out last week, Gordon continues to improve as the weeks go by. That didn’t change in the Chargers’ loss to Denver on Sunday, as he rushed for 99 yards on 20 carries for 5.0 yards per tote. After a slow start, he looks poised to bring his yards-per-carry average near 4.5 by season’s end.
2019 stats: 12 games | 166 att | 837 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 9 rush TDs | 20 rec | 172 rec yds | 3 rec TDs
I love the energy Ingram brings to the Ravens’ offense each week. The valuable experience he gained with the Saints is on full display through his play and in the locker room. As a result, the Ravens lead the league with 207.8 rush yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry. A lot of that is due to the phenomenon that is Lamar Jackson, but Ingram is no slouch with 12 scrimmage TDs. This duo is on pace to be the first teammates to each have 1,000 rushing yards in a season since 2009, when Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart did it.
2019 stats: 12 games | 231 att | 981 rush yds | 4.2 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 32 rec | 227 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
Carson had a huge performance with 102 rush yards and a TD against Minnesota to help the Seahawks win the time-of-possession battle. He needed a good, clean outing after fumbling the ball four times in the three games prior to Monday night’s game vs. the Vikings. With 19 rush yards this weekend, Carson can earn 1,000 rush yards in back-to-back seasons.
2019 stats: 11 games | 154 att | 642 rush yds | 4.2 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 22 rec | 134 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Week 13 brought in the Rams offense of yesteryear … finally. The entire offense looked much better in the Rams’ 34-7 defeat of the Cardinals than it had in prior weeks, and that includes Gurley, who finished with 20 touches for 115 scrimmage yards and a rush TD. This is the type of performance Los Angeles needs from the offense in each game going forward. There’s no room for error when you’re sitting one game out of a wild-card spot.
Just missed: Joe Mixon, Bengals; Aaron Jones, Packers; Alvin Kamara, Saints; Derrius Guice, Redskins.
The Ground Index delivered by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. What is the possibility Derrick Henry cracks the top two next week? Check out the FedEx Air & Ground NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote.
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