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A Correlation Between Regular and Post Season Carries

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With all my screaming about LaDainian Tomlinson's miles, I always seem to miss the point.  There's one point that always seems to bring this argument up for me and that's this: When it comes to the running game, the Chargers do everything backwards.

Now, I don't like to praise the Patriots and the way they do things....but it's proven to bring victories and championships so it's worth looking at.  When you look at the teams that are getting deep into the playoffs each year, it almost always has something to do with their running back having fresh legs at the end of the season.  Whether that's due to injury or the RB simply being held out for most of the year (which the Patriots seem to do with Laurence Maroney every year).  Even after seeing this and knowing that Tomlinson is old and beaten-up (relatively speaking), the team still runs him into the ground during the season so he has nothing left for the playoffs.  Don't believe me?  Just look at the massive statistical breakdown after the jump.

Top Playoff RBs in 2008:

Att (Post) Avg (Post) Att (Reg) Avg (Reg)
B Jacobs 19 4.8 219 5.0
A Peterson 20 4.2 363 4.8
E James 61 3.9 133 3.9
W McGahee 39 3.9 170 3.9
T Hightower 35 3.8 143 2.8
D Sproles 33 3.6 61 5.4
W Parker 70 3.5 210 3.8
L Tomlinson 5 5.0 292 3.8


Okay, let's ignore Adrian Peterson for a second.  As much as I'd love to compare Tomlinson to him, he's 6 years younger and 3 inches taller.  Not to mention that he appears to be made out of brick or cement or something.  So, taking him out of the equation, there is not another RB that performed well in the playoffs (with 19 or more carries) that had anywhere close to the amount of regular season carries Tomlinson had.  Why?  Well, different reasons.  Mostly it is because they're all part of a two-headed or three-headed backfield so that they're healthy enough and fresh enough to be a force in the playoffs.  You could argue that we needed every Tomlinson carry in the regular season to even make the playoffs in 2008, but I'd rather prepare my star player to be ready to destroy defenses in the playoffs and take my chances that Sproles and Hester could've gotten us to the same place in the regular season.  Even so, I'll take that argument and flip it on it's head.

Top Playoff RBs in 2007:

Att (Post) Avg (Post) Att (Reg) Avg (Reg)
R Grant 40 5.8 188 5.1
M Barber 27 4.8 204 4.8
L Maroney 61 4.6 185 4.5
A Bradshaw 48 4.3 23 8.3
M Turner 43 3.8 71 4.5
L White 19 3.6 303 3.7
E Graham 18 3.5 222 4.0
L Tomlinson 30 2.5 315 4.7


Again, let's ignore Lendale White.  And I'm not just doing this to make these numbers look better for my argument.  Tomlinson is listed at 5'10" 221lbs, quite generously I believe.  Lendale White is 6'1", 235lbs and Adrian Peterson is 6'1" 217lbs.  They're bigger guys, they're built for taking more of a pounding that LT.  Even with that being said, neither player was particularly great once they got to the playoffs.

So if we take White out of the picture, the closest running back in terms of regular season workload is Earnest Graham, who had nearly 100 less regular season carries than Tomlinson.  Michael Turner showed up in 2007 and Sproles showed up in 2008 as top playoff rushers, so we know the playcalling and offensive line is not to blame.  It's a simple case of Tomlinson giving all he has by Week 17 and having nothing left to give.  Is this making sense to anyone yet?  Maybe I'm presenting it a little bit backwards.  Let's do it this way:

RBs with most regular season carries (2008):

RushAtt (Reg) Team Rec (Reg)
M Turner 376 11-5
A Peterson 363 10-6
C Portis 342 8-8
M Forte 316 9-7
R Grant 312 6-10
L Tomlinson 292 8-8
T Jones 290 9-7
J Lewis 279 4-12


Now compare that to.....

Winninest teams in 2008 and the number of rushing attempts for their top rusher:

Team RushAtt (Reg)
Titans (13-3) 251 (C Johnson)
Colts (12-4) 155 (J Addai)
Steelers (12-4) 210 (W Parker)
Panthers (12-4) 273 (D Williams)
Giants (12-4) 219 (B Jacobs)
Dolphins (11-5) 214 (R Brown)
Patriots (11-5) 156 (S Morris)
Ravens (11-5) 232 (L McClain)
Falcons (11-5) 376 (M Turner)


Am I crazy?  If I did a chart of the number of rushes for the backup RB, it'd be even more striking.  The difference between a RB who has rushed the ball 292 times and one that's rushed it 210 times is four games, at 20 an average of 20 attempts per game.  I've been posting news about Chargers' players negative reactions to the idea of an 18-game regular season.  They know how beaten up they are after 16 games and they're scared how beaten up they'd be after 18 and then playoff games after that.  Tomlinson has taken so many carries over his career it's like he's been playing 18 game seasons already.  It's no wonder why the guy can't stay healthy in the playoffs.

Yes, recently I made the comparison to Emmitt Smith and said that Emmitt's career took an upswing after a down year at the same time.  The difference is that the philosophy of the NFL is changing.  Bigger, stronger, faster players means that 300 carries in today's NFL is not what 300 carries was a decade ago.  Smart NFL teams and coaches have realized that the only way to keep a running back healthy and fresh for the playoffs is to lessen the amount of times he's getting hit. 

We had a great opportunity with Michael Turner, where the Chargers could've used him as the bull during the regular season and then unleashed a healthy Tomlinson during the playoffs.  The team never took advantage of it though.  I'm hoping things are different with Gartrell Johnson.  I'm hoping he rushes the ball 150-200 times during the regular season and Tomlinson carries it for another 200-225.  They'll earn nicknames like "Thunder and Lightning", Johnson will be credited for stabilizing the running game and Tomlinson's career will be longer and more successful.  Everybody wins.  I have no idea why some people are so against this.  I believe the only way Tomlinson reaches his full potential in the playoffs, which I suppose would be as Super Bowl MVP, is if he's got the legs to push through the playoffs.  If he carries the ball 300 times in 2009, there's no way it happens.

I was going to end there, but just for the heck of it......

Winninest teams in 2008 and the number of rushing attempts for their second rusher:

Team RushAtt (Reg)
Titans (13-3) 200 (L White)
Colts (12-4) 152 (D Rhodes)
Steelers (12-4) 140 (M Moore)
Panthers (12-4) 183 (J Stewart)
Giants (12-4) 182 (D Ward)
Dolphins (11-5) 160 (R Williams)
Patriots (11-5) 83 (K Faulk)
Ravens (11-5) 170 (W McGahee)
Chargers (8-8) 61 (D Sproles)


Do you have any thoughts about Bolts From The Blue?  Any tips you want to send our way?  Whenever you have something to say, don't hesitate to e-mail me directly.