Not sure why 2 RB set isn’t considered more often

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Read this brief update from profootball weekly:

The Cowboys are playing around with using Marion Barber and Felix Jones — something it did sparingly last season when the two were healthy — on the field at the same time. It doesn’t have to be in traditional, two-back sets, either; Jones has the flexibility to split out and motion into or out of the backfield.

Normally such an insignificant off-season bit piece, especially about the Cowboys, wouldn’t register on my NFL radar. But this just makes sense to me and I wonder why more teams don’t do it. It seems that in the last 15-20 years at least, teams have quietly obeyed some unwritten rule that they should NOT play 2 RBs at the same time. Now, I’m not including FBs here, just RBs – and I’m not referring to the now popular sharing of the running load by 2 RBs (Chris Johnson, Lendale White, etc). My question is: why don’t more NFL and even college teams consider putting 2 talented backs on the field at the same time? Just think of the match-up issues it could cause for the defense? Imagine for a moment…when the QB drops back and 2 talented RBs are lined up in the I formation behind him – a defense would immediately have to account for a variety of play possibilities for just the 2 RBs – not to mention any talented WRs or TEs or even a sneak or roll-out by the QB. With the traditional FB and RB backfield, defenses can almost count out the possibility of a FB getting a hand-off or pass and even if they do, FBs are usually too slow to do much damage. But having to account for 2 play-making RBs would be a very different story.

It got me thinking of the trouble a defense would have accounting for Jason Witten, Roy Williams, Barber and Jones on the same play; or, Jerious Norwood, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White on one play; or Darren Sproles, LT, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson on one play. This idea isn’t necessarily new – we’ve already seen this 2RB game plan have some success with Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and the Saints and even Darren McFadden and Felix Jones when at Arkansas – it’s just not used as much as it should be.

I am a big proponent of any offensive philosophy that focuses on creating mismatches and being unpredictable. That may be an obvious offensive focus, but few offenses are able to consistently create mismatches and be unpredictable over time. I’m a bit surprised Mike McCarthy hasn’t experimented with something like this 2 RB set. Perhaps putting Grant and Wynn or Wynn and Jackson out there for the same play would cause coverage issues for defenses. (Or Lumpkin and Tyrell Sutton – who knows). Granted, a present Packer 2 RB set wouldn’t be the nightmare that defending Barber and Jones simultaneously would be, but it could be a needed creative boost that at least makes other teams have to account for more play options. McCarthy already has introduced (or perhaps re-introduced) the novel idea of using 5 WRs at the same time – so I could see him warming to an idea like this.

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5 Responses to “Not sure why 2 RB set isn’t considered more often”

  1. Trav Says:

    Andy – It’s a valid point and I am with you on having as many match-up options as possible, be it 5 wide, 2 RB, the former U-71 package with a tackle at TE, the wildcat that MIA runs, etc. Personally think most offensive coordinators, are too conservative in their play calling.

    I guess the counter argument from the conservative OC could be if a 2 RB set is causing match-up problems for the offense? Is only having 1 WR leaving an opening for a corner blitz? Are the coverage options too in favor of the defense, negating the advantage that a TE would generally have with 2 WR’s and getting covered by an LB? Can the safety cheat up in the box since they can match-up on the corner 1-on-1?

    I think I might need to cancel some meetings tomorrow at work to fully break this down…

  2. cow Says:

    If both of the RBs aren’t receiving threats (Grant/ Jackson for example) then such a formation would actually be a liability. One less quality lead blocker if you try to run the ball, one less quality pass catcher if you’re pulling a WR or TE off the field.

    Barber and Jones can both catch the ball, same with LT and Sproles. I’m sure there are other tandems as well – I just don’t think the Packers’ backs could make it work… none of them are real receiving threats.

  3. DaveK Says:

    I just don’t think they have the RB’s to be real effective in a two RB set. Neither Grant or Jackson seem that great catching the ball or in space after they catch the ball. And, neither seem to have the ability to clear a hole like a big bruising full back. I think you just give up too much for what you get back in return with Grant/Jackson. Sure, throw it in depending on down and distance and how the opposing LB’s are in space but Grant/Jackson’s ability is better suited to the traditional run game.

    On another note – I think you’ll see Jackson start to take over a bigger part of the load this year. I just thought he ran better then Grant did last year when they actually gave him a chance.

  4. awhayes Says:

    Valid points all. Perhaps Grant/Jackson wouldn’t be the best duo to put out there for such a formation (though I think Jackson is a solid receiver and Grant just never has the chance so we don’t really know). I guess I think experimenting with a wrinkle like this would still be worthwhile because anything that catches a defense off guard at the right time can be valuable. Last year, I felt McCarthy was more predictable with his plays/play-calling than he had been in 2007 when I thought he did a phenomenal job calling plays. Perhaps with an offense that has been together now for over a year (w/Rodgers at QB), McCarthy can expand his repertoire – he said at one point late in 2007 that he had only used 1/4 of his playbook so far.

  5. retiredgrampa Says:

    Every OC and HC’s first thought is to score on every play. It’s in-bred and hard to overcome. With this thought in mind, having an extra RB in there, presumably for a running play, does NOT lend itself to gaining big yardage or a score unless one has a kick-ass OL. We don’t, as yet,( but maybe soon.)

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