Have at It: Top RB tandems

I inadvertently left this week's "Have at It" topic a little vague, but I like where you guys and gals took it. In addressing which NFC North tailback combination would finish the 2011 season with the most combined yards, most of you included receiving production -- a smart move considering the expected disparity in this division's offensive schemes.

Along with you, I'm still getting used to our new conversation software. But my sense is that many of you sized up the situation and decided that the Minnesota Vikings' combination of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart would lead the pack in 2011 from a statistical point.

Peterson put up 1,639 rushing/receiving yards on his own last season, and with an upcoming quarterback transition, it's safe to assume the Vikings will ride him more than ever in 2011. Peterson's total last year, in fact, wasn't much less on a per-game average than the Chicago Bears' tandem of Matt Forte and Chester Taylor (1,952 yards).

"Assuming that [offensive coordinator Bill] Musgrave will build his offense around Peterson, this is a no-brainer," wrote Nabicus. While Peterson and Gerhart will face defenses stacked against the run, wrote dragonkeeper0209, "they have no other choice but to run the ball."

Wocomule52 noted that the Vikings have "perhaps the best running back in the league" who will be "the focal point of their offense" but wondered if Forte/Taylor might finish with more total yards given their roles in Mike Martz's passing offense as well as the Bears' quarterback advantage.

"The Bears have two great pass-catching running backs," wrote wocomule52, and workdaddy1877 added: "I think Lovie [Smith] understands in order for the Bears to be successful Forte needs to touch the ball quite a bit. If Taylor can improve just slightly then I can see the Bears finishing first in total yards. If Forte receives between 300-315 touches (he was at 288 last year) then it will be really close."

Most of all, noted drew_d2, "there is no easy answer." But I thought drew_d2 offered an interesting argument for the Detroit Lions' duo of Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure -- in essence, the Lions will have the top No. 2 back in the division: "Best isn't the best #1 option, but Leshoure is a very good #2 option and might even be better than Best."

Colin3451 thinks Best and Leshoure "could easily turn out to be the best RB tandem" in the division but has a hard time envisioning them as the most productive: "The Vikings will [be], but they'll also have the lowest YPC average. The Bears will have the same problem in YPC. Detroit won't run the ball enough to have the most yards...."

Finally, the Green Bay Packers have a few questions yet to answer about their presumed grouping of Ryan Grant and James Starks. Will Grant be back to his 1,200-yard form? Will it also include free agents Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn? How will rookies Alex Green and Randall Cobb fit in? And how much will coach/playcaller Mike McCarthy actually utilize his running backs?

Jesse.nile had a smart thought in the Packers' favor: "Starks tore it up towards the end of last season and in the postseason. With the addition of Grant this season I see them tearing off huge runs when teams line up in nickel and dime defenses to deal with all the passing threats the Packers have."

My take? I think we hit on a really interesting theme for the 2011 season, whenever it arrives. Who knows? Maybe we'll have to add a "Stomp and Grind" feature to pair with "Air and Space."

As for the matter at hand, I'm presuming the Vikings are going to start rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. Musgrave has some experience in this situation. Three years ago, Musgrave was the Atlanta Falcons' quarterbacks coach. The Falcons started rookie Matt Ryan in Week 1, and in 16 regular season games, they gave tailback Michael Turner a whopping 376 carries. Backup Jerious Norwood had another 95, and together they combined for 2,567 rushing/receiving yards.

I'm not saying Peterson and Gerhart will approach that title, but my guess is Musgrave will do everything he can along those lines. Forte/Taylor are serious candidates for this mystical title, but I'm thinking Martz will balance out his offense more than Musgrave will be able to.

To be continued on a blog near you on the other side of this lockout ...