News & Analysis

Pass Blocking Efficiency: Running Backs

Running backs. They break tackles. They juke defenders out of their shoes. They push the pile. They catch the ball and drop the ball.  They fumble the ball and score touchdowns. They create memories.
Sometimes, though, what they do doesn’t leave a mark. Sure, there’ll be the odd bone-jarring hit that makes those highlight reels, but more often than not, there’s an element of back play that gets lost in the chatter.
Blitz pick up.

It may not be as important as running the ball, or even as important as catching the ball, but if you don’t recognize how important it is for a back to be able to assist in pass protection then talk to Tony Romo, where one failed block ended his season.
There’s the back story to our final pass protection piece as today we look at how efficient the backs have been when left in to pass protect. Same formula as we’ve highlighted in previous pieces applies.
As we do, we’ll begin with which backs are staying in the most often. Giants fans will probably expect Ahmad Bradshaw to feature prominently in this argument and rightly so given the ferocity with which he attacks rushers. No back stayed in as much as Bradshaw who was kept in on 36.72% of the passing plays he blocked on. It meant he had one more block than Darren McFadden, and two more than Cadillac Williams (the Bucs apparently didn’t trust LeGarrette Blount to stay in).
Here’s a list of the 15 backs who stayed in to pass protect on the most plays (note: chip blocks aren’t counted as pass blocks).

RankNameTeamPass Blocking Snaps
1Ahmad BradshawNYG159
2Darren McFaddenOAK158
3Cadillac WilliamsTB157
4Matt ForteCHI140
5Ronnie BrownMIA135
6Ray RiceBLT132
7Fred JacksonBUF132
8LaDainian TomlinsonNYJ126
9Justin ForsettSEA124
10LeSean McCoyPHI122
11Brandon JacksonGB121
12Peyton HillisCLV121
13Arian FosterHST120
14Tim HightowerARZ119
15Jason SnellingATL111


Now that we’ve got that out of the way it’s time to look at which backs give up the least amount of pressure, and for the purpose of this study we required backs to stay in at least 60 times. From all those guys who qualified, only one didn’t give up any pressure at all. Helped at times by playing in offensive formations that would leave as many as eight men into pass block, Quinn Johnson is top of the charts in a GB unit that also had two other players in the top ten. Not always the best line, the skill positions players were a big part of giving Aaron Rodgers enough time to make plays.
Still, Johnson was only in for 63 plays. He wasn’t given the task of regularly meeting blitzers head-on around 10 times a game like the man who finished second. No, that would be Ahmad Bradshaw who took advantage of Clinton Portis being injured and Maurice Jones-Drew dinged up (though he still finished 12th) to be the most efficient (and most aggressive) blitz pick up man. Bradshaw is one back who isn’t afraid to put everything into keeping his quarterback clean.
Indeed, Bradshaw is one of those true every down type backs we see far too little of. Two more of them are in the top ten with Matt Forte and Peyton Hillis rebounding from either bad or badly underused 2009 years. Forte was so good he was possibly the brightest part of the Bears pass protection (no great compliment given how that unit played), and he was still able to contribute as a receiver in the passing game. As for Hillis there were games when he only came off the field for victory formations, and yet he only gave up four quarterback disruptions all year? Add blitz pick-up to smash mouth football and high hurdling, on the Madden cover star’s list of talents.
Some other names of interest are players like Jason Snelling (14th) and John Kuhn (seventh) who are potential free agents. What’s interesting about both men is how much action they saw as third down backs. Given the need of some teams for a back who can come in and help shunt blitzers, could both men be in more demand than you’d imagine?

RankNameTeamPass Blocking SnapsPressuresPBE
1Quinn JohnsonGB6300.00
2Ahmad BradshawNYG15931.42
3Brandon JacksonGB12132.07
4Justin ForsettSEA12442.42
5Matt ForteCHI14052.68
6Peyton HillisCLV12142.69
7John KuhnGB10742.80
8Fred JacksonBUF13252.84
9Felix JonesDAL10743.04
10Cedric BensonCIN6833.31
11Darren McFaddenOAK15883.80
12Maurice Jones-DrewJAX7943.80
13Ronnie BrownMIA13573.89
14Jason SnellingATL11164.05
15Darren SprolesSD6534.23


After that positivity-fest, it’s time to drop some negative beats on this piece. Right up at the top we’ve got some of the top backs in the league, with Ray Rice chief among them.  No back gave up more pressure than the Raven, for whom pass protection remains the biggest flaw in an otherwise impressive game. As for Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson? Well you all know the story by now. Terrific runners but pretty terrible in the passing game. They don’t seem to be getting better, yet their teams are intent on letting them flounder in elements that don’t get the best out of them.

RankNameTeamPass Blocking SnapsPressuresPBE
1Ray RiceBLT1321710.61
2Adrian L. PetersonMIN7699.21
3Chris D. JohnsonTEN85109.12
4Knowshon MorenoDEN6989.06
5Le'Ron McClainBLT103118.98
6Ricky WilliamsMIA95108.68
7Ryan TorainWAS6268.47
8Mike GoodsonCAR6568.08
9Steven JacksonSL11096.59
10Keiland WilliamsWAS8776.32
11Tim HightowerARZ11996.30
12Arian FosterHST120106.25
13LaDainian TomlinsonNYJ126106.15
14Lousaka PoliteMIA10985.96
15Marcel ReeceOAK7455.74


But you know something. 2010 data isn’t enough for me right now. I need more, and by more I mean I’m going to put the last three years together to increase the sample size and eliminate the “he had a good/bad season” arguments. So I’ve upped the minimum pass blocks to 150 over the last three years and I’m ready to roll, and in one of those nice moments that makes me think I know a little about this game, the name at the top of the pile is the exact name I’d think would be there. Clinton Portis.
While I gave Ahmad Bradshaw praise earlier, he’s but a mere pretender to throne when you consider what Clinton Portis does in pass protection. Sure he’s meant to be defending the quarterback, but you sometimes get the impression he’s actually attacking defenders; such is the force with which he meets them. It’s not just all aggression though, he knows what’s he doing and who he should be picking up and it’s why he’s given up just five pressures these past three years. That knocks the impressive Ahmad Bradshaw into second, and Brandon Jackson into third. Jackson isn’t always the kind of runner you can rely on, but his value in all phases of the passing game really highlights how valuable a running back can be without necessarily being a huge threat on the ground.
Other notable names in the top 15 include Maurice Jones-Drew who wasn’t quite himself after injury this year, and Joseph Addai. He’s a part of the reason Peyton Manning can get away with having a lacking offensive line for a large portion of his career. As for the rest of the top 15, well feast your eyes below.

RankNameTeamPass Blocking SnapsPressuresPBE
1Clinton PortisWAS18152.07
2Ahmad BradshawNYG28382.21
3Brandon JacksonGB25382.57
4Peyton HillisCLV15863.01
5Michael BushOAK23293.13
6Maurice Jones-DrewJAX339153.54
7Thomas JonesKC15173.64
8Justin ForsettSEA19893.66
9Brandon JacobsNYG204103.92
10Felix JonesDAL15783.98
11Michael TurnerATL16383.99
12Jamaal CharlesKC197114.19
13Jason SnellingATL215124.30
14Joseph AddaiIND237134.32
15Darren McFaddenOAK229134.37


On the not-so-hot list we’ve got plenty of big names, though it’s topped by Julius Jones. Not one that automatically comes to mind, but one who has had his troubles nonetheless. You’d have to in order to beat out players like the aforementioned trio of Chris Johnson (third), Ray Rice (fourth) and Adrian Peterson (seventh).
The name that may surprise some is that of LaDainian Tomlinson. Granted, he was coming out of the peak of his career, but perhaps people will see the numbers and realize that perhaps LT, future HoF’er that he is, isn’t quite the complete package people would make him out to be. Maybe, maybe not. That’s for you all to decide as you look down our list of 15 lowest ranked pass blocking backs of the past three years:

RankNameTeamPass Blocking SnapsPressuresPBE
1Julius JonesNO156209.94
2LaDainian TomlinsonNYJ276339.33
3Chris D. JohnsonTEN263298.56
4Ray RiceBLT271288.49
5Tashard ChoiceDAL174187.90
6Steve SlatonHST172177.70
7Adrian L. PetersonMIN212217.55
8Correll BuckhalterDEN224207.14
9Steven JacksonSL284247.13
10Mewelde MoorePIT275247.00
11Frank GoreSF299246.44
12Justin FargasOAK180146.39
13Le'Ron McClainBLT286216.12
14Cadillac WilliamsTB271216.09
15Fred JacksonBUF270206.02


And, with that table, I draw the curtain on our two week look at pass protection. From ranking the teams to exposing offensive linemen and others as under and overrated players. It’s been as all-encompassing as we could have made it for 2010, but expect more from us next year when we add an element of time to what happens in the passing game.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and our main Twitter feed: @ProFootbalFocus

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