- The Washington Times - Friday, October 16, 2009

Quantity equals quality for the NFL’s top five rushing teams this year. Each uses a two- or three-player rotation that keeps backs fresh within a game and within a season.

Twenty-one of the 32 teams have a second running back with at least 20 carries, making players like Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson a rarity. He has 111 of the Bengals’ 144 carries.

“I feel better as we go along,” he said Thursday. “The more plays, the better. I’m just having fun with it and would have it no other way.”

Two other workhorse backs meet Sunday at FedEx Field: Kansas City’s Larry Johnson (93 of 138) and Washington’s Clinton Portis (91 of 127). But with the trend toward having reinforcements not only ready but also involved in the offense, here are the top five rushing teams in the league:

1. MIAMI (177.0 yards a game)

Breakdown: Ronnie Brown (93 rushes, 443 yards), Ricky Williams (61-316).

Analysis: The Dolphins are a smash-mouth team. Miami has 39 more rushes than passes and is averaging more than 35 minutes of possession each game. Brown brings the added dimension of running out of the Wildcat formation, and Williams is averaging 5.2 yards a carry. Since losing quarterback Chad Pennington, the Dolphins have adjusted their offense to account for second-year passer (and first-time starter) Chad Henne. In victories over the Bills and Jets, Miami rushed for 250 and 151 yards.

2. NEW ORLEANS (166.3)

Breakdown: Mike Bell (45-229), Pierre Thomas (33-212) and Reggie Bush (36-148).

Analysis: That the Saints have been so productive in the running game is stunning considering they were 28th last year, parted ways with Deuce McAllister in the offseason and have one of the game’s top passers in Drew Brees. The Saints have held the edge in time of possession each week and have rushed at least 29 times for 133 yards each game in a 4-0 start. Bell and Thomas are averaging more than 5 yards a carry, and their performance has shifted Bush to a supporting role.

3. DALLAS (161.0)

Breakdown: Marion Barber (58-297), Tashard Choice (44-225) and Felix Jones (21-212).

Analysis: The Cowboys have eclipsed 150 yards rushing in three of their six games, are averaging a whopping 5.9 yards a carry and arguably have the best 1-2-3 punch in the NFL. Barber, however, has been limited by a quadriceps injury. Play-caller Jason Garrett is a former quarterback, so he still loves the passing game - Tony Romo’s attempts haven’t fallen off - but he has conceded that running may be the best option to control the clock and set up better situations for Romo.

4. N.Y. GIANTS (160.4)

Breakdown: Ahmad Bradshaw (58-375), Brandon Jacobs (100-355).

Analysis: Bradshaw’s big-play ability has made up for a disappointing start by Jacobs, who had 447 yards at this point last year. New York has 180 rushes compared with 154 pass attempts because of blowout victories at Tampa Bay and Kansas City and home vs. Oakland, when the game was in hand early. If quarterback Eli Manning is limited because of a foot injury, the Giants will need a strong running attack for all of the late-season cold weather games.

5. DENVER (139.0)

Breakdown: Knowshon Moreno (81-337), Correll Buckhalter (37-267) and Lamont Jordan (20-59).

Analysis: New coach Josh McDaniels adopted the philosophy his former team has in New England, albeit not to the same extreme (four Patriots have at least 20 carries). The Broncos used one of their first-round picks on Moreno and signed Buckhalter and Jordan in free agency after last year’s group couldn’t stay healthy. The Broncos are scoring fewer than 20 points a game, but they’re using the running game to help control possession - they’ve run 25 more plays than the opposition during a 5-0 start.

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