The 2012 NFL season is approaching rapidly and some teams still have a lot of questions to answer. The culture of the NFL is shifting. In recent years some changes to certain rules have altered the way teams approach their game plan. Stricter rules protecting wide receivers have allowed teams to take more chances throwing the ball downfield and bolstering their passing offense. Todays NFL referees are so flag happy, that teams have all but forgotten about their running game. In 2011 fans witnessed, for the first time, three quarterbacks throw for more than 5,000 yards. Drew Brees (who broke Dan Marino's most passing yards in a single season record with 5,476 yards), Tom Brady and Matt Stafford all surpassed the 5,000 yard mark. The pass happy NFL has become, I admit, a bit more exciting, but teams that rely only on the passing game are doomed to fall short when it comes to being a successful team. Here are three teams that have to answer their backfield issues if they want to be successful in 2012.
1. Detroit Lions
If I had to vote for the most improved team in 2011 I would have voted for the Detroit Lions. Matt Stafford finally had the chance to put in a full season, and what a season he had. Stafford threw for 5,084 yards, 41 touchdowns and a passer rating of 97.2. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson also had a stellar year catching 96 passes for 1,681 yards and 17 touchdowns. If you haven't seen the catch he made against triple coverage in the end zone against the Dallas Cowboys in week 4, do your self a favor and look it up. The problem with the Lions is their lack of a consistent running game. Detroit had the 29th ranked running game last year, averaging a mere 95.2 yards per game. Injuries plagued the Lions backfield in 2011 as they lost rookie Mikel Leshoure to a knee injury and second year back Jahvid Best to multiple concussions. Detroit supplemented those injuries by bringing in veteran back Kevin Smith, but he won't be a long term answer. Now for 2012, Best seems poised to return (but can he stay healthy?) and Leshoure has had some issues staying out of trouble. The Lions may want to sign some more depth to their backfield. At least bring in a player that can stay on the field. Even Kevin Smith has had injury issues in the past. Cedric Benson would be a great addition for the Lions. He has the ability to run between the tackles and keep opposing defense honest, which can open up the passing game even more than last year.
2. Green Bay Packers
It's no secret that the Packers were the strongest team in 2011. Their ability to flat out win games was impressive enough to vault them to a 15-1 record. So what happened? What happened during that first playoff game that earned the Packers an early exit from Super Bowl contention? Well, it's also no secret that Green Bay had a horrible running game. They finished with the 27th ranked running offense, and if it weren't for Aaron Rodgers' 257 yards and 3 touchdowns, the Packer would have had the worst running game and only 5 rushing touchdowns. Green Bay also ranked last in total defense in 2011, so they had a lot of questions to answer during the 2012 off-season. I thought Green Bay would go after one of the higher profile running backs. I thought Mike Tolbert would have make a great addition out of free agency, or I thought that they would target a running back in the first round of the draft. When the Packers pick came up and Doug Martin (Boise State) was still on the board, I thought it was a lock, but Green Bay opted for defensive end Nick Perry. The Packers wouldn't stop taking defensive players until the seventh round. Green Bay should be looking to add another back as I think Brandon Saine and James Starks are going to get them in the same trouble they were in during 2011. Houston Texan running back Derrick Ward indicated that his time with the team may be coming to an end as Houston signed former Seattle Seahawks running back Justin Forsett. Green Bay should look into bringing in Ward and consider signing him to push the younger talent. The one staple to the Packers' Super Bowl run in 2010 was the emergence of their running game during the playoffs. If they want to get back to the Super Bowl and have a chance at winning it they had better address their running game, or they will suffer the same fate in 2012 that they did in 2011: an early exit from the playoffs.
3. New York Giants
You must be asking yourself how the current Super Bowl champion Giants made my list of teams that must address their backfield to be successful. I don't blame you. This may sound a bit crazy, but the Giants finished dead last in the league with a paltry 89.2 yards per game. Repeating as Super Bowl champions is one of the most difficult tasks a team can achieve. The Giants relied heavily on a dominant defense to make it to and win the Super Bowl, but I have a hard time believing that they will be able to repeat without addressing their running game. It's not that they have poor running backs. Ahmad Bradshaw has the capability to be a great running back. His 2010 performance (1,235 yards and 8 touchdowns) showed what kind of runner Bradshaw is capable of being. In 2011 he experienced a large drop-off, rushing for only 695 yards, but was able to score 9 touchdowns. Bradshaw was limited a bit in 2011 with a foot injury, but his 3.9 yards per carry average was a drop from his 4.5 yards in 2010. Hopefully Bradshaw can return to form in 2012. After Bradshaw, there are not really any proven back-up running backs on the Giants' roster. Former New York Giant Brandon Jacobs , who signed on with the San Francisco 49ers, was the primary back-up for the Giants in 2011. The rest of the Giants backfield didn't rush for 200 yards combined. In fact, no running back, other than Bradshaw and Jacobs, had a rushing touchdown. The Giants really need to address their back field situation in 2012. The Giants could look at the thin free agent market for a viable back-up, but I think the Giants would be better off trading for back-up runner. There are some crowded backfields in the NFL, and none more crowded than the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers shocked a lot of people when they announced the signing of Mike Tolbert. Now, the Panthers have DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert. The Giants may be able to pry Stewart away for the right price. Another back that the Giants may want to target is Felix Jones . The Dallas Cowboys may be division rivals, but Jones is stuck in a backfield with Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray. Murray and Choice seem to be the featured backs going forward, and Jones may be the expendable option.