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Tennessee Titans: The Running Back Rotation

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Ken Whisenhunt has a turnstile at the running back position. Again. But how long can it last?

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Here's a list for you:

McCluster, McCluster, Andrews

Andrews, Sankey, McCluster

Andrews, Sankey, Andrews, McCluster, Andrews

Sankey, Sankey, Sankey, McCluster, McCluster, Andrews, Andrews

Do you see the pattern?  Me either.

As you could probably guess, this is the running back rotation for the first 4 drives of the Titans game against the Colts on Sunday.  Ken Whisenhunt made it clear in his first year that he was happy constantly subbing different players in play after play.  While lauded for the play style after a week one win over the Chiefs, this constant rotation raised eyebrows as the season wore on and the Titans record became abysmal.  This constant turnstile at the position was often partly blamed for the poor run game production.

In a flip of the script from last year, Bishop Sankey looked great in week one of the season and garnered the lion's share of the offensive snaps at 23, followed by Dexter McCluster's 14.  At the time I was happy with this.  McCluster in my opinion needed to be used more sparingly and as more of a wrinkle in the offense as opposed to a split duty back.

Game 2 in Cleveland showed a different tendency as McCluster took 47 offensive snaps vs. Sankey's 32.  Terrance West was in the mix a bit in both games but continued to put the ball on the ground and hasn't been seen since.  It seemed McCluster's speed and play style was better outfitted against the gashing 3-4 defense of the Browns as he took his 10 carries for 98 yards with a long of 44.

Cue week 3 and a return of Antonio Andrews form a hamstring injury.  Above is the rotation at the beginning of the game and the final snap count left McCluster in the lead with 36, Antonio Andrews with 22, and Bishop Sankey with 19.  This is where I begin to have problems.

I could be wrong here, it won't be the first time, but I don't think the defense cares or plays their assignments differently depending on which back is in the back field.  Especially when the rotation is this frequent.  What it does do is prevent your backs from getting into any kind of rhythm or feel for the game and the blocking conditions.

My final example comes in the 3rd quarter.  At about the 13 minute mark, Sankey takes a beautiful screen play for 20 yards, and comes off the field.  Andrews then runs the ball for 8 yards off the left tackle on a great run, tries to return to the huddle on second down, but is subbed out for McCluster.  After a pass play, Sankey returns for a catch out of the backfield for 11 yards and then is barely heard from again.

Having your back rotate out after a solid positive play makes little sense to me unless for the specific purpose of rest or a designed play upcoming where a specific skill set is needed.  Yet all the backs were left in on inside runs, outside runs, pass protection, and screens.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not advocating any one or two of the running backs.  I'm not here to champion Bishop Sankey or Antonio Andrews or even McCluster.  What I am advocating is a little more consistency and repetition for the backfield.