As anyone knows, the best NFL offense needs a great balance along with being in sync with each other and having the perfect quarterback and running back duo can make or break a season. Most people will choose the duos based on how they like them, but we’ve gone the numbers route to show you which duos did it right this season and which ones did it wrong.
For decades, conventional wisdom in the NFL was that offenses must establish the run to set up the pass. Many of the league’s best offensive units opted to use the “three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy, and the game plodded along through most of the 20th century.
Contemporary coaches and players, thankfully, have evolved from this old way of thinking. Teams typically build around franchise quarterbacks now and are more balanced in their rushing and passing attacks. This has lead to a more watchable game, and the 2015 regular season was a continuation of this trend. This season was the fifth-highest scoring season ever, and the best offenses boasted balanced attacks.
With this in mind, our friends at Point After decided to rank each team’s quarterback-running back combo for the 2015 season. To do this, we relied on traditional passing and rushing stats, as well as overall player grades from Pro Football Focus (subscription required). We chose each team’s quarterback and running back selection based on which player played the most snaps though we made some exceptions for teams that utilized a running-back-by-committee strategy.
Our ranking was largely determined according to each duo’s combined PFF score, with some adjustments made throughout. For example, teams that had more balanced production between their quarterback and running back received a slight boost in ranking. Additionally, we favored teams with a clear No. 1 option at tailback rather than a more even one-two punch.
#32. Dallas Cowboys: Matt Cassel & Darren McFadden
With Tony Romo limited to just four games, the Cowboys didn’t stand a chance in 2016. Cassel took the most snaps under center for Dallas and didn’t move the needle too much for the offense, throwing for five touchdowns and seven interceptions with an average of 6.3 yards per pass attempt.
Despite the lack of a passing game, McFadden was a steady workhorse all season. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry on a career-high 239 rushing attempts, good for 1,089 rushing yards on the year.
#31. Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco & Justin Forsett
The injury bug took a big bite out of the Ravens’ 2015 season. Before he suffered a torn ACL, Flacco was in the midst of a ho-hum year, with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. While he was out for the team’s last six games, Ravens fans were forced to endure quarterback play from the uninspiring group of Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Clausen and Matt Schaub.
Forsett, meanwhile, also missed the last six games of the season. Prior to his injury, Forsett had 641 rushing yards, suffering a major drop-off after totaling 1,266 rushing yards in 2014.
#30. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck & Frank Gore
The Colts‘ high hopes this season were dashed pretty much from the start. Luck’s list of injuries read like a report from a major car crash — he suffered through a separated shoulder, torn abdominal muscle and lacerated kidney. Still, he played the most snaps at quarterback for Indy and had by far the worst statistical season of his career. He threw for 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a career-worst 6.42 yards per attempt.
In his first season with the Colts, Gore proved he could still be a workhorse yet lacked some of the explosiveness he showed in San Francisco. He finished the season with 967 rushing yards, the third-fewest in his career, and averaged a career-worst 3.7 yards per carry. He had just five runs of 20 yards or more, tied for the second-fewest of his career.
#29. San Francisco 49ers: Blaine Gabbert & Carlos Hyde
The 49ers had a miserable season for a number of reasons, and poor quarterback play was one of them. Gabbert played slightly more snaps than Colin Kaepernick, so he gets the nod as San Francisco’s quarterback. The former first-round pick flashed some promise in 2015, with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions in eight games.
Hyde was limited to just seven games this year though he still played the most snaps at running back on the team. He didn’t do much after his 168-yard, two touchdown performance in the season opener and played his last game on Oct. 22.
#28. St. Louis Rams: Nick Foles & Todd Gurley
Given how strong Gurley’s rookie season was, the Rams‘ spot on this list speaks to how badly Foles struggled in 2015. PFF graded him as the worst quarterback in the league among those who played at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps. He suffered career lows in completion percentage (56.4) and yards per pass attempt (6.09), with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Gurley, meanwhile, quickly blossomed into one of the best-running backs in the league. He finished with 1,106 rushing yards — good for third-most in the NFL — despite playing in just 13 games. His rookie season was one for the ages, and he should continue to terrorize opposing defenses for years to come.
#27. Houston Texans: Brian Hoyer & Alfred Blue
His horrendous playoff performance aside, Hoyer was actually not a disaster for the Texans in 2015. He completed 60.7 percent of his passes for an average of 7.1 yards per attempt, with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Those numbers aren’t mind-blowing, but they’re good enough to help a team get to the postseason.
Blue predictably fell short of the standards set by the injured Arian Foster. He rushed for 698 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per carry, and PFF ranked him as the 46th-best running back of players who played at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps.
#26. Cleveland Browns: Josh McCown & Duke Johnson
Stop us if you’ve heard this before — the Browns‘ quarterback situation is a disaster. McCown was graded as the No. 31 quarterback by PFF and is 36 years old. Former first-round pick Johnny Manziel hasn’t exactly worked out too well, either, meaning Cleveland will most likely take another QB in the 2016 draft.
There is some hope in the Browns backfield, though. Isaiah Crowell led the team in rush attempts and yards, but rookie Duke Johnson played the most snaps of the two. Johnson proved to be a versatile weapon, with 379 rushing yards and 534 receiving yards. With Johnson, Crowell and tight end Gary Barnidge in the fold, whoever starts under center in Cleveland next year will at least have some weapons to work with.
#25. Kansas City Chiefs: Alex Smith & Charcandrick West
With the Chiefs defense rightfully garnering most of the attention this season, Smith quietly had perhaps his best season as a pro. He threw for a career-high 3,486 yards with a passer rating of 95.4, his best mark since 2012. He’ll likely never be a top-10 quarterback, but he’s proven very capable of leading a team to the postseason.
Amazingly, Jamaal Charles was the Chiefs’ highest-graded running back, according to PFF, despite missing the last 11 games of the season. West filled in admirably for the four-time Pro Bowler, rushing for 634 yards and four touchdowns in his first full season as an active player.
#24. Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning & C.J. Anderson
Manning took 82 more snaps under center than Brock Osweiler this season, so he gets the nod as Denver’s QB representative. The future Hall of Famer had the worst season of his career in 2015, with nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions. His 6.8 yards per pass attempt average was the lowest since his rookie season, and his 67.9 passer rating was his worst ever.
Despite Manning’s struggles, Denver’s spot on this list is boosted thanks to the quietly productive season from Anderson. He and Ronnie Hillman played virtually the same number of snaps (512 for Anderson, 527 for Hillman), but Anderson graded far better than Hillman, according to PFF. Anderson had 903 yards from scrimmage on 177 touches (5.1 average) compared to Hillman’s 974 yards on 231 touches (4.2 average). Though he might have disappointed some fantasy owners this season, he was a valuable and productive part of the Broncos‘ offense.
#23. Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota & Antonio Andrews
Despite playing in just 12 games, Mariota shined in his rookie campaign. The former Heisman Trophy winner completed 62.2 percent of his passes with an average of 7.6 yards per attempt, with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 252 yards with an average of 7.4 yards per attempt, proving himself more than worthy of being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft.
After appearing in just four games in 2014, Andrews broke out this season as the team’s primary running back. He had 520 rushing yards and 174 receiving yards, ranking as the 25th-best running back in the league, according to PFF.
#22. Philadelphia Eagles: Sam Bradford & DeMarco Murray
Bradford was the butt of many jokes during the Eagles‘ dreadful 2015 season, but on paper, he turned in a solid year. He set career highs in completion percentage (65 percent), passing yards (3,725) and yards per attempt (7.0), and played much better in the second half of the season than in the first. PFF actually gave him the 12th-highest grade of all quarterbacks in the league.
There’s no denying Murray’s first season in Philadelphia, however, was an absolute bust. After leading the league in 2014 with 1,845 rushing yards, the former Cowboy totaled just 702 yards this season on less than half as many carries (193 vs. 392), averaging a career-worst 3.6 yards per rush. The struggles in the Eagles backfield pretty much doomed their season from the start.
#21. New York Giants: Eli Manning & Rashad Jennings
Despite the Giants’ struggles in 2015, Manning thrived in his 12th season. He threw for 4,436 yards and posted a career-high 93.6 passer rating, with 35 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, helping lead a Giants offense that ranked sixth in the league in points per game.
After spending most of his career as a platoon running back, Jennings broke out in 2015 as New York’s primary option. He set career highs in carries (195), rushing yards (863) and receiving yards (296), providing steady contributions all year long.
#20. New York Jets: Ryan Fitzpatrick & Chris Ivory
Fitzpatrick was perhaps the best Cinderella story of the 2015 season, yet the clock struck midnight in Week 17. Needing a win to send the Jets to the postseason, Fitzpatrick threw three fourth-quarter interceptions that cost the Jets a Wild Card berth. Despite that unceremonious ending, the 33-year-old Harvard alum set career highs in passing yards (3,905) and touchdowns (31).
The Jets also enjoyed a breakout campaign from their veteran running back. Ivory set career highs in carries (247), rushing yards (1,070) and rushing touchdowns (seven). He finished fifth in the league in rushing yards and was the 11th-highest rated running back by PFF.
#19. Washington Redskins: Kirk Cousins & Alfred Morris
Arguably the breakout player of the year, Cousins burst onto the scene in 2015 and thrived in Washington’s pass-happy attack. He completed a league-best 69.8 percent of his pass attempts — good for the eighth-highest single-season mark in league history — with 29 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
As much as Cousins improved this season, Morris suffered just as much (if not more) regression. After three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons to start his career, Morris’ production fell off a cliff. He posted career lows in carries (202), yards per rush (3.7), rushing touchdowns (one) and runs of 20 yards or more (four). From a snap count perspective, the Redskins were fairly balanced, with Morris (391 snaps) playing slightly more than Matt Jones (349) and Chris Thompson (280). Moving forward, the running back competition could be wide open in 2016.
#18. San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers & Danny Woodhead
In a nightmarish season for the Chargers as a whole, Rivers continued his steady production. He threw for 29 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a 93.8 passer rating, right in line with his career average. San Diego leaned on him more than ever, as Rivers threw a career-high 661 passes though it didn’t lead to many wins.
Rookie Melvin Gordon led the team in rushing yards and carries, but Woodhead played the most snaps (and was the most productive), so he gets the nod as the team’s running back representative. The shifty veteran led the team with 80 catches for 755 yards and six touchdowns, and also added 336 yards and three scores on the ground. PFF ranked Woodhead as the 20th-best running back in the league.
#17. Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford & Theo Riddick
Stafford quietly enjoyed a strong season with the Lions in 2015. The former top overall pick set a career high in completion percentage (67.2 percent), and also had a passer rating of 97.0, his best mark since 2011. PFF grades Stafford poorly, however, as he ranks as the 26th-best quarterback in the league.
Riddick was Detroit’s fourth-leading rusher — behind Ameer Abdullah, Joique Bell and Stafford — but played the most snaps of any running back on the roster. The versatile third-year player finished third on the team with 80 receptions for 697 yards, and PFF gave him the third-highest grade of any running back in the league. We’re not convinced he’s quite at that level yet, but he certainly made a strong case for himself in 2015.
#16. Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler & Matt Forte
Despite the loss of Brandon Marshall, who thrived as a member of the Jets, Cutler enjoyed a solid 2015 season. He averaged 7.58 yards per pass attempt, his best mark since 2010, with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, his fewest since 2011. PFF gave him the 17th-highest grade among quarterbacks, planting him firmly in the middle of the pack.
Since being drafted in 2008, Forte has been among the most reliable workhorses in the league. In 2015, his production finally began to wane as he dealt with a knee injury. He had 262 touches, his lowest total since 2011, and posted a career-worst 898 rushing yards. His 44 receptions tied a career low, and his 58 targets were also a new worst.
#15. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill & Lamar Miller
In his first season after signing a big contract extension, Tannehill turned in mixed results. He set career highs in passing yards (4,208) and yards per attempt (7.18), but the Dolphins placed 27th in the league in points per game and finished with a woeful 6-10 record.
Miami places this high on the list thanks to the strong season from Miller. The former Miami Hurricane rushed for 872 yards and eight touchdowns, and also set career highs in receptions (47), receiving yards (397) and total touchdowns (10). Despite having an offensive line that ranked dead last in run blocking, according to PFF, Miller played in every game and continued his ascent as one of the league’s best-running backs.
#14. Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor & LeSean McCoy
Here’s the list of quarterbacks to play for Buffalo from 2013 to 2014: EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel and Kyle Orton. It’s not the most exciting list, which is why Taylor’s breakout 2015 brings about so much promise. He received the 10th-highest grade from PFF and showed off his dual-threat skills all season. Taylor threw for 3,035 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions to go along with his 568 rushing yards and four scores. After spending four seasons as a little-used backup in Baltimore, the 26-year-old has finally found a place to thrive.
As encouraging as Taylor’s emergence was McCoy’s struggles leveled out that positive momentum. The former Eagle posted an underwhelming 895 rushing yards with just three touchdowns. In less than half the snaps played, teammate Karlos Williams earned a much higher PFF grade (8.3 vs. 3.3) than McCoy, which tells a lot about how poorly the big-name acquisition’s debut year went.
#13. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater & Adrian Peterson
Bridgewater’s second season was much like his first — solid, but nothing to write home about. His numbers from Year One to Year Two are almost identical:
- 2014: 2,919 yards, 64.4% completion, 7.26 YPA, 14 TDs, 12 INTs
- 2015: 3,231 yards, 65.3% completion, 7.23 YPA, 14 TDs, 9 INTs
- 2014: 47 rushes, 209 yards, 4.4 YPA, 1 TD, 3 fumbles
- 2015: 44 rushes, 192 yards, 4.4 YPA, 3 TDs, 8 fumbles
That’s not the improvement the Vikings would like to see, and while he proved capable enough to help get the team to the postseason, Bridgewater needs to make strides in 2016 to prove he can be a franchise quarterback.
Of course, having a mediocre quarterback is easier to stomach when Peterson is lined up at tailback. After missing nearly all of 2014, All Day looked like his old self in 2015, leading the league with 1,485 rushing yards. With his impressive return, he’s firmly established himself as one of the most reliable running backs in league history.
#12. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles & T.J. Yeldon
The Jaguars young backfield duo might be the most promising in the NFL. Unlike Bridgewater, Bortles made huge strides in his second season. After throwing for 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2014, he tossed 35 scores with 18 interceptions in 2015. His yards per pass attempt jumped from 6.12 to 7.31, despite throwing 131 more passes in 2015.
With Bortles making improvements in his second season, Yeldon impressed many in his first year. He finished the year with 740 rushing yards and 279 receiving yards. With Bortles, Yeldon and receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in the fold, the Jaguars have one of the league’s best collection of young skill players.
#11. Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr & Latavius Murray
Similar to Bortles, Carr made huge strides from Year One to Year Two. He saw increases in his completion percentage (58.1% to 61.1%), yards per pass attempt (5.46 to 6.96) and touchdown passes (21 to 32), and those gains led to more wins for the Silver and Black. The Raiders improved from three wins in 2014 to seven in 2015, and Carr’s improvements were a big reason why.
Another cause for celebration in Oakland was the breakout campaign from Latavius Murray. The third-year player from UCF finally put it all together in 2015, finishing sixth in the league with 1,066 rushing yards. Carr, Murray, and wideout Amari Cooper comprise a strong core of playmakers for Oakland to build upon for years to come.
#10. Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton & Giovani Bernard
In his fifth year in the league, the Red Rifle finally enjoyed a breakout season. Dalton set career highs in completion percentage (66.1 percent), yards per pass attempt (8.42) and passer rating (106.3), leading the team to a 10-3 record before suffering a broken right thumb. Had Dalton been healthy enough to play in the postseason, perhaps the Bengals would have ended their abysmal 25-year streak without a playoff win.
Though Jeremy Hill led the team in rush attempts (223) and yards (794), Bernard played more than 100 more snaps, so he gets the nod for this list. Bernard enjoyed a nice bounce-back year after a so-so 2014 season, totaling 1,202 yards from scrimmage. The Bengals finished seventh in the league in points per game, and the versatility of Bernard was a big reason why.
#9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston & Doug Martin
Big things were expected of Winston’s rookie season, and the 2015 No. 1 overall pick did not disappoint. PFF gave Winston the 13th-highest overall grade among all quarterbacks, and the former Heisman Trophy winner finished 11th in the league in passing yards (4,042). Simply put, Winston appears poised for superstardom if he can keep up his current pace.
Perhaps even more encouraging than Winston’s rookie year was the return to form by the artist formerly known as the Muscle Hamster. After totaling 950 rushing yards combined in 2013 and 2014, Martin regained his health and ran for 1,402 yards and six scores in 2015, earning a first-team All-Pro nod. Who knows if Martin can repeat this type of production next season, but his talent is undeniable as long as he stays healthy.
#8. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers & Eddie Lacy
Both Rodgers and Lacy underwhelmed in 2015, yet they still put up top-10 caliber production as a pair. Rodgers struggled without his favorite target, Jordy Nelson, and averaged 6.7 yards per pass attempt, his lowest mark since becoming a starter. Still, Mr. Discount Double Check tossed 31 touchdowns and eight interceptions, ranking ninth in PFF’s quarterback grades.
Though he ruffled the feathers of countless fantasy owners, Lacy actually received a favorable grade by PFF, ranking 15th among all running backs. James Starks played 68 more snaps than Lacy, but the former Alabama star led the team in carries and rushing yards, and also had a much higher PFF grade. Lacy posted career lows in carries, rushing yards, yards per attempt and touchdowns, falling well short of preseason expectations, yet he still remained an important piece of Green Bay’s offense.
#7. New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees & Mark Ingram
If it weren’t for the Saints’ awful defense, maybe Brees’ strong 2015 season would have garnered more attention. His 101.0 passer rating was the fifth-highest of his career, and he led the league with 4,870 passing yards. PFF gave him the sixth-highest grade among all quarterbacks.
After breaking out for a career-high 964 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, Ingram fell short of those marks in 2015, missing the final four games of the year with a season-ending knee injury. He finished the year with 769 rushing yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. He also made huge strides as a pass-catcher, setting career highs with 50 catches and 405 yards. Though he’s missed 18 games in five seasons, his impact on the field is crucial for the Saints’ offense.
#6. Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan & Devonta Freeman
It seemed as if the Falcons were for real after a 5-0 start, but things fell apart pretty quickly. Ryan shouldn’t shoulder much of the blame for the collapse, though. Matty Ice posted numbers right in line with his career averages, and PFF gave him the seventh-highest grade among all quarterbacks. He’s now had five consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons, and his 66.3 percent completion rate was the third-highest of his career.
After battling with Tevin Coleman for the starting job in the preseason, Freeman broke out in a big way in 2015. He tied for NFL lead with 14 touchdowns and finished seventh in the league with 1,061 rushing yards. Freeman also hauled in 73 catches for 578 yards, showing off his versatility, and he looks poised to be one of the best playmakers in the NFL for years to come.
#5. Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson & Marshawn Lynch
As great as Wilson has been since entering the league, 2015 was his best regular season yet. He posted career highs in completion percentage (68.1%), yards per attempt (8.3), touchdowns (34) and passer rating (110.1), this despite the Seahawks’ litany of injuries at the running back position. Wilson also added 553 yards on the ground and finished the season with a bang, throwing for 24 touchdowns and just one interception over his last seven games.
Seattle endured a revolving door at tailback thanks to injury woes, yet Lynch (312 snaps played) edged out Thomas Rawls (297) and Fred Jackson (266) for the most playing time. He also earned the highest grade among the trio from PFF, and Wilson and Lynch’s combined score was the fifth-highest among all duos in the league.
#4. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger & DeAngelo Williams
After 12 seasons and countless big hits, Big Ben keeps ticking right along. Roethlisberger set a career high with a 68 percent completion rate, receiving the fourth-highest grade by PFF. He threw for 3,938 yards and 21 touchdowns, continuing his reliable production that might one day land him in the Hall of Fame.
Amazingly, Le’Veon Bell received the highest grade among Steelers running backs from PFF, despite playing less than half as many snaps as Williams. The veteran running back, in his first year in Pittsburgh, was a savior for the Steelers after Bell went down for the season. Williams rushed for 907 yards and tied for the league lead with 11 rushing touchdowns. He also set career highs with 40 catches and 367 yards, proving he still had plenty left in the tank during his 10th NFL season.
#3. New England Patriots: Tom Brady & James White
It’s amazing that Brady, at age 38, has continued his onslaught on opposing defenses and only seems to get better. He finished the year ranked second among quarterbacks by PFF, throwing for 4,770 yards and 36 touchdowns. Not much else needs to be said about Brady’s steady excellence — he just keeps chugging right along.
The Patriots operated this season with a true running back by committee — LeGarrette Blount (310 snaps), Dion Lewis (302) and White (298) received virtually the same amount of playing time. Blount and Lewis both suffered season-ending injuries, so White earns the nod. It might seem odd picking a player with just 22 rush attempts in this spot, but he’s listed at the position, and has been among the team’s most productive skill players. White has proven to be integral in the Patriots’ lethal short passing game, with 40 catches for 410 yards on the season. Brady gets most of the credit for this duo’s spot on this list, but White has made key contributions as well.
#2. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton & Jonathan Stewart
Newton’s career year is remarkable for his lack of premier playmakers on offense — Ted Ginn Jr., Jerricho Cotchery and Devin Funchess don’t inspire much fear in opposing defenses. The former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick threw a career-best 35 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, with a career-high 99.4 passer rating. That he led the Panthers to a 14-0 start is one of the most impressive feats of his young career.
With all the attention Newton receives, Stewart is the unsung hero of the Panthers’ offense. The eight-year veteran rushed for 989 yards and six touchdowns, his highest totals since 2009. These two, along with Greg Olsen, are the ones who make Carolina’s offense tick.
#1. Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer & David Johnson
Palmer’s career trajectory is a fascinating one. He went from a budding superstar in his first few years in Cincinnati, then became an injury-prone journeyman after being traded to Oakland, before finally landing in Arizona and mounting his return to greatness. He set career highs in 2015 in passer rating (104.6), yards per pass attempt (8.7) and touchdowns (35), earning the Cardinals the No. 2 seed in the NFC. All of this at age 36 — quite the comeback story.
As Palmer continues to defy Father Time, Johnson represents the power of youth. The rookie from Northern Iowa played the most snaps of any Arizona running back, and he made the most of them. He totaled 1,038 yards from scrimmage with 12 touchdowns, emerging as one of the league’s premier playmakers. This duo, combined with a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown, had the Cardinals flying high during 2015.