Is Betts Better Than Portis?

Steve O Speak

Since Clinton Portis left Sunday’s game in Atlanta with a concussion, there has been a debate raging across the the DC metropolitan area, is Ladell Betts a better running back than Clinton Portis?  This debate was started when Betts ran for 70 yards over 15 carries on Sunday in relief of Portis. Since then, every blog, radio station, or newspaper has featured this debate, and more or less they have come to the conclusion that Ladell Betts is the better running back.

I personally don’t understand how this is even up for discussion. Yes Betts averaged 4.7 yards per carry on Sunday, but his overall numbers for the year are 26 carries for 91 yards for an average of 3.5 yards per carry. Meaning that his first 11 carries this season gained a total of 21 yards (or 1.9 yards per carry). Now I understand that 11 carries is too small of a sample size to really determine anything, but so is 15 carries in a game. Those 15 carries and 70 yards were against a Falcons rush defense that ranks 24th in the NFL. Its not as though Betts tore up the Steelers defense.

And if we look at the last few years, we will see that Betts hasn’t exactly been gaining big chunks of yards for the Redskins offense. Since his 2006 1,000 yard season, Betts has struggled running the ball for the Skins. In the last two seasons he averaged 3.6 and 3.4 yards per carry respectively. And its not as if Betts is a primary short yardage back that can skew the numbers. In fact a lot of times in which Betts has been as a third down back, which is why he has always put up good receiving numbers for the Skins. With the exception of 2006, Betts has never shown any ability that he can be a full time running back (or that he’s a great backup). Portis on the other hand has continually shown that he is a feature back, rushing for over 1,200 yards each year with the Skins (except 2006) and averaging over 4 yards a carry with Washington. And that is despite the fact that Portis has had to deal with the wear and tear of carrying the ball over 325 times a season.

Now I get it Portis is considered aloof by the media and fans, he doesn’t practice the same as everyone else and he walks on water in Washington. But let’s not criticize his production on the field due to his off field antics (which in the grand scheme of things how bad are they?). He has been a huge cog in Washington these last six seasons, and was a major reason why the Redskins were able to make their last two playoff appearances. Also, Portis is only 900 yards behind John Riggins on the Redskins all-time rushing list, despite playing in 35 less games, and having 370 less carries. Now I’m not trying to excuse Portis, but you can’t deny his production and consistency. The fact that he has started 40 straight games is pretty impressive for a running back. While it always seems like Portis is injured, he still plays and gets the job done. Betts on the other hand has missed time in four of his eight seasons, even though he’s only had over 100 carries once. And while there is a legitimate concern that Portis has lost a step, and isn’t the homerun hitter he was earlier in his career, it should be noted that Betts has never had a run longer than 27 yards in almost 750 career carries.

Ladell Betts isn’t the answer folks, if he had to go the rest of the season as the primary back the Redskins ground attack would be worse, not better. The only good thing about this debate is its brought to mind the question that has been swept under the rug for far too long; who is the running back of the future in Washington? Hopefully the Redskins can find a way to address this concern in the draft next season, because its obvious that Skins lack a long term answer to that question. Until then, let’s hope Portis can get back soon, and Betts can go back to being an effective receiver out of the backfield.

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