Running to daylight still important in NFL
By BARRY WILNERAP Pro Football Writer
Vince Lombardi, not to mention Woody Hayes, would love what the 49ers,
Patriots, Texans, Chiefs and Giants have been doing recently. It might
be longer than three yards and a cloud of dust, but those teams have
run to daylight enough to make the ground game viable in the NFL again.
Only Kansas City has been losing among those five teams showing a
strong commitment to the run. And for the others, particularly the
Patriots and Giants, the balance provided by successful rushing attacks
can only make their prolific passing games even more dangerous.
Nowhere is that more stark than in New England, where during the Tom Brady era that's now in its 12th season, only very early on when Brady
replaced the injured Drew Bledsoe was Bill Belichick's bunch not a
passing team. As Brady developed into a championship quarterback and
superb passer, the Patriots' devotion to the run waned.
Not so in 2012. New England ranks third in yards rushing and ninth in
yards through the air. Second-year back Stevan Ridley is fifth in the
NFL with 490 yards on the ground and already has four touchdowns. Brady
has only twice that many through the air; last season, Brady threw for
39 TDs and the Patriots rushed for 18.
''We're getting a lot of nickel defense,'' Brady explained. ''When they
put little guys out there, we have to take advantage of it. I think
we're playing definitely a more physical style and controlling the
tempo of the game by running the football. We have to keep doing it.
It's only been five games ...''
But in those five games, New England is averaging 38 rushes. And it's
not even cold and snowy in Foxborough yet.
''It's awesome, man,'' Ridley said of the rushing opportunities. ''I
just have to say, it takes a lot of pressure off Brady. And that's our
leader, that's our team. A lot of people key on him and our running
back group has to get some pressure off him so he can be the
quarterback he can be. If they're sitting back there staring Brady in
the face every play, we can't be a one-dimensional offense. So we're
taking pride in that and we're thankful for it, but there's a lot of
work to be done.''
The Giants needed tons of work done on their running game, which once
was their calling card, even with Eli Manning at quarterback. Even as
they surged to the NFL title last season, it was Manning's passing and
a sack-happy defense that carried them - not the guys carrying the
ball, who ranked last in yardage.
While they still are primarily a throwing team, especially when Hakeem Nicks is healthy to combine with Victor Cruz at wideout, the Giants'
devotion to handing the ball to Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown has paid
off this year.
''They can give me the ball all they want,'' Bradshaw said.
Although the trend from high schools through the colleges and into the
pros is to open it up - rules changes favoring offensive players,
spread attacks and the re-emergence of the tight end as a pass catcher
all have contributed to that trend - Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is
more of a traditionalist. He won national championships at Southern
California with balanced offenses, and he believes that remains the
correct approach. Even if the last three Super Bowl champions were
''I understand what you hear and the thrust of what's going on in all
levels; from kids leagues to all the way up, they're more in tune into
the throwing game and that's fine,'' Carroll said. ''It's been a really
good game for a lot of years playing defense and running the ball and
taking care of the ball.''
Adds Bills coach Chan Gailey, who is fortunate to have a dynamic 1-2
punch in running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, if they can stay
healthy, which has been an issue this season:
''It's a tough game for tough people. And I think that if you run the
football you can impose your will on other teams. But it's different.
The game's different than it was 10-15, 20 years ago. So you change,
you change with the times and you adjust, but you do what you have to
What the 49ers do is, basically, run it down opponents' throats with
the most diverse rushing plan of any NFL team. Frank Gore is the main
man, and he's shown a nice burst to go with his usual power. Gore is
averaging a hefty 5.4 yards a carry and has four touchdowns.
His backup, Kendall Hunter, has supplied the perfect change of pace
with his shiftiness and speed to the outside. He, too, is gaining 5.4
yards a carry.
Plus, quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick can run, with
Kaepernick showing what the wildcat can do when used properly.
That variety presents a daunting challenge to the opposition, which
happens to be the team that beat the 49ers for the NFC championship in
January, then won the Super Bowl: the Giants.
''I think they've added, trick is not the right word, some scheming
problems to complement what they did last year,'' New York defensive
end Justin Tuck said. ''They've got some things in there that look
exactly one way and it's the complete opposite from what their play is
supposed to look like. So I think their coaching staff has done a great
a job of putting them in a scheme that can confuse defenses at times,
but the biggest thing is just playing more physical.''
Nowhere can an offense be more physical than in the run game.
Success Comes On The Ground
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