With Ohio State/Michigan and Thanksgiving upon us, this is the perfect time to be looking at ‘meat and potatoes’ football. Ohio State coach Woody Hayes was fond of saying, “Three things can happen when you throw the football, and two of them are bad.” Hayes was old school, which meant he loved to run the football.
Being able to successfully run the ball with a power running game adds so much to the dimensions of an offense. If you’re in a third-and-four situation, having a power back gives a coach the option of playing it safe and running the pigskin. Even if you pick up two yards, it’s still a viable option to run it again on fourth-and-short, if you have that reliable bruising back. Offensive balance is so important. A good running game makes the passing game that much better, because defenses may have to bring more guys up the line of scrimmage to key on the run. This makes play-action that much more effective. In addition, there is likely more single coverage downfield, making the air attack that much easier to click.
Here’s a look at the top rushers in the NFL right now: Shaun Alexander (1,114 yards), Edgerrin James (1,027), Warrick Dunn, Willis McGahee, Tiki Barber, LaDainian Tomlinson, Rudi Johnson, Clinton Portis and Thomas Jones. One thing that stands out is that all those teams have winning records with the exception of one (Buffalo with McGahee). Seattle is running away with the NFC West behind league leader Alexander, while James and the Colts are undefeated.
Another thing that stands out is that every one of those teams has a winning spread record. The Colts and Seahawks are a combined 12-6 against the number. One team absent from that list is Denver. Mike Shanahan’s teams are still terrific at running the football, though they are doing it this year with running back depth, which is a trend several teams are starting to develop. This may be a wave of the future, but the value of the bruising workhorse back is still alive and well.
Former Alabamacoach Bear Bryant spent the last 15 years of his career utilizing the wishbone, a run-oriented offense. When asked about it one time he said, “The Wishbone is the greatest passing offense in football history.” His point was that defenses geared to stop the running game, but every now and then when you threw a pass, it often went for a huge gain because the defense wasn’t expecting it.
The top 5 rushing teams in the NFL are the Falcons, Broncos, Seahawks, Steelers, Bears and Colts. They’re all either leading their divisions or in the thick of the playoff race. Running the football may not be as exciting as a wide-open passing attack, but the bread and butter element of football is still a significant weapon — both straight up and against the number. Good luck, as always…Al McMordie.