A savvy signal-caller and a defense that makes an impression: Two team traits well-known amongst keen footballers as essentials for a playoff contender.
But in this era of downfield divas and near 100-point results (NO 48 @ AZ 41 (W15)), it’s easy for even the most studious student of the game to overlook the Super necessity of a complementary run-game. Not a dominant ground attack, but integral, responding when called to balance the attack and spare the QB.
The days when power-backs like Earl Campbell and John Riggins, thoroughbreds like Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson could carry their clubs through much of the playoffs, seem as long gone as the gloveless receiver. While their exploits are greatly missed by those of us who remember, today’s top team doesn’t necessarily need the gargantuan ground-gainers.
Take Adrian Peterson for example.
In his seven full seasons, All-Day has led the League in rushing 3x and won one MVP award (12). But only once, in 2009-10, have the Vikes been top contenders in that span, owing much of it to the arrival of 3-time Valuable man, Brett Favre who had his best statistical showing that season in leading Purple to the NFCC (v NO).
Then look at the NFL standard for most of the 2000s, the Patriots.
Since Bill Belichick took the reins in Foxborough he’s had five 1000-yd rushers, with Corey Dillon topping at 1600+ in 2004 but most (Antowain Smith, Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley & LeGarrette Blount) coming in around the 1100 mark. A strong number but not in category with Peterson or prime Emmitt Smith.
No running-back MVPs, no League leaders in year-end rushing totals. And yet, Belichick teams have made it to six Supers and how many playoff spots.
Check the box scores: Quantity in rush, say, 90-100+, is not so important, not a weekly total, as much as quality. That when Belichick, Brady, New England’s OC, want a good ground gain, it’s likely to happen and give the D more to think about.
In Jim Brown’s day (64), the bruising back could carry a club all the way but it’s rare in the day of play-action pass. Yet, without a strong, reliable run game (900 – 1200), one man or tandem, your team’s Super Bowl aspirations will most likely remain just that, a pipe-dream.
In the present, Blount has been Mr. Reliable for the Pats for two seasons, averaging a modest 50-60 per (900 yr.) and fashioning one of the most inspirational football career stories in history.
Getting all blame (& susp‘n) in the Byron Haut punching incident as sophomore Blount and his Oregon Ducks opened their 2009 season against Boise State (in loss), crushing team national title hopes and Heisman aspirations, the Madison, Florida native was drafted by Tampa Bay, met the 1000 benchmark, was shipped to the juggernautious Patriots in 2013, started 2014 in Pittsburgh only to be returned to the Patriots to finish that season and then contributing (3td) to New England’s PS run that culminated in besting defending champ Seattle in SB49.
In 2016, Blount is the go-to guy in Patriots’ run-game, topping the 1000 mark in W15 and at this posting, leading the NFL in rushing TDs (15). Quite…a…story.
Run totals of Theo Riddick (357 / 3.9), Dwayne Washington (243 / 2.9) & Zach Zenner (198 / 3.5) just puts more pressure on Stafford to work his arm.
New York Giants
When the Coughlin Giants won Super #1 (09), Brandon Jacobs was top grounder, posting 1009 (5.0). Returning to the Big Game in 2011 to top the Patriots, again (SB46), to spoil NE’s perfect run, their fine backfield tandem in Jacobs (571) and Ahmad Bradshaw (659) proved effective. In 2016, no top GG and a tandem that hardly impresses: Rashad Jennings, 541 (3.3) & Paul Perkins, 354 (3.9).
Having not found Lynch’s replacement, no easy task, Pete Carroll & Darrell Bevell have relied on the Christine Michaels (469) / Thomas Rawls (327 (3.5)) duo. And if you figure in your QB tally (Wilson / 219), you’re asking for trouble.
Green Bay Packers
With Lacy out (IR) and Starks fizzling (2.3), new starter Montgomery (4g) was a godsend to tear up the turf (6.5). But in facing a rated Vikes defense, Ty stumbled on Christmas Eve (23 – 2.6). If the Packers braintrust think they can ride the Rodgers – Nelson hook-up to Houston (2/5), there are gonna’ be alot of cheeseheads crying in their beer n’ curds come January.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Injuries have taken their toll on former great Doug Martin (2.9) who’d passed the 1400 mark twice in his relatively young career. Jacquizz Rodgers (4.4) and rook Peyton Barber (4.1) average well but not many carries. Upside, fresh legs for PS.
Wanted: Clipboard Savior
It’s not often a playoff team loses their #1 QB, but it does happen. Lucky for those teams who plan ahead in off-season and pay the piper for a capable clipboarder to fill the void as needed.
Bravery must be at a premium in the Oakland front office these days. With the lose of their inspiration & MVP-caliber QB in Derek Carr, going down with a broken fibula in W16 action, the Raiders’ prospects took a major hit. Not just in Carr’s exit but in the caliber of clipboard stepping into the breach. But then, an unknown like Matt McGloin or Conor Cook may only need an opportunity to show the world just how capable a matriculator they are. Maybe.
The Titans, losing their starter as well when Marcus Mariota was lost for the remainder on a leg fracture, are in a slightly less precarious position in that they signed veteran Matt Cassel last off-season. The career W-L is uninspiring but the Pro Bowler did quarterback two teams (KC Chiefs / Patriots) to two double-digit win seasons respectively. So there’s that.
Here then are the playoff contenders and their back-up state.
New England: Jim Garoppolo (2-0)
Miami: T.J. Yates (4-3)
Pittsburgh: Landry Jones (1-2)
Baltimore: Ryan Mallett (3-5)
Tennessee: Matt Cassel (33-44)
Houston: Brock Osweiler (13-8)
Oakland: Matt McGloin (1-5) & Connor Cook (0-0)
Kansas City: Nick Foles (20-16)
Denver: Paxton Lynch (1-1)
Dallas: Tony Romo (78-49)
New York Giants: Ryan Nassib (0-0 / 9-10 (C90%)) & Josh Johnson (0-5)
Washington: Colt McCoy (7-18) & Nate Sudfeld (0-0)
Detroit: Dan Orlovsky (2-10) & Jake Ruddock (0-0)
Green Bay: Brett Hundley (0-0)
Atlanta: Matt Schaub (47-45)
Tampa Bay: Mike Glennon (5-13)
Seattle: Trevone Boykin (0-0)
The list of names doesn’t inspire too much confidence. Makes you wonder what these coaches, their GMs and owners are all thinking in the off-season. Football is a very physical game and the quarterback is usually at the epicenter of the earthquake. But then nobody but Green Bay’s Ron Wolf apparently thought very much of Brett Favre, either, when the HOF’er GM snatched him away from the A-Birds in 1992.
Photo credit: NFL wikiproject; Peterson, wc, Arvee5.0, 1.28.12; Blount, wc, J.Beall, 1.19.14; Brown, wc, TSNA, M.Emmons; Olivier, wc, P&P, 1940; cherries, wc, B.Kua, 6.1.08
Posted: 12.25.16 @ 6:18pm EST; Copyright © 2016
Tagged with: Adrian Peterson, back-up QB, Bill Belichick, Byron Haut, cherry pick, Clash of the Titans, clipboard quarterback, complementary, Defense, Derek Carr, Detroit Lions, downfield diva, Earl Campbell, epicenter, Eric Dickerson, Football, fortune is ally to the brave, Green Bay Packers, integral, Jim Brown, John Riggins, Laurence Olivier, LeGarrette Blount, Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, mythology, new england patriots, New York Giants, NFL 2016 week 17, NFL 2016-17, NFL MVP, NFL run game, nflhunchline, oakland Raiders, Oregon Ducks, quality, quantity, Quarterback, reliability, Seattle Seahawks, sports, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, thoroughbred, timeliness, Walter Payton, Zeus