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NFL Rushing Attack

   by Bryan Leonard - 10/25/2006

Running the football and stopping the run are two of the most basic elements in football, not just from a coaching standpoint but from a handicapping one. Teams that run the football effectively can control the clock and tire out opposing defenses. A strong running game even helps the passing game (with the exception of the Atlanta Falcons) as defenses often have to stack the line anticipating the run, leaving single coverage downfield, a boon on a play-action pass.

Consequently, stopping the run is just as essential. Two of the top run defenses in the game met in February in the Super Bowl when the Steelers topped the Seahawks. The Carolina Panthers, for instance, have had a nice run the last three years and their success starts up front with excellent run stuffers like Kris Jenkins and Maake Kemoeatu.

This weekend the Steelers play the Falcons in a fascinating match-up of strengths: Power running teams and tough run defenses. Through their first four games, the Falcons had held opponents to 69 rushing yards per game, but then the NY Giants ran up 259 yards on them! No doubt Pittsburgh will come right at them. Here's a look at top teams rushing the football this season:

YPC Rushing Yds pg

Falcons 6.4 232

Chargers 4.3 158

Giants 5.3 151

Cowboys 4.5 151

Broncos 4.6 142

Patriots 3.9 139

What stands out is that they all have winning records both straight up and against the spread, with the exception of the 2-3 Denver ATS mark. All total their marks are 21-6 SU, 18-12 ATS. Teams that can run the football can not only give themselves an edge winning a game, but are often very strong against the number.

All of which is going to make the Monday night game interesting as the Giants and Cowboys clash. The Cowboys defense will have to find a way to contain Tiki Barber. Did you know the Cowboys have the NFL's top rushing defense? Talk about power against power!

Take a look at the poorest run defense in the NFL: Colts, Titans, Raiders, Texans, Jets and Browns. You only find one potential playoff team in that list, and mostly bad teams. That's why the Colts ran out this week and traded for Anthony McFarland of Tampa Bay, a strong run stuffer. That is potentially a great move for the Colts, so keep an eye on their run defense over the next month. It could be a great addition, and it certainly won't hurt as they have the worst run defense!

Finally, here are the worst running teams in the NFL: Dolphins, Packers, Bucs, Browns, Lions, Cardinals and Texans. You don't see any Super Bowl timber in that mix, do you? Passing the football may be exciting to most fans, but defense and the ground game are the real weapons to winning, both SU and ATS.

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