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Meat and Potatoes Football

   by Al McMordie - 11/20/2006

With Ohio State/Michigan behind us 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.â€쳌 Hayes was old school, which meant he loved to run the football. While QB Troy Smith was the hero in Ohio State’s 42-39 win over Michigan, notice that the Buckeyes had 187 rushing yards against the previously No. 1 Wolverine run defense. Running the football is key, especially this time of year as the weather gets cooler and windier in many venues.

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: 1. Tiki Barber (NY Giants), 2. LaDainian Tomlinson (Chargers), 3. Larry Johnson (Chiefs), 4. Willie Parker (Steelers), and 5. Frank Gore (49ers). One thing that stands out is that all those teams have winning records with the exception of San Fran and Pittsburgh. On the other hand, the Steelers are the defending champs and Parker and the running game were huge factors in their run to the title. They are also not out of it yet, especially after Sunday’s thrilling comeback win at Cleveland. Another player on that list was a big hero Sunday. San Fran RB Frank Gore pounded out 212 rushing yards, 8.8 yards per carry, in the 49ers' 20-14 upset of Seattle. Home dogs that can run the football can offer excellent wagering value.

One team absent from this 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 the wave of the future, but the value of the bruising workhorse back is still alive and well.

The Colts are in good shape to get home field advantage in the playoffs, but it’s going to be interesting as they have a small defensive front and are easily the worst in the NFL against the run. They allow a whopping 5.1 yards per carry, which is the worst mark in NFL history for a team with a winning record. If we want to fast forward ahead to January, the Colts might get a tough test at home against a team like the Chargers, or in rematches with the Broncos or Patriots. All those teams have power running games.

Former Alabama coach 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.â€쳌 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 defenses weren’t expecting it.

How important is rushing the football? Three of the top 5 rushing teams from 2005 (Denver, Pittsburgh, Seattle) wound up in the Conference Championship game, with two meeting in the Super Bowl. 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. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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