Seems teams are on the run again
The way things used to work in the NFL appears to be the way things are working again. There was nothing novel about being a run-first football team back in the days of Concrete Charlie, Jim Brown or even the Super Bowl-shuffle Chicago Bears.
The way things used to work in the NFL appears to be the way things are working again.
There was nothing novel about being a run-first football team back in the days of Concrete Charlie, Jim Brown or even the Super Bowl-shuffle Chicago Bears.
The teams that typically won championships in the "old days" ran well, ran often and played great defense.
Examine the history of the Super Bowl and you'll find that only one of the first 28 champions passed the ball more than they ran it. Even that team – the 1970-71 Baltimore Colts – was more about being balanced - 416 passes to 411 rushes – than being pass-crazy.
That approach started to change in the mid-1990s and it's no secret that Eagles coach Andy Reid was a rotund surfer dude hanging 10 on the new wave of pass-first football. It's also no secret that he's still trying to find the highest of waves, taking pass-first football to another level.
Reid has some kindred spirits in the league. New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton loves to pass the football every bit as much as Reid and it was pretty obvious from the Arizona Cardinals' recent visit to Lincoln Financial Field that they're built to throw rather than run.
To be fair, 25 of the league's 32 teams have thrown the football more times than they've run it this season. Change takes time and so does changing back to the way things used to be.
It's no secret, however, that if something works other teams around the league start to adopt the same plan, and right now the two best teams in the NFL - the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans - are running the football more than they are throwing it.
The Eagles, 6-5-1 and in a must-win situation for the remainder of the season, play the 11-1 Giants today up at the Meadowlands and they're well aware of New York's powerful running game. It ran them over last month at the Linc.
"What it does for us is it establishes ball control, it establishes time of possession, it's a physical part of the game and we try to win that physical battle every week," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "I think when you are pretty good at something, then people have to try to be a little bit creative to stop it and that's when the balance thing comes to mind. We really preach balance."
Reid, of course, is only in favor of balance as it pertains to his need to remain upright while coaching on the sideline. The Eagles, under Reid, have always thrown the ball a lot more than they've run it and that'll change as soon as the coach starts opening his news conferences by saying, "Hey, great to see you guys again, thanks for coming."
Coughlin, of course, sees things in a different way than Reid.
"I think we've always tried to be this way," he said. "I'm not saying this is how it should be done everywhere, but for us this is the way we tried to build our team and how we try to go about our business. We also realize that we're talking about the NFC East and you're talking about this time of the year. I've always believed you have to be able to run it."
Interestingly, Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg conceded this week that weather can wreak havoc on an offense, although we suspect he meant his own team's pass-first offense.
"The rain, the snow, sloppy turf or something like that, those things I think are good for offenses," Mornhinweg said. "You put in cold and wind, the wind is the big kicker. Then, it sort of shifts to the defense's [advantage]."
It does unless you're a running offense.
Regardless of the weather today at Giants Stadium, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson knows how troublesome New York's running game can be, especially since the Giants also have a competent quarterback in Eli Manning.
"The biggest pressure is making the calls you want to make," Johnson said. "If it's a passing situation, you want to make sure you're in a good coverage or a blitz, but all of a sudden they run the football and . . . that's pressure because all of a sudden the defense has to react to the run. That's the hardest thing you have with the Giants right now. A lot of teams, if they're in a second-down and long, they're going to be passing, but, with the Giants, they might be running."
There's also the theory that a strong running game makes a decent quarterback good and a good quarterback great. Eagles safety Quintin Mikell said the Giants' running game has done wonders for Manning, who was still considered a turnover machine at this time last season.
"The key is the running game," Mikell said. "Any time you can run the ball, it makes your quarterback and your whole team play well. They're running well and he's playing well. It kind of goes hand in hand."
Similar cases of terrific running games aiding the quarterback can be found in Tennessee, Baltimore, Atlanta, Carolina and Minnesota. Those five teams and the Giants are a combined 54-18 and they've all run the ball more than they've passed it. None of those teams have great quarterbacks, but they have been able to alleviate the pressure of the position by running the football. With the exception of Minnesota, they also all have at least two backs with more than 400 yards rushing.
"I think you need that, because you're going to have injuries," Johnson said. "You see it with the Giants. [Brandon] Jacobs has been hurt a bit, but [Derrick] Ward and [Ahmad] Bradshaw came in and did a good job. You definitely do see a lot of teams realizing that if you've got the backs and a good blocking tight end, then you can be committed to the run."
It's an old trend that seems to be gaining momentum.