Ever have one of those epiphanies that’s just so radical you spend the first few days in a soft state of shock, waiting for its truth to be disproved and for your world to restore its familiar order? Every person’s life has at least a few of these epiphanies. (The one we can all relate to is the childhood revelation about Santa Clause.)
I had one of these epiphanies after the Dolphins-Colts game last Monday night. As I rose from my chair and headed out the door to run some postgame errands, I found myself thinking “Gee, running the ball truly does not matter anymore.”
I’ve long considered myself a football purist, which is why I have not enjoyed this realization that running the ball does not matter. That’s why I’m still in a soft state of shock. Deep down, I already know my mind won’t be changed on this. As much as it pains me to say, running the football does not matter in the NFL. What matters is quarterbacking.
It hasn’t always been this way, of course. There was a time not long ago when running the ball did matter. And it’s my hope and belief that there will come a time when running the ball matters again.
But that time is not now. Right now, quarterbacks matter and running backs, essentially, do not. Look at the Week 2 primetime games. The Dolphins rushed for 239 yards on 49 attempts. They dominated the time of possession (45:07). They dictated that game. And, in the end, they lost. Why? Because Peyton Manning torched them for a touchdown strike early and a touchdown strike late. The Colts had a superstar quarterback and the Dolphins did not.
The night before, Manning’s younger brother beat a Cowboys club that rushed for 251 yards. The outcome was a direct result of quarterbacking: Eli Manning (330 yards) had two touchdowns and no picks, while Tony Romo (127 yards) had one touchdown and three picks.
Yes, it’s only two games, but the trend is ingrained deeper than that. Just look at last year’s Super Bowl contenders. The Steelers – long considered the classic run-first organization in pro football – ranked 22nd on the ground. They won a title behind Ben Roethlisberger’s epic 256-yard passing performance. They beat a the Cardinals that had the league’s 31st-ranked rushing attack during the regular season.
It’s very possible that this is all a big coincidence, which is why I’m not ready to vehemently defend my new theory that quarterback play is all that really matters these days. But, obviously, I’m feeling comfortable enough with my new thought to go public with it.
I’ve put the idea out there. In a month or two, we’ll re-examine and see how things stand. But just know, these days, I’m a football purist watching NFL running games with a skeptical eye.
Let’s run through the Week 3 matchups.
Washington @ Detroit
It’s not a good sign for Washington that inside possession outlets Chris Cooley and Antwaan Randle El are the team’s two most productive pass catchers through two weeks. That suggests Jason Campbell and the offense really haven’t take a full step when it comes to opening up the passing game.
A lot of people are picking the Lions to end their 19-game losing streak this week, but I question that interior offensive line’s ability to contain Albert Haynesworth. Center Dominic Raiola is nasty, but he’ll need help from guards Daniel Loper and Stephen Peterman, two career backups whose strength has never matched their considerable size.
Green Bay @ St. Louis
A great way to get comfortable in a new 3-4 scheme is to face the Rams offense. St. Louis has scored seven points in two games, proving right every doubter who scoffed at this weak receiving corps.
San Francisco @ Minnesota
An intriguing matchup between two clubs that, according to my new anti-running theory, won’t play deep into January (should they even make the playoffs). The Niners and Vikings both ask their quarterbacks to manage the offense while the star running back takes care of earning the W. In Minnesota’s case, the star running back might just be good enough to single-handedly debunk my theory. It’s going to be a blast watching Adrian Peterson go up against Patrick Willis.
Many are wondering, Are the 49ers for real? The answer is Yes, by default. They appear to be the best team in the lousy NFC West. But as far as being a contender beyond that, let’s see how the offensive line’s pass protection looks once the leaves fall off the trees. Just going off what I saw on film last season, I’m not sold on Joe Staley at left tackle, I definitely don’t like Eric Heitmann at center (wait for some wear and tear to kick in and you’ll see the savvy veteran abandon his fundamentals) and guard Chilo Rachal is potentially dominant but still very raw.
For this game, San Francisco must leave the West Coast and play an early game indoors.
Click here to view the rest of the Week 3 games analysis