Friday, December 08, 2006

Play the Young Guys

NFL coaches are a frustrating bunch. They are generally way too conservative and avoid risk at all cost, to the point where they are punting from the opponents' 35-yard line down by a touchdown late in the game (Bears at Patriots). Not enough teams throw on first down, prevent defenses don't prevent anything but your chances of winning the game (credit that little turn of phrase to my Dad), and if I see one more draw play on 3rd-and-14 I am going to puke.

That said, there is one stodgy trend among NFL coaches that bothers more than all the others combined: the refusal to hand the keys to the running game to young, superior backs. I don't know if it is loyalty, fear, ignorance, or stupidity, but all around the league, we are seeing young running backs explode onto the scene, only to be kept on the sidelines in favor of lesser players. Here is a quick glance at some guys that should be getting 20+ carries a game and are instead in (at best) time share situations:

Joseph Addai - The rookie out of LSU is the captain of this team. He's received only 22 more carries than Dominic Rhodes, yet Addai has a whopping 324 more yards and three more touchdowns than the Colts' veteran. Is Dungy trying to save Addai's legs? The guy's 23 years old! Addai has only had 20 or more carries in a game twice and in those two contests, he totaled 44 carries for 255 yards and five scores.

Marion Barber - Another "backup" that has clearly taken over as the preferred back in a time share, which frankly, isn't enough. It is nice that Barber is finally getting more carries than Julius Jones, but he should be getting neary all of the touches. Jones is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry this season, including a miserable 3.2 per over the last seven games. Meanwhile, Barber is picking up 5.2 yards every tote and has scored 11 touchdowns. Sure, he's not that fast, but he obviously doesn't need to be. When you consider that a large percentage of Barber's runs come in the red zone, that average is even more impressive.

DeAngelo Williams - We all saw what this rookie could do on Monday night when he racked up 175 total yards and a touchdown. Oh wait, nevermind, I guess we didn't all see that, because John Fox has indicated that DeShaun Foster (another member of the 3.9 Per Carry club) will be the starter and split carries if he's healthy on Sunday against the Giants. Genius. Did Fox coach that entire game with a blindfold on? Doesn't he have access to game film?

Jerious Norwood - I think this is a situation in which Jim Mora Jr. just can't bring himself to punk Warrick Dunn and replace him with Norwood. It is the only explanation. Norwood is fresher, faster, more explosive, stronger, and - at this point - simply better than Dunn. The rookie out of Mississippi State unleashed a jaw-dropping 63-touchdown run against the Redskins on Sunday is now averaging a whopping 6.7 yards per carry (easily tops in the NFL among running backs). Not only that, but he leads the NFL in fourth quarter rushing with 367 yards in the final stanza of games. I guess this makes sense, because he only gets to carry the ball in the fourth quarter. Imagine what he could do with some touches during the first three.

You could probably stretch and make cases for Maurice Jones-Drew and Brandon Jacobs as well, but Tiki Barber and Fred Taylor are actually playing pretty well, so we'll let Coughlin and Del Rio off the hook.

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