Running to daylight still important in NFL


Running to daylight still important in NFL

Vince Lombardi, not to mention Woody Hayes, would love what the 49ers, Patriots, Texans, Chiefs and Giants have been doing recently. It might be longer than three yards and a cloud of dust, but those teams have run to daylight enough to make the ground game viable in the NFL again.

Only Kansas City has been losing among those five teams showing a strong commitment to the run. And for the others, particularly the Patriots and Giants, the balance provided by successful rushing attacks can only make their prolific passing games even more dangerous.

Nowhere is that more stark than in New England, where during the Tom Brady era that's now in its 12th season, only very early on when Brady replaced the injured Drew Bledsoe was Bill Belichick's bunch not a passing team. As Brady developed into a championship quarterback and superb passer, the Patriots' devotion to the run waned.

Not so in 2012. New England ranks third in yards rushing and ninth in yards through the air. Second-year back Stevan Ridley is fifth in the NFL with 490 yards on the ground and already has four touchdowns. Brady has only twice that many through the air; last season, Brady threw for 39 TDs and the Patriots rushed for 18.

``We're getting a lot of nickel defense,'' Brady explained. ``When they put little guys out there, we have to take advantage of it. I think we're playing definitely a more physical style and controlling the tempo of the game by running the football. We have to keep doing it. It's only been five games ...''

But in those five games, New England is averaging 38 rushes. And it's not even cold and snowy in Foxborough yet.

``It's awesome, man,'' Ridley said of the rushing opportunities. ``I just have to say, it takes a lot of pressure off Brady. And that's our leader, that's our team. A lot of people key on him and our running back group has to get some pressure off him so he can be the quarterback he can be. If they're sitting back there staring Brady in the face every play, we can't be a one-dimensional offense. So we're taking pride in that and we're thankful for it, but there's a lot of work to be done.''

The Giants needed tons of work done on their running game, which once was their calling card, even with Eli Manning at quarterback. Even as they surged to the NFL title last season, it was Manning's passing and a sack-happy defense that carried them - not the guys carrying the ball, who ranked last in yardage.

While they still are primarily a throwing team, especially when Hakeem Nicks is healthy to combine with Victor Cruz at wideout, the Giants' devotion to handing the ball to Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown has paid off this year.

``They can give me the ball all they want,'' Bradshaw said.

Although the trend from high schools through the colleges and into the pros is to open it up - rules changes favoring offensive players, spread attacks and the re-emergence of the tight end as a pass catcher all have contributed to that trend - Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is more of a traditionalist. He won national championships at Southern California with balanced offenses, and he believes that remains the correct approach. Even if the last three Super Bowl champions were passing teams.

``I understand what you hear and the thrust of what's going on in all levels; from kids leagues to all the way up, they're more in tune into the throwing game and that's fine,'' Carroll said. ``It's been a really good game for a lot of years playing defense and running the ball and taking care of the ball.''

Adds Bills coach Chan Gailey, who is fortunate to have a dynamic 1-2 punch in running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, if they can stay healthy, which has been an issue this season:

``It's a tough game for tough people. And I think that if you run the football you can impose your will on other teams. But it's different. The game's different than it was 10-15, 20 years ago. So you change, you change with the times and you adjust, but you do what you have to do.''

What the 49ers do is, basically, run it down opponents' throats with the most diverse rushing plan of any NFL team. Frank Gore is the main man, and he's shown a nice burst to go with his usual power. Gore is averaging a hefty 5.4 yards a carry and has four touchdowns.

His backup, Kendall Hunter, has supplied the perfect change of pace with his shiftiness and speed to the outside. He, too, is gaining 5.4 yards a carry.

Plus, quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick can run, with Kaepernick showing what the wildcat can do when used properly.

That variety presents a daunting challenge to the opposition, which happens to be the team that beat the 49ers for the NFC championship in January, then won the Super Bowl: the Giants.

``I think they've added, trick is not the right word, some scheming problems to complement what they did last year,'' New York defensive end Justin Tuck said. ``They've got some things in there that look exactly one way and it's the complete opposite from what their play is supposed to look like. So I think their coaching staff has done a great a job of putting them in a scheme that can confuse defenses at times, but the biggest thing is just playing more physical.''

Nowhere can an offense be more physical than in the run game.


AP Sports Writers Tim Booth in Seattle, John Wawrow in Buffalo and Howard Ulman in Boston contributed to this story.


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3 stars of the game: A lethargic loss in Philadelphia


3 stars of the game: A lethargic loss in Philadelphia

Playing three games in four days takes a toll on even the fittest athletes, and it was their sluggish start that doomed the Capitals in a 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. 

After being noncomittal about his starting goalie all weekend, Coach Barry Trotz put Philipp Grubauer in net. Grubauer ended up making 29 saves on 34 shots. Offensively, the Caps got goals from Alex Ovechkin, Chandler Stephenson, and John Carlson. Carlson's third period goal cut the Flyers' lead to two with a little over three minutes to go, but a Jakub Voracek empty-netter a few moments later was the nail in the coffin. 

Here are your three stars from the game: 

1. Travis Boyd had the play of the game for the Capitals. Boyd carried the puck into the Flyer's zone, cut through multiple defenders and fired a slick shot to a streaking Ovechkin, who burried the puck in the back of the net. Check it out: 

Not only was the play nice on its own, but it was Boyd's first NHL point. Not a bad way to get it. 

2. Shayne Gostisbehere​ got the Flyers going with his goal in the first period. The defenseman had one goal on five shots along with being an intimidating force in the defensive zone. After going six weeks without scoring, today's goal was Gostisbehere's second goal in three games. 

3. Wayne Simmonds was the best offensive player on the ice on Sunday, scoring twice - both in the final period. It was the 22nd and 23rd goals of the season for the 29-year-old winger. It was also the first multi-goal game for Simmonds since Opening Night, when he had two against San Jose. 

The Caps hit the ice next on Tuesday, when they welcome the Dallas Stars to the Capital One Center. 

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The 2018 salaries of five Redskins become fully guaranteed today

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The 2018 salaries of five Redskins become fully guaranteed today

It may be the 18th of March but today could be like Christmas for five Redskins players.

The Redskins decided to use today, four days after the start of the league year, for some contract triggers. In this case, the triggers are all 2018 salary guarantees (some teams will pay out roster bonuses on trigger dates, but the Redskins rarely use that type of structure).

Here are the players whose have guarantees that kick in today 4 p.m. All data is via Over the Cap.


CB Josh Norman, base salary of $13.5 million becomes fully guaranteed—This was a window for the Redskins to move on from Norman if they were not happy with his performance after two seasons. He is 31 and he had no interceptions last season, leaving some to wonder if the Redskins might think about releasing him. But it never was a consideration.

TE Jordan Reed, $8 million of his $8.25 million salary becomes fully guaranteed—No, I’m not sure why they are leaving that $250,000 out there non-guaranteed. Fans thought that the Redskins might move on from Reed due to his injury issues. But, as with Norman, it never was a consideration.

S D.J. Swearinger, $3 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed—This is a mere technicality, Swearinger wasn’t going anywhere after helping to solidify the safety position.


RB Chris Thompson, $1.996 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed—His rehab is going well and after last year Thompson’s two-year, $7 million contract extension signed last September looks like a good deal for the team.

DE Terrell McClain, $3.25 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed—If the Redskins sign a top free agent D-lineman or draft on early in the draft they could be in a numbers crunch. That new acquisition would be guaranteed a roster spot along with Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, Stacy McGee, and Anthony Lanier. That makes five and the Redskins kept six last year. Ziggy Hood is a favorite of the coaching staff but he has no guaranteed money left on his contract. That could tip the sixth spot in favor of McClain if he is on the roster at the close of business today. If they release McClain after today, they would take a cap charge of over $2 million. It seems unlikely that anything will happen but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.