Poor run D trouble sign

Oct 17, 2006 7:18 AM

Like a giant leak on a sinking ship, one of the first signs of a poor pro football team is weak run defense.

Stopping the run is essential to building a championship team. A year ago the Carolina Panthers were fourth in the league at stopping the run behind its fearsome front foursome. They made it to the NFC Championship game. The team just ahead of the Panthers was the Steelers. I don’t have to tell you how they finished last season.

In 2003, the Patriots finished No. 3 against the run with the addition of NT Ted Washington. In 2004 they let Washington walk, but added Keith Traylor and rookie Vince Wilfork to the line and finished No. 6. Both those teams won the Super Bowl.

Back in 2001 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the No. 1 overall defense, a solid sixth against the run and celebrated a title. Stopping the run in some capacity is essential for success in football. Think about how many third and short situations you see over the course of a game. If a team can’t stop the run, opponents can simply run the ball all day long, picking up first downs and controlling the clock.

Most of the pro teams at the bottom of the list in yards allowed rushing per game after the first five contests in 2006 are poor. Only the Bengals and Colts own winning records. The Bengals were pounded by the Patriots at home a few weeks ago, losing 38-13 as a 6-point favorite because they couldn’t stop the run.

In 2005, the worst teams against the run were the Titans, Packers, Lions, Raiders, Falcons, Saints, Rams, Jets, Browns, Bills and Texans. What stands out? None made the playoffs or had winning records.

By contrast, the Patriots, Broncos, Giants, Seahawks and Bengals were among the 10 worst against the pass. All five made the playoffs. Simply put, it’s more important to stop the run first.

No surprise that talented run stuffers are in high demand. Nose tackles like Casey Hampton, Jamal Williams, Sam Adams, and John Henderson are great assets, but you also have to produce. The Raiders signed NG Washington for big bucks, but were poor against the run in 2004 and ’05. The Browns signed Big Ted this year, but he hasn’t been a force.

A fierce run defense is a huge factor in the Bears great start, led by LB Brian Urlacher, the reigning defensive Player of the Year. Just as important is yards allowed per rushing attempt. This often gives a good indication of how strong a run defense really is, quantifying how may yards per average each opposing runner gets. Currently the worst teams in this category are the Colts, Bucs, Titans, Saints, Browns and Texans.

Looking back to last season, the Steelers and Seahawks met in the Super Bowl. Both were in the Top 5 in rush defense and in the Top 6 in yards per carry allowed. The top run defenses this year have been the Chargers, Falcons and Ravens. Notice that group started 10-2-1 under the total.

Run defense is an excellent place to start when examining strengths and weaknesses each week. For potential future bets, note that history has not been kind to teams not stout against the run in the postseason.