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As rush yards allowed rise, so do losses

Oct 16, 2007 4:25 AM
Most Rush Yards Allowed
(Through first 5 games this season)
Most Rush Yards Allowed
Rank   Team Rush yds allowed pg. SU ATS
23:   49ers 124 2-3 2-3
24:   Chiefs 125 2-3 2-2-1
25:   Jets 127 1-4 1-3-1
26:   Raiders 129 2-2 2-2
27:   Bills 133 1-4 3-2
28:   Rams 146 0-5 1-4
29:   Bengals 152 1-3 2-2
30:   Browns 157 2-3 3-2
31:   Dolphins 174 0-5 1-2-2
32:   Broncos 187 2-3 0-5

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. I know what you’re thinking: A year ago the Colts had the worst run defense in the NFL, yet won the Super Bowl. That is true, but it also was an aberration.

Even that doesn’t tell the whole story, as the Colts’ run defense was suddenly dominant in the postseason. The mid-season addition of DT Anthony McFarland, moving LB Rob Morris inside and the return of hard-hitting safety Bob Saunders all coincided with the Indy playoff run, led by their defense. Their Super Bowl opponent, the Bears, were No. 1 in total defense and eighth against the rush.

In 2005, 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, who won the Super Bowl. 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 overall against the run. 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. They can pick up first downs and control clock

In the adjacent stat chart, notice that none of teams have a winning record and only one has a winning spread mark. The Jets, Chiefs, Bengals and Broncos have been the biggest busts in the NFL, going a combined 13-25 SU and 17-27-4 ATS.

Denver is off its bye week after a disastrous 41-3 defeat at home to San Diego, a poor defensive start under new DC Jim Bates. The Broncos remain the No. 1-ranked pass defense, but are last in run defense! Defensive end Simeon Rice signed with Denver six days before the season started because of his 121 career sacks. Rice is sackless , and carrying a surgically repaired shoulder that has not completely healed.

"There will be no major changes," coach Mike Shanahan said. That’s likely bad news for Denver’s abysmal run defense.

The Bills are off their bye week, a victim of poor timing after that shocking 25-24 collapse to Dallas last Monday. No one wants to sit around two weeks thinking about that stinging defeat. One positive note is that the last two games the Bills have allowed just 60 and 76 rushing yards to the Jets and Cowboys. That’s even more impressive when you realize how many injuries this defense has had.

The importance was not lost on Bills coach Dick Jauron, who said, "Our defense did a terrific job. We stopped the run. I think it starts there. We gave them some different looks and got them to throw into some coverages."

Go back to 2005 and 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, of the 10 worst teams against the pass that season (includes the Patriots, Broncos, Giants, Seahawks, Bengals), all made the playoffs. The Steelers and Seahawks met in the Super Bowl. Both were Top 5 in rush defense and Top 6 in yards per carry allowed. It’s more important to stop the run first!

That is why talented run stuffers such as nose tackles Casey Hampton, Jamal Williams and John Henderson are in high demand. Run defense is an excellent place to start when examining strengths and weaknesses each week.

For potential future bets, history has not been kind to teams not stout against the run in the postseason.