Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Four 1,100-yard rushers in one division?
By Mike Sando
Passing is generally the key to victory in the NFL.
This helps explain why quarterbacks earn the most money, why teams often draft pass-blocking tackles over top runners and why fullbacks have become endangered.
Teams still value running the ball, of course. Defenses would have an easier time defending quarterbacks if they knew with certainty a run was not coming. And every team seeking support for young or average quarterbacks would be better off with a strong ground game.
NFC West teams fall into this group. Each team in the division is on pace to produce a 1,000-yard runner.
One division has produced four 1,000-yard rushers in a season five times since divisional realignment in 2002. Each NFC West team's leading rusher is on pace for at least 1,100 yards. Only one division, the AFC North in 2010, has produced four players with at least 1,100 yards since realignment.
Frank Gore's yardage production for the 49ers has leveled off in recent weeks. Continued strong defense and increased production from quarterback Alex Smith have helped the team keep winning. Facing two backup quarterbacks -- Arizona's John Skelton and St. Louis' A.J. Feeley -- simultaneously lowered the bar for the 49ers in recent weeks.
I would expect the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch to gain the most rushing yardage in Week 14 among NFC West backs. Seattle wants to field a run-first offense, which makes sense this week.
The Rams rank second in most sacks per pass attempt, a threat now that Seattle's best pass protector, Russell Okung, has landed on injured reserve. The Rams are averaging fewer than one offensive touchdown per game. That gives Seattle a good chance to win without taking as many chances through the air. The Rams have allowed more rushing yards than any team in the NFL.
Note: With an assist from Anicra in the comments, I updated the projected totals for Jackson, Lynch and Wells to reflect their participation in only 11 games this season. I had previously divided their rushing totals by total team games (12 apiece), using the average to project totals for the remaining four games.