Thursday, December 8, 2011
'Hyphen' and Hunter dangerous after catch
By Mike Sando
LaRod Stephens-Howling was among the NFL's best in racking up yards after the catch even before weaving through the Dallas Cowboys' defense for the winning 52-yard touchdown in overtime Sunday.
That play widened the gap between the Arizona Cardinals running back and every other player with at least eight receptions this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Stephens-Howling, nicknamed "The Hyphen," previously gained about 15 yards after the catch during a critical fourth-and-2 play at Philadelphia. That play gained 30 yards during the winning drive.
Stephens-Howling and the San Francisco 49ers' Kendall Hunter are not starting running backs. They both rank among the NFL leaders in yards after the catch, however -- something to watch when San Francisco visits Arizona in Week 14. The Cardinals' defense ranks eighth in average yards allowed after the catch (4.8), seven spots higher than the 49ers' defense ranks (5.1). Pittsburgh leads the NFL (4.5).
Hunter, like Stephens-Howling, hurt the Eagles after the catch. He gained all but about 10 of his 44 yards after the catch on a third-quarter reception that sparked the 49ers' comeback from a 23-3 deficit. Alex Smith scrambled to his right. Hunter adjusted well. Hunter caught the ball and outran linebacker Brian Rolle, then weaved through the secondary. San Francisco scored two plays later.
The Eagles are allowing 7.1 yards per reception after the catch, second-worst in the NFL.
The chart shows yards-after-catch leaders from NFC West teams (minimum eight receptions). The 49ers' Frank Gore just missed the top 10. He has averaged 5.6 yards after the catch on his 16 receptions, down from 10.1 yards last season. The 49ers have utilized Gore more in pass protection. He is on pace to finish with less than half his total for receptions last season (46).