NFL Nation: Eric Pegram

Playoff reseeding takes a back seat

February, 11, 2011
2/11/11
10:48
AM ET
With labor unrest and a Super Bowl seating fiasco, the NFL has more important things to worry about than reseeding the playoffs to prevent another losing team from getting a home playoff game as a division winner.

Making significant changes to the existing structure would stand as an overreaction, anyway. The Seattle Seahawks were, after all, the first team in NFL history to win its division with a losing record. This was the exception, not the rule.

I could see it happening periodically in the future, however.

Realignment into four-team divisions for the 2002 season increased the likelihood. As the NFC West proved this past season, a division needs only four teams in transition to produce a champion with a losing record.

Between 1990 and 2001, divisions produced four losing teams four times. The difference then was that divisions had more than four teams.

A quick look back at the "offending" divisions -- those with at least four losing teams -- from 1990 through this past season ...
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The 2001 AFC Central featured the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and a Pittsburgh Steelers team that went 13-3 with Kordell Stewart at quarterback.

The 1997 San Francisco 49ers went 13-3, including 1-0 with Jim Druckenmiller as the starting quarterback. The rest of the NFC West that season? Not so good.

Eric Pegram and Bam Morris carried the rushing load for the 1995 AFC Central champion Steelers. The Cincinnati Bengals went 7-9 that season despite getting 28 touchdown passes from Jeff Blake.

The 1990 Chicago Bears won the NFC Central with quarterback Jim Harbaugh posting a 10-4 starting record. Harbaugh finished that season with 10 touchdown passes and four more scores on the ground.


Gailey doesn't do backfields by committee

July, 21, 2010
7/21/10
9:29
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The Buffalo Bills have three identifiable running backs on their roster: a 2008 Pro Bowler, a 1,000-yard rusher last year and the ninth overall draft pick in 2010.

With such talent in the backfield, folks have wondered how new head coach Chan Gailey will delegate the touches among Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

Those who assume Gailey will spread around carries with a semblance of equity shouldn't be so sure.

In fact, if Gailey doesn't designate a workhorse and ride him hard, it would be the first time he declines to do so since his rookie season as an offensive coordinator in 1988.

In an ESPN fantasy football column, Matthew Berry provides an enlightening look at Gailey's history with running backs since the Dallas Cowboys hired him to be head coach in 1998. The chart also included Gailey's subsequent play-calling gigs with the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.


As we can see, Gailey doesn't split carries. True, he had Emmitt Smith in Dallas, but Gailey saddled up Lamar Smith in two seasons with Miami and Larry Johnson, who played only 12 games for Kansas City in 2008.

Not included in Berry's chart are Gailey's pre-Dallas stops as offensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos (1988-89) and Pittsburgh Steelers (1996-97).

The trend of one dominant back generally remains.

In his first season as an NFL playcaller, Gailey had a pair of over-the-hill backs in Tony Dorsett and Sammy Winder. Dorsett had 181 carries for 703 yards, while Winder ran 149 for 543 yards. The next season, however, rookie Bobby Humphrey took over with 294 carries, nearly three times as many as Winder.

Jerome Bettis was Gailey's go-to guy in Pittsburgh. Eric Pegram managed 509 yards on only 97 carries in 1996, but the Steelers' second-leading rusher the next season was quarterback Kordell Stewart.

Gailey's track record shows an obvious preference for one back taking 300-plus handoffs.

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