NFL Nation: Michael Pittman
Koncz had a very good question.
“Hey, has a running back ever not led his team in rushing yardage and gone to the Pro Bowl?’’ Koncz asked.
It fits because that’s the situation the Panthers are in. Starting running back DeAngelo Williams is going to the Pro Bowl. But backup Jonathan Stewart, partly because of injuries, finished the season with more rushing yards. Stewart isn’t going to the Pro Bowl. Stewart finished with 1,133 yards and Williams with 1,117. They are the first pair of teammates to rush for 1,100 yards in the same season.
I didn’t know the answer to Koncz’s question, but I’ve got the resources to get it. I called our research people and they consulted with the Elias Sports Bureau and came up with the answer.
It has been done before, but there are some qualifiers involved. Since 1975, it’s happened a handful of times and the most recent involves a guy who really wasn’t a running back.
Tampa Bay’s Mike Alstott, who wasn’t truly a fullback either, made the Pro Bowl in 2002, 2000 and 1998. Alstott made it as a fullback and Warrick Dunn led the Bucs in rushing in 1998 and 2000 and joined Alstott in the Pro Bowl in 2000. In 2002, Michael Pittman led the Bucs in rushing.
The other instances came in 1993 when Pittsburgh’s Barry Foster was selected over Leroy Thompson, in 1988 when James Brooks made it over Ickey Woods for the Bengals and in 1980 when Kenny King went over Mark Van Eeghen for Oakland.
You can also throw in St. Louis in 1975 -- sort of. Terry Metcalf first was selected to the Pro Bowl and Jim Otis was not. But Otis later was added to the Pro Bowl roster.
Posted by ESPN's Sal Paolantonio
PHILADELPHIA -- In light of ankle surgery for Brian Westbrook, should the Eagles be in the market for a veteran running back?
Westbrook is having bone spurs in his right ankle removed Friday by Dr. Mark Myerson of Baltimore in a procedure called "debridement," which is essentially a clean-out of dead debris around his joint. Most orthopedic surgeons will tell you that Westbrook will not be able to run on that ankle for about six weeks. Two weeks of running and conditioning puts Westbrook on the doorstep of training camp, which opens for Eagles veterans July 29.
It is not unreasonable to believe that Westbrook will be held out of any contact drills at camp in the early stages and probably will not play for the first two preseason games.
In the meantime, that would be a heavy workload to put on backups Lorenzo Booker and rookie LeSean McCoy. Both are smallish backs: Booker is 5-foot-10, 191 pounds; McCoy is 5-10, 198. Before the season starts, that will be a lot of wear and tear on two backs who have yet to prove they can handle it. The Eagles have six more OTA practices until they break for the summer. Booker and McCoy will report to training camp with the rookies and selected veterans July 26.
Last year, Booker could not get on the field because he was an ineffective blocker and could not break tackles in the interior. He had just 20 carries for 53 yards and no touchdowns. At Pitt, the knock on McCoy was his blocking, which is critical in the Eagles' West Coast offense. If he can't pick up the blitz, he won't stay on the field very long.
And what if Westbrook, who already had offseason surgery on his left knee, has another setback? He turns 30 on Sept. 2. He is coming off his least productive year as an Eagle, especially in the playoffs, when he rushed for just 2.4 yards a carry, well below his postseason career average of 4.6 yards a pop.
So, whom can the Eagles target? They are $23 million under the NFL salary cap, the fifth-most cap room in the league. So, it's financially doable. Here is a list of free agents out there:
- Warrick Dunn: 34 years old, 786 rush yards, 330 receiving yards last season
- Ahman Green: 32 years old, 294 rush yards, 3 rushing touchdowns
- Rudi Johnson: 29 years old, 237 rush yards, 1 rushing touchdown
- Deuce McAllister: 30 years old, 418 rush yards, 5 rushing touchdowns
- Edgerrin James: 30 years old (31 in August), 514 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns
- DeShaun Foster: 29 years old, 514 rushing yards, 1 touchdown
- Chris Perry: 27 years old, 269 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
- Michael Pittman: 33 years old, 320 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns
Sal Paolantonio is an ESPN bureau reporter based in Philadelphia
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
They simply liked Hillis as a football player. They liked him as an under-the-radar tailback. But they didn't think of him as a starter in the NFL. They liked him equally well as a soft-handed fullback who could be a receiving threat out of the backfield. They also liked him as a potential H-back. The Broncos looked at the big, fast kid from Arkansas who was best known as the lead blocker for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones and they saw a Dallas Clark-like player.
Denver saw a lot they liked in a player they had a fourth-round grade on. When Hillis was still available in the seventh round, Denver -- which thought it had solved its need at running back in the fifth round by taking Arizona State rookie Ryan Torain -- jumped at the chance to take him. They didn't know where they'd play him, but they knew they got a good player.
With four games remaining in the season and a playoff berth looming for the 7-5 Broncos -- whose magic number to win the AFC West is two heading into Sunday's home game against the Kansas City Chiefs -- Hillis has become much more than a good football player.
He has become a savior of their offense. If not for Hillis, the balanced attack for which Denver is famous wouldn't be possible.
After season-ending injuries to Torain, Michael Pittman, Andre Hall, Anthony Alridge and an injury to Selvin Young, the Broncos broke the emergency glass and inserted Hillis in the lineup as a tailback. They had no other choice.
And he has been flourishing.
"We knew he was an athlete when he first stepped foot here in Denver, the way he can catch the ball and the way he can run with the ball, we knew we had somebody special," Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall told reporters in the locker room Thursday. "There definitely hasn't been a dropoff at running back since he's been back there."
The Broncos are used to this type of sudden impact at this position. Denver has had nine running backs rush for 100 yards in a game since 2004, the most in the NFL.
Hillis has made an instant impact. His rushing totals increased in each of his past four games. He had 129 yards on the ground in Denver's 34-17 road upset over the Jets on Sunday. He is averaging 4.8 yards a carry and he has four rushing scores.
With McFadden struggling all season because of turf toe injuries and Jones done for the season in Dallas, the lead blocker for the two first-round picks from Arkansas is stealing the show in the NFL. Hillis' early success after an obscure college existence reminds some in the NFL of the situation Brandon Jacobs endured while at Auburn. He was overshadowed by Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams before he transferred to Southern Illinois. Now Jacobs is making a for himself.
Hillis, 22, is certainly making a name for himself in Denver. His teammates love the happy runner with that lovable southern twang. Hillis won over his teammates in Cleveland on Nov. 6 when he converted a first down on fourth-and-short with a second-effort run. The play ignited a Denver comeback that was the spark to a streak in which the Broncos have won three of four games despite all of the injuries at tailback and on defense.
"I'm just glad I have come in here and fit in," Hillis said. "I think some people might be surprised but I feel like I'm a versatile guy who could come in here and help and I hope that's what I'm doing."
The Broncos are winning and Hillis, who is 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds, is a big reason why. Quarterback Jay Cutler said Hillis, who has 4.5 speed, is a perfect Denver running back.
"I think this running scheme is kind of designed for him," Cutler said. "It is one cut, get downhill, get your five or six yards and every once in a while you can break a 30- or 40-yarder if you get up on the safeties. He has done a good job. He is a smart kid, and I think we have used him effectively. We have tried to play off his strengths. We haven't put him in the position where we have had to ask him to do things he can't do. He has stepped up to the challenge and has been fun to watch."
The Broncos aren't necessarily looking at Hillis as a stopgap answer at tailback. There are those in the Denver organization who believe he will have a role as a tailback next season. The team also likes Torain and he will get a chance to play when he recovers from a knee injury. And it wouldn't be a surprise if Denver added a veteran. But there will be room for Hillis.
"He has proven that he can play tailback," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said."He is better with the ball in his hands at the tailback position running the football or catching the pass out of the backfield. He is going to get a chance to play more tailback because of what he has done and how he can break tackles."
Hillis, a star high school tailback in Arkansas, wasn't expecting the chance to be a running back in the NFL, but he isn't ready to let it go, either.
"I hope I get to continue to play tailback," Hillis said. "But I'll do anything the team wants me to do."
And that's exactly why the Broncos drafted him in the first place.
Around the AFC West:
The word is that weakside linebacker D.J. Williams might be out 3-4 weeks with an MCL injury. More information is expected Tuesday. But Denver put two players -- running backs Michael Pittman and Andre Hall -- on the injured reserve list Monday and likely would have done the same with Williams had it been a more serious injury.
Denver is expected to add a couple of players to the 53-man roster Tuesday morning. It wouldn't be a surprise to see running back P.J. Pope promoted from the practice squad. The team will surely add a running back.
The Chiefs were looking at running backs as well Monday. It wouldn't be a surprise if they add some players, including a running back as early as Tuesday. Kolby Smith is out for the year after suffering a knee injury Sunday.
The name of former Oakland coach Lane Kiffin has been connected to the pending coaching opening at Tennessee as well as at Washington and Clemson. The rumblings around the league is that Kiffin, despite a 5-15 record, is being helped by the fact that Oakland has nosedived after he was fired. Even though Oakland was 1-3 under Kiffin, they were competing hard. Under interim head coach Tom Cable, the Raiders are 1-3 and have been outscored 87-13 in their losses under Cable.
|AP Photo/David Zalubowski|
|Rookie Ryan Torain could be the solution to Denver's problems in the running game.|
Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson
Coming off a rushing effort in which they compiled 14 yards rushing (the second lowest in team history) Sunday against Miami, the Broncos have to replace half their running back crew.
Denver put starter Michael Pittman and backup Andre Hall on the injured reserve. Pittman has a neck injury and Hall has has a hand injury. Now, the Broncos' only running backs on the roster are second-year player Selvin Young, who has missed the past three games with a groin injury, and rookie Ryan Torain, who made his NFL debut on Sunday and he had one yard on three carries. Torain broke his elbow in training camp.
And making matters worse, Denver, which has lost four of the past five games, have to play Thursday at Cleveland.
Expect Torain and Young to carry the load against the Browns on a short week. The plan was to ease Torain into the offense against Miami and he may be ready for more action Thursday. Young was close to being healthy last week and he could be ready to help Thursday.
Still, Torain isn't ready to help in the passing game and Young has had major durability issues.
It is clear Denver will try to add a running back or two to the mix. But the rest of the season depends on Torain and Young, probably in that order. Torain will be given every chance to become the go-to back. When he was injured, the team was devastated. Denver coach Mike Shanahan, one of the most successful running coaches in the history of the NFL, compared Torain, a fifth-round pick from Arizona State, to Denver great Terrell Davis.
The Broncos think Torain, who nearly stole the starting job in camp before he was hurt, has the perfect size-speed combination to excel in their zone-blocking offense. The Broncos certainly need him to excel. The run game has been stagnant. The Broncos are ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing as it is averaging 105.2 yards a game. That is way before Denver's standards.
Another reason why Torain is being asked to produce is because there aren't many running backs remaining on the open market. So help isn't necessarily on the way. Former Denver running backs highlight the list of available rushers. They include Tatum Bell, Mike Bell and Ron Dayne. Other running backs available are Anthony Thomas, Vernand Morency and Wali Lundy. Denver has visited with both of those players in the past. Morency visited Denver a few weeks ago. The team could also promote running back P.J. Pope from the practice squad.
Denver could also potentially use rookie fullback Peyton Hillis at tailback. He has experience there and he is an emergency tailback for Denver. He is coming off his best NFL game. The seventh-round pick, who blocked for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in college, has seven catches against Miami.
Still, expect Torain to be given the ball and given the opportunity to knock the banged-up Broncos out of their malaise.
Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson
DENVER -- What's the difference between the AFC West and the United States presidential race?
There will be a winner this week in the chase to be president.
|Doug Pensinger/Getty Images|
|Denver quarterback Jay Cutler played his worst game of the season Sunday, tossing three interceptions.|
Further cementing its stranglehold on the title of worst division in the NFL, the AFC West went a combined 0-3 Sunday. It was the second straight week the division went winless. The four AFC West teams are now 10-22 at the halfway point of the season. No, don't expect an AFC wild card to come out of this division.
With half a season to go, there is a legitimate chance the AFC West will produce the first playoff team with a losing record in the playoffs in a non-strike shortened season. Two 4-5 teams made the playoffs in 1982.
Only a strike could save this division. As silly as it sounds, the Denver Broncos, losers of four of their past five games, are leading the division. Denver is 4-4; San Diego, which had a bye this week, is 3-5; Oakland is 2-6 and Kansas City is 1-7.
After a 26-17 loss to visiting Miami on Sunday, in which the Broncos continued their sloppy ways on offense and untimely lapses on defense, Denver players tried to find a way to be positive.
"The division hasn't been good, we can look at that," Denver linebacker Nate Webster said. "But, come on, we need to start winning some games."
The Broncos, who play on a short week Thursday night at Cleveland, had an opportunity to separate themselves from San Diego while the Chargers were on a bye. With wins over Miami and Cleveland, Denver could have been 6-3 while San Diego was still 3-5. Now, Denver must try to avoid being 4-5 as the Chargers prepare to play host to Kansas City next Sunday.
"We have to shore things up," Denver running back Michael Pittman said. "We have to do it quick."
There is plenty of work to do. Quarterback Jay Cutler is coming off his worst game of the season, the vaunted Denver running attack is coming off its second-worst effort in the history of the franchise and the battered defense probably will now have to play without another stalwart, linebacker D.J. Williams, who suffered a knee injury.
"This was a bad game," Cutler said.
Other key developments from Sunday:
Turnovers continue to kill Denver: The Broncos continued to be careless with the ball. Cutler was the culprit Sunday. He threw three interceptions, two in the first quarter -- including one that was returned 32 yards by Miami cornerback Will Allen for a touchdown to give the Dolphins a 13-0 lead.
The Broncos have committed 15 turnovers in their four losses. Eleven of the turnovers have come in the first half of games. In the past five weeks, Denver has been outscored 56-0 on series after turnovers.
Simply put, the Broncos' defense is not stout enough to withstand the pressure of Denver's offensive mistakes.
The turnovers are also ruining a strong offense. In Denver's first three games, which were essentially mistake-free, Denver scored 114 points. In the five games since, Denver has scored a total of 76 points and no more than 19 points in a game.
"Turnovers, it's that simple," Cutler said when asked his thoughts on his unit's biggest issue.
Nowhere to run: In 14 seasons under Mike Shanahan, Denver has been the premier rushing offense in the NFL. It wasn't Sunday. Denver had 14 yards rushing. It was the second-fewest yards in team history. It was a Miami record for fewest rushing yards allowed. Denver ran the ball only 12 times. Shanahan categorized the effort as "embarrassing."
This is battered unit. Pittman left the game because of recurring neck stingers. After the game, Pittman suggested he may need time to rest the injury.
This may open the door for promising rookie Ryan Torain, who was eased into action Sunday. It was his NFL debut. The fifth-round pick from Arizona State broke his elbow in training camp in early August.
Torain was a non-factor against Miami. He had three carries for 1 yard. However, with Pittman hurting and Selvin Young out for the past three games with a groin injury, Denver may have to turn to Torain in an attempt to regain the Denver rushing spark.
Marshall no fan of defensive scheme: Fresh off his lowest catch output since becoming a starter late in his rookie season in 2006, Denver star receiver Brandon Marshall, who had two catches for 27 yards, was more focused on the game plan of Denver defensive coordinator Bob Slowik.
"When I look at it, it's common sense, if I was a receiver going against our defense and they're stacking the box and we're playing a one-high defense and eight in the box, and the DBs are 10 yards off of me, I'm going to catch 10 to 12 balls a game," Marshall ranted. "I don't even know that receiver's name who caught all those balls.
"Tighten up the coverage and just play ball, it's real simple. It's real simple. They don't need to be 10 yards off. Tighten it up. You say they don't do that against us, the reason why is a receiver will kill them."
When a star bashes the coaching scheme, it is a sure sign of the wheels falling off a team.
Webster didn't buy into Marshall's complaint. He pointed to Denver's defense nullifying Miami's Wildcat formation. Miami ditched the Wildcat after having very little success using it Sunday. Miami had 75 yards rushing and Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington completed 23 of 40 passes for 281 yards.
Webster also pointed to Miami's final series as the only poor defensive possession Denver had. The Dolphins went on a 15-play, 80-yard drive that took 8:02 to give them a nine-point lead with 3:08 to go.
"That was it," Webster said. "I don't think our defensive scheme rea
lly hurt us today."
Walking more wounded: When Bailey was lost for at least a month with a torn groin, Williams became Denver's best defensive player. The 2004 first-round pick was having a Pro Bowl season with 77 tackles at weakside linebacker.
Now Denver -- which also lost starting strongside linebacker Boss Bailey for the season two weeks ago -- probably will have to play without Williams for a while.
Shanahan said Williams has a sprained MCL in his knee and he had no idea how long Williams would be out. Williams, who didn't talk to reporters Sunday, departed the stadium on crutches. If Williams is out for an extended period, it could be devastating to Denver's defense.
He is a playmaker, and without the Baileys and Williams, the defense will be stretched extremely thin.
Yes, it was a disastrous Sunday for Denver. But here's the bright spot for the Broncos: They are still the best in the West.
Yes, the AFC West is that bad.
Hall has two rush attempts for minus-7 yards and two lost fumbles. Not exactly a stat line you want on the back of your trading card.
Hall, a second-year pro out of South Florida, came into the game when starting running back Michael Pittman suffered a minor injury that briefly sidelined him on the opening drive. The Broncos had converted three third downs and driven to the Patriots' 32-yard line when Hall lost his handle.
Hall fumbled again on the fourth play of their second drive. The ball was snapped from the New England 37-yard line but was recovered on the Denver 22.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
DENVER -- The Denver Broncos learned something valuable about themselves Sunday and it is sure to make them sleep much better.
The defense, which had given up at least 32 points in each of the past three games, can win a game for the Broncos. If the Broncos' offense falters or encounters a tough defense, which occurred Sunday, the defense is capable of carrying the day and leading the team to the win.
The Broncos would have lost their second straight game had it not been for a strong defensive performance. Tampa Bay's stellar defense held the Broncos' big-play offense in check, but the Denver defense shut down Tampa Bay's offense as the Broncos won 16-13 to improve to 4-1.
|AP Photo/Jack Dempsey|
|Knocking Tampa Bay QB Brian Griese out of the game on this play, Champ Bailey and the rest of the Denver defense delivered a knockout blow.|
The Denver defense dictated the game.
"I think it came down to our defense just believing in itself," said Broncos cornerback and defensive captain Champ Bailey. "Really it was as simple as that. We got tired of making stupid little mistakes. Last Monday, and especially on Wednesday when we got back to practicing full go, we just said it was time to stop being late to plays. We're always making dumb little mistakes. We all decided there was too much talent here to keep allowing that to happen."
Say what you want about the Buccaneers' challenged offense, this was an important step made by the Denver defense. It was one of desperation. Essentially, Denver had given up on this defense. And no one could be blamed for tossing the unit aside after another unacceptable performance last week.
After a strong opening-season performance in Oakland, in which Denver gave up 14 points, the Broncos were savaged the past three games, giving up 113 points. The unit bottomed out last week when it gave up 33 points to the Kansas City Chiefs in a stunning defeat. The Chiefs have scored 32 points in their other four games combined.
Sunday, Denver was very aggressive and they blitzed more than in recent games. The Broncos had three sacks against Tampa Bay after having six in their previous four games. The Denver pressure was constant. Bailey knocked Bucs quarterback Brian Griese out of the game after he smoked him on a double cornerback blitz.
"We came after them," said Denver defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who registered his first sack of the season. "That's something we have to keep doing."
If the Denver defense has, indeed, found something to build upon, perhaps this Broncos' resurgence will last.
Here are several other key elements for Denver I noticed during the game:
The Denver offense may have taken a big injury hit: Two of Jay Cutler's most dangerous weapons may be facing daunting injuries.
Rookie receiver Eddie Royal left the game with a sprained left ankle in the third quarter after returning a punt. Royal downplayed the seriousness of the injury after the game. He said the injury is a low ankle sprain (less serious than a high ankle sprain) and X-rays showed no broken bones. However, Royal was on crutches and coach Mike Shanahan acknowledged the injury could be serious.
Royal said he is a fast healer and hopes to play next Sunday against visiting Jacksonville. He was replaced by No. 3 receiver Brandon Stokley, who caught the Broncos' only touchdown after replacing Royal.
If Royal misses some time, it will have an impact on the Broncos' offense. Royal, who has 30 catches, has quickly become one of Cutler's favorite targets.
The team could also be without pass-catching tight end Tony Scheffler. He has a left groin injury. He said he will find out Monday morning how serious it is. He did not seem overly confident after the game.
Losing Scheffler would be a blow. He had four catches for 65 yards and he had Denver's longest play of the game a nifty 33-yard catch. Cutler often looks for Scheffler in crucial situations and his loss would take an element away from Denver's offense.
The Broncos have regained the Mile High magic: The Broncos are 3-0 at home and look as if they have gotten out of their home doldrums.
For years Denver was one of the most difficult places in the NFL to play. However, that changed in recent years. After going 8-0 at home in 2005, Denver was beaten hard by Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game in January 2006. That started a tumble.
In 2006, the Broncos were 4-4 at home including a loss to San Francisco on the final day of the season that knocked Denver out of the playoffs. Last season, Denver was 5-3 at home including three straight losses. The lowlight of the streak was a 38-point loss to San Diego.
However, Denver has now won six straight games at home. It plays Jacksonville next week, which beat the Broncos in Denver last season.
Running the hard way: There has been much talk about the Denver running game being uncharacteristically down this season. It entered the game ranked 10th in the NFL in rushing.
Still, there were whispers that no one was afraid of the Denver running game. Sunday's performance probably didn't change that, though the Broncos scratched and clawed for their yardage on the ground.
The Broncos are going to need a bigger rushing threat or their lack of balance will hurt the team. There is possible help in the form of rookie Ryan Torain. He is expected to start practicing soon. He broke his elbow in early August. Before he injury, the fifth-round pick from Arizona State was making a push to be the starter.
He is a big, powerful back who fits into Denver's zone-blocking schemes. The addition of Torain certainly will not hurt Denver's rushing attack.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
OAKLAND -- Quick thoughts midway through the third quarter:
- The Denver defense looks much improved. It is controlling this game so far.
- At one point late in the second quarter, Jay Cutler had 172 passing yards. JaMarcus Russell had nine.
- The Denver run offense has not been impressive. Andre Hall, Selvin Young and Michael Pittman have all be pedestrian. So far, Denver doesn't need a big game from them.
- The Raiders must get tight end Zach Miller more involved in the offense. He can help bail out Russell.
- The Raiders are supposed to have one of the best secondaries in the league. It hasn't shown up to tonight as Cutler is ripping them apart and the Broncos lead 24-0.
Final Atlanta 24 Jacksonville 14 Final Detroit 23 Buffalo 0 Final Indianapolis 7 Cincinnati 35 Final New York 7 Philadelphia 37 Final St. Louis 13 Miami 14 Final Kansas City 14 Green Bay 34 Final Carolina 10 Pittsburgh 0 Final New England 13 New York 16 Final Washington 24 Tampa Bay 10 Final Baltimore 22 New Orleans 13 Final Chicago 13 Cleveland 33 Final San Francisco 40 Houston 13 Final Minnesota 19 Tennessee 3 Final Denver 27 Dallas 3 Final Arizona 9 San Diego 12 Final Seattle 31 Oakland 41