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Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Running theme developing

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Everyone agrees the NFL is a quarterback-driven league.

That point became clear last Thursday, when four teams drafted quarterbacks in the top 12, three in the top 10. This came in a draft in which all of the quarterbacks, including No. 1 pick Cam Newton, had questions about their chances in the league.

But the abundance of quarterback changes for next season could lead to more running. Here are a few examples. The Vikings are thinking about starting No. 12 pick Christian Ponder at QB, and if they do, they will clearly move toward becoming a running team behind Adrian Peterson. There is a plan to use more two-tight end sets.

Marvin Lewis has revamped and added youth to the Bengals' offense with the selections of wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton. Two years ago, the Bengals won the AFC North with a 50-50 run-to-pass ratio. Last year, the Bengals passed the ball on 59 percent of plays and lost 12 games. With QB Carson Palmer probably not returning to Cincinnati, the Bengals need to re-sign Cedric Benson and then let Dalton run a 50-50 run-based offense.

The Panthers, Broncos, Redskins and maybe even the Seahawks could be getting younger, and if they do, they may run the ball more to ease the burden on younger quarterbacks. The Panthers have Jimmy Clausen and Newton. The Redskins are expected to use John Beck and get rid of Donovan McNabb. The Broncos could end up going with Tim Tebow. If the Seahawks don't re-sign Matt Hasselbeck, they could use Charlie Whitehurst.

Remember the formula. You can have a good offense if you combine completions and running plays and total between 48 and 50. A team that can run the ball 32 to 34 times a game needs to get only 14 to 16 completions to be passable. If the team gets more than 50 running plays and completions a week, it can be really good on offense.

From the inbox

Q: With the new allegations against Albert Haynesworth, what does the big guy have to look forward to when a collective bargaining agreement is reached? Will Roger Goodell once again take a stand and punish Haynesworth? Or because it happened during the labor dispute, will Haynesworth be off limits to the commissioner?

Gary in Middlebury, Ind.

A:
Obviously, the commissioner can't do anything until there is a labor deal, but I'm sure Goodell is monitoring the situation. If Haynesworth is found guilty while the league is active, then Goodell has the power to act. The Redskins eventually will trade or cut Haynesworth. The player conduct policy has been successful, but no policy is going stop players from making mistakes. All the commissioner can do is use the policy as a deterrent.

Q: Why are the referees not even mentioned when everyone is talking about splitting this $9 billion pie? During the season these guys get crucified seemingly on a weekly basis, but they make measly wages in the grand scheme of things.

Sean in El Paso, Texas

A:
They aren't mentioned because they have a deal, but you raise a good point. The labor dispute with the players won't be the only labor issues for the owners. Once this deal is resolved, the NFL will have to deal with the coaches as well as the officials when their deals are up. The coaches are already talking about turning their association into a union. The last labor problem with the officials was tough. But all of those conversations aren't in the forefront. The game can't be played without the players, and right now, the two sides are far, far apart.

Q: Your last mailbag eluded to the diminishing role of the fullback. Are there fewer fullbacks due mostly to teams not wanting to develop them, or because colleges aren't cranking them out anymore? A good fullback can help both the running and passing attack by blocking, chipping rushers and receiving. It seems to me that someone like Le'Ron McClain in Baltimore adds much more versatility to an offense than a marginal third WR, so why aren't more teams searching for that guy?

Billy in Flemington, N.J.

A:
Very few teams use the fullback in college anymore because of the spread offense. With teams lining up in three-receiver or passing sets about 59 percent of the time, the number of fullbacks has declined significantly. The Jets had two on their roster last season. The Steelers and Colts didn't have any. What teams that want to use a fullback often have to do is take a player from another position and try to teach him how to be a fullback. Another option is to use a tight end as an H-back.

Q: If the NFL owners feel the judge's rulings have damaged the game beyond repair, can't they just dissolve the league, kick out some of the weak sisters like Cincinnati and Buffalo, form a new league with the rules in place THEY want, and tell the players if they don't like it they don't have to join? If the current players don't sign up for it, there will be 10,000 people just waiting for a chance to play. Wouldn't that threat force the players to stop this nonsense and get an agreement in place?

Sean in South San Francisco

A:
Would you pay $100 a game to see 10,000 people just waiting to play the game? You want to see the best of the best. Remember, players aren't just the employees. They are also the product. If you lessen the quality of the employees, you lessen the quality of the product. Plus, the league is making too much money to kick out teams.

Q: Where do you think Vince Young will end up?

Arnold in Antioch, Tenn.

A:
It's still hard to find a spot for Young. Miami might be an option because it will be a running team. I don't see him getting interest from the Seahawks or Cardinals.

Q: Back in the day, quarterbacks needed to be a good ball handlers. A QB would fake to a running back and drop back to pass or fake to a running back and then hand it to another halfback. Great trickery. Now the QB just stands there with the ball in his hands for all the world to see and an Adrian Peterson just takes it and runs. It is so obvious. Why do they do that these days?

Phil in Bellevue, Wash.

A:
Simple answer. Shotgun formations. It's not real tricky standing away from the center and yelling for him to snap the ball. The QB either hands the ball to the running back or he moves around to try to complete the pass. It's not a lost art. It's just a skill not being used as much as the past. It's a passing league.

Q: Why don't the Seahawks install a 3-4 defense?

Dan in Bellingham, Wash.

A:
That's not Pete Carroll's style. He's a 4-3 guy, but his 4-3 has 3-4 principles, which makes it an interesting defense. He uses a left defensive end as a "five-technique" (a bigger defensive end who can two-gap). He uses a quick defensive end on the right side. He'll mix in some three-man lines on some downs, but he believes in the 4-3. We've seen a lot of teams in recent years switch to the 3-4 and it didn't work out. Carroll's on the right path.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.