Veteran backs tripped up

NFL Week

September 25, 2005|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN REPORTER

The two most productive running backs in the NFL after two weeks of the season are named Carnell Williams and Willie Parker -- a rookie and second-year player with 276 and 272 rush yards, respectively.

Last year's rushing champion, Curtis Martin, isn't in the top 15.

Elite rushers LaDainian Tomlinson, Ahman Green, Deuce McAllister and Corey Dillon aren't in the top 20. And one-time 2,000-yard rusher Jamal Lewis isn't even in the top 35.

Does it signal a new order? Or just a slow start?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Williams fifth overall and have run him 51 times already. Not coincidentally, they're 2-0. The Pittsburgh Steelers lost Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley and discovered the super-quick Parker. They're also 2-0.

As for the above-mentioned elite runners, their teams are either 1-1 or 0-2. Who said running the ball isn't important any more?

A breakdown of the breakdown, with rushing average and NFL rank in parentheses:

Martin (2.5, tie for 18th): At 32, the New York Jets workhorse has started 109 consecutive games. He is coming off a game in which he rushed 31 times for 72 yards and strained his right knee. Obviously, age is a concern. But Martin is so durable and was so good last year, it doesn't seem like the answer. Yet.

Tomlinson (3.3, 21st): The San Diego Chargers are 2-10 when Tomlinson doesn't get 20 touches. In each of the first two games, he's carried 19 times and not caught a pass (this after catching passes in 63 straight games). Not getting him more involved is bad coaching. Not finding him on checkdowns is Drew Brees' fault.

Green (4.0, 22nd): After rushing for 1,883 yards in 2003, Green tailed off sharply (1,163 in 2004). He hasn't rushed for 100 yards in his past nine games for the Green Bay Packers. Last week against a Cleveland Browns defense that dropped eight into coverage, Green couldn't break tackles and missed cutback lanes. He's 29 in February. With 1,556 career carries, he might have hit the wall.

McAllister (2.7, tie for 23rd): The New Orleans Saints of San Antonio and Baton Rouge have rushed for 173 yards and passed for 567 so far. Apparently, the offensive line is better at pass protection than run blocking. McAllister, 26, should be in his prime.

Dillon (2.7, 27th): Perhaps the biggest curiosity in the New England Patriots' 1-1 start is Dillon's performance. He turns 31 next month. He's rushed for 63 and 36 yards, and he's got the Steelers today. Should be revealing.

Lewis (2.2, tie for 38th): If his ankle is healed -- and the Ravens say it is -- then it must be the offensive line. There's nowhere to run.

TODAY'S GAMES

Games of the week

Patriots (1-1) @ Steelers (2-0)

Time, TV -- 4:15 p.m., chs. 13, 9

Line -- Steelers by 3

Skinny -- The Patriots have won four of their past five against the Steelers, winning three times in Pittsburgh and twice in the playoffs. RB Willie Parker adds a speed element for the Steelers, though, that will make QB Ben Roethlisberger's play fakes work.

Pick -- Steelers

Bengals (2-0) @ Bears (1-1)

Time -- 1 p.m.

Line -- Bengals by 3

Skinny -- Last year Bengals QB Carson Palmer played nine games against top 10 defenses, so the Bears' stingy defense is nothing new. It's strength on strength. Marvin Lewis is 7-2 vs. NFC teams.

Pick -- Bengals

Worth seeing

Jaguars (1-1) @ Jets (1-1)

Time -- 1 p.m.

Line -- Jets by 2 1/2

Skinny -- Jets QB Chad Pennington clicked on a clinching drive vs. Miami last week but was very shaky otherwise. Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich has been sacked nine times already; the Jets will come after him. Healthy QB wins.

Pick -- Jaguars

Panthers (1-1) @ Dolphins (1-1)

Time -- 1 p.m.

Line -- Panthers by 3

Skinny -- Carolina's running game appears close to full throttle. QB Jake Delhomme needs to play a lot better, though, to beat Miami.

Pick -- Panthers

Falcons (1-1) @ Bills (1-1), Time, TV -- 1 p.m,., Ch. 45

Line -- Bills by 2 1/2

Skinny -- Bills miss DT Pat Williams in run defense, and the Falcons are certain to exploit his absence. A gimpy Michael Vick will still need to throw the ball.

Pick -- Falcons

Raiders (0-2) @ Eagles (1-1)

Time, TV -- 1 p.m., chs. 13, 9

Line -- Eagles by 8 1/2

Skinny -- The Raiders are desperate as they make their second of four East Coast trips. Randy Moss will find the end zone, but Terrell Owens will steal the stage.

Pick -- Eagles

Bucs (2-0) @ Packers (0-2)

Time -- 1 p.m.

Line -- Bucs by 3 1/2

Skinny -- Bucs haven't won in Green Bay since 1989, when Vinny Testaverde was their quarterback. It's last-stand time for the Packers.

Pick -- Packers

Giants (2-0) @ Chargers (0-2)

Time, TV -- 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Line -- Chargers by 5 1/2

Skinny -- Eli Manning, who snubbed the Chargers in the 2004 draft, will relive that decision. The Chargers want to make it painful.

Pick -- Chargers

Saints (1-1) @ Vikings (0-2)

Time -- 1 p.m.

Line -- Vikings by 4

Skinny -- Saints' playmakers could have a field day against Minnesota's rebuilt defense, especially if Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper plays giveaway again.

Pick -- Saints

Cowboys (1-1) @ 49ers (1-1)

Time -- 4:05 p.m.

Line -- Cowboys by 6 1/2

Skinny -- This is a dangerous game for the Cowboys, who could still be lamenting the loss to the Redskins. Here's the trap -- it's hard to see them losing.

Pick -- Cowboys,

Easy to miss

Titans (1-1) @ Rams (1-1)

Time -- 1 p.m.

Line -- Rams by 6 1/2

Skinny -- They gave us one of the best Super Bowls six years ago. Today they could give us a rout.

Pick -- Rams

Browns (1-1) @ Colts (2-0), Time -- 1 p.m.

Line -- Colts by 13 1/2

Skinny -- Hard to believe, but the Colts are winning with defense. That may change today.

Pick -- Colts

Cardinals (0-2) @ Seahawks (1-1)

Time -- 4:05 p.m.

Line -- Seahawks by 6 1/2

Skinny -- Finally a team Kurt Warner hasn't played for. Expect the same result.

Pick -- Seahawks

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