In shift, Colts rush to success

NFL Week


The NFL's defensive answer to Peyton Manning's 49-touchdown barrage of a year ago is two-deep zones, eight men in coverage and a slow death.

For the Indianapolis Colts, the antidote to that strategy is Edgerrin James.

While defenses try to defuse Manning's passing game with numbers, James keeps getting the ball in light traffic. He has rushed a league-high 142 times for 662 yards in a 6-0 start.

Manning hasn't exactly suffered, but with nine touchdown passes, he's on pace to throw for 24, less than half his total from 2004.

The Colts have had 189 runs compared to 180 drop-backs (passes plus sacks). That's a run percentage of 51.2, up considerably from last year's 44.1. It's the price of last season's passing success.

"You take what the defense gives you," Manning said. "It's obviously a respect factor the way teams are playing us as far as the passing game goes. They are staying pretty deep [with safeties], and you have to be able to make them pay for that with the good running game."

That's not the philosophy the Philadelphia Eagles apply in the cat-and-mouse game of play-calling. Under coach Andy Reid, the Eagles pass as much as they like and treat the running game like it's the Avian flu.

They have the fewest rushes in the league this season (88), and lowest run percentage (28.2). The St. Louis Rams, second at 31.5, share the same disdain for the run.

Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has averaged 40 passes a game, and his 200 throws are fourth highest. (Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is first with 228 throws, but he has played in one more game.)

Said McNabb: "I think we have to just run our offense, if it's running the ball or passing the ball. Whatever play is going to be called, just make sure we are able to execute."

When it comes to success, the Eagles are clearly the anomaly. The 10 teams with the lowest run percentage have a combined record of 18-35, and only the Eagles, at 3-2, have a winning record.

The 10 teams with the highest run percentage are a combined 39-19. The top three - Pittsburgh Steelers (56.0), Atlanta Falcons (55.9) and Carolina Panthers (53.1) - are 11-6 combined.

This is not to say teams need to run to win, but that they need to be able to run to win. The major flaw in the run-and-shoot offense was that those teams didn't have the ability to run out the clock to protect a lead, or to run in inclement weather.

The Steelers, on the other hand, have fewer drop-backs (124) than any other team. When they get behind against a passing team like the Patriots, they have difficulty staying in the game. Their best plan is always playing with a lead.

Games of the week

Steelers (3-2) @ Bengals (5-1)

TIME, TV -- 1 p.m., Ch. 13

LINE -- Bengals by 1

SKINNY -- It's time to find out how valid the Bengals' playoff credentials are. They've lost to the only winning team they've played. The Steelers have won nine in a row on the road, and get QB Ben Roethlisberger back. Cincinnati's Carson Palmer hasn't thrown an interception in 18 quarters (148 passes).

PICK -- Bengals

Chargers (3-3) @ Eagles (3-2)

TIME -- 1 p.m.

LINE -- Eagles by 3 1/2

SKINNY -- Eagles coach Andy Reid, 6-0 after a bye week, gave his battered team the week off to heal. He may even have to resurrect the running game today to serve as a deterrent to LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers' dynamo. Or maybe not. San Diego QB Drew Brees will have to weather the onslaught of the Eagles' blitzes.

PICK -- Eagles

Cowboys (4-2) @ Seahawks (4-2)

TIME -- 4:05 p.m.

LINE -- Seahawks by 4

SKINNY -- The Cowboys won a 43-39 shootout in Seattle last season when Julius Jones broke out with 198 rushing yards. Jones is hurting this time around, but Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander (12 TDs) isn't. Stopping Seattle's balanced offense will be another test for the Cowboys' revived defense. Cowboys QB Drew Bledsoe, from Walla Walla, Wash., wants to play well for the home folks.

PICK -- Cowboys

Worth seeing

Broncos (5-1) @ Giants (3-2)

TIME -- 4:15 p.m.

LINE -- Giants by 2

SKINNY -- Giants RB Tiki Barber campaigned for more carries after last week's loss in Dallas, and he should get them against Denver's No. 5 rush defense. The Broncos have won five in a row, and will launch RB tandem Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson at the Giants. Denver is 1-3 at the Meadowlands.

PICK -- Giants

Saints (2-4) @ Rams (2-4)

TIME -- 1 p.m.

LINE -- Rams by 3

SKINNY -- The Rams are reeling after losing coach Mike Martz, QB Marc Bulger and a 17-point lead in Indianapolis. Jamie Martin will have to pick up the pieces. The Saints should be comfortable, having won their past three games in St. Louis. Antowain Smith gave them a running game last week they haven't had.

PICK -- Saints

Bills (3-3) @ Raiders (1-4)

TIME -- 4:15 p.m.

LINE -- Raiders by 3

SKINNY -- With the switch to QB Kelly Holcomb, the Bills have become even more predictable. Last week they ran on 21 of 32 first-down plays and still gained 118 yards. RB Willis McGahee has 10 100-yard games in 17 career starts. The Raiders are desperate without WR Randy Moss.

PICK -- Raiders

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