Warning! Old-guy NFL rant fast approaching …
Believe it or not, running the football is still a thing in the NFL. And it seems to be making a bit of a resurgence in importance through the first month of the season.
The day after a Week 3 loss at winless Indianapolis rocked Kansas City, Chiefs coach Andy Reid challenged his offensive line to bow up and run the stinking ball.
The Colts had successfully sucker-punched the mightier Chiefs by holding them to a meager 2.5 yards per rush. With no respectable running game helping him, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes spent the afternoon being chased all over the backfield.
Fuel was added to Reid's fiery challenge when Buccaneers linebacker Shaq Barrett spouted off ahead of last week's Sunday nighter. One of the edge rushers who tormented Mahomes and his patchwork line in Super Bowl LV said of this year's K.C. offensive line: "I think we have a lot of favorable matchups. I think we really have an opportunity to dominate the game."
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady threw 52 times for 385 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 114.7 passer rating in Week 4. Awesome fantasy stats!
And? He lost by 10 points.
Because the Chiefs ran the ball 37 times for 189 yards (5.1 yards per rush) while the Bucs ran it six times for 3 yards (0.5).
"They accepted the challenge," Mahomes said of his offensive line. "When they dominate [in the running game] like that, it makes my job a lot easier."
Yes, it's still a passing league. But look around the league at what some teams are doing to defenses designed to stop the pass. They're seeing all these two-high safety looks and deciding that smashmouth football still comes in handy.
The most surprising team in the league right now? The 3-1 Giants, led by first-year coach Brian Daboll, who got the job because of his work with quarterback Josh Allen as Bills offensive coordinator.
Well, guess who leads the league in rushing at 192.5 yards per game: the Giants.
Guess who ranks 30th (68.5) and 31st (65.3): the Bucs and Rams, two early disappointments sitting at 2-2 nine months after their playoff meeting.
In Atlanta, Arthur Smith's Falcons welcomed Kevin Stefanski's throwback Browns to town last Sunday.
"We knew it was going to be a big boy fight," said Smith, whose Falcons out-Brownsed the Browns.
Marcus Mariota completed seven passes. He had 139 yards and a 41.3 rating.
And? He won. Why? Because the Falcons ran the ball 35 times for 202 yards.
In Green Bay, the Packers almost lost to Patriots rookie third-string quarterback Bailey Zappe before finally winning on the final tick of overtime. Why? Because the Packers were awful against the run. New England ran it 33 times for 167 yards (5.1).
Meanwhile, in London, the Vikings almost lost to a Saints team missing four offensive starters, including the quarterback, the best receiver and the best running back. Why? In large part because the Vikings run defense made old friend Latavius Murray look like he was 25 instead of a 32-year-old third-stringer who had just been elevated from the practice squad.
A day after averaging 5.2 yards on 11 carries, Murray was back on the Saints practice squad. A day after that, he was signed by Denver to replace injured Javonte Williams.
The Broncos had just gotten a not-so-friendly reminder of the need for a powerful runner in a passing league.
Russell Wilson had posted a 124.9 passer rating against a winless Raiders team. And? He lost by nine.
Why? Because the Raiders' Josh McDaniels, desperate for his first win in Vegas, did not lean on Derek Carr or Davante Adams. He ran the ball 38 times for 212 yards (5.6).
Yes, believe it or not, running the ball is still a thing. An important thing.