The Lost Art of the Tailback Position

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It is rare in modern day football that you see a running back, almost single-handedly, takeover a game. In the hay-day of the pigskin during the 1970’s and 1980’s, we were witness to greatness at the tailback position. Walter Payton, Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson and Marcus Allen were just a few of a long line of running backs who were the primary ball-handlers in their respective offenses. In the college ranks legends such as Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson often received thirty to forty carries a game while, literally, carrying Georgia and Auburn on their backs. In contrast, it was relatively difficult to find a superstar wide receiver to pair with a quarterback during this time period. John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, and of course the great Jerry Rice were known as the godfathers of the breed known today as game-changers at the wide receiver position. As years progressed, the emergence of receivers led to the slow decline of the primary tailbacks. Bo

In 2014, the only running backs left who carry this mantle are Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, and Marshawn Lynch. Even their numbers pale in comparison to that of the ball carriers of the 1970’s and 1980’s; possibly with the exception of Peterson having posted a 2,000 yard season. Today we see superstar wide receivers like Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, and Dez Bryant take over games with their quarterbacks; quarterbacks who are now making 4,000 yard seasons look average. Rather than having a single tailback, teams now use a running back-by-committee approach using two to three backs in one game. Running backs now have to have the added dimension of a wide receiver out of the backfield.

The absence of the tailback position has taken away the ability of teams to control games through time of possession. Once teams took the lead, they could control the tempo for the rest of the game by holding on to the football and riding the back of their running game. This aspect of football seems to have run its course, however often times we see a flash of what controlling the ball can do. This is most noticeable in the college ranks with teams like Alabama living by controlling the football. This is one of the primary reasons why Alabama has maintained their stature at the pinnacle of college football. The game is always in their hands. They have had a succession of running backs since Mark Ingram that has been followed by Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, and T.J. Yeldon-consensus all-americans who have been the primary handlers of their offenses. Alabama has proved that the recipe for success is that of having a primary ball carrier who can control a game and a defense who can contain the opposition. This writer finds it peculiar why more teams do not follow this blueprint.

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I believe that we could see and a resurrection of this “lost art” in the near future with Alabama’s success and the talent seen in Georgia tailback Todd Gurley; a man stated by Fran Tarkenton as “having the potential to being as good as Jim Brown”. While this is a lofty comparison, it shows the respect that is revered for a back that can carry the load of an entire offense and maintain leads rather than leaving that duty to a quarterback or wide receiver.

Teams may find out that this simple strategy in football can possibly be the difference in controlling a game and losing a game.

Winners and Losers of Week One

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks
Winners

Seattle Seahawks

Going into the first game of the NFL season most expected the Seahawks Packers match-up to be a very competitive game. The defending Super Bowl champs had something else to say about that. From the opening whistle, Seattle had its foot on the gas and did not let up until the game had concluded. Running back Marshawn Lynch showed no signs of slowing down rushing for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Russell Wilson seems to have even a stronger threshold as a leader of the offense and the defense is in its 2013 form. It can also be noted that not a single ball was thrown Richard Sherman’s way. Perhaps he truly has gotten into the minds of quarterbacks around the league; even Aaron Rodgers.

Matt Ryan

For anyone who picked Matt Ryan in his/her fantasy draft, boy were you happy after Sunday. “Matty Ice” threw for a Falcons franchise record 448 passing yards and three touchdowns in a surprising win over the division rival Saints. With time to finally throw in the pocket with an improved offensive line, Ryan tore up the New Orleans defense throughout the game passing for over fifty yards to five different receivers. Although the defense still has some question marks, Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense made quite the impression on opening Sunday.

Tennessee Titans

Ken Whisenhunt had an impressive head coaching debut for the Titans. The Titans had a resounding entrance into 2014 against the Kansas City Chiefs winning 26-10. Quarterback Jake Locker looks like he could be finally primed for a breakout season as he threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns. The defense was very impressive under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton with four different players each registering one sack. In their first season being absent of former running back Chris Johnson for the first time since 2008, the Titans used an effective tailback by committee strategy led by Shonn Greene. The future looks bright in Nashville and optimism is high after the Titans’ first win. We’ll see if it can continue…

 

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Losers

Tony Romo

After Sunday’s Cowboys 49ers game, Jerry Jones might still be wondering why he didn’t draft Johnny Manziel this past May… Tony Romo was abysmal in his 2014 debut throwing for three interceptions while getting shut out for most of the first half. Although he might be rusty from having not played a snap in the preseason after back surgery earlier in the year, Romo had one of the worst performances of his career. Tony Romo and Jason Garrett will have to find a solution for the Cowboys’ problems soon or Jerry Jones may have to pull the plug, even with Romo’s huge contract extension.

Eli Manning and The New York Giants

Giants fans everywhere prayed that their performance in 2013 was an anomaly and not something that would continue. New York’s preseason games and Monday night’s match-up against the Detroit Lions did everything but ease their worries. The offense seems lost under first-year offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and Eli Manning does not look improved from his twenty-seven interception season. Patience is running thin for Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning (fans were even seen burning jerseys Monday night) and if nothing improves, they could be out the door sooner rather than later.

Robert Griffin III

It has seemed like everything has been on a steady decline for RG3 since his devastating knee injury that occurred at the end of his sensational rookie year. Rushed back into the lineup last season, Griffin didn’t look like himself and was very cautious with his presence. Robert Griffin III entered into this year with a new head coach and offensive coordinator who have looked to develop him into a more pocket passer/game manager; this is not RG3’s game. So far he has looked uncomfortable in the pocket and backup quarterback Kirk Cousins even outperformed him in the preseason. Sunday’s disappointing loss to the Texans revealed just how far things have fallen for Robert Griffin III.

Sunday’s Big Week One Match-Ups: Who’s Gonna Win?

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints

Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints

The rather underrated match-up of week one, the Falcons Saints game has always been a must-see in the NFC South. New Orleans enters this year with one of the most complete teams in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era. Weapons are aplenty on offense featuring all-pro tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Marques Colston. Cameron Jordan, Curtis Lofton, and Jarius Byrd anchor a greatly improved defense under Rob Ryan. Meanwhile in Atlanta, the Falcons are introducing a revamped offensive line with rookie Jake Matthews and are welcoming the return of former pro-bowl wide receiver Julio Jones from a foot injury that sidelined him for nearly all of 2013. Recently this rivalry has fallen in favor of the Saints as they have won six of the past eight meetings between the two, however most games have been very close.

My Prediction: Saints-34 Falcons-21

Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys

The 49ers have reached the NFC Championship game every year since Jim Harbaugh has been head coach. San Francisco faces an ominous schedule in 2014 are a member of, debatably, the best division in the NFL. The Niners have faced a lot of adversity throughout the offseason seeing Aldon Smith being suspended for nine games and Chris Culliver being involved with a hit-and-run incident. Internal issues have also surfaced in San Francisco, although none have significantly affected team activity. On the other side of the ball, the Dallas Cowboys see the return of Tony Romo after his back surgery and are hoping to see the emergence of an improved offensive line. The defense is not a bright spot for this team; pro-bowlers Demarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher are now elsewhere leaving little experience behind them.

My Prediction: 49ers-38 Cowboys-24

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Indianapolis Colts vs. Denver Broncos

In week one the whole country will be witness to “Luck vs. Manning II”. Last year Andrew Luck beat his predecessor in Indianapolis on Sunday Night Football. This year Luck and the Colts will travel to Mile High and face the defending AFC Champions who appear to be better than they were last year. Peyton Manning is looking to pick right off his record breaking season and lead the Broncos to another Super Bowl, while Andrew Luck is ready to take the next step to become an elite NFL quarterback. This should be a match-up to watch as the Colts are a sleeper pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It is a very likely possibility that we could see a rematch of these two teams in January.

My Prediction: Broncos-35 Colts-17

 

Storylines To Watch For Week Two

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1. Is Steve Sarkisian the man to bring USC back into dominance?
Sarkisian made a big impression with the USC fan base with the Trojans’ dominating win over Fresno State; a game in which was won more convincingly than their bowl win over the Bulldogs. Quarterback Cody Kessler looks like the right man for the job after a winning a hotly contested battle with redshirt freshman Max Browne. Reports from Los Angeles have indicated that Sarkisian has reenergized the Trojans much like former interim coach Ed Orgeron. If that is the case, Steve Sarkisian has the players and incoming recruits necessary to bring Southern Cal back into national contention for a championship.

2. Should Ohio State be on upset alert against Virginia Tech?
When starting quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the season many fans and analysts alike wondered how the Buckeyes would fare. Previously a playoff favorite this season, Ohio State has since slightly fallen off the pedestal it once stood with Miller at the helm. With an uninspiring victory against Navy in week one it will be interesting to see what kind of competition the Virginia Tech Hokies bring Urban Meyer’s squad.

3. Will Michigan State be ready to face the Ducks?
Always a dark horse in every college football season, Michigan State has a viable chance to upset the Oregon Ducks this Saturday in Eugene. Head coach Mark Dantonio always seems to have something up his sleeve and it can be noted that the Spartans run a similar offense to Stanford; the only team who has seemed to cause the Ducks any trouble as of recent. Though you can never underestimate the power of Oregon, this should be an interesting game to watch.

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4. How will Notre Dame fare against Michigan?
The Irish had an impressive debut (albeit against a not so powerful Rice team); The Wolverines had an impressive debut (albeit against a not so powerful Appalachian State team). Someone has to budge. Notre Dame has had a recent history of struggling against Michigan, however the two teams will be playing in South Bend which is where the Irish beat the Wolverines last en route to the national championship. Notre Dame also will have Everett Golsen back as quarterback; coincidentally the last quarterback who beat Michigan for the Irish.

5. Just how bad has Vanderbilt fallen since the departure of James Franklin?
It was assumed that Vanderbilt would experience a drop-off since James Franklin left for State College, Pennsylvania. Getting blown out by Temple, however, was not what most Commodore fans expected. Even with meager talent, there is no excuse for an SEC team to get shut down by a team coming off a 2-10 season. With a relatively formidable SEC schedule, things are not looking very bright for Vanderbilt for this 2014-2015 college football season.

Is Jerry Jones Still the Right Man for the Cowboys?

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Jerry Jones has been in command of “America’s Team” since 1989 when he bought them for what was then an unprecedented $140 million. As SportsCenter reported last Sunday morning on a special feature about the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jones assumed ownership of the team when it had reached an all-time low financially and through their abysmal play.

His first act as owner and general manager, having fired former general manager Tex Schramm, was firing Hall-of-Fame coach Tom Landry, much to the disbelief of the National Football League. Jones did, though, elevate the Cowboys to its former seemingly immortal self in 1990s, as Dallas took home three Super Bowl championships with two head coaches.

Since its last world title, Dallas has completely fallen off its pedestal of excellence, having only won a single playoff game since 1996. The brand of the Cowboys has still remained at the pinnacle of NFL and of nearly all sports franchises in the entire world. The overall worth of the Dallas Cowboys, as reported by Forbes, is $2.3 billion, second only to the New York Yankees in the United States and fifth most valuable sports franchise in existence. So what has gone wrong with these Cowboys? How can such a respected sports franchise maintain such a status of mediocrity yet maintain such a status of value? Most fingers point to owner, president, and general manager Jerry Jones.

Since the departure of the last great trinity in Cowboys history — Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin — Dallas has been mediocre at best. Tony Romo, the gunslinger in command since 2006, has had a long history in relation to the recent struggles and success of the Cowboys. Believe it or not, Romo is, in fact, statistically one of the best regular season quarterbacks in NFL history. His success, though, has been overthrown by his underwhelming performances in clutch/playoff scenarios. Jerry Jones has had a reputation for always sticking up for his quarterback and has since received much backlash as a result. Jones even rewarded Romo with an overwhelming contract extension, not knowing of his two oncoming back surgeries.

The controversial commitment with Romo has caused angst among Cowboys fans and has some wondering why he was rewarded with such a lucrative contract with such meager playoff success. With the up and down, almost soap-opera dramas that have occurred in Dallas, one could almost assume that Jones is more concerned with the outward extravagance of the Cowboys rather than their on-the-field play.

Most recently, Jones was criticized and cited for his interest (or former lack thereof) in the former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cowboys had the opportunity to draft the young quarterback but instead drafted offensive lineman Zach Martin. In response to the pick, Jones stated that drafting Johnny Manziel was not even on the draft board when the situation was at hand. Months later, Jones went on record saying that he was “that close” to drafting Manziel and that the decision may end up haunting him. This could be seen either as a case of indecisiveness or good business. My belief is in the latter.

With Jerry Jones making this statement, he continues to keep the Cowboys brand and name into conversations all around the country. This is a prime example of how and why Dallas is one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. They remain as a topic of conversation and are a prime marketing center in the United States.

Even though Jones is a great businessman, he has proven to be a poor leader to “America’s Team”. Seeming to be more concerned with the business aspect of the franchise, Jones has put his priorities in the wrong order in effort to create a successful football team. When he fired Super Bowl-winning head coach Jimmy Johnson, the appearance of Jones’s power hunger was obvious. Jerry Jones has and wants full control of his team.

It is obvious that Jones is one of, if not, the best owner in the NFL. His business mind is unparalleled in keeping the Cowboys at the top of the financial Mt. Everest of sports. His work as a general manager, though, is clearly not on par with his business abilities.

Perhaps it is time for Jerry Jones to hire a full-time general manager with complete control of football operations. Lately, it has seemed like Jerry Jones isn’t what’s best for the Dallas Cowboys from a standpoint of on-the-field performance.

 

Current Starting Quarterbacks Who Won’t Be Starting by the End of this Season

At the genesis of every NFL football season teams place the trust of their offense onto the shoulders of a signal-caller who is either proven, unproven, or sometimes even a mix of both. These men range from untested rookies to seasoned veterans who long to prove themselves as worthy to be in command and, often times, become the face of their respective franchise. Coming into this 2014-2015 season many coaches are unsure as to who they will entrust with taking the reigns of their teams. Many of the gunslingers whom they choose will not be in their in current state by the end of this calendar year. Injuries will occur. Controversy will take place. Jobs will be lost. This continuous circle of life has been in place years now in this quarterback starved league. At the first sign of trouble coaches, management, and fans alike become anxious and sometimes become trigger-happy as to replace the the man most often blamed for the mistakes: the quarterback. Now begs the question of which men will be replaced before this season concludes; here is my list.

Brian Hoyer

HoyerFor most who have paid attention to football at all the past year, it is very apparent that Johnny Manziel is the hottest thing in the NFL since Tim Tebow. The noise for Manziel to be named starter will become too loud for Browns coach Mike Pettine to bear and he will eventually have to give in to the pressure. Neither Hoyer nor Manziel were particularly impressive in the preseason and Pettine was probably wise in giving Hoyer the title for opening day; saving the star rookie from having a drop in confidence should he underperform. Johnny Manziel’s ability is night and day over Brian Hoyer’s and it is only a matter of time  before the latter falters and the rookie gets his time to shine.

 

Chad Henne

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Henne is a journeyman who has proven to be a reliable backup rather than a adequate starting quarterback. There is a reason that the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Blake Bortles with the second overall selection in this past NFL Draft. Bortles has in fact outperformed Chad Henne and has put up, debatably, the best rookie performance out of all rookie quarterbacks this preseason. Although Henne was “officially” named the starter by coach Gus Bradley, he will be under much pressure to tone out the many voices calling for Bortles to be the man.

 

Matt Cassel

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With Cassel on this list, I have officially promoted all three first-round quarterbacks to eventually be named starter by season’s end. The Vikings, and most of the league, know what they are getting with Matt Cassel. He has been bright in certain scenarios but has fallen short of the occasion too many times. Teddy Bridgewater is a promising young talent who offers a fresh start for the consistently mediocre Vikings. Like Bortles, Bridgewater has had a successful preseason to affirm the belief with the management that drafted him. Like the previous two on this list, the noise for the young rookie to overtake the journeymen will become too much to bear at the first sign of trouble.

Matt Schaub

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When discussing the Raiders, it is difficult to speak about a consistent starting quarterback. Oakland has not had a stable quarterback since Rich Gannon. They have found themselves in a field that the Cleveland Browns know all to well: not knowing whether or not their opening day starter will make it to the final regular season game. I personally believe that Matt Schaub had a fluke season in Houston last year, however, he is now in the “The Black Hole”… Having underachieved this preseason, Schaub isn’t proving any of the naysayers wrong and is providing more leverage to head coach Dennis Allen to plug in rookie Derek Carr.

EJ Manuel

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Things haven’t look too bright in Buffalo recently. The team is on the edge of being relocated, former quarterback Jim Kelly had cancer for an extended period of time, and EJ Manuel has looked dreadful in the preseason. The Bills obviously had faith in the young gunslinger when they traded their first round pick for next season in order to draft a weapon for Manuel in Sammy Watkins; thus leaving them without the chance to draft a high profile quarterback in next year’s draft should things go south this season. Manuel has struggled in the preseason and was even booed by fans. Should this continue throughout the year, a replacement is very likely to be found.

Robert Griffin III

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Two years ago, no one would have pictured RG3 to be in the current state that he is in. A year and half removed from knee surgery and a new coach, Robert Griffin III seems to be a changed man (and not in a good way). Being rushed back into the starting lineup like he was last season did not let Griffin return to being the quarterback that he was a rookie. He seemed to have a constant eye over his shoulder rather than being the playmaker of his former self. Now with a new regime in the coaching staff, Griffin has been offered a fresh start. In the first three preseason games RG3 still does not look up to par. It has seemed, as former quarterback Joe Theisman pointed out, that backup Kirk Cousins has outplayed Griffin and deserves to be the starter. By season’s end, I would not be surprised if he was.

Honorable Mention: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith

Hutson Mason: The Quarterback No One is Talking About?

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2014 dawns a new era of quarterbacks in the southeastern conference. With the exception of Nick Marshall of Auburn and Bo Wallace of Ole Miss, the SEC will be welcoming a swarm of new signal-callers to command the most powerful conference in all of college football. The favorite to continue in the success of his predecessor, Jacob Coker (the highly touted transfer from Florida State) of Alabama, has yet to even win the official title of starter as the seasoned Blake Sims could still win the job. South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson is set to pick up right where Connor Shaw left off; the Gamecocks are favorited to win the SEC East this season even with the departures of Shaw and Jadeveon Clowney, amongst others. I do believe, however, that the quarterback who will make the most noise this year in the SEC is Hutson Mason of the Georgia Bulldogs.

The ‘Dawgs are coming off a disappointing season in which they were plauged by injuries that included both star tailbacks and all three starting receivers. The lone bright spot for coach Mark Richt’s squad was record setting quarterback Aaron Murray. Murray, in the midst of all injuries, still shined bright for Georgia throughout the year up until an ACL tear ended his season with only two games left to play. Thus started the Hutson Mason era in Athens. Mason played relatively well in his, mere, two starts at the end of the season against Georgia Tech and Nebraska yet there were still doubts regarding his ability to become a successful starting quarterback in the SEC. Enter a new year and a fresh start for the Bulldogs; Fifth-year senior Hutson Mason is at the helm, this time with a healthy cast of receivers and running backs to pair with a rejuvenated defense. Georgia has a strong chance to make a legitimate run at the SEC East this season barring any injuries, like those that occurred in 2013. Mike Bobo has proven to be one of the best offensive coordinators in the SEC, consistently coaching offenses that put up quite a bit of points even with injuries at hand. Hutson Mason has been a part of Bobo’s system for some time and has learned under, statistically, the best quarterback in SEC history.

People have underestimated the ability that these Georgia Bulldogs have. Todd Gurley comes into this season with a strong case for having earned the title of being the best running back in college football. His backup, Keith Marshall, is not too shabby in his own right having earned third team All-SEC honors this preseason. Malcolm Mitchell returns after only playing one offensive series in 2013 and incoming starter Justin Scott-Wesley returns after having torn his ACL. Pair all of these weapons with a fifth year senior at quarterback and I believe that Georgia has the recipe for a very successful season “between the hedges”.