Running For Help


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Jan 22, 2006
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Running For Help
Jul 20, 2006, 4:13:54 AM by Jonathan Rand

A great benefit of the Internet age is that you can read NFL previews until you’re bleary-eyed without spending a dime on a magazine. So after reading the early takes on the AFC West, including Bob Gretz’s series on this site, I have just one question: Is any team in the division going to throw a pass in 2006?

This is known as exaggerating to make a point. Denver’s Mike Shanahan is the only coach in the division who’d really like to air it out more. But if the footballs came without any air, that would be fine and dandy with the division’s other three coaches. Those three, coincidentally or not, have coached for the Chiefs.

Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer brought power football to Kansas City in 1989. Chiefs coach Herman Edwards coached Schottenheimer’s secondary in 1993-94 and is a former NFL cornerback who loves how a strong running game can protect a defense. Art Shell, the Chiefs’ offensive line coach from 1995-96, is a Hall of Fame offensive tackle with power football in his blood.

So even if Peyton Manning showed up on their doorsteps tomorrow, these three coaches would still throw the ball reluctantly. Edwards inherits Trent Green, who last year was the NFL’s eighth-rated passer and led the sixth-most productive passing game. Yet, Edwards has stressed that he wants the Chiefs to run more, even though they finished last season with nine straight 100-yard rushing games from Larry Johnson.

Edwards and his division rivals aren’t intent on running just because of sound football principles. It’s also out of necessity.

The Chiefs’ defense, which ranked 25th last season, isn’t likely to make a quantum leap this season, especially not early. So if the Chiefs can run to move the chains, get a lead and keep the defense off the field, perhaps the defense can contribute to a winning start, pick up confidence and gain momentum.

Schottenheimer surprised old observers of Marty Ball the last two years as Drew Brees became one of the league’s sharper passers and led the Chargers to a division title in 2004. Brees, though, left for New Orleans as a free agent and now Schottenheimer must break in Philip Rivers, who’s seldom played during his first two NFL seasons.

Standard operating procedure for breaking in a young quarterback dictates trying to win with running and defense and asking the quarterback to avoid losing games. This should be workable for the Chargers, considering that LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 1,462 yards last year and the Chargers’ defense ranked first against the run.

Rivers shouldn’t feel insulted if Schottenheimer keeps him under wraps. Shanahan took a similar approach last year to a ninth-year quarterback. Because Jack Plummer had been interception-prone, Shanahan leaned on his running game even more than usual and asked Plummer to make better decisions. He did just that until the AFC championship game, when he committed four turnovers in a 34-17 loss to the Steelers.

Shell, an old Raider, was hired to bring back pride, poise and toughness to Oakland. And we all know how coaches try doing that, especially if they’re former linemen — and especially if they have an iffy quarterback.

It makes sense for Shell to run the heck out of LaMont Jordan. Even an elite receiver like Randy Moss needs a quarterback who can regularly get him the ball, and Aaron Brooks hasn’t appeared any more effective than departed Kerry Collins.

So that loud sound you hear will be the pounding in the AFC West. The teams that make it work should be playoff contenders. The ones that don’t should be really boring.
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