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Run to Glory
Peter King
November 06, 2000
As the NFL season hits halftime, the hottest teams are the ones that can move the ball on the ground—especially in the fourth quarter
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November 06, 2000

Run To Glory

As the NFL season hits halftime, the hottest teams are the ones that can move the ball on the ground—especially in the fourth quarter

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Midseason All-Pro Team

He doesn't lead the NFL in rushing, and he doesn't even lead his own team in plaudits. Still, in a poll of 20 NFL scouts, general managers and personnel directors, the Rams' Marshall Faulk, sixth in the league in rushing and ninth in receptions, was chosen the MVP, edging out teammate Kurt Warner. Faulk also beat a slew of deserving candidates to get the nod at running back. Here are the leading vote-getters at each position.

Offense

WR

RANDY MOSS, Vikings

15

WR

MARVIN HARRISON, Colts

8

TE

TONY GONZALEZ, Chiefs

17

T

JONATHAN 0GDEN, Ravens

12

T

ORLANDO PACE, Rams

6

G

LARRY ALLEN, Cowboys

12

G

BRUCE MATTHEWS, Titans

5

C

KEVIN MAWAE, Jets

12

QB

KURT WARNER, Rams

13

RB

MARSHALL FAULK, Rams

10

FB

LORENZO NEAL, Titans

4

Defense

E

HUGH DOUGLAS, Eagles

13

E

MARCO COLEMAN, Redskins

7

T

WARREN SAPP, Bucs

19

T

LA ROI GLOVER, Saints

11

OLB

DERRICK BROOKS, Bucs

13

OLB

DONNIE EDWARDS, Chiefs

5

MLB

MY LEWIS, Ravens

11

CB

SAM MADISON, Dolphins

15

CB

CHAMP BAILEY, Redskins

10

FS

KURT SCHULZ, Lions

6

SS

JOHN LYNCH, Bucs

6

Special Teams

K

MIKEVANDERJAGT, Colts

7

P

CHRIS GARDOCKI, Browns

8

Ret.

DARRICK VAUGHN, Falcons

3

Awards

MVP: FAULK

Offensive rookie: MIKE ANDERSON, Broncos RB

Defensive rookie: BRIAN URLACHER, Bears LB

Coach: DENNIS GREEN, Vikings

Executive: RANDY MUELLER, Saints G.M.

The Redskins were in trouble against the Ravens' stingy defense. Washington had done next to nothing in its first six drives of the Oct. 15 game (punt, punt, punt, field goal, fumble, interception), and now, tied 3-3 early in the fourth quarter with the ball at the Baltimore 33, the Skins looked as if they might have to settle for a long field goal attempt to break the deadlock. In the huddle quarterback Brad Johnson stared at 234-pound workhorse running back Stephen Davis as he barked out the 18-word play. But "50 Slant" was all Davis needed to hear.

"It's the most basic running play in any play-book," says Terry Robiskie, Washington's passing-game coordinator and offensive game planner. "Man-to-man blocking, back reads the hole and gets what he can. When football was invented, there was 50 Slant."

"They were putting it on my back, which I love," Davis says. "You better want that pressure if you want to be a great back today."

Getting a seal block from left tackle Chris Samuels, Davis jostled through the line, juked a couple of defenders, tossed safety Rod Woodson aside with a stiff-arm and sprinted for the touchdown. Final score: Redskins 10, Ravens 3. "We might be in a new century with all these big offensive stars," Robiskie says. "But this season is proving again that you have to run to win, and to protect your lead in the fourth quarter."

This year the league is on pace to have more 1,200-yard rushers (13) than any season in history. (The NFL record is 10.) It's no coincidence that six of the eight teams that have or share a division lead have such a player. The other two employ an interchangeable pair who would fall into that category—the Giants' duo of Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne (a projected 2,038 yards) and the Raiders' combo of Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kaufman (1,630).

Perhaps as important as having a top-notch runner is having a back who can take charge late in the game. Through Sunday, Indianapolis and Minnesota had the most prolific fourth-quarter backs, Edgerrin James (with 351 yards in the final period) and Robert Smith (321), respectively. Davis, Marshall Faulk of the Rams and Eddie George of the Titans were 3-4-5 on that list. The teams of those five were a combined 32-7 Arguably the best five teams in football are the teams mat have a Mariano Rivera. "One question," Smith said last Friday, settling into his car for the drive home from practice. "Who's Mariano Rivera?"

He's you, Robert. The closer.

The reliance on a running back to close the deal is one of several trends that emerged in the first half of the season. Here are two others:

?Quarterbacks are going mobile. Heading into this year, starting signal-callers had never averaged more than 12.8 rushing yards per game over the course of a season. Even with Steve Young and John Elway in retirement, that number was at 15.7 yards through Sunday. The trend began in week one, when Chicago coach Dick Jauron called eight quarterback draws for Cade McNown; McNown and Minnesota counterpart Daunte Culpepper combined for a remarkable 160 yards on the ground. Those two quarterbacks, along with the Eagles' Donovan McNabb and Oakland's Rich Gannon, all rank among the top 20 in their conference in rushing.

?The Rams are spawning imitators of their quick-hitting passing game. As Minnesota scout Jeff Robinson says, "You can't do what the Rams do, but a lot of the things they do you can imitate, like using shorter routes for the quicker, smaller receivers so they can find the open seam."

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