Billick: Running the ball still matters in the NFL

BY foxsports • January 13, 2014

Observations from Divisional Round:

• It may be a quarterback-driven league, but the ability to run the ball in the playoffs remains a prerequisite for winning.  Every team that won this weekend ran for more than 120 yards and the four winning teams combined for an average of 166 rushing yards per game.  On the flip side, three of the four losing teams failed to reach the century mark, with the four losing teams combining to average just 83.7 rushing yards.

Finally, both the Seahawks and Patriots won while gaining more yards on the ground than through the air -- and neither Russell Wilson nor Tom Brady threw for a touchdown in their games.

• I think if the Patriots and the Seahawks make it to the Super Bowl, there should be an auxiliary pay-per-view event that features Marshawn Lynch and LeGarrette Blount.  Much like the XFL did instead of flipping a coin at the beginning of the game, line each player up at opposite end zones and just let them run into each other at midfield.  These are some of the most physical running backs I have seen in the NFL in a long time.

• Last week, road teams went 3-1 in the wild-card round, but it was the exact opposite this weekend.  Home teams went 3-1 with the 49ers being the only road team to advance to a conference championship game. In my opinion, the 49ers have the better chance to upset a home team again next week. I like their chances in Seattle more than the Patriots in Denver.

• Injuries are commonplace in the NFL and every team is going to be impacted by them at some point during the season.  That is why the teams that can overcome them or scheme around them are always the most successful. 

Take a look at the teams that will play in the AFC Championship Game next weekend. The Broncos have lost arguably the best left tackle in football, Ryan Clady, and arguably the best pass rusher in all of football, Von Miller, for the season.  The Patriots are without a perennial Pro-Bowler and anchor of their defensive line, Vince Wilfork, and their best offensive weapon and second-best player on the team, Rob Gronkowski.  Those are major holes to fill for both teams, yet both have overcome them to remain as the two best teams in the conference.

• Jamie Collins, the Patriots' second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, started eight games this season as a rookie but he had his coming out party this weekend.  Collins accounted for six tackles, one sack, one pass break-up and one interception on the game. 

Collins reminds me of a player I had in Baltimore who left via free-agency to join Bill Belichick in New England, Adalius Thomas.  Thomas may have been the best defensive athlete I have ever coached.  We literally lined him up at every position on the field from defensive tackle to free safety. He could do it all but was passing his prime by the time he signed with New England.  Well, Belichick has found him resurrected in Jamie Collins.  Interestingly enough, both Thomas and Collins played at Southern Mississippi.

• Despite the 21-point loss to the Patriots on Sunday, the Colts have nothing to hang their heads about.  In my opinion, they have outplayed their ability in the past two seasons, in large part because of Andrew Luck, but also because of phenomenal coaching from Bruce Arians and Chuck Pagano.  I fully expected them to take a step back after making a surprise trip to the playoffs last season, but they won their division and won their first playoff game under the new regime. 

The Colts have a general manager that is not afraid to make bold moves and this will be another critical offseason for him to continue to add talent around Luck.  If done properly, the Colts could be a dominant franchise for the next 10 years.

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