Pass-happy AFC North embraces the run

| Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010

NFL teams don't like running the football anymore. For the life of me, I can't understand why.

A successful run game drains the clock, weakens the opposition, and keeps the defense off the field.

In the AFC North, the Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals have purposely ignored the running game this season. Why• Because it's the popular thing to do. So what that it might not be a great idea to focus too much on the pass, where three things can happen on every play, two of them bad. Apparently, there's safety in numbers.

That's why it's important to mark Dec. 19 on your calandar. That's when the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals each had a 100-yard rusher in a game.

Rashard Mendenhall rushed 17 times for 100 yards and a touchdown against the New York Jets supposedly vaunted run defense, albeit in a 22-17 Steelers loss, which might lead to more passes tonight against the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field. Mendenhall wasn't on the field when Mewelde Moore was tackled for a 3-yard loss and a safety after taking a handoff from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who lined up in the shotgun. Go figure.

"Sometimes, numbers get skewed due to game circumstances,'' coach Mike Tomlin said in explaining why the Steelers passed 19 more times than they ran the ball despite averaging 5.9 yards per rush and only 4.9 yards per pass. "We're committed to running and running it well.''

In Baltimore, Ray Rice rushed 31 times for 153 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Ravens' 30-24 win over New Orleans. For good measure, Willis McGahee carried seven times for 53 yards. By running the ball successfully, the Ravens kept Saints quarterback Drew Brees off the field.

"It's December, and you're on the East Coast, so we knew we needed to get the running game going,'' Baltimore center Matt Birk said.

Cedric Benson rushed for 150 yards in Cincinnati's 19-17 win over Cleveland. Quarterback Carson Palmer said Benson's third 100-yard game of the season was long overdue.

"We set out to be a running team but, for a number of reasons, it hasn't been that way throughout the year,'' Palmer said.

Three 100-yard rushers in AFC North on the same Sunday• Wonders never cease.

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