It is understandable that Mike Munchak, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, is not willing to concede the possibility that his team — for whatever reason — simply cannot run the ball well and that it never will.
Even the Tennessee Titans coach must admit, though, that there is plenty of evidence in that regard. Seven games into the season, the Titans remain last in the league in rushing offense.
“Once you get to about midseason the stats are kind of starting to fall into line with a little more consistency, you are going to kind of find out where you’re at for most teams,” Munchak said. “We are hoping for us on the other end of and that the running game, that when the season is over that we are more in the middle of the pack at least.”
They might not want to waste their time trying to get there.
There is an emerging trend in the NFL, which suggests that a terrible running game hardly is the worst thing in the world. With growing numbers of accomplished quarterbacks, big and gifted wide receivers and rules designed to open up the game more teams than ever rely on throwing the ball much more.
In fact, three of the bottom five in terms of rushing yards per game entering this weekend, including Tennessee, have winning records The New York Giants, at 5-2, have a two-game lead in the NFC East and are the best of that bunch.
“We’re going to need this running game in order for us to keep winning and to have a run through the playoffs and for us to accomplish our goals,” running back Chris Johnson contends.
Not that long ago, that might have been the case. Now, that might not necessarily be so.
Back in 2006, none of the five worst rushing teams in the league all finished with five wins or fewer. Two years later, the Detroit Lions became the first team in league history to go 0-16 and they were 30th out of the 32 teams in rushing offense.
Yet the same year that the Lions were so miserable, the two teams that ran the ball to less avail, Indianapolis and Arizona, both made the playoffs.
“It’s better to say that you are in the middle of the pack on things and that you are still trying to get them better, you don’t want to be at the extremes where we are in that phase of the game,” Munchak said. “It does bother us. … The bottom line is winning, you want to win and we all know that that’s ultimately it but you like to look good doing it and have everything working and clicking and we are not in that area.”
Each of the last two years three of the five worst rushing teams played on beyond the regular season, and in 2009 none of the bottom five finished worse than 7-9.
Teams getting to the playoffs with anemic ground games either.
Arizona in 2008 and Indianapolis in 2009 both had the fewest rushing yards in the NFL yet made it to the Super Bowl. Both, of course, also had quarterbacks — Kurt Warner with Arizona and Peyton Manning with Indianapolis — who were former NFL most valuable players and presumed future Hall of Famers. It also should be noted that both lost in the Super Bowl.
Seattle, with current Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, finished 31st in rushing offense last fall yet won a playoff game.
“I think that we feel we are and we will be a good running team, we are going to have to be or we are going to have some long games,” Munchak said. “You cannot count on Matt Hasselbeck to carry us the next eight or nine weeks throwing the ball all over the defense.
“We are going to go into every game the same, we are going to try to run it, we want to run it, there are going to be parts of the game where you have to run it,” Munchak said. “That’s what we have to do a better job of doing.”
• Tight end Craig Stevens went through a full workout for the first time since he sustained a rib injury Oct. 2 at Cleveland.
Stevens played two games with the injury but was held out last week against Indianapolis.
“I don’t think people realize what a good player he is and not having him [at full health] the last three weeks has hurt us in the run game and in [pass] protection — he is a big part of all that,” Munchak said. “… We need him on Sunday [against Cincinnati]. We have to be at full force to win this game.”
Linebacker Colin McCarthy (hamstring) also practiced and was expected to be available. Safeties Michael Griffin (hip) and Chris Hope (forearm) did not practice. Hope has been ruled out for the game with the Bengals, but Griffin was expected to practice Thursday.