NFL Week 13: There’s no “I” in team … or in an offensive formation

In case you’ve had your eyes closed during this NFL season (which would make it substantially difficult to watch), you’ve realized that this is a league dominated by quarterback play. If someone asked you to name the first five NFL players to pop into your head, I’m willing to bet 4 out of 5 or all five would be quarterbacks. Think about it. Tom Brady. “He-who-must-not-be-named.” Drew Brees. Russell Wilson. Cam Newton. Aaron Rodgers. Colin Kaerpernick. Even non-playoff teams have the likes of Robert Griffin III (or RG3 as we all know him), Matt Ryan and Eli Manning.

A cohesive offensive machine is dependent on a smart, athletic quarterback, and the teams that have a quarterback meeting that criteria tend to excel in today’s NFL. These are the types of quarterbacks who can lead a team to the Super Bowl and win it.

Now take another look at all the quarterbacks I just mentioned. Name ONE running back on ANY of those teams. And not just a running back who gets a few token carries a game – I’m talking about the kind of running back who could carry his team to a championship. Struggling to think of one? Yeah, me too.

Long gone are the days of the power running backs. “Power I” offensive sets have been replaced with the shotgun, wildcat and single back sets – all of them with the sole purpose of giving the quarterback time to make a decision. Bad decisions lose games (Mike Vick, Matt Schaub, Brandon Weeden – I’m looking at you, just to name a few) and good decisions help win games (Alex Smith, KC quarterback, is quite good at managing games and avoiding mistakes). Sometimes it’s a “don’t lose it for the team” mentality that helps a quarterback prevail rather than a spectacular arm or big game experience.

During the late 80s, 90s and 2000s, running backs ruled the world. Great quarterbacks like Dan Marino and Jim Kelly never won a Super Bowl because neither had a reliable running game – even John Elway failed to reach the big game until Terrell Davis came along to fortify the offense. Running backs today have become “plug and play” and some teams even utilize the “running back by committee” idea. And fullbacks? They’ve gone the way of the dinosaur. Fullbacks on rosters are just another name for a running back. The key to winning in today’s NFL is to have a smart quarterback who is savvy under pressure and able to scramble out of trouble to extend plays.

And speaking of scrambling, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin showed off some smooth moves Thanksgiving night. He wandered so far out onto the field that he had to leap out of the way of Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones, who was sprinting down the sideline while returning a kick. Replays showed Jones had to alter his path to get out of the way of Tomlin, whose sneaker was actually in the playing area of the field. By rule, coaches are supposed to stay behind the white out-of-bounds line on the sides of the field, although the majority tend to wander into it, especially during the heat of the game. Tomlin faces a $100,000 fine and the Steelers could possibly lose a draft pick over the incident.

The fine I can understand, but losing a draft pick seems a bit much. Tomlin is not the only coach to ever make his way into the white area – he just happened to be the one who got caught. Several NFL coaches, including Bill “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” Belichick, made comments to the effect of “it could have been any of us.” When you watch the replay, Tomlin clearly looks to be focused and engrossed while watching the play on the big screen. By the time Jones darts onto the screen, it’s only then that Tomlin realizes where he is in relation to the field and jumps out of the way. Regardless, the result of the play didn’t affect the outcome, as the Ravens won anyway, but had they lost, you better believe John Harbaugh and crew would be doing a lot more squawking about it.

Also this weekend:

— Might be time to hitch this cart to a donkey.

The wheels are falling off in Kansas City! The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Is it time to panic in Kansas City yet? After starting the season 9-0, the Chiefs have lost three in a row, twice to division rival Denver, who all but sealed up the division with their win on Sunday at Arrowhead. The Chiefs defense, which had been playing unbelievably well the first half of the season, has shown signs of wear and blew a 21-7 lead by surrendering 28 unanswered Denver points. The early season Chiefs, once they established a lead, pretty much clamped down on defense and did not allow the opposing offenses to do much of anything. During their unbeaten stretch, the Chiefs did not allow another team to score more than 17 points. Over their 0-3 stretch, the Chiefs have given up nearly as many points (103) as they did for the entire first half of the season (109). Coach Andy Reid better tighten up those tethers and get this wagon back on track, otherwise, his team is in danger of letting this season slip away.

— It was just a joke. Guys? Hello? Why isn’t anyone laughing?

Let me thank the Texans for providing me column fodder once again this week. The latest hijinks include Texans defensive end Antonio Smith insinuating that the Patriots somehow cheated or spied on them because that’s the only way he could explain how they scored 27 points after halftime. Um, I know the Texans aren’t that good this year, but seriously? How about they made ADJUSTMENTS at halftime? How about their coaches actually COACHED at halftime? But that apparently doesn’t happen at halftime in the Texans locker room. Cheating is the only way they could have scored 27 points! It’s a conspiracy, complete with video cameras! Oh wait, the Pats allegedly did that before. Anyway, the Texans must be watching episodes of The Three Stooges at halftime, because they certainly seem to emulate that on the field. Smith now says he was only joking, but he’s the only one laughing. Laughing all the way to the couch to watch the playoffs in January.

— Don’t cry for me, Argentina. Or Denver.

During the National Anthem at his game on Sunday, cameras caught Denver running back Knowshon Moreno crying on the sideline. These weren’t just any tears. This guy must have had hoses hooked up to his tear ducts, because I’ve never seen such streams of water flowing down someone’s face before. He had to have been standing in a puddle up to his calves by the time the song was over. Afterward, Moreno explained that they weren’t tears of sadness but more like tears of joy. He said that he cries all the time and sometimes the emotions just get to him and “it just comes.” Sometimes he doesn’t even notice it. I’m not sure how you can’t notice your teammates slipping and falling in the pool of tears at your feet, but whatever. Still, I think it’s pretty cool that Moreno cries all the time and proudly admits it. On the other hand, given Moreno’s tears before a week 13 game, if the Broncos make the Super Bowl, they may want to consider building an ark.

With four weeks left in the regular season, this weekend offers some important games including Colts at Bengals, Lions at Eagles, Seahawks at 49ers, Panthers at Saints (Sunday night) and Cowboys at Bears (Monday night). There is no sense in complaining about seeing the same teams in primetime now, as the NFL’s flex scheduling is in effect and games will feature playoff teams. However, I certainly wish that would also apply to the Thursday night games, as this week we’re subjected to the horrid matchup of the Texans at the Jaguars. This good Thursday night’s sleep is brought to you by the NFL, the quarterback play of Case Keenum and Chad Henne and the number 3 (as in, this game will knock you into a deep sleep in 3 minutes).

Until next week, enjoy the games, my friends!