Commentary

Whatever happened to running the ball?

Originally Published: November 26, 2010
By Ron Jaworski | ESPN.com

"Monday Night Football" analyst Ron Jaworski breaks down the matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers.

Both of these teams, at 3-7, are hard to figure out. I remember talking to Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt about the Arizona offense when we had them for a preseason game this year. The Cardinals were going to get back to the old "Steelers West" persona. They were going to run the ball, make it a priority.

[+] EnlargeDerek Anderson
Jeff Moffett/Icon SMIArizona's lack of a rushing attack has put too much pressure on Derek Anderson, who's been erratic.
Well, I have not seen it. They are not even attempting to run the football. It's surprising because if any offense in the league needs to be balanced and have a committed running game, it's this one. I like their backs, Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells, though I know Wells has been banged up a bit. They even have a good third-down back in LaRod Stephens-Howling. I thought they could stay out of a lot of obvious passing downs. But they have abandoned the run and put a lot of pressure on QB Derek Anderson to make plays. It has not been very successful. Anderson has an NFL arm but he's erratic. He's completing about 53 percent of his passes and you need to be around 63 percent in this league. He can make plays, but his game would benefit from a strong running game.

I'd put it on the offensive line, which has not played well or consistently this year. Anderson is doing what he can, and, well, they are 3-7. But if you can protect a little bit, you can do some damage against the Niners' secondary. That's a good part of this game to watch. Can Anderson get enough time to use weapons such as WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston? We'll see.

It's a similar story for San Francisco. If you have a running back like Frank Gore, you have to get him some opportunities to make plays every game. The Niners are not doing it. Last week they were down only 7-0 at halftime against Tampa Bay, but they came out throwing. Bombs away! Down the field! I know they have good receivers. But you need to be able to run the ball in this league, especially when your quarterback has three NFL starts. You do not want to ask Troy Smith to win games for you right now. Did he play well in a couple of games? Yes. But he has also looked quite average the rest of the time. He's not ready to take on the burden of the offense.

Both of these teams have to stay on schedule, as we say in football. They have to get yards on the ground and on first and second down. They have to avoid obvious passing situations on third down. The team that handles that better Monday will have a decided advantage.

Ron Jaworski

NFL analyst / writer
Ron Jaworski is one of the most popular and knowledgeable analysts covering the NFL today. Since joining ESPN in 1990, the former standout NFL quarterback has covered the league from virtually every angle -- sideline reporter, game-site reporter, host and both studio and game analyst. From 2007-11, Jaworski occupied one of the most coveted positions in sports as a Monday Night Football analyst.