The first game is in the books and a couple of the NFL's best running backs got their first chance to stretch their legs. The basics read like this: Parker ran for 115 yards and totaled 12 fantasy points in traditional scoring systems and Brown picked up 62 total yards while scoring twice, good for 18 fantasy points. But was there anything to be learned beyond the numbers?
In Parker's case, perhaps the biggest number is 29. That is the number of carries he racked up in his first game as a true workhorse back. He handled the load well, showing good burst and finishing off his runs nicely. The downside is that he got only one carry inside the 10 yard line - a twisting run from the seven down to the one-yard line for a first down. Unfortunately, Parker was removed on the next play and the Steelers fumbled the ball away, so we didn't get to see what he could do with a goal-line carry. It seems that he was a victim of the old "thanks for getting us to the one, but now we are going to give you a breather at the worst possible time and vulture your touchdown opportunity" ploy, rather than a planned short-yardage substitution. Regardless, it was still depressing. Pittsburgh threw the ball on all their other plays inside the 10.
As for Brown, there is also a good and a bad. The first is the bad, which has to do with his scant 30 yards rushing. There is an emerging West Coast rapper named Bishop LaMont that got Dr. Dre's attention with a mixtape titled, "Who Do I Gotta Kill to Get a Record Deal?" I think we should borrow from that for Brown's performance tonight, which would be named, "Who Does Ronnie Brown Have to Kill to Get Some Carries?" For reasons unknown, Nick Saban largely ignored his franchise running back and chose instead to wing the ball around the yard. And it wasn't just in the waning moments when the 'Fins trailed, it was all game long. 15 carries is unacceptable, especially when it was becoming obvious that Brown was finally starting to get some traction against the Steelers defense in the third quarter. After a couple of nice runs that culminated in a touchdown, Brown got only one carry the rest of the game (and it was a gimmicky little pitch play). The good news is that Brown got multiple looks inside the 10, including a creative look in which he lined up as the fullback (I'm surprised teams don't do this more often - lining a powerful tailback up as the upback allows for quick hitting plays to develop more quickly near the goal line).
All told, it was a mixed bag for both backs, but I think Parker owners have to feel a little bit better. Brown scored more fantasy points and looks very safe near the end zone, but the sight of Culpepper lobbing balls all over the place - regardless of time or score - had to be a little jolting.
Posted by Adam Hoff at 9/7/2006 10:30:00 PM