Monos Report: The running game is still alive in the NFL

It's all about how you use the run, as longtime personnel man Jim Monos explains. Plus, get his updated "Eye in the Sky" quarterback rankings right here.

(Ed’s Note: Jim Monos worked as an NFL scout for the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and as the director of personnel for the Buffalo Bills. He’s the co-host of the Go Long Podcast and writes this weekly column.)

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Every team is built differently in the run game.

Is it a one-stud show like the Tennessee Titans feature Derrick Henry? Is it a combo package like Cleveland uses Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt or Dallas with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard? Or is it the versatile running/receiving threat like Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara?

The running game is back… does that mean instant success? That’s where this gets interesting.

Saints head coach Sean Payton used to tell us when I was an area scout that you throw to score points and get a lead and then run the ball in the fourth quarter to finish the game. The proof was our Super Bowl-winning team in 2009.

New Orleans led the NFL in scoring that season at 32.5 points per game. We all remember Drew Brees distributing the ball to every weapon we had on offense, but does anyone talk about how the Saints were 10th in rushing yards per game? Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush were all used to their respective strengths specific to what Payton envisioned.

That offense finished games with the ball in their hands.

All three players were needed all season long. In the divisional playoff round that season, we rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinals.

Whether you believe in the run game or not, quarterbacks will tell you how important it is to them to at least have the threat of a running game. Tampa Bay is currently ranked 28th in rushing but they feel comfortable handing the ball to Leonard Fournette with the lead. Carolina’s Sam Darnold looks lost without McCaffrey. On the other end of the spectrum, the Steelers rank 29th in rushing after using a first-round pick on Alabama’s Najee Harris and it is exposing Ben Roethlisberger’s limitations at this stage in his career.

The running game does not equal a Super Bowl but when you combine a top-tier quarterback with a valid option to run the ball you become a nightmare to defend and keep defensive coordinators guessing the entire game and that is a definite formula for offensive success.

Random thoughts

  • Time for the Bengals to win a game they are not supposed to win. That won’t be easy against Lamar Jackson this week but this is a game worth watching. The Bengals have the eighth-ranked run defense but does that matter against Jackson? You can do everything right defensively and still have no answer for his dynamic skill set.

    His private quarterbacks coach, Joshua Harris, explained this dynamic in full on the pod last week:

    Go Long
    Podcast: What makes Lamar Jackson special? His QB coach has the answers.
    Did you turn off your TV into fourth quarter of last week’s Monday Night Football Game? You weren’t alone. The Indianapolis Colts were in complete command… this one was all but over… until… Lamar Jackson happened. A 25-9 Colts lead became a 31-25 Baltimore Ravens win just like that…
    Read more
  • Sam Darnold returns to the Meadowlands this week even though it’s against the Giants, not the Jets. Without McCaffrey in the lineup, it almost looks like Adam Gase is coaching Darnold all over again… or this is just who he is. A talented player who does not take care of the football when asked to carry the team.

  • Fun schedule for the WFT having played Mahomes last week and now Aaron Rodgers this week. Good luck.

  • The Titans need to stay geared up with the Chiefs coming to Nashville. Tennessee will basically need that same gameplan they used to beat Buffalo against Kansas City because the Titans defense is not slowing anyone down. It might work, too. Nobody has been able to stop Derrick Henry, who’s already up to 783 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in just six games.

  • I like the way Tua Tagovailoa is handling the mess in Miami. He played a good game last week in London. His reward? Finding out the desperate Dolphins are trading for Deshaun Watson as soon as they can.

  • Interested to see if Zach Wilson can out-play Mac Jones this week. Wilson and Jones both need to be more accurate and let their receivers make plays after the catch.

  • Is it the Goff Revenge Game or Stafford Gets Even with Detroit game? Unwatchable.

  • The Raiders looked so much better without “Hooters Gruden” on the sideline. (Check out the podcast for that reference.) Carr was on point against a good Denver defense (134.4 passer rating) and it will be interesting to see if he can follow it up against an underrated Philly defense.

  • The Bears are not asking a lot of rookie Justin Fields since the disaster game against Cleveland and he has played OK. He makes one or two throws a game that show you the ability is there but can he go score-for-score with Tom Brady? That’s a different story.

  • If you don’t gamble, why would you watch Houston at Arizona this week?

  • Carson Wentz is playing well and not being asked to be a hero on every play like he was in Philly. Funny how a coach can matter for a QB. He will certainly be tested in Santa Clara Sunday night against a tough defense.

  • Jameis Winston vs. Geno Smith is exactly what the NFL had in mind for MNF this week.

Enjoy the QB rankings!

The Eye in the Sky

Each week, expect to get the Monos Report quarterback grades right here in “The Eye in the Sky.” How does this work? Simply, it’s a plus/negative point system determined by the types of throws and the situation in the game. Meaningful runs/scrambles do count. The final stat line does not matter. A “good” play gets you +1 while a bad play gets you -1 throughout the course of the game. In extreme cases, you may get a +2 or -2. This total number each game is then divided by the number of run or pass attempts that quarterback had to net the Eye in the Sky magic number.

The number you see here is the season total.

Here’s how the quarterbacks rank:

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