Very good points!
What's wrong with LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson? Simple answer: Nothing. They're fine. The problems are the people around them.
Tomlinson and Johnson ranked 1-2 last year in rushing, Tomlinson with 1,815 yards and Johnson with 1,789. Both were unstoppable. Johnson surpassed 100 yards 11 times, Tomlinson 10 times.
So now both are off to slow starts, and we're starting to hear whispers about their decline in ability under the weight of huge workloads the last few years.
Three weeks in, Tomlinson has just 130 yards, and Johnson just 140. They have -- by far -- the two lowest rushing averages in the NFL among backs with 50 or more carries, Tomlinson at 2.3, Johnson at 2.8. Nobody else is under 3.1.
So what's the problem? Are they breaking down physically? Are they injured? Are they washed up?
Not at all. They're just both the victims of some major changes around them. And by the time the season ends, both will have some respectable numbers. Maybe not 1,700 or 1,800 yards like last year, but both will rebound.
Let's look first at Tomlinson.
In past years, the Chargers have found ways to beat eight-man fronts by getting the football down the field. But new head coach Norv Turner and first-year offensive coordinator Clarence Selmon have not yet been able to do what deposed Marty Schottenheimer and his offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, had no trouble doing. The old regime found ways to go vertical, getting the ball to the outside receivers, forcing teams to respect the Chargers' passing game, thereby unclogging the line of scrimmage and opening up some room for Tomlinson to get in space and do his thing.
Philip Rivers is completing 70 percent of his passes, but he's averaging just 9.1 yards per completion -- about 20 percent less than last year and the 24th-highest figure in the league. And the San Diego wide receivers have just 21 receptions all year, none longer than 27 yards. Until the Chargers find a way to extend the field, defenses won't respect Rivers and the passing game, and Tomlinson will continue to find dead ends when he gets the ball.
The Chargers have also faced three very good defenses, but their schedule gets much easier starting this weekend. Six of the Chargers' last 13 games are against division rivals Denver, Oakland and Kansas City, who rank 29th, 22nd and 18th against the run. That's six chances for Tomlinson to beef up his numbers. Late-season opponents Detroit and Jacksonville are also bottom-10 run defenses.
Johnson is facing a similar problem. Like Tomlinson, he's getting no help. But for Johnson, the problems originate right in front of him, with the Chiefs' patchwork offensive line.
A couple years ago, the Chiefs had one of the NFL's finest offensive lines. But future Hall of Famer Willie Roaf retired after the 2005 season, future Hall of Famer Will Shields retired after last season, steady Jordan Black signed with the Texans, and the Chiefs just haven't made the moves to replace them.
The current line?
Right tackle Kyle Turley was out of the league in 2004 and 2005 and has a chronic bad back. Right guard John Welbourn has been suspended twice by the NFL for positive banned substance tests. Center Casey Wiegmann is 34. Left guard Brian Waters is solid, but left tackle Damion McIntosh had knee surgery in August and is still not 100 percent.
This is the group assigned to forge holes for Johnson to run through? No wonder he's averaging 2 ½ yards a pop.
But Johnson will rebound. The Chiefs, like the Chargers, have faced three dominant run defenses. Kansas City faces only four top-10 rush defenses the rest of the year -- the Chargers twice, the Packers and the Titans.
A year ago, Johnson averaged 71 yards the first five games, then 130 the last 11.
A year ago, Tomlinson averaged 79 yards the first six games, then 122 the last 10.
They both tend to get stronger as the season goes along, and before long, they'll both transform back into the LT and LJ we're accustomed to seeing.
BY THE NUMBERS
With Kevin Curtis (221 yards) and Roy Williams (204 yards) both surpassing 200 receiving yards, the Eagles-Lions game was the first in NFL history with two 200-yard receivers. Curtis and Brian Westbrook (221 total yards of offense) also became the first teammates in 42 years to surpass 200 yards in the same game -- and they did it in the same half. The only other 200-yard tandem was Raiders receiver Art Powell (247 yards) and running back Clem Daniels (234), who both surpassed 200 yards on Dec. 22, 1963, in the Raiders' 52-49 win over the Oilers at Frank Youell Field in Oakland. That was an AFL game whose stats were absorbed by the NFL when the leagues merged.
defenses around the league are toughening up against the run. you see it on all the games. i mean look at LT, & LJ they are not running those 100 yd games because defenses know thats what their game plan is. so the defenses are getting their gameplans and sticking to it. i mean look at REGGIE BUSH too, he's not getting that many yards because teams already know they plan on running the ball, so they prepare for it. i mean this might be the year of the wide receivers, who knows.