Six from Sunday: Long Sunday drives usually lead to good places

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Ten-plus play drives

There was no doubt that Week 7 games were loaded with extended drives of 10 plays or more. It is extremely difficult for a team to run 10-plus play drives without some form of self-destruction (penalties, turnovers, defensive stops), but many teams were able to overcome the normal obstacles and keep drives alive. It was a strong statement about how well offenses are functioning right now.

Last season, there were 728 drives of 10 plays or more, which turns out to be 24 per club for the whole season or 1 1/2 per game per team. That means the normal pace for 10-play drives in a weekend like we just watched would equate to 36 10-play drives around the league. This week the offenses outlasted the defenses with 48 drives of 10 plays or more. There were 20 drives that finished up with a touchdown, 20 drives that ended in a field goal and 8 drives that resulted in no points due to a missed field goal, downs or turnover. The only team in the league not to have at least one 10-play drive was Jacksonville. Dallas had an 18-play drive, the longest of the day, but it only resulted in a field goal. The Giants had three 10-plus drives in a row during the Redskins game.

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The Colts under the direction of rookie QB Andrew Luck started the game off with two long drives that resulted in 14 points and came back later on a 17-play drive for a field goal. New England put a 12-play drive together in overtime to beat the Jets, and now have the most 10-plus play drives (19) and the most points (76), but the Broncos are the most impressive scoring team off 10-play drives, scoring 100 percent of the 13 drives (72 points).

Backup running backs to the rescue

My mentor in the NFL was the late Dick Steinberg, and he would always say, "Keep in mind you never have enough running backs that can get the job done." Five teams went into Week 6 asking a backup running back to be as good as or better than the injured starter, and four of the five teams won their games without the starting running back.

I was impressed and the respective coaching staffs were pleased with the performance they got from guys who did not win the starting job to open the season. Jonathan Dwyer of the Steelers (17 touches, 122 yards), Vic Ballard of the Colts (21 touches, 103 yards), Felix Jones of the Cowboys (20 touches, 77 yards) and Alex Green of the Packers (24 touches, 64 yards) all contributed to wins. The best performance by starting backup didn't finish in a win but certainly wasn't the problem. That belonged to LaRod Stephens-Howling of the Cardinals (24 touches 149 yards, one TD). After an injury to Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashad Jennings pitched in with a solid performance (28 touches, 102 yards, one TD.)

Hasselbeck makes a difference

I know Titans head coach Mike Munchak said Jake Locker will return to the lineup as soon as he is healthy, but Matt Hasselbeck just led the team to a second victory in a row. The Titans have three wins, and that is as many as every team in the AFC looking for at least a wild-card slot. It reminds me of a time when I was at the Jets and we played the young quarterback (Browning Nagle) over the veteran (Ken O'Brien). O'Brien played a few games when Nagle was injured and we won but gave the starting job back to Nagle when he was healthy and wasted an opportunity to go to the playoffs in the name of player development. Locker is a lot better than our young QB ever was but the players wanted to win, and we lost sight of that. I'm not so sure the Titans aren't going to make the same mistake. Keep playing Hasselbeck until he proves he can't do it or he gets hurt. Right now the Titans are back in the playoff picture. Coach Munchak once said "we have two starting quarterbacks on the roster." I agree, just play the older one until further notice.

Teams heading in different directions

The Cardinals and the Ravens appear to be headed in the wrong direction while the Steelers, Titans, Packers, and Saints are climbing out of the early difficulties. This weekend there were no interconference games, which means there could be haunting consequences in tiebreaker situations later on based on the games played in Week 7. The Steelers played like a team that knows the Ravens have injury issues that make them reachable. The Cardinals have so many good parts to their football team but once again can't protect the quarterback. They have now surrendered 29 sacks and 40 hits on the QB in the last four games. Results that could come back to bite the losing team in a tiebreaker include the Titans over the Bills, Pittsburgh over the Bengals, Texans over the Ravens, Patriots over the Jets and 49ers over Seattle.

Shotgun quick ride pass

One play that quickly became a staple of the Redskins offense and showed up on a number of play selection cards around the league this past weekend is the shotgun ride fast pass. RG3 is great at getting in the shotgun/pistol formation (a running back behind him) and on the snap of the ball riding the running back into the line and really forcing the linebackers to step up into the run and the threat of the option by the QB. RG3 is so good at selling the run with the ride fake that the quick seam route by the tight end or slot receiver to the fake side is open. The beauty of the play is how fast RG3 can transition from the long fake to a fast throw. I watched a number of teams try with some success to run their own version of the play but all of the quarterbacks except Tom Brady have to work on the long fake and the quick pass.

Still a zero

A couple of things rang true this weekend about how tough the NFL is even for very good players. Ray Rice still hasn't rushed for a touchdown in five games against the Texans. Rice is a great player but it does say something about the Houston defense, 79 carries, 24 receptions and zero touchdowns. ... Andy Dalton is a terrific young quarterback but he is now 0-3 against the Steelers. ... Steve Smith is the heart and soul of the Panthers but he still has zero touchdown receptions in his 28 receptions this year. ... Unfortunately, Redskins tight end Fred Davis is done for the year after tearing his Achilles' tendon Sunday but he also ends the year with zero touchdown receptions. ... What do fine young running backs Daryl Richardson, Darren Sproles, Jonathan Dwyer, Alex Green and Vick Ballard have in common? None of them have rushed for a touchdown yet this year. ... Finally, defensive back Kyle Arrington of the Patriots tied for the 2011 league lead with seven interceptions and this year still has none.

Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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