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Saddam and great running backs

Join Jaguars Inside Report Senior Editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Jonathan from King George, VA:
How many red-zone passing touchdowns has Leftwich produced this year?

Vic: He has thrown five red-zone touchdown passes.

Vince from Stafford, VA:
A short while ago, you responded to a question about how the 1960s and early 1970s were a very physical type of game compared to today. I certainly would agree with that. You also mentioned that offenses ran the ball so much more than today, so it was a bit unfair to compare today's QBs with those of that era. My question is, since RBs got more touches back then, shouldn't the achievements of today's runners with fewer carries be considered greater achievements?

Vic: Your logic is not taking two things into account: 1.) Because there is so much more passing in today's game, it follows that there are a lot more plays. Play count is way up from 30 years ago. If you look at the play count of teams in 1977, you'll see that it shot up dramatically the following year when the rules changes that modernized the game were implemented. When comparing rushing stats from this season to 1973, there's a difference of about 5-8 more rushing attempts per game in '73. Now here's the second thing you have to take into account: 2.) Men have their physical limitations. Thirty carries a game was a lot back then, too. So teams in the '70s, for example, used more running backs. For example, the Dolphins had Csonka, Kiick and Morris, and they all got a lot of carries. Teams back then ran from "split backs." They didn't rely as much on one guy, as today's game does. So, when you compare the true feature backs of today's game to the feature backs of 30 years ago, you're basically talking about the same number of carries. The big difference is in their rushing averages. Before the rules changes, professional football was a game played in a condensed area. Its yardage totals are laughable compared to today's standards. It was truly a between-the-tackles game back then. Today's game spreads the field and running backs are used as much more than battering rams. As a result, they have been provided a much larger stage on which to express their skills, and that has translated into some fantastic rushing averages you didn't see during the "condensed" era. Clinton Portis is averaging 5.5 yards per carry, Jamal Lewis is averaging 5.2, and Deuce McAllister and LaDainian Tomlinson are each averaging 5.0. Those are sensational averages for workhorse running backs. Here's the bottom line: The great running backs of today could play in any era, and the same can be said of the great backs from the '60s and '70s. What do you think Gale Sayers would've done in today's game? What era isn't right for Jim Brown or O.J. Simpson? Lenny Moore was actually the prototype back of today. Jamal Lewis and Ricky Williams would've fit perfectly in the old game. Great players are great players in any era, and today's game is loaded with great running backs. The point I was originally trying to make was that it was unfair to compare the stats of receivers from 30 years ago to the numbers today's pass-catchers are posting, simply because today's teams are throwing twice as many passes a game. For example, St. Louis is averaging more than 37 passes a game. Thirty years ago, teams averaged about 20 passes a game. But in the running game, the numbers aren't as dramatically different.

Josh from Pittsburgh, PA:
I think you must have had too much holiday eggnog because you said Yancey Thigpen was one of the best receivers in the league. Come on, Vic, Yancey couldn't even start in NFL Europe or XFL with his "great" skills. Please lay off the holiday eggnog, Vic!

Vic: Josh, big steel left the 'Burgh a long time ago. The air is clear. You can open your eyes now. And when you do, you might want to take a look at the Steelers record book. What you'll find is that Yancey Thigpen holds the team record for most yards receiving in a season, 1,398 in 1997. He's third in Steelers history for catches in a season; 85 in 1995. In fact, Thigpen's name is all over the Steelers record book, which also happens to include a couple of wide receivers named Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. What about Swann and Stallworth, Josh? Just guys, too? The Titans thought enough of Thigpen's skills to give him one of the richest free-agent wide-receiver contracts in NFL history.

Javier from Hammonton, NJ:
Hey, Vic, whenever kicker Seth Marler is mentioned, all I hear about is this "pooch kick" strategy. What is a "pooch kick" and why are the Jaguars using it?

Vic: A "pooch kick" is intended to be a high lob between the first and second lines of the kickoff-return team. The idea is that the kick will be high enough that the coverage team will race under it and tackle the receiver before he has a chance to run with the ball. I don't know what you might call Seth Marler's kicks Sunday in New England. How about not good enough?

Mike from Jacksonville:
Alan seems like a volunteer guy. He can collect the money and I'll organize everything and be the guy with a beer belly and no shirt in Green Bay next year. Let's vote me or Alan for president!

Vic: It's Alan and those interested in forming an "Ask Vic" travel club may e-mail Alan at

Dave from London, Ontario:
What happens if Christmas Day is a Sunday? Does the NFL continue with its regular games or do they move it a week and consider it a bye week for every team?

Vic: The first thing the NFL schedule-maker does is find out what day Christmas and New Year's fall on. If they fall on Sunday, there are a couple of options: The start of the regular season can be moved up so that it ends the weekend before Christmas, or Sunday's games can be moved ahead one day to Christmas Eve. The NFL has never played a full slate of regular-season games on Christmas. It has played postseason games on Christmas, however. The Dolphins-Chiefs longest-game-ever playoff game was played on Dec. 25, 1971.

Don from Jacksonville:
Vic, I have the utmost respect for your honesty and integrity but I must ask: Was Brunell's turf burn serious enough to keep him from playing all those games we lost this year?

Vic: Mark Brunell sustained much more than an artificial turf burn. His elbow, the actual bone itself, came through the skin. The first danger was the risk of staph infection. That's what kept him out of the next game. But the wound wouldn't heal because the bursa sac remained in a state of inflammation. That necessitated surgery in early October, and that's why Mark Brunell missed all of those games. With all of that said, let's also not kid ourselves. At some point this season, Byron Leftwich was going to take over at quarterback, and it was going to happen no later than as soon as the Jaguars fell out of playoff contention.

Dexter from Palm Coast, FL:
I noticed the Pats used the visitors' side of the field Sunday. Are they the only team that does that in the NFL (just like Tennessee in college)? And why?

Vic: It's only the visitors' side if you're standing on the home side.

Ben from Nijfa, Rwanda:
You wrote: "Belichick was clearly playing on the capture of Saddam Hussein." The U.S. caught Saddam? When did this happen?

Vic: broke the story Sunday morning.

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