The passing game is ahead of the running game this season. Dramatically.
LaDainian Tomlinson, the NFL’s top running back this decade, is averaging a mere 2.3 yards a carry. Larry Johnson, who has outrushed Tomlinson the past two years, is averaging 2.8.
Young backs Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore, Steven Jackson, Reggie Bush, Julius Jones and Ronnie Brown are all averaging less than 3.5. So is Rudi Johnson, who produced just 9 yards on 17 carries last week.
Meanwhile, star receivers are off to a fast start. Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, Steve Smith, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Santana Moss, Donald Driver, Plaxico Burress, Joey Galloway and Randy Moss are averaging at least 15 yards a catch with at least a dozen catches each.
Why the discrepancy early in the season?
Yes, it is certainly easier to pass in September than it will be in the rain of November and chill of December. But simply, more quarterbacks are in a groove — and that doesn’t even take into consideration the prevalence of shotgun and four-receiver formations.
Whether because of new connections (Tom Brady-Randy Moss) or old (Carson Palmer-Chad Johnson), quarterbacks are throwing more efficiently, completing 62.4 percent of passes league-wide compared to last year’s impressive 59.8 percentage. In 2006, 23 quarterbacks had 300-yard games. This year, 16 already have done so, a list that doesn’t include Drew Brees, the leading passer of 2006.
Receivers are also ahead of last year’s pace. In 2006, 16 players had at least 150 yards in a game. This year, eight have done so, with Chad Johnson, Kevin Curtis and Roy Williams already posting 200-yard afternoons.
Compare those statistics to the league’s rushing numbers.
Last year, 17 backs ran for at least 150 yards in a game. So far this year, only Jamal Lewis, Chris Brown and LaMont Jordan have topped even 140.
A season after Tomlinson rushed for a record 28 touchdowns and two years after Shaun Alexander had 27, the two MVPs have combined for three. Only a handful of rushers have more than two.
Those numbers figure to get worse before they get better.
Deuce McAllister is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Jackson is out at least a week with a partial groin tear. Alexander has a cracked bone in his wrist. Brian Westbrook is day-to-day with an abdominal strain.
And of course, Oakland’s Jordan and Cleveland’s Lewis don’t get to face each other’s lousy defenses again.