Running games could lead the way

Hoge takes a look at the running games of the remaining teams in the playoffs.

Updated: January 13, 2005, 3:39 PM ET
By Merril Hoge | ESPN Insider
Merril Hoge takes a look at the running games of the remaining teams in the playoffs. He dissects what they need to do to be successful and make it to their respective championship games.


Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers possess one of the most physically dominating running games the NFL has seen since the Miami Dolphins had Larry Csonka punishing people in the '70s. Steelers' running backs Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis just pound the opposition. Both backs seek out the hit and deliver it before the defender is able to get ready for it. That demoralizes a defender and after a while the defense starts to shy away from contact. That's the sort of thing that can destroy opposing teams because if they are afraid to hit then they can't honestly believe they can win. Taking away the physical and mental aspect of the game enabled the Steelers to go 15-1 this season.

New England Patriots: The offseason acquisition of running back Corey Dillon gave the Patriots the solid, consistent running game that they had been missing over the past few seasons. He's had a great season rushing for 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing the midseason matchup against the Steelers. It's no surprise that the Patriots only lost one game all season with Dillon on the field. He gives quarterback Tom Brady another option and takes pressure off Brady because of his ability to block incoming blitzers. Dillon has given the Pats the explosive back that they needed to stop teams from keying in on Brady.

Former NFL fullback Merril Hoge is an analyst for a wide variety of NFL programs on television and ESPN Radio. An eight-year NFL veteran, Hoge spent 1987-93 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and joined ESPN in 1996.