Where have the NFL's elite running backs gone?

Darren McFadden celebrates during Oakland's win over the Jets on Sunday. (AFP)

Darren McFadden celebrates during Oakland's win over the Jets on Sunday. (AFP)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:51 PM ET

TORONTO - It would appear the running game, outside of a few NFL markets, is no longer in style.

Up the road in Buffalo, Fred Jackson has been as good as anyone eluding tackles and making gains. Darren McFadden in Oakland has been equally effective. Even Ben Tate, filling in for Arian Foster, had been over 100 yards per game all season until he slipped with 82 this past week.

But what of Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Rashard Mendenhall and Michael Turner to name a few.

Peterson remains up there among the league’s leading rushers, but in two out of three games, the Vikings have barely used him in the second half. Both times it came back to bite the Vikes in the backside as big leads evaporated and became losses.

Johnson all of a sudden finds himself in a passing offence with Matt Hasselbeck taking the reins and getting the Titans to 2-1. Paying Johnson what the Titans are ($56 million) we don’t believe it will stay that way, but right now he’s only averaging just over 15 carries a game, although his 2.1 yards per carry suggests that reduced workload is justified.

Mendenhall, who used to carry the Steelers on his back, has just three carries more than Johnson this season.

In Chicago, Forte only lines up in the backfield as a decoy or to block. He has had just 35 carries while being targeted as a receiver 28 times.

Even Jay Cutler, the guy you would expect would be thrilled with the added opportunities to throw the ball realizes there has to be a balance. In Cutler’s case, it’s as much about self-preservation as anything. With his offensive line, that admittedly improved this week but was porous in the first two games, Cutler is taking the kind of heavy shots that can add up and eventually shorten a season for a QB.

This is what Cutler told the Chicago Tribune after Sunday’s loss to Green Bay in which Chicago ran the ball all of 12 times in the entire game.

“We didn’t run the ball really at all. (The Packers) were dropping eight, nine guys,” Cutler said. “We’re 0-2 doing this, so it’s not looking really good.”

Any team that becomes too one-dimensional (pass without the run or vice versa) becomes a predictable offence and defences load up to stop that one dimension. Stay balanced and you keep a defence guessing so they can’t load up one way or the other.

Even Michael Turner, a bull of a running back if ever there was one, has seen his carries go from an average of 20 a game last year for the full season to just 14 a game in the first three this year.

Maybe that explains Atlanta’s unflattering 1-2 record.

TOO QUICK ON VICK

That rush to diagnose Michael Vick’s swollen right hand (his non-throwing hand) turned out to be a bad idea.

The Philadelphia Eagles revealed yesterday imaging tests conducted Monday showed there is no break. It’s merely a bruise.

Head coach Andy Reid told reporters it was a blood vessel sitting above the bone that appeared to be the break on Sunday.

Vick took the opportunity to complain about the lack of protection he’s getting from the referees compared to other quarterbacks in the league. He was saying the late hits that draw flags for everyone else go uncalled when they happen to him.

Vick may have an argument there, but from this vantage point it appears to be more a case of his own offensive line that has let him down.

PAINT BY NUMBERS

Curtis Painter may or may not have played himself into a job where he actually has to work. Peyton Manning’s backup and more recently backup to Kerry Collins saw his first action since his rookie year in 2009 on Sunday night when he came in for the concussed Collins.

Painter was just OK, but that was still a step up from Collins, who was awful.

Now management says it is keeping all options open for next Monday night’s start in Tampa Bay and that applies whether Collins is available or not. Painter looked very rusty on his first couple of series missing a wide open Pierre Garcon that would have definitely gone for a touchdown.

But he did rally the Colts for a game-tying touchdown drive so he has at least earned some of whatever stipend the Colts are paying him.

This is a guy who when Manning is healthy doesn’t even take snaps in practice because Peyton wants them all to himself.

THIRD AND SHORT

With Cedric Benson appealing his three-game suspension, the Cincinnati Bengals are in need of some running back depth. Former Chief, Larry Johnson, who was cut twice by Miami, is expected to workout for the Bengals on Tuesday ... C’mon Jim Irsay, make up your mind. Irsay told a room full of Super Bowl donors early Monday that Manning would not play this season. A little later Irsay took to twitter and suggested there was still a chance he could come back in December ... The Houston Texans are breathing a little easier today. Texans head coach Gary Kubiak told reporters in his Monday press briefing that Mario Williams is merely day-to-day after tweaking his knee in Sunday’s loss in New Orleans. There were concerns this could be a long-term injury ... Max Starks, cut earlier by the Pittsburgh Steelers who weren’t happy with his weight, is suddenly a man in high demand. The Vikings had him working out on Monday but the Steelers, who saw both tackles leave the game with injuries, are also on the lookout for any veteran offensive line help they can find ... As expected Titans WR Kenny Britt has a torn ACL and is done for the year.


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