RB Cadillac Williams runs with power, which has made him an effective threat in rugged road games this year
Shaun Alexander leads the NFL in rushing; Edgerrin James is tops in the AFC.
When it comes to total yards from scrimmage – combining rushing and receiving – Tiki Barber is your man, although James is close.
Want to get the ball in the end zone? That's Alexander's territory again, though LaDainian Tomlinson might be the surest bet on any given weekend. The league's leading rusher in the second half? Larry Johnson.
But if your team is about to play a critical game on the road and you want to make sure you have an effective running game, your best choice this season would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Cadillac Williams.
At least, that's what the per-game numbers say. Of all the ground-gainers in the NFL – and there are phenomenal running back seasons unfolding in Seattle, Indy, San Diego, New York, Kansas City, Atlanta and several other cities – none has been as consistently effective in road games as the Bucs' rookie out of Auburn.
Here are the top five rushers in the NFL in terms of yards gained per road game:
|1. Cadillac Williams||Tampa Bay||108.3|
|2. Shaun Alexander||Seattle||104.5|
|3. LaDainian Tomlinson||San Diego||104.0|
|4. Edgerrin James||Indianapolis||101.1|
|5. Larry Johnson||Kansas City||98.3|
Is there something special in airplane food that fuels the Cadillac? Probably not. It may just be a matter of opportunity. Williams had the most productive three-game start to a career in NFL history, rushing for 434 yards, and two of those three contests on the road. When he was suffering from a foot injury or rounding back into shape after his return, the Bucs played home games against the Lions, Dolphins, Panthers and Redskins, and those last two opponents have very strong run defenses.
Williams certainly enjoys running in front of the home crowd, as he did when he carried the ball 24 times for 128 yards against Buffalo in his first regular-season game at Raymond James Stadium.
Still, it's clear that he doesn't shrink from the challenge when the Bucs are in a hostile environment. In fact, if one removes the game at San Francisco, in which he was clearly at less than 100% in his first game back from the injury, rushing just 13 times for 20 yards, Williams has averaged 126.0 rushing yards in his other five road games.
"I think it's three factors really," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "Talent, number one. He's really talented. Number two, we've given him the ball a lot. We've given him 20 looks or, plus 20 looks a game. He's had opportunities to get yards. And we are blocking pretty good. We are blocking good up front. Those are the three things that I would attribute it to."
Williams' next road challenge is a tough one, playing the NFL's 11th-ranked rush defense on what could be a very cold and wet day at Gillette Stadium on Saturday. And, actually, the New England Patriots are quite a bit better than that number-11 ranking would indicate; since a number of injured players have returned, the Patriots have improved from 27th against the run to 11th in just five weeks. Their last five opponents have compiled an average of 66.2 rushing yards per game.
The Bucs will have to overcome that Patriot defense with their own solid blocking. The weather, however, shouldn't be a problem for the eager rookie. It's not as if Williams is just a slasher who can't pound it out.
"He has not seen snow before, but he hasn't been asking many questions," said quarterback Chris Simms. "He'll be fine either way. He's good on a fast track, or he can be a mudder, too. He'll be alright.
"I think the thing that surprises me most of all is just the power he runs with. He does a great job, and something that may just look like a one-or-two yard run, he just lowers his head and drags people for three, or four, or five yards, and that's what's been so impressive to me."
Williams won't even need to get to his usual road average to reach another milestone on Saturday. Just 76 rushing yards will put him at 1,000 for the season, making him just the second rookie in team history to reach that mark (also Errict Rhett, 1,011 in 1994). That was one of Williams' goals for the season, but a greater one would involve even more opportunities to perform away from home.
"Of course [it was a goal]," he said. "It was to get well over 1,000 yards. I think every player's ultimate goal is to play in the Super Bowl, and that's my biggest goal."
The Buccaneers made no changes to their injury report on Thursday, meaning defensive tackle Anthony McFarland remains doubtful for Saturday's game.
McFarland did not practice on Thursday. Kicker Matt Bryant, who is probable with a hamstring injury, did not kick either, but that was by design. Bryant followed his normal weekly pattern by resting on Thursday after kicking heavily on Wednesday.
"We gave him today off," said Gruden. "We expect him to be able to kick but we'll reserve judgment until game day. He'll go out early again and kick some balls, and if he's ready to go, he'll go."
The weather conditions at Gillette Stadium will not have any bearing on whether Bryant or Todd France is the kicker on Saturday.
"No, it's just how his [pregame] workout goes," said Gruden. "He'll have plenty of kicks. I think he kicked 394 balls before he gave us the final verdict last Sunday. He'll let us know. He'll kick the ball, he'll get a feel for the footing and all that good stuff, but we expect him to kick. He kicked well this week."
A Loss in the Family: Nick Bisaccia (1931-2005)
Nick M. Bisaccia, father of Buccaneers Special Teams Coach Rich Bisaccia, died on Wednesday in a New Fairfield, Connecticut hospital. He was 74.
Nick Bisaccia, a U.S. Army Korean War veteran, and a widower since the passing of his wife, Annette, four years ago to the day, was a frequent visitor to Buccaneer headquarters. He made many friends at One Buccaneer Place.
"He spent a lot of time here and he was a friend to the family," said Gruden, who passed on the team's condolences to the whole Bisaccia family. "So this is a crushing blow for us. But we'll keep pounding the rock and celebrate his life and try to bring Rich's spirits up."
Mr. Bisaccia was born on July 21, 1931 in Yonkers, N.Y., and was the son of the late Nicola and Concetta (Malacarne) Bisaccia.
He was a New Fairfield, Connecticut resident for the past 39 years, prior to that residing in Yonkers, N.Y. He was employed and a member of Teamsters Union Local 456 and was a member of the New Fairfield Lions Club and also received the Kelvin Jones Fellow Award in 1995 for Dedicated Humanitarian Services, Lions Club International.
In addition to Rich and his wife Jeanne, Nick Bisaccia is survived by five daughters, 17 beloved grandchildren, three sisters, two brothers, and several nieces and nephews.
Rich Bisaccia will attend services for his father on Sunday and Monday in Fairfield but will be with the Buccaneers in Foxborough for their game against the Patriots on Saturday.