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It hurts to be a running back

When Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham made the wrong cut on the grass field at Wembley Stadium last Sunday and his Achilles tendon popped, you sensed it was going to be a bad day for running backs.

Redskins halfback Tim Hightower blew out a knee. Beanie Wells of the Cardinals suffered another knee injury. Saints rookie back Mark Ingram limped to the locker room with a heel injury. Willis McGahee suffered a hand injury that required surgery. Darren McFadden of the Raiders was on crutches from a foot injury. The Cowboys, already down Felix Jones with a high ankle sprain, lost Tashard Choice with a shoulder injury. Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks had his back tighten up in warm-ups and couldn't play.

Even though teams are giving running backs fewer carries than in any time in NFL history, the injuries in the backfield are increasing. Clearly, this can be blamed on the lockout. Backs didn't get an offseason with trainers and teammates to get their bodies ready for the pounding.

By my count, running backs -- first- and second-teamers -- have lost 61 games in seven weeks because of injuries, and that number is going to soar because I'm not including the entire number of games lost to season-ending injuries to Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs, Hightower and Graham, which would add more than 30 missed games to the total.

With Cedric Benson scheduled to miss the Bengals' Week 8 game against the Seahawks because of a one-game suspension, 22 teams will have missed the services of one of their top two runners for at least a game.

After Sunday's 41-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans, Texans running back Arian Foster cited the need for a full training camp to prepare the body for the regular season. Foster pulled a hamstring when camp opened and didn't have a camp to prepare the body. He's one of seven backs who have missed games with hamstring injuries.

How these injuries will play into playoff races and rushing statistics this year will be interesting.

From the inbox

Q: 2011 began with a trend of throwing the football more. But the more the ball is being thrown, the more it is being intercepted. Why isn't this being analyzed? It seems every QB is throwing more INTs except for Aaron Rodgers. Is it me or does no one care since Eli Manning is not throwing the most yet? He threw 25 interceptions last year, and if you weren't watching the G-men play, the numbers look like he was the sole reason why Giants lost. No one is respecting Eli, yet Tom Brady and Drew Brees are throwing INTs and getting free passes. Why is that?

Hisham in Brooklyn, N.Y.

A: Maybe you are talking to the wrong guy here because I haven't changed my opinion on Manning. I still say he's an elite quarterback. Sure, the more you throw, the more passes are going to get picked. The trend toward throwing the football isn't going to change soon. Teams are scoring more and they are able to possess the football longer with the short passing game and mixing in some play-action passes. Interceptions in wins aren't as analyzed as interceptions in losses. Brees threw too many last year and took a little bit of heat for not winning the division and then losing in the playoffs. At the moment, the Saints look like the top team in the NFC South, so he's getting a pass. If Eli and the Giants win the division, he'll get his credit. If the Giants don't win the NFC East, though, a lot of Giants will be under the microscope.

Q: Isn't it a bit ridiculous that the NFL is enforcing post FG/PAT fouls (mainly personal fouls) on kickoffs when there is already such a high proliferation of touchbacks? It just seems to further emphasize that the foul is hardly a punishment to the offender.

James in Madison, Wis.

A: You make a good point. The thing that is bothering me is that the block-in-the-back penalties are negating long returns. Two touchdowns were called back for illegal blocks in the back Sunday. The one called on the Leon Washington return was wrong. Safety is one thing, but let's not get too quick with those whistles.

Q: In case you somehow haven't noticed, the Colts have been absolutely terrible this year. But the way they've been playing, I just can't convince myself that one player, no matter how good he is, could make enough of a difference to make this team palatable. I concede that, if Peyton Manning were playing, the Colts would at least have a win or two, but I still don't think that having him back would even bring the Colts up to decent.

Adam in East Lansing, Mich.

A: We all figured the loss of Manning could drop the Colts to around the four-to-six-win level, but anything lower than that could probably cost coach Jim Caldwell his job. Maybe the window was closing on the Colts even with Manning, but I still believe this team was constructed to win 10 to 12 games this year. Without Manning, the offense doesn't have a quarterback who can put enough points on the board. To save his job, Caldwell probably needs to win about four or five games down the stretch, and that might be tough.

Q: Am I insane for thinking that the Bengals could go .500 over the next six games and be looking at a possible run at the playoffs? They would have three winnable games in a row leading to a huge home matchup with the Ravens in Week 17. Can a good defense and an offense doing just enough to win get there?

Kyle in Columbus, Ohio

A: Everything depends on how they do in the games against the Ravens and Steelers. If they lose all four, they'll end up with a 1-5 or 2-4 record in AFC North games. They have a good chance of going 6-4 or 7-3 in the non-divisional games. They have winnable road games in Seattle and St. Louis and a winnable home game against Arizona Cardinals. They will probably have trouble in a road game at Tennessee and a home game against the Texans. But if they lose the four games to Pittsburgh and Baltimore, they will be no better than a seven-to-nine-win team.

Q: Do you think there will ever be another 2,000-yard rusher? It seems kind of unlikely, considering how the NFL is changing into a pass-happy league and workhorse backs seem to be a thing of the past. Thoughts?

Greg in Baltimore

A: You never say never and there is a chance the league could go to 18 games a few years from now. But under the 16-game model, it's getting harder and harder for that to happen. Only six backs a year average 20 carries a game. If a team pushes a back to the 25-carry-per-game threshold, it realizes the added workload could slow him down in future years. In Tennessee, people are starting to wonder if Chris Johnson's 2,000-yard season is one of the reasons he's struggling this year. Teams are lessening the loads of workhorse backs. Plus, teams are running the ball only 42 percent of time. Never say never, but it's going to take a special back to get to 2,000.

Q: People are blaming the high passing yardage totals on defenses being handcuffed with league rules. My take on the high passing yardage is simply the kickoff change. More teams are having to drive 80 yards more often in a game. If you give Brady, Brees, Rogers, Rivers and others more opportunities with more field to cover, the ball is going to fly and yards are going to multiply. Is it possible the league knew the kickoff change would increase offensive production? After all, offense sells tickets.

Matthew in Batesville, Ind.

A: With more yards to navigate, I, like you, anticipated more passing yards because of kickoffs being moved to the 35-yard line. What I didn't expect was this much of an increase in scoring, though the numbers are coming down a little. What started as 47-point games have dropped into the 44-point range, which is still good. Colder weather will cut down on the number of touchbacks, so we'll see how that will impact things. I can't imagine the league anticipating more scoring with the kickoff rule. It knew there would be fewer returns for touchdowns. Based on last year, that would have taken a half-point per game out of the mix. Let's give it the whole season to see how it plays out. I still like kickoffs at the 30, though.

Q: I've harped on you pretty badly about my Buffalo Bills, and one question you hadn't answered still lingers: Has Chan Gailey changed the culture in Buffalo enough to really start to bring the organization back to prominence?

Bills fan

A: Gailey has turned pessimism into optimism and that is a change toward the positive. I was thinking anything around six wins would be progress, but now the Bills have a chance at an eight- or nine-win season, which is great progress. The offense is exciting. The defense is better. Fans have to be excited. All of this may not translate into a playoff season, but at least the Bills are in the hunt now and they will get better next year under Gailey.

Q: Supposing Andy Dalton keeps playing as well as he has, what positions do the Bengals shore up with their high draft picks? Corner and running back?

Adam in Cincinnati

A: With the loss of Johnathan Joseph to free agency, cornerback moves to the top of the list. It's good they paid Leon Hall. Defensive end is another need. You can never have enough good pass-rushing defensive ends. I still think they can get a few more years out of Cedric Benson, but looking for a back in the third or fourth round would be good. They still need help along the offensive line. But the better Dalton does, the better the Bengals will be for now and years ahead.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter
@ClaytonESPN