Week 9: Drop-off at running back

You knew at some point the attrition at running back was going to have an impact on games.

In Week 9, running backs took a step back. Arian Foster of the Houston Texans left a 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles with a groin injury and only 56 yards on 15 carries. The Dallas Cowboys' DeMarco Murray had his eight-game streak of 100-yard games broken in a 28-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. In a 22-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't have Doug Martin or Charles Sims, who was activated off injured reserve Saturday. Ryan Mathews (San Diego), Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati) and Montee Ball (Denver) were inactive. Adrian Peterson remains on the commissioner's exempt list.

As a result, Week 9 had only three backs with 100-yard games. Mark Ingram had 100 yards for the New Orleans Saints on Thursday. The Cincinnati Bengals' Jeremy Hill had 154 in a 33-23 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. LeSean McCoy had 117 for Philadelphia.

Here is what we learned in Week 9.

1. Brady trumps Manning, again: Peyton Manning might end up with all the NFL passing records, but Brady continues to have the edge in the most important stats. He's 11-5 against Manning in head-to-head matchups, including 8-2 in Foxborough following the New England Patriots' 43-21 blowout victory over the Denver Broncos. Brady has three Super Bowl rings to Manning's one. More importantly, this year, the victory gives Brady and the Patriots a tie-breaking edge for a possible No. 1 seed if both teams end up with the same record.

Once again, Patriots coach Bill Belichick put his defenders in the right positions to get interceptions. Manning threw two picks -- one in each half. But it's Brady who deserves the most praise. He burned the Broncos' defense for 333 yards and four touchdowns. Manning ended up with more yards (438), but the game was one-sided after the first quarter.

2. Jim Harbaugh's offense has lost its personality: Harbaugh took the San Francisco 49ers to three consecutive NFC championships and one Super Bowl with a simple philosophy that worked at Stanford -- run the football. He put together one of the best offensive lines in the game and loaded up the handoffs to Frank Gore. That philosophy came undone Sunday. In a 13-10 loss to St. Louis, the 49ers' offensive line gave up eight sacks. But the play that defined San Francisco's problems came on a second-and-goal at the Rams' 1-yard line with 14 seconds left. Instead of calling a power run, QB Colin Kaepernick tried to execute a play-action pass to Frank Gore. Incomplete. On the next play, Kaepernick fumbled, and the Rams recovered.

The 49ers' season is already at a crossroads. They are 4-4 and three games behind Arizona in the NFC West, and they have a tough road game Sunday in New Orleans. If Harbaugh can't fix the problems in a week, the chances of the 49ers making the playoffs will be slim. If that's the case, Harbaugh won't get the contract extension he is seeking, and he could be on another team next year.

A few weeks ago, Gore hinted at frustration that the team was shifting emphasis away from him and the running game. That was the case Sunday. Gore had 14 carries; Carlos Hyde had only two. The 49ers had 21 runs compared to 41 dropbacks -- eight of which ended in sacks. Running backs gained only 12 more yards (66) than Kaepernick lost in sacks.

"We didn't have enough good football to win the game," Harbaugh said. "Now we've got to suck it up."

3. Eagles win battle of attrition: When he was at Oregon, Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly perfected an offensive scheme designed to wear down and exhaust opponents. Tempo and depth were the keys to Sunday's victory in Houston. In the first five minutes of the game, the Texans lost cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph (concussion) and Kareem Jackson (knee) to injuries. Seeing backups going against his top three receivers, Kelly attacked deep early. Jeremy Maclin caught a 59-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter and a 52-yard completion that set up the Eagles' second touchdown.

"That's the nature of the game," Kelly said in acknowledging he altered his game plan to attack the depleted Houston secondary. "We lost some, they lost some, so you got to plug and see how you hold up."

Kelly had his own problems. Starting quarterback Nick Foles was lost early in the second quarter with a possible broken collarbone. Guard Todd Herremans suffered an ankle injury. Later, linebacker DeMeco Ryans suffered what turned out to be a blown Achilles tendon. Kelly masked his problems with Mark Sanchez and more backup blockers for an offensive line that's been battered with injuries.

No doubt, his scheme and play calling helped against the Texans. Sanchez's first pass was the 52-yarder to Maclin. "If [Chip] was a basketball coach, he'd have you come off the bench and shoot three-pointers," Sanchez said.

Kelly didn't drop off the tempo, which calls for a snap before 12 or 13 seconds come off the 40-second clock. The plan is to wear out a defense. By the third quarter, the gas tanks of the Texans' defenders started to reach empty. Already missing Jadeveon Clowney and Brian Cushing, the Texans were struggling to tackle backs, so Kelly kept calling runs. Late in the third quarter, the Eagles had a 70-yard touchdown drive on four running plays that ate up only 84 seconds of the clock. That was the game.

"One of the things we do best is play with tempo," halfback McCoy said. "It wears out teams."

The Eagles ran 79 plays for 483 yards and held the ball for 32:13. The Eagles will probably be missing Foles for an indefinite period of time and Ryans for the season, but they still have depth and tempo.

4. Amazing changes atop the NFC: Going into the season, the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco were favored to be the top seeds in the NFC. At midseason, it's Arizona followed by Philadelphia, Detroit and Dallas.

With QB Tony Romo sitting out because of two small fractures in his back, it's no surprise the Cowboys lost to Arizona 28-17. The Cardinals' run blitz ended Murray's streak of 100-yard games. He had 79 yards on 19 carries.

What's amazing is how quickly the Cowboys could drop in the NFC playoff race. They were sitting comfortably at 6-1 and eyeing a possible No. 1 seed. Now, with losses at home to Washington and Arizona, the road to the playoffs lengthened for Jerry Jones' team. Believe it or not, the Cowboys have already exhausted six of their eight home games. Although next Sunday's game against 1-8 Jacksonville in London should be an easy win, the Cowboys' ship has holes. In addition to Romo, the Cowboys aren't sure about knee injuries to linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford.

What also became clear Sunday is the team took a step back at backup quarterback with Brandon Weeden. The Cardinals stacked the box against the run and played single high safety. Cornerback Patrick Peterson limited Dez Bryant to two catches and 15 yards. Worse, Weeden got the ball to wide receivers only six times, despite targeting them 20 times.

5. Chargers in a tailspin: After six weeks, Philip Rivers was an early favorite for MVP. Since then, the San Diego Chargers have dropped three in a row, and Sunday's 37-0 loss to Miami has to be a major concern. The loss was doubly bad for the Chargers. First, they lost a tie-breaker to Miami in the wild-card race. Second, the Chargers let the Kansas City Chiefs move ahead of them for second place in the AFC West.

"I was terrible," Rivers said. "When the quarterback was terrible, it's hard to win."

Rivers couldn't go anything against the Dolphins. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he missed on six attempts longer than 15 yards and was intercepted twice. He had completed 49.3 percent of those types of throws going into the game.

At 5-4, the Chargers are now looking up at a Kansas City team that gets enough out of its quarterback. Alex Smith threw for only 199 yards against the New York Jets in a 24-10 victory. He didn't do anything spectacular. His only long completion was 34 yards to tight end Travis Kelce. His longest completion to a wide receiver was 13 yards. For the season, he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. Average was good enough.


Houston's Foster threw his helmet to the ground after suffering a groin injury in the second half against Philadelphia. Texans coach Bill O'Brien is hopeful the bye week will give Foster enough time to recover. ... It is a surprise Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is taking running back Joseph Randle to London Monday. Randle angered his teammates by making a negative comment about Dez Bryant and his mother and got into a spat with defensive tackle Josh Brent. Coach Jason Garrett used Randle more on special teams than in the offense Sunday. He had one carry for 2 yards. On other teams, Randle would probably have been cut. ... Michael Vick was efficient in his Jets starting debut and went 21-of-28 for 196 yards with no turnovers, an improvement from the Geno Smith turnover machine. But the offense scored only twice in 24-10 loss to Kansas City. By the way, the Jets are the first team since 1940 to have only three takeaways in the first nine games. ... Even though the Redskins lost to the Vikings, QB Robert Griffin III made a good step forward. Sure, he was sacked five times and had an interception, but he completed 18 passes for 251 yards and recovered from the pregame bus ride crash. "A lot of guys had their lives flash before their eyes," he said.