Josh McDaniels is back with the New England Patriots as offensive coordinator.
With McDaniels calling the plays in 2007 and quarterback Tom Brady the triggerman, Brady broke the record for passing touchdowns in a season with 50.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski is fresh from making history himself in 2011 with 1,327 receiving yards and 17 touchdown receptions, both newly minted records for the position. Playing alongside Gronk is Aaron Hernandez, who finished second in the AFC in receiving yards by a tight end with 910 yards.
The aerial weapons at McDaniels’ disposal are intoxicating. Productive targets Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth are back. Brandon Lloyd had a career year with Denver in 2010 when McDaniels was the Broncos’ head coach. The combined accomplishments of New England's 11 receivers include five Pro Bowl selections, two All-Pro selections and five 1,000-yard seasons.
Yet despite all this success through the air, the Patriots will run more in 2012.
Of course, the Patriots are still going to sling the ball all over the field. Head coach Bill Belichick believes in playing to one’s strengths. And few teams can spread and pick apart a defense as well as New England.
But even with the receivers at McDaniels’ disposal, the precocious coach will use the run game generously.
Saying the Patriots will run more isn’t saying much. Last year, New England ran the ball 438 times (41 percent of its offensive plays), ranking 17th in the NFL.
In his five years as an offensive coordinator with the Patriots and St. Louis Rams, plus one full season as the Broncos’ head coach, all of McDaniels’ offenses ran the ball more:
The consistency of McDaniels’ use of the running game shows his desire to have a more balanced offense. For him, the personnel in the backfield doesn't matter—he will run the ball regardless of who is carrying it.
The two seasons the Patriots ran the ball 49 percent of the time stands out because of the difference between the units. In 2006, McDaniels basically split the carries between Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney.
When Brady tore his ACL and MCL in the 2008 season opener, McDaniels leaned on the run game to take the pressure off first-time starter Matt Cassel. Three running backs and Cassel had at least 70 carries that season.
With a stable consisting of second-year backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, third-down back Danny Woodhead, free agent Joseph Addai, rookie free agent Brandon Bolden and free-agent fullbacks Tony Fiammetta and Spencer Larsen, McDaniels can use the running backs like a one-two punch or by committee.
Three free-agent additions to the roster indicate a stronger desire to run the ball. Fiammetta and Larsen are the first fullbacks on the roster since Heath Evans was on the team in 2008.
New England also signed blocking tight end Daniel Fells. His arrival covers for offensive tackle Nate Solder, who often lined up as a third tight end during his rookie season. Solder is expected to become the full-time left tackle after Matt Light's retirement.
A better-balanced offense bodes well for New England. In their three Super Bowl-winning seasons, the Patriots ran the ball no less than 47 percent of the time. In the two Super Bowl losses, New England ran the ball 44 and 42 percent:
Increased attempts and more balance don't necessarily make the ground game better. They reflect better efficiency running the ball, and that’s the goal.
The Patriots want to be better at getting the tough yards. The ability to get the 3rd-and-2s or 4th-and-1s in the fourth quarter and impose their will on the opponent would raise the run game to another level.
That’s the kind of physical run game McDaniels hopes to develop in New England. Based on his career, he will certainly try.
Statistics from pro-football-reference.com and NFL.com. Questions? Comments? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.