Breaking Down the New England Patriots' Underrated Running Game
How do you make a quarterback like Tom Brady even more effective? Give him a consistent and explosive running game.
Their ability to quickly get their plays off and to run the ball against favorable looks has helped the Patriots offense be a more well-rounded unit than we have seen in some time.
Brady said after the game (per Patriots.com):
We’re just trying to put a lot of pressure on those guys to get their calls in and line up and play against us. We’re running the ball against some very advantageous looks and we’re throwing the ball against some advantageous looks and I think the important part is to be able to do both. You can’t just throw it all day. You can’t run it all day. You have to be able to do both. It’s been pretty good the last few weeks.
Yes, I would consider the "where on earth are we supposed to be lining up?" defense to be an advantageous look for a running play—or any play for that matter.
The tempo helped New England execute on some of its biggest runs, including a 19-yard scamper by running back Stevan Ridley in the third quarter.
After an incomplete pass to tight end Daniel Fells, the Patriots wasted little time getting back to the line of scrimmage (20 seconds real time). They wasted even less time getting the snap off after they got there, almost immediately after the line was set.
They were so fast, in fact, that it's plain to see the Broncos defense was not ready for the play; several of their linebackers and defensive linemen were still getting set (yellow box), and it appears linebacker Joe Mays was still directing traffic while the Patriots snapped the ball.
Not to mention, the right side of the defense was barely accounted for (red box), with cornerback Champ Bailey and safety Rahim Moore accounting for the only bodies lined up outside the hash mark.
The matchup imbalance made it easy for tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Daniel Fells to seal their blocks, opening a gigantic hole for Ridley to make it to the second level of the defense.
The running game has been facilitated by the uptempo style of offense, because the Patriots are able to do what they haven't been able to do in the past: run the football when teams are asking them to do so. Brady said after the game:
We’re getting a lot of nickel defense. When they put little guys out there, we have to take advantage of it. I think we’re playing definitely a more physical style and controlling the tempo of the game by running the football. We have to keep doing it.
Several of New England's biggest runs took advantage of those looks.
Here they are lined up in the 12-personnel grouping against a nickel package on 1st-and-10 in the first quarter, with the ball on Denver's 45-yard line.
It's an obvious running situation, but Denver's personnel grouping indicates it will not allow itself to be beaten through the air.
Once again, tempo was a factor, with the ball being snapped nanoseconds after the line was set.
In the end, the Patriots were able to respond to the challenge set forth by the defense by reeling off a 15-yard gain on a handoff up the middle.
The Patriots capitalized frequently, with Brady checking to runs at the line when he saw favorable looks.
Their ability to run the ball against nickel defenses should only get better with the return of tight end Aaron Hernandez and wide receiver Julian Edelman.
Through five games, we have seen an unexpected level of balance from the Patriots offense. With 191 running plays and 197 pass plays on the season, the Patriots have developed an appreciation for the running game.
Opposing defenses will develop that same appreciation, if they haven't already. And when that happens, Brady will be as deadly as he's ever been.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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