5 Takeaways from LeGarrette Blount's Explosive Week 17 Performance
LeGarrette Blount, perhaps acutely aware of the NFL's reputation as the ultimate "What have you done for me lately?" league, couldn't have picked a better spot this season to have a career-best rushing performance.
Blount bulled his way through the Buffalo Bills' defense in Week 17, racking up 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. He also threw in kickoff returns of 83 and 62 yards, flashing some excellent speed that belies his 250-pound frame.
The Patriots won 34-20 and clinched the second seed in the AFC. The Bills were left with nothing but pain from a losing season and some serious Blount force trauma.
Here are five takeaways from Blount's bruising Week 17 performance.
A Timely Return to Form
Before this weekend, it had been just over two years since LeGarrette Blount last enjoyed a 100-yard rushing game.
He topped 1,000 yards as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010, but saw his production decrease in 2011 despite averaging an effective 4.2 yards per carry. Still, he was solid, if not spectacular.
After an essentially nonexistent 2012 which saw him usurped by running back Doug Martin in Tampa Bay and the shared duties he has had with running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley in the Patriots' backfield this season, it seemed like Blount would never get the chance to deliver on the promise he showed as a featured back coming out of Oregon.
Then again, it wasn't for a lack of trying.
Blount has averaged 5.0 yards per carry this season, a truly exceptional number despite the fact that he saw just 154 attempts. Based on that number alone, one could argue that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should have called Blount's number a bit more often this season.
Running backs need carries to get into the flow of the football game, as it keeps the adrenaline pumping and allows them to see how the defense is attacking the line of scrimmage.
The one time Blount was been given that luxury this season, he certainly delivered.
The Carries May Still Dry Up
Coach Belichick admitted that the rain played a factor in how much the New England Patriots ended up running the football against the Bills.
"He carried the team on his back most of the day," Belichick told the Associated Press (h/t Patriots.com). The rain "got worse as the game went along. It was definitely a running game."
The plainspoken Belichick may not be known for any subtext in his remarks, but the quote implies that Blount received the heavy workload mainly due to the elements in play.
As Week 17 marked the only occasion when Blount carried the ball more than 20 times this season, it is still quite possible that the coaching staff will prefer to use him in a reduced role on offense—especially considering the special teams duties the coaches have tasked him with.
The Patriots' Offensive Line Can Block for Anbody
The Patriots finished the season with the NFL's ninth-best rushing attack, as the combined efforts of Blount, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and others topped the 2,000-yard mark.
Blount may have garnered all the accolades for Week 17, including AFC Offensive Player of the Week, but it's obvious he couldn't have done it without the maulers in front of him.
Whether it's Blount bursting up the middle, Ridley taking the handoff on a counter or Vereen and his scatback stylings, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has plenty of flexibility with the way he can attack teams on the ground. His offensive linemen have to be able to handle all of the varied schemes.
Blount was certainly grateful for his teammates' performance, which he expressed in an interview with Chad Finn of Boston.com:
“I wouldn’t say [I carried the team]," Blount said. "On the returns that I had, I didn’t get touched for like the first thirty yards, so I tip my hat off to those guys, the core special teams guys. And the offensive line played amazing for both of us, me and [Stevan] Ridley and Shane [Vereen]. You can’t ever give them enough credit.”
Of course, a special shoutout goes to guard Marcus Cannon for his excellent pull block that sprung Blount and allowed him to go untouched on his 36-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, which can be seen in these highlights.
The Bye-Week Bonus
Blount's performance helped his team capture the second seed in the AFC playoff bracket. Had the Patriots lost, the team could have slipped to the fourth seed—and squandered its first-round bye.
This is the eighth time in 13 seasons that the Patriots have managed to garner a first-round bye and the importance of this opportunity cannot be understated.
When the Patriots have been able to skip the carnage of the Wild Card Round in the Belichick era, they have gone 6-1 in divisional playoff games. Not only that, but all five of their 21st-century Super Bowl appearances got their start in the divisional round.
Give the Patriots any advantage and Belichick and Co. will be certain to make it count.
Blount's performance helped ensure that the Patriots can study up and rest while they await one of their three potential playoff opponents: the Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs or Indianapolis Colts.
The big performance may have created the perfect opportunity for the Patriots to make another deep playoff run with "The Hoodie" at the helm of the franchise.
Pick Your Patriot Poison
If the Patriots have the luxury of an extra week to prepare for playoff football, what does that say for the unlucky opponents who will be fighting for the right to play this vanguard franchise on a week's notice? How do they prepare for an already potent offense that has perhaps woken a sleeping giant in its own backfield?
Whatever plan of attack the Patriots decide on for their first playoff game, the looming threat of Blount complicates things for the opposing defensive coordinators.
Do you play nickel and dime coverage, seven players in the box, and try to limit big plays from Tom Brady? Then you risk Blount carving the defense up the middle. Focus on shutting down Blount and it opens things up for one of the all-time great postseason quarterbacks.
Not only that, but the effectiveness of the rushing game may come in handy to help the Patriots' young, inexperienced defense stay off the field. In the pressure cooker that is the NFL playoffs, the Patriots are going to want the ball in the hands of Brady and Blount for as much time as possible.
A strong rushing game will do wonders in this regard, papering over any deficiencies that can be exposed if the Patriots defense—which has featured five rookies as starters at times—is on the field for too long.