Breaking Down What Makes LeGarrette Blount so Sharp for New England Patriots

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2014

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 11:  LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots runs the ball against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

LeGarrette Blount led the New England Patriots to a convincing 43-22 victory over the Indianapolis Colts during the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

Although most of the focus before the game was on quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Tom Brady, it was Blount who carried the Patriots offense. After finishing with 24 carries, 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns during a Week 17 victory over the Buffalo Bills, Blount again had 24 carries against the Colts.

This time he didn't finish with 189 yards, but he did manage 166 and an incredible four touchdowns, setting an NFL postseason record, per ESPN Stats & Info:

It's quickly becoming forgotten that Blount was an afterthought in Tampa Bay this time last season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had drafted Doug Martin to be their feature back before the 2012 season. Blount was viewed as a one-dimensional back who wasn't a good enough runner to overcome his narrow range of talent.

With Blount in the background for the Buccaneers, the Patriots decided to trade for him. They gave up kick returner Jeff Demps, who was rarely with the team, and the 229th overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel believes New England was the clear winner of that deal:

At the time, it appeared that Blount would be nothing more than a role player for the Patriots. Stevan Ridley was set to be the primary runner, with Shane Vereen filling the receiving role that Danny Woodhead had vacated. Blount was set to compete with Brandon Bolden for playing time.

During the regular season, Blount moved in and out of the lineup. He had seven or fewer carries on six occasions, and he didn't have more than 14 until Week 16.

He had some excellent displays early in the season. He averaged at least 4.6 yards per carry six times before Week 16.

Two primary concerns existed with giving Blount a greater workload. First, he was clearly less dynamic than the other backs on the field, and more damningly, he lost two fumbles even though he wasn't carrying the ball that much.

Blount benefited from Ridley's four fumbles during the first 12 weeks of the season, Vereen's stint on short-term injured reserve and Bolden's limitations as a ball-carrier. He didn't immediately seize his opportunity, however. When Ridley was made inactive in Week 13, Blount had just 12 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown.

Over the following two weeks, he totaled just 19 carries for 89 yards and two receptions for 38 yards.

The bruising back wasn't playing poorly, but he also wasn't making a strong claim for a bigger role in the offense.

Seemingly out of necessity, the Patriots built their offense around the run in Week 16. Facing the Baltimore Ravens on the road, left tackle Nate Solder missed the game due to a concussion. With Solder out, Sebastian Vollmer sidelined by a broken leg and left guard Logan Mankins sliding to Solder's vacated spot, the Patriots were forced to run a more conservative offense.

That didn't appear to faze Blount, who carried the ball 16 times for 76 yards and two touchdowns in the 41-7 rout of Baltimore.

Blount broke out against the Ravens and hasn't looked back.
Blount broke out against the Ravens and hasn't looked back.Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Even once Solder came back in Week 17, the Patriots continued to rely on Blount. He had a season-high 24 carries against the Bills, eight more carries than he had the previous week.

Against the Colts defense, the Patriots could have attacked in a variety of ways. Neither their secondary nor their front seven was perceived as being notably talented entering the game. Robert Mathis' presence as a pass-rusher probably pushed them toward running the ball more.

An early interception from Luck set the Patriots up at the goal line. Blount powered his way into the end zone with relative ease. On their second drive, the Patriots traveled 74 yards over 10 plays. Blount touched the ball six times on the drive, including another touchdown from two yards out.

Blount's third two-yard touchdown came early in the second quarter. This time, the offense didn't focus on him leading up to the scoring play, but he was as reliable as ever in the short-yardage situation.

When you look at Blount's physical frame, you would expect him to be a short-yardage back. However, what makes Blount valuable in today's NFL is his explosive ability that complements that ability to run between the tackles. Runners in today's NFL have to be capable of making big plays.

Even though he is not a receiving threat, Blount has enough quickness and speed to break off huge gains.

That is exactly what he did for his fourth touchdown.

The Patriots started their drive at their own 27-yard line. Blount lined up in the backfield without a fullback in front of him, while the Patriots sent three receivers to the right side of the offense.

Blount initially runs off right tackle and shapes to run toward the sideline. While he does that, his blockers are setting up a cutback lane on the second level. His initial move helps to drag the defenders away from the middle of the field, and Blount perfectly times his cutback.

Although the cutback lane is huge, Blount must be given credit for helping to create it and for getting through it quickly. He is immediately on the second level, and he has just one defender to beat: safety LaRon Landry.

Landry takes a terrible angle to Blount, but he still has an opportunity to drag him down. Blount keeps moving through the contact and pushes Landry away with one arm. He barely slows down as he continues downfield.

Once he is past Landry, nobody can catch him.

There aren't many bruising backs in the NFL who can rip off 73-yard touchdown runs with relative ease.

"There's nothing better than seeing that big guy out in the open field," Mankins said after the game, per Sports Illustrated's Greg A. Bedard. "Man, he grabs another gear from somewhere and he starts moving."

Bad defense contributed on that play, but it's not rare to see Blount create holes and then exploit the secondary. In the same game, he had an impressive 30-yard gain running left.

The Patriots come out with a heavy-set formation. They have one tight end to each side of the field and a fullback in front of Blount in the backfield. The Colts respond aggressively, with 10 defenders in position to stop the run.

After the snap, three key blockers emerge. The fullback engages the outside defender. The tight end to the left clamps down on the edge of the defensive line. An offensive lineman isn't blocking anyone yet, but he is pulling across the formation to the same side of the field.

There is one unblocked defender in the area that Blount is approaching.

Again, Blount shows excellent awareness before the line of scrimmage. Instead of running straight to the lane between his tight end and his left tackle, shown by the green line, he attacks the outside. Once the unblocked defender goes far enough downfield, reacting to Blount, the Patriots back plants his foot and runs inside toward the clean running lane.

Once through that running lane, Blount again manipulates a defender with his aggressive cutting. He initially straightens his run to attack the middle of the field. This draws Antoine Bethea, the deep safety, infield and creates space outside. At the perfect time again, Blount plants his foot and runs outside to space.

That move takes away Bethea's angle and allows Blount to escape to the sideline for 30 yards.

These are the types of plays that suggest Blount could be a long-term starter for the Patriots. Obviously nothing is guaranteed with Bill Belichick and with the depth of talent on New England's roster, but Blount has proven he can be successful at the highest level.

Blount doesn't look like most modern backs, but he does have the ability as a runner to enjoy continued success.


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