BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the first New England Patriots player to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark since Corey Dillon did it in 2004. Danny Woodhead filled in admirably for Kevin Faulk as a third-down running back, as Faulk was hurt early in the season.
Woodhead averaged 5.6 yards per carry, and defenses had a hard time locating him behind the bodies at the line of scrimmage due to Woodhead’s small stature.
Green-Ellis’s downhill running style and Woodhead’s scat-back abilities created a great complementary running game for the Patriots, as they were the first team to rush for over 75 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers this season.
However, much of the success on the ground came because of Tom Brady’s constant pressure on the opposition’s secondary.
Green-Ellis had 10 games where he eclipsed 50 yards rushing and nine games where he eclipsed 70 yards. Every single game that Green-Ellis rushed for over 50 yards, Brady’s passer rating was over 100.
There were four games during which Brady’s quarterback rating slipped under 91.0. During those four games, against the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers and Cleveland Browns, Green-Ellis rushed for 19, 20, 24 and 14 yards, respectively.
Essentially, for Green-Ellis and the Patriot ground attack to have success, Brady needed to have success.
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This issue came to the forefront in the playoff loss to the Jets. Rex Ryan consistently dropped eight men into coverage, using just a three-man rush to pressure Brady. Not only was Brady sacked twice by a three-man rush, but he was unable to find any open receivers (a similar strategy worked in suppressing Peyton Manning, so no Brady hate in that situation).
Ryan stuck with three-four man blitzes, daring the Patriots to run into his defense.
The Patriots were unable to run with much success, and by the time the offense found a rhythm, there was not enough time to focus on the running game.
The bottom line is that the Pats need a player who demands respect from a defense from the get-go, and neither Green-Ellis nor Woodhead have those capabilities.
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