New England Patriots On Paper: Working the body


To this day, the fight at the end of Rocky II remains one of the most riveting and mesmerizing scenes in all of the sports film genre.

What’s not to like?  Both fighters are beaten horribly, while the swings in momentum are sudden and just as violent.  Apollo Creed, a fine name for a Champion – going the distance, he had won the first fight between he and Rocky Balboa, but he didn’t beat him.  He didn’t dominate the challenger.  There were many who thought Balboa had won the fight.  Creed’s integrity was on the line.

In the months leading up to the fight, Creed trained like never before.  He challenged himself, game-planned religiously, trained harder.  But no matter how hard he trained, he couldn’t protect his body from the punishment it was about to take.  And when he started absorbing those blasts to the body, the confidence and swagger gave way to desperation and risk-taking.

All through the fight, Rocky’s trainer Mickey Goldmill kept imploring the challenger to work on the Champion’s body, using his brute strength to defeat the champ at his core.  “The body!  The body!  The body!” he would yell at his fighter.  Again and again, Rocky would work his way inside, throwing haymakers to Creed’s ribs until, finally, he had worn the champion down enough to knock him out…

In football vernacular, going for the body means to run the ball right down the throat of the defense, something that the New England Patriots are going to try to do against the Denver Broncos this Sunday.

Sept. 30, 2012; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley (22) breaks a tackle by Buffalo Bills defensive end Mark Anderson (93) during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Patriots beat the Bills 52 to 28. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE

And why not?  The Patriots gave the Buffalo Bills a collective endoscopy last Sunday, running for 247 yards on 40 carries, for a whopping 6.2 yards per carry. What’s to say they can’t do the same thing to the Denver Broncos this Sunday?

The Broncos present a similar set of skill players as the Bills, just not as expensive.  They have two of the premier pass rushers in the league in linebacker Von Miller and defensive end Elvis Dumervil and an All-Star set of corners in Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter.  Those are some impressive folks for sure, but that’s really all the Broncos offer on defense…

…which is enough on most Sundays, given the potency of the Broncos’ offense.  But if the Patriots come anywhere close to producing what the running game gave them in Buffalo against similar athletes, it’s not going to be enough this Sunday.

Because what’s the best way to take away a great pass rush?  Right, run the ball.  How about taking those corners out of the game?  Run the ball.  Run right up the gut.  Go to the body.

It seems like such a simple solution, it couldn’t actually work, could it?   Is it just coincidence that when the Patriots do commit to the run, it’s a precursor to victory?

They ran the ball well against the Titans in the opener, abandoned everything when Hernandez went down against the Cardinals and seemingly ignored the run against the Ravens until they needed it to kill the clock, which they couldn’t do because they never established it throughout the game.

But when they went right at the teeth of the Bills last weekend, they embarassed Buffalo’s revamped defense.

It is far too early to claim that New England has the capability of tremendous balance, the ability run the ball at will consistently.  But when they commit to the run and stay with it, they have shown a trend towards that end.  Balance on offense is such a difficult thing to attain, and very few teams can make claim to such a thing.  We can say with certainty, however, that when the Patriots go up tempo and get on a roll, only they can stop themselves.

The Bills found that out the hard way, playing small ball in sub packages and getting the ball ran down their throats as the Patriots physical and tough offensive line dominated Buffalo’s front seven.   Unfortunately for Denver’s defense, they perform best as a unit in their nickle and dime sets as well.

That’s the reality of what the Broncos face on Sunday afternoon, and it doesn’t help their cause that their linebacking corps will be without one of it’s best players.  D.J. Williams is suspended for the first 6 games after the NFL said he supplied a ”non-human” urine sample during a drug test.  Really.  But hard hitting Joe Mays is back after being suspended and fined 50 grand for pulling a Mike Tyson against Houston’s Matt Schaub and his ear.

Even with Mays back on the active roster, the unit is still just average and they can be overpowered. Their safeties – as are the linebackers without Williams, are average at best – though 2nd year man Rahim Moore shows promise as a physical presense, if he can steady his production and stay on the field.  But despite the limitations due to suspensions and attrition and non-human urine, the Broncos play full of confidence and with brash swagger.

The Patriots counter with a combination of up tempo and cool focus.

Stevan Ridley is becoming an all-purpose, 20 carries-per-game feature back right before our eyes, with a combination of power and speed and an impressive burst when he gets to the second level, which he should be able to find often, given that the Broncos defensive line represents their soft under-belly.  Danny Woodhead is a superb receiver out of the backfield and an equally fine blocker when he stays in to help pick up a blitzer.  He consistently shows toughness between the tackles when he gets the opportunity to handle the ball.

Boldin is the Hammer, the Corey Dillon-like presense that can get you that tough extra yard or three, and keep the chains moving and the clock running.

The Body!  The Body!  The Body!

What makes the task for the Broncos defense even more daunting is that collection of tight ends that the Patriots can throw into the mix.  Gronkowski gets the headlines for yards receiving and touchdowns and ball gronking, but his blocking ranks right up there in his skill set.  As a lead blocker, he smothers linebackers with his frame, allowing the back to slither past before the would be tackler ever sees him.

In pass protection, he forms a physical tandem, teaming with the tackles to keep the rush ends away from Brady and to keep the linebackers from setting the edge.  By design, he can always release into the pattern, giving Brady a formidable weapon as a check down.

It is unclear whether versatile tight end Aaron Hernandez will play, but even if he doesn’t, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd are proving to be plenty enough for the secondary to be concerned with.  If Hernandez’ ankle is healed enough for him to play, the pickings will be ripe for both him and Gronkowski between the safeties.  Daniel Fells also adds much to the blocking, and has soft hands when targeted.

Just as Rocky was successful by going to the body early and often, the Patriots would be best served to play inside the tackles, taking away Denver’s advantage at the corners.  By running effectively, it will force the Broncos to counter punch by bringing a safety or extra linebacker into the box.  If Brady can catch them in that alignment and immediately go up tempo, it then turns the advantage to New England’s passing game, particularly underneath.

Rocky Balboa was presented as a one dimensional fighter, and Micky tried to shift the advantage to his fighter by changing tactics, fighting in a style that was out of character, to surprise Creed with trickery – but moving inside to take away Creed’s reach advantage was what won the fight – delivering blow after blow and forcing Creed to into a slugfest that he was doomed to lose.

The Patriots need no such trickery, however.   Running the ball with their fine stable of young running backs behind their tough and underrated offensive line – Going to the body of the Broncos defense – is what will win this contest, and is a plan for success against any Patriots’ foe going forward.

Anything less could turn this contest into a bad sequel for the Patriots, on the scale of total flops like Rocky 3, 4, 5, etc, etc…They really should have stopped making those films after Rocky won the title….