New England Patriots Midseason Forum, Part 8: Running Backs
By Michael Hamm
Three yards and cloud of dust? No, thank you. I’d rather have what the New England Patriots are offering.
You see, three yards and cloud of dust leaves me with a 4th and 1, and I don’t like that. I’d much sooner take the Patriots approach, which is 4.3 yards and a mist of old rubber tire pellets – mix in a pass play or two, move the sticks, run the clock, keep the other team’s offense on the sidelines where they belong.
This is the new math for a new brand of football. We play on field turf, so there’s no dirt to kick up, just the afore mentioned pellets that when displaced produce little volcanic ash clouds, a fine black mist of that kicks up when a runner cuts or when bodies hit the ground…
It doesn’t sound like old school Woody Hayes-type lingo, but it is. His conservative ways are antiquated, but the premise is still the same – to win consistently you need a solid running game, or as Hayes was fond of saying, “a crunching, frontal assault of muscle against muscle, bone upon bone, will against will.”.
Sounds about right. Except he forgot the part about putting your foot on your opponent’s throats until they’re so beaten -so demoralized – that they relent to your superiority.
Sep 30, 2012; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley (22) scores a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Patriots beat the Bills 52-28. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE
And nothing will demoralize a team faster than lining up and running the ball down their throats. You’ve seen it – winded defensive linemen with their hands on their hips and the look of defeat in their eyes, while their quarterback stands on the sidelines, resignation on his face as he knows he’s not going to get another chance…
It’s been a long while since we’ve seen that brand of running game in Foxborough. In fact, not since Corey Dillon left six years ago have we seen as rugged a running game as we are witnessing from the Patriots now.
and it’s not the production as much as it is the attitude.
When Josh McDaniels returned to New England to take over the Patriots’ offense, he came back with the experience in Denver of running a run-first offense, from which he came away with a healthy appreciation for what it feels like to steamroll an opponent with the run – and the adrenalin rush that you get off of something like that produces a habit that is very hard to argue against.
In Denver, McDaniels had perhaps the best run blocking line in the game along with tenured backs, but with quarterback issues. Conversely, coming into this season with New England, he knew he had the best quarterback in the game, but everyone else was young and inexperienced – and the team had let it’s leading rusher the past two seasons leave via free agency.
So when camp broke and final cuts were being mulled over, there was much trepidation. The offensive line was dangerously erratic and being held together with wishful thinking. The Wes Welker saga had engulfed the receiving corps and the running backs were a collection of young greyhounds with no visible means of experience – with the exception of Danny Woodhead who ,at age 27, was the senior citizen of the group.
What this team needed was for one of the backs to step up and take the lead in order to give some harmony to the offense. So when Stevan Ridley emerged from camp as the starter, everything else started to fall into place. The line was suddenly opening huge holes with the assistance of the bevy of tight ends on the roster and Ridley started showing real explosion through them.
And at the half way mark of the 2012 season, the Patriots sit with a legitimate running game – ranked 4th in the NFL – much more than a complimentary piece the league’s #5 ranked passing offense…and together they comprise professional football’s top offense with a balance that would make a tight rope walker envious – and Ridley has been the workhorse.
The depth in the backfield is largely an unknown quality, however. Second year man Shane Vereen has proven to be fragile and undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden has spent a few games on the sidelines with injuries and now has been suspended by the league for use of PED’s. The only known factor is Woodhead, who is as shifty, fast and tough a third down back as you’ll find anywhere – but this backfield belongs to the durable second year back from LSU.
Ridley shows impressive vision and burst through the hole, not wasting any movement – and once he is through the hole, he easily shifts into high gear, lowering his shoulder when encountering a would-be tackler. He has 716 yards through 8 games this season, and should eclipse the 1,000 yard mark, but what would be even more impressive is to reach that milestone while moving the chains and killing the clock – running the ball down the opposition’s collective throat…
…which will be key down the stretch. Meetings with San Francisco and Houston loom, and to be able to establish the running game against those top rated defenses would establish the Patriots as a force to be reckoned with in the post-season, and maybe even earn New England a top seed in the conference.