Many people are discussing the New England Patriots “identity” as an offense following the team’s big 43-22 win over the Indianapolis Colts yesterday, and most of the columns focus in on how the Patriots have changed from a passing team to a rushing team. The people who didn’t notice any change are a few weeks behind, and the people busy writing about the change aren’t quite grasping what the Patriots are actually doing.
See, the Patriots aren’t necessarily a run-based or pass-based team; they are a weakness-based team. By that, I mean that the Patriots will run or throw the ball based on the opposition’s weakness and how either best fits their gameplan. We always talk about how quarterbacks make a passing attack, but it’s actually the wide receivers who dictate how often a team will throw the football. Take a look at the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos as examples. Both teams have great quarterbacks, but the Broncos throw the ball more due to the incredible wealth of talent at receiver, whereas the Chargers have “only” solid wideouts and prefer to run the ball and use intermediate passes.
In a way, the Chargers approach and the Patriots approach are similar, and they are definitely opposite of what teams like the New Orleans Saints like to do. Not every team with a great quarterback feels the need to constantly throw the football, and I hope people have locked in on the Seattle Seahawks and even the San Francisco 49ers as examples.
But the Patriots can certainly throw the ball and win shootouts if needed, because they have Brady and good-enough pass-catchers around him to sustain that sort of an attack. But is it ideal? Heck no, and the Patriots have always wanted to run a balanced offense. Even in 2012, this offense was balanced. In 2013, the offense has skewed more to the running game as the season as wore on, because the Patriots have realized that their best skill position players are on that side of the ball.
Let’s get to yesterday’s running game, shall we? The Patriots simply trampled the Colts on the ground, and they absolutely bullied the Colts front seven and took advantage of bad angles taken on some plays by defensive backs (looking at you, LaRon Landry). It was almost ridiculous watching how much push the Patriots offensive line got up the middle and just how beastly LeGarrette Blount was getting real estate on runs.
Blount finished with a record day with 166 rushing yards and a whopping four touchdowns, including a 73-yard TD run, on 24 carries. He deserves all the praise he is getting, but the offensive line and coaching staff should get plenty of that praise, too. One coach who deserves additional praise is running backs coach Ivan Fears, who I believe is responsible for Blount’s breakout 2013 campaign. Well, it’s not really a breakout since Blount was huge for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010, but he merely relied on his explosive ability that season. This year, he is getting more consistent yardage, running with better pad level and purpose, and showing a lot better technique. It’s no wonder that Blount has improved significantly as the season has wore on, and Fears deserves some praise for that.
Stevan Ridley didn’t have quite the big day that Blount did, but Ridley is an even more talented back who was also solid last night and played a key role in the Patriots win. The Pats scored six touchdowns on the ground and none through the air, and Ridley netted two of them. His 3.7 yards per carry and play weren’t as impressive as Blount’s 6.9 average, but Ridley was solid and gave the Patriots a deadly 1-2 punch.
The offensive line largely goes out of the spotlight, but they deserve at least as much praise as the backs for the 235-yard rushing outburst by this Patriots team. They did their best to wear down the Colts defense and never let up, even though blocking for 44 rushing attempts is certainly draining. Logan Mankins in particular impressed me the most, and he played an incredible game. There are times when Mankins simply dominates everyone in his path as a run blocker and creates massive holes for the running backs, and that’s exactly what he did yesterday.