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Running game, not quarterback play, key to Patriots Super Bowl gameplan

The Patriots success on offense Sunday will stem from their ability to control the paGetty Images

Everybody who follows the NFL knows that it's a quarterback-driven league.

In almost all cases, we'll see at least one top quarterback in the Super Bowl every year. This year, we have two - Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, both of whom have put together MVP-type seasons.

And they have plenty of weapons at their disposal.

Though years ago the NFL was more of a run-heavy league than it is now, the Patriots have shaded towards a passing offense for quite some time - after all, they do employ arguably the best quarterback in the history of the NFL.

But despite Brady's impressive season in which he continues to laugh in the face of Father Time, he's had more help from his backs than he has in a while.

The Patriots are depending on the run much more than they have in past years, led by workhorse LeGarrette Blount.

The Patriots’ 482 rushing attempts this season were third-highest in the NFL, with Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys leading the way with 499. New England finished with 1,872 rushing yards, seventh-most in the NFL.

The Patriots ran the ball on 46.71-percent of their plays (5th-highest in NFL), a high percentage for them but one that keeps defenses guessing a lot more often.

It's the highest percentage for the Patriots since 2010, when they ran the ball 47.24-percent of the time, per sportingcharts.com. Last season, they came in at 37.85-percent, the 26th-lowest in the NFL, due to injuries to both Dion Lewis and Blount.

Focusing on the run more has translated to more first downs on the ground, where 30.98-percent of first downs are due to the run, the highest Patriots percentage since 2012, and more than 7.00-percent higher than last season.

A big reason is Blount, who has remained healthy all season, finishing with the second-most carries in the NFL (299) and eighth-most yards (1,161). He led the NFL with 18 touchdowns, and became the go-to guy for the Pats at the one-yard line, where he pounded in 11 touchdowns this season.

In fact, according to ESPN, of the 20 plays the Patriots ran from the one-yard line or less, only one of them was a pass, two were failed QB sneaks, and 17 were Blount handoffs.

Defenses know what's coming at them at the goal line - the question is whether or not they can stop the 250-pound Blount, who has been known to carry entire defenses on his back (just ask the Steelers).

But while Blount may be the goal line guy, his fellow backs Dion Lewis and James White are also extremely important to what the Patriots do.

White has become one of the best receiving backs in the NFL, believe it or not, as he finished the season tied for first among all running backs in receiving touchdowns (5), and third in targets (86), receptions (60), and receiving yards (551) - behind two guys named David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell. Not bad company to be in. He's also showed up in blocking.

Lewis spent the majority of the season rehabbing from a second knee surgery, but the lightning quick back has proven that regardless of how he gets the ball, once it's in his hands . . . look out. Lewis averaged 4.4 yards per carry once he returned this season, and is the perfect complement to Blount.

The three-headed backfield monster that the Patriots go into Superbowl LI with is rare to have. Yes, the game will ultimately fall on how Brady runs the offense, but the Falcons allowed 4.6 yards per carry this season, 26th-worst in the NFL. The Patriots have counted on their running backs all season long, and you can bet that will continue in Houston

 

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