Sunday, September 7, 2014

New England Patriots on Paper - Running game has opportunity to get on track against Dolphins

"The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men of history." - Bertrand Russell

Sebastian Vollmer is a large human being.

Just pointing that out, because if the reports of New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick moving his Pro Bowl right tackle to fill the ample shoes of departed left guard Logan Mankins, the shift could very well make the left side of the Patriots' offensive line one of the most physically imposing in the history of physically imposing.
Vollmer is a large, nasty run blocker

Vollmer and his 6' 8", 325 pound frame would line up on the inside shoulder of 6' 8", 325 pound left tackle Nate Solder, and Belichick's even been known to bring in one of his reserve tackles to either flank Solder on the outside as a tackle-eligible tight end, or as a replacement for Solder if he kicks out...

...and whether that's 6' 4", 300 pound Josh Kline or 6' 6", 320 pound Jordan Devey, they combine to form a literal road crew, with the only thing missing being the bored-looking, sunglasses-wielding, orange vest-wearing sign holders who instruct you to Stop or to drive slowly, lest you be crushed by massive road-graders.

And if the reports are true, the move of Vollmer to left guard would chance the entire dynamic of the right side as well.

6' 6", 335 pound Marcus Cannon would take over at tackle, with 6' 4", 310 pound Dan Connolly manning is old right guard haunt - and with the possibility of 6' 4", 310 pound rookie Bryan Stork seeing some snaps at center even if he doesn't start right away, that makes for a smaller, slightly more athletic right side, flanked by the 6' 6", 265 pound All World tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is just as good a run blocker as any of the linemen.

And that's the point.  The running game showed absolutely nothing in the preseason, save some nifty garbage time running by practice squad running back Jonas Gray - and that certainly isn't going to make the nut.

You see, Belichick is a megalomaniac.  He gives off the persona of someone who couldn't give a rat's ass what you think of him, but in reality, he cares a great deal.  He wishes to see the fear in his opponent's faces, as he wields his power over them - to Bill Belichick, to just beat his opponent is not good enough.  No, he wants to dominate them, break their will, and then crush them.

It's what every NFL head coach worth his salt wants, but nobody can do it without a powerful running game - and Belichick wants more.  He wants to run the football right into through heart of the Dolphins' defense like a tank busting through enemy lines and leaving nothing but destruction in its wake.  Megalomaniacs are like that.

But what he and his evolving offensive line are facing Sunday in Miami is a defensive line that is built to rush the quarterback - the starting front four accounting for 29 of the Dolphins' 42 sacks last season - while relying on a linebacking corps that were collectively less than inspiring for run support that, that notion supported by the fact that Miami ranked in the bottom third of the league against the run last season...

...of course, that was last season, but coach Joe Philbin's depth chart remains basically the same - and with injuries already taking a toll on the 2014 version of the defense, Belichick has to be licking his chops in anticipation of his running game shoving the ball down the Dolphins' collective throats.

Of their three starting linebackers, the Dolphins are listing two of them on the injury report, with the weak side spot being crippled by not only starter Philip Wheeler being declared out with a thumb issue, but also his backup Jordan Tripp with a chest injury.  That leaves only third year journeyman Jonathan Freeny on the weak side - and while Philbin would normally be able to counter with depth from other positions, injuries there limit his options.

Starting middle linebacker Koa Misi has been limited in camp with a shoulder ailment as has primary strong side reserve Chris McCain with a bum hip.  Both are listed as probable, but those injuries illustrate how far the Dolphins may have to stretch their depth chart to accommodate injury...

...which also gives us a pretty decent idea of exactly how the Patriots' offense should attack Miami - with plenty of play action to draw the ends into the loop in the pass rush, clearing rushing lanes off guard and off tackle, leaving only the decimated second level to deal with the increased heft of the Patriots' road crew - particularly behind Vollmer and Solder going left where the weak side depth is truly weak.

That should stem the tide of the Dolphins' pass rushers for the split-second, plenty long enough for the Patriots' pass catchers to gain separation on the short to intermediate levels where quarterback Tom Brady can nickle and dime them to death, drawing the coverage up even further and eventually opening up seams down the field.

This is not to say that Miami doesn't have talent in the secondary, because they have plenty - but a power running game that is going to force the Dolphins to bring a safety up into the box to help stop the run combined with the sheer number of personnel packages that Belichick can attack them with suggests that the Dolphins could find themselves overwhelmed.

Of course, all of this is dependent on the New England running game being all that it can be - because if they can't run the ball, Brady becomes a sitting duck in a collapsing pocket.

Players to watch:

Tom Brady - The calf injury that caused Brady to miss practice on Thursday caused a minor stir in New England as Brady thrives on practice, and to miss one is certainly news worthy.

Which leg is injured is unknown, but if it isn't significantly better by game time on Sunday, the ailment could affect his mechanics.  If it's his right calf, it could affect his push-off, which limits the amount of force he can get behind his throws, and if it's his left calf, that could make it difficult for him to step into his throws.

Of course, knowing that Brady is scheduled to play as usual probably means that he was held out of practice for precautionary measures, but it also raises some concern to his already naturally limited mobility - hence another reason to hope for a decent showing from the running game.

James White - The rookie runner has practiced well, but hasn't been able to find his groove in preseason games.

Most of that probably has something to do with trying to acclimate himself to the Patriots' zone blocking scheme which is decidedly different from the drive blocking scheme that he enjoyed much success behind in college.  It is of note that the reported move of Vollmer to the interior of the Patriots' line may mean more of the drive blocking look that could spring the Wisconsin product.

Also, look for Belichick to show the two back looks often during the game to force the Dolphins to account for both White and Shane Vereen curling out of the backfield, tying up the depleted linebacker depth and perhaps forcing a box safety to read and react instead of playing the run downhill.

Louis Delmas - The former Detroit Lions' strong safety has had a notoriously difficult time covering tight ends in the past, so it will be interesting to see how he handles Rob Gronkowski.

In reality, even the best safety will need double help on the best tight end in the league, which means Gronkowski will draw a linebacker up the seam with him, further tasking the run defense on the second level.  Delmas will have to be at the top of his game to handle whatever the Patriots throw at him in this game.

Tim Wright - A tight end that plays like a wide receiver.  Who gets the assignment to cover him?

Perhaps Cortland Finnegan - the instigator who isn't afraid to get up the face of bigger receivers - will get the nod, but more than likely the sheer numbers that the Patriots can throw at the Dolphins secondary will dictate a "by-committee" approach.

Wright changes the dynamic of the Patriots' pass catching corps in that his size and his experience at receiver makes him a dangerous compliment to not only Gronkowski, but to the offense as a whole - and this game should give us an idea of just how much as "win-win" proposition the Mankins-for-Wright trade really was for both teams.

1 comment:

  1. Did you know you can shorten your long links with Shortest and earn money for every click on your shortened urls.