Saturday, September 13, 2014

Patriots' running game, better execution keys to victory in Minnesota

"After the Cincinnati Bengals shut down the New England Patriots' offense by giving quarterback Tom Brady the beating of his life, coach Marvin Lewis got the attention of everyone in the celebratory locker room to give a game ball to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer - but he could have saved it, because the Patriots' play calling made his job pretty easy." - Foxborough Free Press, October 7, 2013

The company name "Xerox" has been a staple of office-based slang for more than five decades, developing into perhaps one of the most iconic and recognizable monikers in American technology as the company that introduced the desktop copy machine to the world has lent its name to the notion that anything that has been or needs to be copied will more likely than not be referred to as being "Xeroxed".
Ridley and the Patriots' running game looks to improve this week

So it isn't a huge surprise that in the "copycat" world of professional football, the term is thrown around as loosely as it is in the workplace.

And why not?  If something works, why not copy it?  Even Albert Einstein, the man who noted that the definition of insanity is for someone to do something the same way over and over again, but expecting a different result would agree.  The variables would be different, but the spirit would be the same... when New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick evokes the "Xerox" slang into his coach-speak lexicon, it really shouldn't be that much of a surprise.

When asked if former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer - now the head ball coach of this Sundays opponent, the Minnesota Vikings - would use the same game plan this week as he did in week five last season to effectively shut down the Patriots' offense, Belichick didn't hesitate.

"Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised if they Xeroxed the same game plan."

Of course, there were other factors in play last season, as the Patriots' offense was handicapped with injury and inexperience in their receiving corps, and absolutely crippled by their running backs inability to hold onto the football - which caused Belichick to bench LeGarrette Blount for the balance of the game, leaving only Brandon Bolden to carry the load as Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were inactive due to injury...

...not to mention that the game was played in the weather, which deteriorated into a monsoonal deluge toward the end of the game, factoring in to help stop the Patriots' last minute, desperation drive for a potential tying score. 

"We couldn't do much: 1-for-13 on third down, six points, whatever it was, they did a good job." Belichick continued during his weekly press conference on Thursday.  "Yeah, we're certainly prepared for that, if they just do the same thing they did last year. It wouldn't shock me at all, until we show we can do something about it. We didn't do much last year."

No, they didn't do much after the Blount fumble halfway through the second quarter, but before the fumble Blount was running over folks behind the push of the right side of the Patriots' offensive line to the tune of  12 carries for 51 yards.

Once he was benched, however, McDaniels called just seven running plays for the final 38 minutes of the game, and once the Bengals recognized that the Patriots had all but abandoned their running game, the ferocious Cincinnati front seven took the Patriots' offensive line behind the woodshed so they could watch in horror as quarterback Tom Brady took the beating of his life...

...a scenario that played out a few more times during the course of last season - see the games at New York, Carolina and Miami and the AFC Championship game at Denver, losses all - and also raised it's ugly head last week in the season opener against the Dolphins.

There is nothing ambiguous in regard to the benefits of running the ball, and it really makes no difference who your opponent is - if you can run the ball, it gives your offense balance and opens up the playbook.  If you can't, or don't, it renders the offense one-dimensional which in turn causes your offensive line to be overwhelmed with numbers in pass protection and puts your quarterback in danger.

The Patriots' offense has one of the best collections of talent in the league, with names like Gronkowski, Edelman and Dobson catching passes from some dude named Brady, but if names like Ridley and Vereen aren't allowed to carry the football to force the defense to defend the entire field, those other names make no difference.

So, it should be obvious what the Patriots need to do on offense to be successful against the stout Minnesota Vikings' front seven: Run the football.

Three yards and a cloud of dust used to be the standard for success in the National Football League.  It is the most fundamental concept in the game, and has been the backbone of championship teams since the very beginning - and teams that ignore its importance are doomed to defeat.

"Without a running game, the Patriots offensive linemen are like targets at a midway shooting gallery, all of the receivers are blanketed and, as a result, quarterback Tom Brady is a sitting duck and being hit on just about every drop back - and all you have to do is look at the vicious beating Brady took in the two games that the Patriots have logged under 100 yards rushing for proof of that..." - Foxborough Free Press, October 12, 2013

Just saying....

Players to watch:

Aaron Dobson - the lone Patriots' deep threat and his acrobatic presence could be a boon to the Patriots' offense.

Dobson made the trip to Minnesota, which is a very good indication that he will be on the 46 man game day roster, with either Danny Amendola or tight end Michael Hoomanawanui candidates to be healthy scratches to make room for the speedster.

Dobson needs to play.  He was a surprise scratch last Sunday after making his preseason debut the week before in New York against the Giants - looking bigger and stronger than he did as a rookie in 2013, and showing little ill-effect from offseason surgery to have a screw inserted in his foot...

...and with Belichick stating that the only way for a player to get into football playing shape is to actually play football, there is no excuse for him to not be out there stretching the field.

Xavier Rhodes - the second-year corner has been limited in practice all week with a groin issue.

Rhodes was a breath of fresh air for the Vikings' secondary last season, and this year teams with former Panthers' corner Captain Munnerlyn to form the best set of corners that the Vikings have had in many years, but the fact that he has been limited by a tweaked groin should mean Brady will target him early to test his dexterity and lateral movement.

Sharif Floyd - The second-year defensive tackle injured his shoulder in the season opener against the Rams.

Floyd teams with former New York Giants nose tackle Linval Joseph to form an imposing interior presence.  Joseph is massive at 6' 4" and 325 pounds and can impact the rushing game by taking on two gaps and allowing Floyd to penetrate and disrupt plays in the backfield - but Floyd spent many anxious moments on the turf last week as the trainers attended to him and he has been limited all week... it remains to be seen how effective he will be against whoever will be playing left guard for the Patriots, particularly if it is Marcus Cannon, who at 6' 5" and 335 pounds should be able to manhandle the Florida product.

Whomever plays center for New England - Bryan Stork's name has emerged in several press conferences this week, but Bill Belichick is playing it cool.

The key to the Patriots' offensive line is at the pivot, as the talent along the line feeds off of the performance at center.  Incumbent Ryan Wendell started at his old spot by default last week as Stork wasn't deemed active, but he hurt his knee which forced right guard Dan Connolly to slide over to center.

There should be some manner of continuity to the line this week, hopefully with Stork at the pivot, and hopefully with some push so that the running game can evolve, which helps everyone.

Josh McDaniels - What is it that McDaniels just doesn't seem to get?

His offense was actually having a better running day than the Dolphins were in the first half last Sunday, and then he suddenly and inexplicably stopped calling running plays in the second half.  It is a recipe for disaster that he has seen for himself throughout his career, yet he continues to abandon the run against stout defensive fronts.

As mentioned earlier, three yards and a cloud of dust used to be the standard for success in the NFL, and as long as you are reasonably close to that number, you keep feeding the ground game to force the defense to respect the run - and every time that he has followed the pattern of abandoning the running game his tenure as offensive coordinator for New England, the team has lost games that they could have won.

The loss in the AFC Championship game is on him, and the loss to Miami is as well - so that's two games in a row that Belichick has allowed his play-calling to destroy hope, and one has to wonder if it's just a matter of time before the hoodie takes over.

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