Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Blount Force Trauma" meets "Gray Matter"; Patriots suppliment power running game

Legarrette Blount rejoined the New England Patriots on Thursday, adding beef to their power running game

Legarrette Blount, meet Jonas Gray.

No need to walk you around the facility, nor to introduce you a bunch of other folks, because you know the place pretty well, and the people are mostly the same...

Blount, the former New England Patriots running back was re-signed as a free agent on Thursday morning, just days after the Pittsburgh Steelers waived the 6' 0", 250 pound bulldozer, inking him to a two year deal for the veteran minimum salary with incentives that could elevate the money involved to nearly $4 million.

Never mind the reports that he left the field early on Monday night in the Steelers win over the Tennessee Titans, nor that Blount fled New England in free agency to team up with Le'Veon Bell in the Pittsburgh backfield - as the promise of more carries that the Pittsburgh coaching staff offered Blount never materialized.
Teaming Blount with Gray give New England a potent 1-2 punch

Pittsburgh had a golden opportunity to feature the heftiest, most powerful running attack in the NFL with both Bell and Blount, but once the season started and Bell became the "Bell Cow", it was just a matter of time before the lack of playing time for Blount became a problem - and it came to a head on Monday night when Blount received no carries, on top of getting just two the week before.

What Blount had in New England last season was a renaissance of sorts, carrying just 177 times, but gaining 944 yards for a 5.3 yard per carry average, scoring eleven times - all while splitting carries with Stevan Ridley.  But where Blount's true value shined through was when the weather turned bleak and the northeast winds blew.

In a three game span that included season ending blowouts over the Ravens and Bills combined with a complete dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional playoffs, Blount carried 64 times for a whopping 431 yards, and average of nearly seven yards per carry.

And in case you haven't been outside in the past month, the weather has turned bleak and the northeast winds are blowing.

"He's a hard guy to tackle in good conditions" Patriots' head ball coach Bill Belichick mused last season around this time, "But when everything is wet - when he's wet, when the tacklers are wet and they can't grab onto anything - tackling him can be very challenging in those conditions."

"I think a lot of it just gets down to fundamentals" Belichick continued, "Body lean and just good fundamentals of running including ball protection, body lean and trying to keep the tacklers from getting to your legs and keeping those moving."

Those are also traits shown by emerging talent Jonas Gray, who had 201 yards in a powerful display of tough running against the Colts on Sunday night, though their running styles are as different as night and day.

Blount is a glider who slips through holes and who is most dangerous once on the second level, where his low center of gravity and sheer mass makes him akin to a bumper in a pinball machine, defensive backs and linebackers bouncing off of him like a pinball...

...while Gray is pure power, a one cut downhill bruiser that picks up nearly half of his yardage after contact and. like Blount, scored four touchdowns against Indianapolis.  Combine those two with a smaller yet more conventional passing back in Shane Vereen and the Patriots may suddenly have the best stable of running backs in the league.

Now, add to that the tremendous improvement along the offensive line since the five starters were settled on and the fact that New England is not afraid to go with Cameron Fleming as a sixth offensive lineman to pull and open holes up the gut - along with James Develin at fullback and Rob Gronkowski being excellent in run blocking as well - and opposing defenses better pack a lunch, because they're going to be on the field all day long.

The move for Blount feeds into the need for the four minute offense, used last season by the Patriots to grind the game clock down, both to limit possessions and to secure victories - a staple of the Erhardt-Perkins offense, the motto of which is "Pass to score, run to win,"

The Patriots can do both, they have done both.  What the acquisition of Blount means is that Gray won't have to go 38 times in a game, and that the Patriots have two backs that can excel in the four-minute offense.

They were scary before, now they're downright horrifying.

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