Thursday, April 14, 2016

Blount Off Belichick's Speed Dial, Re-signs With Patriots

Submitted for your approval:  You are sitting in a favorite New England diner in the company of a friend or two, sipping coffee and making small talk between you and avoiding topics of any consequence until your breakfast arrives, for fear of a bout of hypoglycemia tinging your words with venom.

The waitress is passive-aggressive, but you are used to that from living in the six weird little states that comprise the region, and she assures your quizzical look that your food should be along shortly, refills your coffee cup with a gracefulness that comes with many years on her feet, then saunters along to lie to the people at the next table.

Five minutes later, you are staring at a tall stack of pancakes adorned on top with a glob of whipped butter that is melting down into the cakes, forming a divot that will soon consume the entire melting glob like a Florida sink hole unless you spread it evenly in quick order - which you do, and then set your sites on the fresh, locally produced maple syrup and start to pour.

The substance is thick, far more dense than you would find in store-bought syrup, and it spreads like a thick tidal wave , pushing the still unmelted butter to the edges of the stack, then slowly cascades over and dribbles down the side...

The site is vaguely familiar to you, but not in a culinary sense.  You've seen this slow-flow before, and after half of the tall stack resides in your stomach and the waves of hot flashes and incoherent rambling subside as your body's sugar levels reach normal, the conversation at the table becomes more lucid and less vulgar...

...and inevitably turns to football - then it hits you.  You remember where you've seen that slowly flowing syrup before, that thick tidal wave that meticulously makes it's way to the edges, gravity then taking full effect as the New England delicacy quickly goes south to the waiting plate.

The New England Patriots re-signed running back LeGarrette Blount and his syrup on pancakes running style on Tuesday, causing a slow burn on social media sites as those in the know celebrated his return while other lamented his signing as a return to 2015, when the Patriots had the third-worst rushing attack in the National Football League,

That's thirtieth out of thirty-two teams for those keeping score at home, escaping the bottom only because the lowly Chargers and the equally abysmal Lions were usually so far behind in their weekly contests that they had no choice but to turn to the passing game to try to catch up.

Funny how that works, actually.  Usually with the Patriots, they have the lead late in ball games and are able to turn to their four-minute offense for three yards and a cloud of dust, moving the sticks and eating the clock - hardly ever to my satisfaction, as anyone who follows this blog will vouch for the fact that I don't think offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels uses the running game to it's full potential...

...but that's beside the point, and hardly fair when considering the skeleton crew that he had to work with at every level except quarterback, the depth along the line, out in the pattern and in the backfield not able to pull things together in time to avoid a dismal 2-4 finish to the regular season and an early exit from the post-season.

Up until December, the Patriots actually did have a rushing attack - led by Blount, whose 703 yards on 165 carries made him an effective between-the-tackles runner, as manifested by the resultant 4.3 yards per carry.  In fact, Blount had exactly half of the Patriots rushing yards for the season, with Brandon Bolden and the electric Dion Lewis accounting for most of the rest.

But Bolden is a really a special teams' guy who was good for a few carries per game, and Lewis snapped his ACL midway through the season, leaving the late season carries to a clearly washed up veteran mercenary named Steven Jackson - and in the end, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels just abandoned the running game entirely for lack of a better option.

That was evidenced by how little the Patriots offense ran the ball in the second half of games down the stretch after Blount went down with a bum hip in week 14, and after the curious experimentation with Joey Iosefa as the lead back, especially in the last three games that ended with the Patriots' narrow - and avoidable - loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.

In the season-ending loss to Miami, Patriots' backs toted the rock just seven times in the second half, and four times each in the playoff games against the Chiefs and Broncos.  Those are totals that defy logic and lend credence to the argument that Blount's injury crippled an offense that was already working through so many injuries that they literally could not afford just one more...

...because without a running game, the opposition could feel comfortable in coming after quarterback Tom Brady, leaving their corners one-on-one with Brady's depth receivers and overwhelming an offensive line that was missing key components on the edges and had rookies and a second year player manning the inside.

The results were predictable.

Blount comes back aboard being somewhat enigmatic in the eyes of Patriots' constituency, as some see him as an all or nothing entity - meaning he either rips off big gainers or gets bogged down at the line of scrimmage, while others take the stance that agrees with his high ranking on several sites as a better-than-average early down back who can get you into favorable yardage positions on third down.

And while that's not necessarily a ringing endorsement for the 7th year pro out of Oregon, it's not exactly a eulogy either.  Blount has plenty left in his 30 year old legs, but not so much that the team won't select a running back in the draft, one with some power and with some explosiveness, because truth be told, Blount has all of the explosiveness of maple syrup.

He is, however, a good complementary back when passing backs Dion Lewis and James White are mixed into the equation. White wasn't productive between the tackles, but was pure smooth hell in the pattern and put forth a yeoman's effort in picking up the blitz, while Lewis is everything a running back should be, and then some.

Unfortunately, Lewis is also fragile and thus the Patriots may look to limit his touches, splitting time with White who filled in admirably when Lewis went down in Week 7, and who gained a measure of respect and reliability from Brady and the coaching staff in his opportunities down the stretch.

Needless to say, health is a concern of paramount importance - not just in the backfield, but also along the offensive line and with the pass catchers, and the myriad of debilitating injuries suffered on all three levels of the offense last season left Brady as a sitting duck who took a monumental beating and the Patriots' offense a shell of it's normal capacity.

The stupid part - the really stupid part - is that New England still came within two points of reaching their seventh Super Bowl in 15 years under Belichick, and with better decision making among the play callers on the sidelines, they probably would have beaten the Broncos and had the opportunity to defend their title against the Panthers.

Belichick isn't taking any chances of that happening this season, because it's Super Bowl or bust for his Patriots,as it is every season.  He will draft a back, he will make sure that the depth along the line is adequate and he has already turned the pass catching corps into a potential juggernaut - so there's not that much left to be done from a team-building standpoint...

...and re-signing Blount helps that process even more.


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