Tuesday, April 25, 2017

With Gillislee Signing, Erhardt-Perkins Offense In Full Swing

The 1978 New England Patriots set an NFL record with 3,165 yards, a record that has stood the test of time and remains the gold standard.

What was unique about that team is that they had four legitimate rushing options who all produced at least 500 yards on the ground and averaged a combined 4.7 yards per carry - which augmented a receiving corps that featured two burning speedsters split wide and one of the best tight ends of the day wreaking havoc up the seam.

The 2017 edition of the New England Patriots have all of that, and more.

Not saying that the modern-day Patriots are going to be setting rushing records, because with all of the receiving talent on the team led by the greatest quarterback in the history of the professional game, head ball coach Bill Belichick is going to be like a mad scientist, combining talents to formulate a game plan to decimate the will of his opponent...

...and all under precept of the Erhardt-Perkins offense, the mantra of which has always been, "Pass to score, run to win.", and by signing a young power back to a two-year offer sheet in addition to earlier deft acquisitions, Belichick's offense should be able to do plenty of both.

Monday's deadline for the Buffalo Bills to match the New England Patriots' offer sheet to running back Mike Gillislee has come and gone, and the Florida product is officially a member of the World Champion New England Patriots.

While it is hardly newsworthy that Patriots head ball coach Bill Belichick has a habit of feeding off of other teams' veterans, it is noteworthy that he has fleeced the Bills for skill position players the past two seasons. Last season, Belichick signed wide receiver Chris Hogan to an offer sheet that the powers that be in Buffalo immediately declined to match...

...and all Hogan did to show his appreciation was to set career highs in yards per reception and in receiving touchdowns in the regular season, but then really turned on the afterburners once the post-season began, catching 17 balls for 332 yards (19.5 ypc) and scoring two touchdowns in being a huge part of the Patriots' championship run.

Hogan was no better than the fifth option on Buffalo's roster in 2015, but circumstances and sheer talent made him second among Patriots' wide receivers in 2016, and his deep speed and penchant for crisp route running opened up the underneath routes for the likes of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and James White, and now Belichick is going to ask Gillislee to do the same thing out of the backfield.

Gillislee, a former fifth-round pick by the Dolphins in 2013, was released by Miami on final cutdowns two seasons later, cracked the Buffalo Bills lineup late in 2015, then won the backup role to LeSean McCoy in training camp last season and ran for nearly six yards per carry, despite facing several of the league's top run defenses.

Of course, the Bills are built around the running game and it dominates their offensive philosophy - but Shady McCoy is tough act to follow and Gillislee ran like a boss in his limited opportunities, and especially against the Patriots whom he ripped for well over six yards per carry, but his success was not solely limited to games against New England.

The measurables on Gillislee indicate how he acquires his yardage, gaining 3.34 yards per play after contact which was the third best number in the league behind Oakland's Jalen Richards and Miami's Jay Ajayi. He was also third in the league in breakaway percentage - or number of yards that came from runs of over 15 yards - and was rated the eighth toughest runner to bring down, which is also known as the elusiveness rating.

But that elusiveness rating has little to do with how shifty a runner is, instead gleaning it's numbers from forced missed tackles and subsequent yards after contact.

So what the Patriots gain in Gillislee is, essentially, a power back with optimum vision and patience who allows his offensive line to create lanes, then is decisive when cutting against the grain in zone runs, and who is a battering ram in the short game - which means that the Patriots have two such runners when Rex Burkhead is mixed into the equation.

Redundant talents, the Patriots will be able to attack a defense on early downs much like the Bills did with McCoy and Gillislee, but with the added dimension of Dion Lewis as a change of pace guy and with James White locked in as an all-purpose third down back - In theory producing a devastating rotation of backs that will wear down a run defense while spelling each other to keep all of them fresh for the fourth quarter, when games are won or lost.

That is what Belichick is doing all over the roster, and together with an over-the-top conditioning program, he has set a standard that no other team in the league can match - and it is this depth-intensive forward thinking that has allowed the Patriots to close games out when other teams flounder, shrink and otherwise choke games away.

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