There are three types of teams in the National Football League. Those who can’t run the ball. Those who can usually run ball effectively because their passing games scare the hell out of opposing teams. And those who can run the ball effectively even when the defense knows its coming but is defenseless to do anything about it.
The 2010 New England Patriots fall squarely in the middle but since being knocked out of the playoffs a week ago, I have begun to ponder the following ….. what if steps were taken to get this offense into tier three? And by that I mean, what if you gave Tom Brady a running game that simply wrecked teams who emphasized pass defense? The Pats have the resources available this off-season to do just that and it strikes me that the returns on such an investment would clear every conceivable hurdle.
In all fairness, the 2010 Pats did put up solid rushing numbers. Take for instance BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who steered clear of negative plays, gained 4.4 yds/attempt, and never once put the ball on the turf. Most teams would take that level of productivity and say thank you. But here is an important question. Does his success come from the fact that opposing defenses are too busy defending Brady to care about his four yards per carry? And when faced with a bigger defensive commitment, does BJGE become a “two and change” guy?
My gut tells me that one of the reasons the Pats lost the Super Bowl and then lost again to the Jets is they simply haven’t had the “fuck you” running game that could punish teams for dropping back and focusing their energy on Brady. Yeah, the Pats had a capable running game this year but did the Jets really fear it last Sunday? Hardly as those safeties and backers wouldn’t have been dropping if they thought six and seven yard rips on first down would be the norm.
It boils down to this …. the Pats have got their running game to a point where they can do a little damage when the other team is playing pass. But they can’t kill the defense in that event. And teams like the Jets are fine giving up four yards, just so long as they aren’t getting repeatedly gouged for seven.
So while the whole world is clamoring for the Pats to spend their draft picks this April on a pass rusher and the defensive line, I think it would be smart if they blew a couple of those early picks on guys who can mash in the running game. If they pick two, they probably stand a good chance of hitting on one and that would give them three excellent run blockers with Vollmer and Mankins being the other two. I’ll let the brain trust figure out how it all fits together but putting a physical stud next to either Mankins or Vollmer could be a big headache for an opposing defense. And if they hit on both picks, they could stick the opposition with a hellish choice …. Play the pass or play the run but with just eleven men, you can’t do both. And if you want to fucus on Brady, be warned that “2nd and three” is no way to defend the field.