Hannable: This is the best running backs group Bill Belichick has ever had with Patriots

Ryan Hannable
November 16, 2017 - 11:08 am

Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

The Patriots running backs are good. The Patriots running backs are really good.

One week it may be Mike Gillislee leading the way. The next it could be James White. It could also be Dion Lewis, or most recently Rex Burkhead. 

For the first time in the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots have four productive running backs, which make it the best backfield he’s ever had in New England.

Gillislee is on pace for 631 rushing yards, Lewis 580, White 226 and Burkhead 178. Then when it comes to catching passes out of the backfield, White is on pace for 668 receiving yards, Burkhead 276 and Lewis 103.

For the first time in the Belichick era, the Patriots would have four players rushing for more than 175 yards and three players with over 100 receiving yards.

“They’re all capable of making good plays and they’re all capable of helping us move the ball and that’s the most important thing that we feel about our group of backs,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said last month. “There’s some that are maybe down and distance related. There’s others that are maybe packages that certain guys practice more than others during the course of the week and then at times you just let a guy try to take a series and get himself into a rhythm. A lot of that is based on how the game goes and what happens during that series of downs, what kind of down and distance situations you find yourself in and then the type of success that you’re having with what you’re doing. It’s not as cut and dry as just divvying it up equally or 'This series it's this guy only,' or what have you. I mean, there’s a lot of different things that could go into that. 

“Ivan [Fears] has them all prepared for each situation and each role and they all do a tremendous job of backing one another up because we always have more than one guy that’s capable of going in there and playing a different role, whatever that role might be. They all practice hard at that. They prepare well and it’s a really hard-working group that you have a lot of trust and faith in to go in there and either run the ball, pass protect, catch the ball out of the backfield and ultimately just help us move the ball down the field and try to score points.”

Besides this year, under Belichick there have been five years where four Patriots running backs have ran for over 175 yards, but they haven’t been as productive in the receiving game. In 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013 only two running backs had more than 100 yards receiving and only one in 2014.

The Patriots are a game plan-based team, which makes the diverse backfield even more valuable. Each running back brings something different to the table. 

Gillislee is known for his short-yardage ability, Burkhead can run in between the tackles and catch passes out of the backfield, Lewis is one of the shiftiest backs in the entire league and White is among the top receiving backs. No matter what the situation, the Patriots have it covered and are a very tough team to game plan for.

This has helped tremendously when it comes to filling the void at receiver. Overall, the running backs have stepped up without Julian Edelman in the passing game and more specifically have allowed the team to go into games with only three healthy receivers. New England is on pace to have 1,047 receiving yards from its backs, the most in the Belichick era.

When it comes to the remaining seven games and postseason, having all these versatile running backs will be a huge benefit, as no matter what type of defense the Patriots face, they will have an answer.

It’s time these running backs get the credit they deserve.

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