Hannable: Patriots offense may be run first moving forward, and that isn’t a bad thing

Ryan Hannable
December 24, 2018 - 4:37 pm
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FOXBORO — What we saw Sunday against the Bills may be what we’ll see for the rest of the season when it comes to the Patriots offense.

With a seemingly banged up Tom Brady, the Patriots relied more on the run than we’ve seen in almost six years. The Patriots ran the ball 47 times, which is tied for the fifth-most in the Bill Belichick era and the most since 2012. The 273 rushing yards were the second-most ever for the Patriots under Belichick, so clearly it was a change from the norm.

“That helped a lot, I thought,” Brady said Monday on Mut & Callahan. “The more we run it, obviously the better it is. The more you can control the clock and our defense played so well on third down. They just played great and got us a lot of opportunities and with that we kind of had control because we were able to run it. Any time you can run for almost 300 yards, you’re never going to lose games like that. That was pretty spectacular. The offensive line did such a great job. The backs ran hard, the receivers blocked incredibly well. 

“It was just a great day overall for the run game, and we need it. That is what we’re going to need going forward.”

When has Brady ever put so much stock in the running game? Sure, it’s always been a good thing to have, but when has it been such a necessity?

This is where the Patriots offense is at.

Brady is not 100 percent. Neither is Rob Gronkowski, who was held without a catch Sunday for just the fourth time in his entire career. Julian Edelman is solid, but not quite what he was pre-ACL tear. Chris Hogan is a shell of himself, not getting involved much in the passing game. He played a team-high 62 snaps Sunday, but wasn’t targeted once. And last but not least, the Patriots no longer have Josh Gordon, their No. 2 receiver until he was suspended indefinitely by the league last week.

Josh McDaniels can no longer spread the field and let Brady go to work and pick defenses apart. The offense simply doesn’t have the weapons for that right now.

Fortunately, the Patriots have a good enough back field and offensive line to run the ball effectively. Not only that, McDaniels has done an exceptional job of scheming things up to run the ball in unconventional ways like on jet sweeps with some of the Patriots’ speedy receivers.

Rookie Sony Michel has ran for 881 yards and six touchdowns on 195 attempts in just 12 games. Over the course of a 16-game season, he would be on pace for 260 carries for 1,174 yards. That would have been good for the seventh-most rushing yards in a single season in Patriots franchise history. 

For all the criticism he’s received, Michel has done a fine job, especially with the circumstances of missing most of training camp and the entire preseason with a knee injury. New England is a perfect 6-0 when he rushes for 60 yards or more.

Then there’s Rex Burkhead and James White, who both can run and catch passes out of the backfield. White certainly is a better option than Burkhead, but Burkhead has shown in the pass he can be effective. Just look at his six touchdowns in a four-game span last year. And while White is more known for catching passes, he is averaging 4.4 yards a carry this season, the best of his five-year career.

Don’t sleep on the wide outs in the running game, either. Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett combined for 79 rushing yards against the Bills, which was more than any of the other AFC East teams had in Week 16.

This is not like past Patriots teams when Brady was throwing the ball 40-plus times a game. The reality is they are now a ground-and-pound team, at least for the time being until Brady gets right and has more weapons in the passing game

Embrace it. It actually isn’t that bad.

Related: Like rest of team, Bill Belichick saw Nick Foles, Eagles beat Texans following Patriots' win over Bills

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