Stew Milne//USA Today Sports

Patriots desperately need improved running game down stretch

Ryan Hannable
November 21, 2018 - 11:24 am

FOXBORO — With six games left in the regular season, there is still plenty to play for.

The Patriots currently are the No. 3 seed in the AFC, but if they close the year strong and get a little help they have a good shot at the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

New England’s defense is solid, but not good enough to carry the team, so it will come down to the play of the offense. Tom Brady hasn’t been himself for the majority of the year, but there have been signs that he and the offense’s best football is coming.

While everyone is pointing towards Brady and his pass-catchers, the success of the offense is ultimately going to come down to the running game.

“It really comes down to our execution of the plays, whatever they happen to be – runs, passes, play actions, outside, inside,” Bill Belichick said this week. “If we execute the plays well we gain yards, and if we don't then we don't. Our overall coaching, and playing and execution of whatever it is that we run, whenever we run it, whether it’s in the first quarter, fourth quarter. We've had plenty of success when things are done correctly and efficiently. When they're not, then we don't have the same results. I think that's really what it comes down to.”

Due to injuries, the Patriots have had to piece things together the last few weeks with Cordarrelle Patterson and James White getting the bulk of the carries even though that is not what they are known for. Patterson, obviously, is a receiver, while White is more of a pass-catching option out of the backfield.

Fortunately for the Patriots, Sony Michel returned last week from a knee injury that sidelined him for two games and Rex Burkhead seems likely to come off of injured reserve in time for the Vikings game on Dec. 2.

How important is the running game to the success of the team? In the regular season, the Patriots have won 13 straight games when rushing for more than 100 yards as a team. It isn’t a coincidence that against the Titans the Patriots ran for a season-low 40 yards.

The running game sets up the majority of the offense. When defenses know a pass is coming, it can tee off on Brady, which is bad news like we saw in Tennessee a few weeks ago. It also helps establish play-action, which Brady is one of the best in the league at, particularly when Rob Gronkowski is on the field.

With Michel seemingly fully healthy and Burkhead returning, the Patriots could have one of the better running back trios in all of football.

And it’s a good thing because they certainly need it.

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