It’s tough to pinpoint the exact week that Blount went from “quality reserve” to “the best in the game,” but it’s been evident in Blount’s last two games that he’s playing the best football of his career. Blount had 24 carries for 166 yards and four touchdowns in the Patriots’ win over the Indianapolis Colts during Saturday night’s AFC divisional playoff game.
To see how far Blount has come, one has to know how his career began.
Blount had a couple good years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010 and 2011 before running back Doug Martin came along, but he wasn’t without his flaws. Blount went off once in a while for big runs, but he struggled in short yardage, despite his 250-pound frame, and he had trouble finding space in between the tackles. There was a reason the Bucs drafted Martin in the first round, after all.
The same deficiencies were showing early in the 2013 season, too. He would have his long runs, like the 47-yarder against the Falcons in Week 4, but he didn’t have a touchdown run of 10 yards or under until Week 9 against the Steelers. Since then, those scores have become commonplace.
Blount had three two-yard scores in Saturday night’s game against the Colts alone. There’s little to no chance that would have happened as recently as the first half of the season. Then, Blount got some sage advice from head coach Bill Belichick.
“Bill told me — he said the only thing I wasn’t doing right was running with a lower pad level,” Blount said. “So, I changed that and I started breaking more tackles, started getting a lot of extra yardage after contact.”
That’s all it took. That’s the only thing Blount would credit with his distinct turnaround this season. If only someone had told Blount to do that earlier in his career.
“Yeah, I wish they would have told me a long time ago,” Blount said. “Who knows what could have happened.”
Blount is 6-feet — taller than most running backs. The way to tackle a bigger player is to go low. And if Blount was running high, that makes it easier to take out his legs.
It’s easy to see that Blount is running lower now. It actually began popping up around Week 13 after he was benched in Week 12 — along with Stevan Ridley — for fumbling against the Denver Broncos. Blount ran for 44 yards on 13 carries against the Houston Texans in the next week, but they were hard-fought yards, which is what Blount was lacking.
Since getting benched, Blount has 95 carries for 564 yards, 5.9 yards per carry and nine touchdowns in six games. He’s been a different player. He’s also taken over as the starter.
“Blount’s been – he’s been giving me a tough run, man,” Ridley said. “It’s tough to catch this guy right now, but I mean, when you’re breaking 50, 60, 70-yard runs, it’s going to be like that, so maybe I’ve got to up my speed in the offseason so I can catch the big boy. But he’s doing a tremendous job right now, and I’d just really say as a whole our running back room is a room that they’re leaning on, and we’re just trying our best to do our job when we go out there each and every night.”
The Patriots ran the ball 46 times for 234 yards and six touchdowns. They had 21 more rushing attempts than quarterback Tom Brady had passes. New England won 43-22 without a touchdown from Brady.
“That was amazing,” Brady said. “We keep handing it off and those guys just run so hard and do such a great job running and finding the holes where they can just slice through there and gain as many yards as they can. It was pretty cool.”
There aren’t many players that Blount can be compared to, just because there aren’t many 250-pound halfbacks. Typically players of his size get delegated to fullback duties. Blount obviously belongs in the role he’s carved out.
“I think he’s got a good set of skills to run the ball,” Belichick said. “He’s got that combination of size, power and quickness and speed. He’s not a fullback. He’s not a fullback, he’s more than that. He’s not a scat back either. He’s got power. He can run hard, he can make guys miss and he can go the distance. He’s made some big runs for us – going back to the Atlanta game and we’ve seen the last couple weeks; kickoff returns. He’s an explosive player.”
Blount was a bit of an enigma early in his career. He was the player who looked like a goal-line back, but broke off runs like he was Reggie Bush. It’s easy to see why Belichick acquired Blount from the Buccaneers for a seventh-round pick and part-time football player Jeff Demps in April. He saw a player who had one particular set of skills and upside to do much more.
With one simple lesson, Belichick has turned Blount into the back he always had the potential to be.