FOXBORO, Mass. – LeGarrette Blount gets the deserved hype for his performance in the New England Patriots’ playoff win on Saturday night, but the efforts of the rest of the team’s rushing offense cannot be understated.
Blount, running backs Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and James Develin, tight ends Matthew Mulligan and Michael Hoomanawanui and the entire offensive line turned Tom Brady into nothing more than a game manager against the Indianapolis Colts. With Aaron Dobson on the mend and Rob Gronkowski out for the season, that might be necessary this postseason.
Opposing teams still need to prepare as if Brady is going to play like Brady. So even after New England ran the ball 46 times and passed 25, whoever the Patriots face in the AFC Championship Game cannot stack the box and gameplan to stop Blount and the rushing attack. That’s the beauty of New England’s offense right now.
It helps, of course, that Blount is playing better than any running back left in the playoffs. Over the last two games, Blount has 355 yards on 48 carries with six touchdowns. Those are Madden numbers; if someone boosted Blount’s trucking, elusiveness, ball carrier vision and speed.
But Blount is getting space to run thanks to his offensive line, led by Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins, who appeared to be fully healthy on Saturday night despite suffering an ankle injury in Week 17.
“It says a lot about that offensive line,” Blount said on Saturday about his performance. “They couldn’t have put up a better performance. They’ve been doing this throughout the whole season, and I think Logan [Mankins] has been the only one that’s got the recognition, but it’s all of those [guys] up there that contain and do awesome and make those holes for me and Shane [Vereen] and [Stevan Ridley] and Brandon [Bolden].”
The blockers returned Blount’s favor and chose to praise the running backs. In reality, one wouldn’t look good without the other. The offensive line and running backs are both playing well when the Patriots need it most.
“We got some tremendous running backs,” Mulligan said on Saturday. “It makes it really easy for us as blockers. We got guys in the backfield that can basically do anything they want with the football.”
One of the benefits of running the ball is bleeding the clock. New England won the time of possession battle 35:00 to 25:00 on Saturday. On their final offensive drive, the Patriots held the ball for seven minutes and 35 seconds. Brady dropped back to pass just three times. That’s effective running.
“Me personally, I believe that our team is the best when we are running the ball like that,” Mankins said. “The more runs we get, I think the better we are and the better chance we have to win.”
Mankins’ theory will hold true deeper into the postseason. The Patriots need to get off to an early lead in order to lean on the running game, and that means Brady and the defense will have to come out of the gate hot.
Once New England has that lead, though, it will be difficult for a team to mount a comeback. It was thanks to Blount and the rest of the rushing offense, including Brady, that prevented Luck from even having a chance at mounting a comeback.
“Half of those runs you see, that’s Tom reading the defense and checking to those runs,” Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib said. “He’s not throwing the ball but he’s making plays and reading the defense so he looked good to me.”