Patriots Mailbag: Creativity Needed To Generate Rushing Attack Vs. Broncos


Jan 22, 2016

The New England Patriots have shown an almost complete inability to run the ball in their last three games.

Is this concerning? Kind of, but not overly.

They have 171 yards on 63 carries for 2.7 yards per rush since Week 16. Veteran Steven Jackson is showing power, but the Patriots’ offensive line isn’t giving him much room to run. Brandon Bolden and James White are having similar issues.

The Patriots’ passing attack is so good, however, it might not matter if the Patriots can run, at least against the Denver Broncos on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game. The only issue the Patriots might face is putting the game away once they have a lead.

Find out how the Patriots could work around their feeble rushing attack in this week’s mailbag:

@DougKyed Going against someone experienced like Peyton, what are some tricks defenses use to disguise their coverage and rushers?
— @_blackzero
I don’t think it’s smart to try to play tricks on quarterbacks like the Broncos’ Peyton Manning, who has seen it all in his 18 years in the league. The Patriots know he isn’t going to fall for them anyway, so they might as well just play straight up and do their best to defend him.

The Patriots stayed in a Cover-3 for most of their Week 12 matchup with the Broncos when Brock Osweiler was at quarterback. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots deployed a similar game plan this week. They’ll certainly mix in some Cover-1 man looks, but they can’t allow Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders to take the top off the defense. There were times in Week 12 when Logan Ryan would jam Thomas at the line, and then a free safety would pick him up over the top in the Cover-3. It worked well.

It’s key for the Patriots to generate pressure against Manning, and they certainly don’t need to worry about him taking off and scrambling. The more Manning gets beat up, the worse he’ll play, so pass rushers Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard are just as key in defending Manning as the Patriots’ secondary.

@DougKyed Should the Patriots be worried about the Broncos targeting Gronk?
— @ConnorFloyd21
I don’t think so. Cornerback Chris Harris said the Broncos will tackle Rob Gronkowski by going for his knees, but that’s really the only way to bring him down. I don’t believe Harris meant anything malicious by his comments. It’s just common sense.

@DougKyed anything the Pats/Gronk can do to protect Gronk’s knee from almost assured targeting?
The way to protect Gronkowski is to have him run routes split outside and limit his involvement over the middle of the field. Of course, that also makes the big tight end less effective.

It’s wise to limit taking risks with Gronkowski to a certain extent, but they’ll have to let him loose at the risk of losing. Protecting Gronk can only go so far.

@DougKyed Outside of injury, can you foresee a scenario in which the Broncos would bench Manning during the game?
— @sole_dier
I believe the Broncos would have to turn the ball over multiple times in the first half without a single offensive score to turn to Osweiler in the second half. The Patriots would probably have to have a 24-plus-point lead, as well.

Essentially, going to Osweiler would be a pure desperation move, and since the game is in Denver, and the Broncos have come back against the Patriots once this season, it would take a lot for them to panic.

@DougKyed Can the Patriots stop the run even if Hightower and Collins are not playing up to their level due to injuries?
— @patriot_paul12
No, probably not, but I’m also not sure if it matters.

The key is for the Patriots to limit big runs from the Broncos. I don’t believe the Broncos’ offense can keep up with the Patriots if all they’re doing is running for 4 or 5 yards per carry. Eventually they’ll grow impatient and try to throw the ball with Manning. If the Patriots are letting up 20- or 30-yard runs, then the Broncos can keep up with New England’s high-powered offense without depending on Manning.

Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins have been practicing, which is a good sign for their playing status. When both are healthy and playing, the Patriots’ defense is one of the best in the NFL.

@DougKyed after seeing the success that Martavis Bryant had on his end arounds, do you expect to see Edelman/LaFell with a few carries?
— @LaneWalker12
Definitely, and I actually wonder why the Patriots don’t run more end-arounds. Patriots receivers had eight carries this season for 49 yards. Edelman is especially adept on end-arounds and had a 12-yard long carry this season.

Bryant ripped off a 40-yard carry against the Broncos on Sunday, and gimmick runs with receivers might be the only way the Patriots gain yards on the ground with the way the Patriots’ running backs and offensive line are struggling with carries between the tackles.

The Patriots also will continue to use the short passing game to replace runs.

@DougKyed I know they both have a part, but who is deserves more credit for pats extended success: brady or belichick?
— @patsfan120
Whoo. That’s a tough question.

How about this: Tom Brady deserves more credit for the Patriots’ four Super Bowl wins, and Bill Belichick deserves more credit for the Patriots’ extended success. Does that make everyone happy?

Belichick has built successful teams and coached them up for 16 seasons. At the same time, the players deserve most of the on-field credit for success, so Belichick has brought them there, but Brady has actually won the games.

@DougKyed biggest need this offseason? I would have to say LB, TE, or RB.
— @ToriGrignon
I’d also throw in defensive tackle, depending on whether they re-sign Akiem Hicks (unlikely), and wide receiver. There’s uncertainty at receiver because of Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola’s contracts. The Patriots also might feel they can upgrade the No. 3 receiver position either through the draft or in free agency.

I wouldn’t be shocked if LeGarrette Blount is back with the Patriots, and Tyler Gaffney will have another offseason to compete for a role, but New England could use a boost at the “big back” position.

@DougKyed stuck on an island, can only bring 3 things, what are your choices?
— @PatsStuffDaily

1. Solar panels
2. Laptop
3. Box of matches

@DougKyed what’s the attitude/feeling in the locker room?
— @patsfan120
The Patriots seem very serious this week, and I believe that starts with Belichick, who has been no-nonsense.

@DougKyed who is your favorite Mario Kart character?
— @NickCalabrease
I’m a Super Mario Kart guy, and I always go with Toad. He’s like a little third-down back.

In fact, let’s compare the Mario Kart characters to NFL running backs:
Mario: Adrian Peterson
Luigi: Matt Forte
Yoshi: Marshawn Lynch
Peach: DeMarco Murray
Toad: Dion Lewis
Koopa: Danny Woodhead
Bowser: LeGarrette Blount
Donkey Kong: Eddie Lacy

.@DougKyed What product do you use to get your hair to look so fantastic on @NESNLive #mailbagquestions
— @Hinesight
@DougKyed what hair products do you use?
— @thebirdman987
Yeah, that’s right, two people asked me this question. American Crew Fiber.

Also, tune into NESN Live most days (and especially Wednesday and Friday) to watch me talk Patriots.

@DougKyed what match up do you think dictates the game the most
— @PatsTalk1
I’m very interested to see how Ryan fares against Thomas. The Broncos receiver was held to just one catch for 36 yards on 13 targets in Week 12, and there’s pretty much no way he’s THAT bad again this week. Some of his struggles were linked to solid coverage from Ryan, but others were because he was dropping passes, and Osweiler couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn while targeting him.

If Ryan can limit Thomas again, the Patriots should be able to move the ball offensively well enough to outpace the Broncos. If Thomas can have more success, however, it could be enough to be a different-maker in this game.

@DougKyed can you think of a worse possible Wrestlemania opponent for Brock Lesnar than the rumored BRAUN STROMAN
— @lobster_dog
That’s an actual real-life rumor?!

Oh, no.

@DougKyed who do you think/hope wins the Royal Rumble on sunday?
— @AirLarsen
I always hope for the most unexpected outcome, so in a dream world, it would be someone out of left field like Luke Harper.

The most likely scenarios are Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar or Triple H. I won’t be watching anyway, however, because WWE is stupid and scheduled the Royal Rumble for the same night as the NFL conference championship games. Way to go, guys.

On an unrelated note, how awful was Raw last week? Nearly unwatchable. WWE desperately needs some regained health. Hopefully by Wrestlemania, they’ll be firing on all cylinders again like the Patriots’ offense. And I’m going, so it better be good.

Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images

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