FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots aren’t just relying heavily on their running backs in games but also in practice.
Following the Patriots’ Week 13 win over the Buffalo Bills and Week 15 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, all five of the team’s running backs were named practice players of the week.
It’s a testament to how hard Mike Gillislee, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden and James White work in practice but also to the talent level of Bills running back LeSean McCoy and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. It takes five players to imitate the skill sets of each of those running backs.
“They’ve done a great job with facing very good backs, and I would say unique backs,” Belichick said Friday. “McCoy is a different kind of guy, Bell had a different type of running style, so things like that. So, to try to get somebody to try to give the defense the look that those players — the way those players do it — takes some work from that group. Instead of going out there and just taking the ball and running with it, it’s trying to watch film and understand how those backs run and what would help our defense, how to help the defense by giving them that same kind of look.
“They do a real good job of that. I know, our defensive players and coaches really recognize and appreciate that, and we told them that on Wednesday that, ‘This is a great look this week. Give it to us again on Thursday and Friday,’ and they did. And, you come to the end of the week and then you go into the game and you feel like you’re looking at something pretty similar to what you looked at in practice. A lot of times that goes the other way. It’s not always that way. You see something in practice and then you get in the game and what you’ve been practicing against isn’t really what you’re playing against. In those cases, it was recognized they did a really good job for us.”
The Patriots’ defense didn’t do a great job limiting either back, but New England won both of those games. McCoy had 17 total touches for 102 yards while Bell had 29 total touches for 165 yards with one touchdown.
Belichick went deep explaining how imitating an NFL superstar can be beneficial for a player in practice.
“We talk to the players about that all the time is that’s your opportunity in practice as being somebody else,” Belichick said. “Being another receiver, another tight end or another corner or another linebacker or whatever the position is — to work on something else, to work on a speed-to-power move, to work on a double-move, to work on a jump cut, whatever it happens to be. And that opportunity is usually offensively to get the ball.
“So, those kind of highlighted guys are players that we know we have to stop from the other team. They have plays designed to go to those players. So again, whether it’s double moves or some type of special route that they run or special running play that is designed for them, it gives those players a chance to run it. We might not have that play, or they might not be the one running it if we have a play like that or similar play like that. It might be somebody else, so it gives them a chance to work on that. A lot of times we see those things.
“We see, ‘oh gee, this guy did a good job with this particular thing this week when he was pretending to be somebody else.’ Maybe that’s a skill we hadn’t clearly identified or seen it and had a chance to identify earlier, and now that kind of sticks out. So, ‘OK, maybe we can develop that a little bit more.’ So, it’s definitely a good opportunity for a player to highlight something, to have a chance to do something and then highlight the fact that he can do it.”
Thumbnail photo via Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports Images