FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots know they have an issue with their rushing attack. That’s a good first step. They also sound optimistic that their issues can be resolved at the midway point of the season.
The Patriots have an 8-0 record on the season, but they rank 23rd in rushing yards per game, and they’re tied for last with the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets in yards per carry. That’s not the company you want to keep.
The Patriots’ rushing attack was a strength at the end of the 2018 season and into their playoff run that culminated with a sixth Super Bowl title. So, what happened? Left tackle Trent Brown departed for the Oakland Raiders, and center David Andrews was lost for the season with a blood clot in his lungs.
Brown’s replacement, Isaiah Wynn, hit injured reserve with turf toe and can’t return until Week 12. Fullback James Develin is on injured reserve with a neck injury, and his replacement, Jakob Johnson, is out for the season. Starting right guard Shaq Mason was out for the Patriots’ Week 8 win over the Cleveland Browns with an ankle injury. Running back Rex Burkhead also missed time with injuries. It’s not hard to see why this particular part of the Patriots’ offense is stumbling out of the gate.
“It’s all of us,” running backs coach Ivan Fears said Monday. “It’s everybody. It’s not one thing. That’s the problem. It’s not one thing. It’s everybody. It’s a combination of circumstances. We’ve got injuries. We’ve got different people. It’s a whole bunch of stuff. And we’ve got to all come together and fix this thing the right way.”
Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is taking the brunt of the blame.
“No one’s satisfied with it,” Scarnecchia said. “I think we have good backs, and we have to do better. We have to do better up front. I have to do better. I have to do a lot better. Let’s leave it at that. It’s not very pleasing.”
Fears has a positive outlook, however. With the trade deadline looming, Fears believes the Patriots can run with the pieces they currently have in the locker room. It will help when Wynn and Mason return, and the Patriots have new tight ends who are better built to block in Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson.
“We’ve got to figure that out, and everybody has to do their job, and they’ve got to do their role,” Fears said. “And they’ve got to do it at a higher level than we’ve done. And that’s across the board. There’s no ‘you, me, I’m doing this,’ no, no. We’ve all got a piece of this, what’s going on, and even as far as unfortunately losing some pieces. That happened, but we’ve got to turn it around. That’s what we’re going to try to get done.”
Fears stressed that he’s happy with Sony Michel, the Patriots’ 2018 first-round pick, who has 140 carries for 464 yards with six touchdowns on the season while averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
“I’m happy he’s still alive,” Fears said. “I’m happy he’s doing a great job. He’s still pretty healthy. He’s playing well, in my mind. He’s doing a lot of good things, and like everybody, he’s got his moments that he’s hurting us. He’s making a mistake too. He’s got to correct those mistakes, be a little bit more consistent in the things he’s doing which will fit in with what everybody else is doing. And hopefully, we’ll be more productive overall.
“But I thought he ran hard this weekend. He was running the ball well. The good news for us is Josh (McDaniels) is continually calling the run game, giving us a chance, and that’s keeping us a little bit balanced. You want it to be more productive, but at least we’re balanced right now. And we’ve got to keep that up.”
Fears also pointed out the Patriots have to start avoiding negative plays. Michel has lost yards on 16 carries this season. He lost yards on just 12 plays last season despite 209 carries.
“That’s part of Sony, his decisions,” Fears said. “He can’t take a chance and say, ‘I’ll bounce this thing’ or go east and west all day. He’s got to frigging get downhill. Nothing there, get downhill and run through somebody and let’s go. All of that’s part of it.”
Fears is just being honest. He does believe Michel is playing well this season.
“I’m very happy with Sony,” Fears said. “Let’s put it that way. I’m very happy with Sony. I’ll leave it there.”
Let’s leave it there.