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NFL Playbook: Analyzing the Patriots Running Game

by Photo of Taylor Armosino

Find out why New England ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards

NFL Playbook: Analyzing the Patriots Running Game

In this article…

After a 1-2 start to the season, the New England Patriots now sit atop the AFC East after two decisive victories over Buffalo and Denver. The Patriot offense has scored a whopping 83 points over the past two games. As usual, Tom Brady has played at an extremely high level this season: 8 touchdown passes to 1 interception and a quarterback rating of 102.6. In addition to the great passing, New England has an added element to their offense this season: the running game. New England has run the ball for the 3rd most yards in football through five weeks, trailing only Kansas City and San Francisco. The Patriots boast a lethal three-headed monster of running backs in Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead. This Patriots running game has has been especially productive over the past two games, rushing for 498 yards in the two games combined. 

In Sunday's 31-21 win over Denver, New England piled up 254 rushing yards on 54 carries. Stevan Ridley was the leading rusher for the team with 151 yards on 28 carries. No running game can be successful without a good offensive line. The Patriot offensive line has been absolutely fantastic through the first five weeks. In this post, I am going to break down some different things the Patriots do in the running game and why they are so successful.

First play: Inside dive

  

This first run is an inside dive with Stevan Ridley as the featured back. As you can see in the photo, this is not a very complicated running play. New England double teams both inside tackles. With the double team, the goal is to neutralize the tackle first before having one of the offensive lineman slip off to pick up linebackers on the second level. As you'll see, the Patriots do a masterful job in the double team game. 

 

As you can see, New England is effective in their double teams. They move the tackles right out of their gaps and create a running lane for Ridley right up the middle of the formation. In blue, I highlighted the Patriot offensive guards. Both guards slip off their double teams to engage with Denver's linebackers on the second level. Ridley runs 5 yards before even engaging a defender and ends up running for 7 yards on the play.  

Second play: Inside power

The inside power is the staple of New England's running game. They run it out of all sorts of formations, whether they're running plays out of the shotgun, with multiple tight ends, with no tight ends or with two running backs. In this situation, they run the play with two tight ends and one running back. With an inside power, you get a double team on the front side with the backside guard pulling to lead the running back to daylight. As you can see here, the Patriots are double teaming the tackle on the front side with their tackle and guard and the backside guard (blue) leads the back up through the hole created by the double team. As I talked about earlier, the Patriots double team will result in them actually blocking two defenders. Number 77, Nate Solder, will slip off his double team and pick up the backside linebacker. Notice also on the far left of the formation how the Patriots second tight end, number 86 Daniel Fells, will block the safety on the second level. This is important later on.

Number 63 is the pulling guard and you can see he delivers a solid block on the linebacker. Solder, 77, picks up the backside guard. In blue, I highlighted the result of New England's double team. The Patriots completely dominate Denver's defensive tackle and put him on the ground, taking him out of the play completely. 

As you can see, the Patriots create a nice running lane for Ridley. They use good blocking angles and create seal the defense off enough for Ridley to get up into the second level of the defense. It is difficult to see in the photo, but highlighted in yellow is Daniel Fells. New England's tight end is able to keep Denver's safety from coming across the formation to meet Ridley in the running lane and make the tackle. Ridley reads his blocks well and explodes for a 15 yard gain. 

The third play: Inside trap

This is probably my favorite play I saw New England run on Sunday. The trap play was once a fixture of the NFL running game, but as the game has advanced, you see fewer traps being run. The basic idea of the play is to let the defensive tackle run free and block down on everyone else. The backside guard pulls and picks off the free running tackle and the running back cuts right off the guard's block. In this play, the guard is highlighted in blue and the tackle being trapped is highlighted in black.

The trap takes the defensive tackle completely out of the play. On the backside, the Patriots do a good job of sealing off the Denver defense. The offensive tackle gets up on the second level to the linebacker, number 51 Joe Mays. Ridley has a clean running lane and picks up 5 yards on the play. 

 Last play: Pitch

This is actually a play the Patriots run inside Denver's 10 yard line. It results in an 8 yard touchdown run by our man Ridley. This is a play that really showcases the great synchronization of New England's offensive line. Using the advantage of knowing a) where they are going and b) the snap count, New England's offensive line has to beat each Denver defender to the point of attack and seal them off from getting outside to disrupt the pitch. The tackle, number 77 Solder, is going to pull out and pick up the cornerback (not shown in this photo). You can see the black highlighted block coming from off the screen. That is going to be receiver Brandon Lloyd, who delivers a devastating 'crack back'  block on number 57. 

Notice the position of the Denver defenders. New England does a great job of sealing off the edge, as none of the Bronco defenders are in position to get outside and disrupt the play. In black, you can see that Lloyd is about to lay out number 57, Keith Brooking. In blue, Solder gets outside cleanly and has a clear path to block the cornerback.

Ridley has a wide running lane to run through, as the Patriots offense does a phenomenal job of walling off the Denver defense. The only defender in position to potentially make a play is the safety coming over the top, but he is too far to stop Ridley from picking up positive yardage. Solder gets enough of the cornerback to spring Ridley into the endzone for an 8 yard touchdown. The third quarter score gives New England a 31-7 lead and put the game away for the Patriots. 

I really like what New England has been doing on offense. I think their fast-paced, versatile running game provides the perfect compliment to Tom Brady and that high-powered passing attack. The Patriots have been running a lot of no huddle offense which has allowed them to run a lot of offensive plays. Against Denver on Sunday, New England ran 89 total plays, including 54 rushes. This style of offense keeps the defense from making substitutions and also wears the defense down sooner. The emergence of the Patriot running game will create more problems than usual for defensive coordinators around the league. While New England has always been a solid running team, the focal point of the offense has always been the passing game. Not that the focal point has changed, but the Patriots are a far more balanced offensive team. I think this rushing attack makes them better and I think it makes them a serious Super Bowl contender in the AFC. 

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