September 25, 2016

Won If By Land

snapp828By Dan Snapp
[email protected]

With the Asante Samuel impasse resolved, seemingly the final obstacle to a Patriots return trip to the Super Bowl has been removed. Now’s the time to plot the path.

So after an offseason rife with thrilling acquisition after thrilling acquisition at wide receiver, the plan must be clear: Air McDaniels ready for takeoff? We’d better hope not. The path of least resistance to Super Bowl XLII is on the ground.

Come again?

Look, we’re not kidding ourselves here. With Tom Brady choosing targets from amongst Randy Moss, Donte’ Stallworth, Wes Welker, Ben Watson, et al, the Patriots are going to pass the ball a lot. A whole hell of a lot.

Instead, we’re striking a cry for balance, and even a run-first mentality, if possible. Hopefully, Friday night’s exhibition – in which the Pats ran the ball the first nine snaps from scrimmage – was an epiphany for the coaches, showing what Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and the offensive line can accomplish if just given the chance.

The Patriots are the early media favorites to win it all, with the only possible impediments being injuries (how great is it, and what does it say about this team, that hoping for an injury is the best that rivals have got?), an aging linebacker corps, and the off chance Moss will blow up somewhere along the way.

Moss we can’t do anything about, but with a contract year, the chance for a ring, and the Hall of Fame in the balance, it’s a good bet we won’t be hearing, “That’s just Randy being Randy.” And running the ball will go a long way toward alleviating the other concerns.

Tom Brady getting injured is a Pats fan’s worst nightmare, and if Josh McDaniels succumbs to the temptation for the offense to become Indy East, we’ll all be living that nightmare.

The same logic follows for the talented but long-in-the-tooth linebackers, forever the key to Bill Belichick’s 3-4 scheme. The addition of Adalius Thomas helps immensely, but the position is still thin after the first five. With a pass-heavy attack lengthening games, by November we’ll be counting Tedy Bruschi’s reps the same way they’re charting Brady’s throws now.

A good running game, giving Brady relief from pass rushers, eating time off the clock to give the defense a rest, is the panacea to those fears. Moreover, history has shown that at some point in the season, they’re gonna need it.

John Elway had “Can’t win the big one” looming over his career before Terrell Davis’ monster seasons rewrote the script with two Super Bowl wins. Mike Martz foolishly, arrogantly turned his back on the run when it was being offered on a platter, and his Rams lost because of it. Just last year, the Colts and Peyton Manning shunned their usual pad-the-stats approach, and a balanced attack produced a Lombardi Trophy.

With the evolution of the game into a more pass-driven affair, fans today have missed out on the joys of a great rushing attack. There’s so much that goes into it – scheme, timing, aggressiveness, and practice upon practice to iron it all out – that when it all comes together, it’s truly a thing of beauty.

The psychology, and mentality, of it is also something to behold. There’s an old story about a game in the mid-70s in which Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks wanted to test exactly what he had in Sam Cunningham running behind John Hannah and Leon Gray. Fairbanks called the same play all the way up the field until they scored. Imagine the utter helplessness of that defense, knowing exactly what was coming and still powerless to stop it.

The encouraging signs out of Foxboro, especially last Friday night, are that the run won’t be forgotten. The line is shifting its philosophy toward more zone-blocking techniques to utilize Maroney’s great burst into the second level of would-be tacklers, and the team replaced blocking workhorse Daniel Graham with tight end Kyle Brady, possibly his equal as a blocker.

John Molori, in this week’s Media Blitz, had a great quote from Cris Carter about how the two elements – passing and running – work in tandem, and Randy Moss’s role in it:

“In the simplest of terms, the Patriots are going to be able to run to the strong side because their opponents are going to have to commit the safety to Randy. Strong side running is a key to success in the NFL.”

Giddy-up.

Three yards and a cloud of comments.

Comments

  1. Box Score says:

    Well struck, Dan. Although seeing Cris Carter make a good point is disconcerting, to say the least.

  2. Seems like Carter and Moss’s former Marshall coach Bobby Pruett have themselves positioned as the go-to guys for the “Randy’s going to be fine” quotes.

    Politician that he is, I always take Carter’s comments with a grain of salt. I thought this one was noteworthy, though, as it came from purely a football strategy standpoint.

  3. A team doesn’t need a decent rushing attack or even a balanced offense to succeed; for example the 2003 Patriots won a championship with the 27th rated rushing attack. At the same time I wouldn’t be too worried about this team becoming the 2004 Colts because of the glut at WR. If anything the Patriots will continue to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. For instance last Friday against Carolina they kept banging away with Maroney on that first series. On other occasions they’ve utilized spread offenses with an empty backfield for significant stretches. In short, while it’s nice the Pats are loaded at wideout, I believe it will simply allow them to better attack their opponents Achilles’ Heel (within the confines of their modified Erhardt-Perkins system).

  4. John A Hannah says:

    The truth behind the story – Leon and I had held out in 1977 due to contract negotiations. The previous game was rainy and not a good conditioning game. In San Diego the weather was warm and the sun was shining. I think coach was doing not only to see if we could but also to check our conditioning. There were actually two plays. One was Slant 19 which was a play to the weakside outside the tackle and slant 15, a weakside play that broke either inside or outside the tackle. If my memory is correc it was a 14 play drive and yes, we did score.

  5. A team doesn’t need a decent rushing attack or even a balanced offense to succeed; for example the 2003 Patriots won a championship with the 27th rated rushing attack. At the same time I wouldn’t be too worried about this team becoming the 2004 Colts because of the glut at WR. If anything the Patriots will continue to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. For instance last Friday against Carolina they kept banging away with Maroney on that first series. On other occasions they’ve utilized spread offenses with an empty backfield for significant stretches. In short, while it’s nice the Pats are loaded at wideout, I believe it will simply allow them to better attack their opponents Achilles’ Heel (within the confines of their modified Erhardt-Perkins system).

  6. They got runs like the flu says:

    What the hell? Cogent analysis by Cris Carter?

  7. Uh, since when did Belichick + co. need to be reminded to run the ball?

    When the Pats have had a strong running game, BB’s made use of it. When they haven’t, he’s worked around it.

  8. They got runs like the flu says:

    Coulda used a reminder during the second half of the AFC Championship game

  9. If Randy Moss’ one positive contribution this year is taking Bob Sanders out of run support, then the Moss era will likely be an overwhelming success.

  10. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s probably the first member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to ever post on Patriots Daily. Maybe Mike Haynes slipped one in when I wasn’t looking.

  11. Box Score says:

    It was definitely legitimate too. You can tell because his fingers are too big to consistently use the space bar. Keep em coming, Hog, it’s great to have you.

  12. Box Score says:

    But then it was edited….

  13. I believe the 1978 Patriots still hold the league’s team rushing record: 3,165 yards, and with no player going over 1,000 yards. Cunningham led the team with 768, Horace Ivory and Andy Johnson had 693 and 675, respectively, and Steve Grogan ran for 539 yards himself.

    Different era, indeed.

  14. First Curt Schilling on Sons of Sam Horn, now my father’s hero on Pats Daily That type of “insider info” is awesome. Is Stevie Grogan available? Or maybe Rod Rust?

    In all seriousness though, having the players interact with the fans this way is fantastic! (Mr. Hannah, not necessarily Mr. Schilling.)

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