5 thoughts on return of LeGarrette Blount, state of Patriots running game
|11.21.14 at 12:12 am ET|
1. In stark contrast to the nasty words that were coming out of the Pittsburgh locker room in the wake of what happened with LeGarrette Blount over the last week, on Thursday, the vibe around the Patriots was all good when it came to the newest Patriot. Special teams captain Matthew Slater called him a “great teammate,” while fullback James Develin said it was “good” to have him back. Meanwhile, Jonas Gray — who likely will see his role shrink some with the addition of Blount — said he had no problem with the move, adding that the veteran is is a “great guy to learn from.” As for what sort of role awaits him, it’s likely he’ll split duties with Gray as the primary between-the-tackles back, as well as serve as some sort of insurance policy if the stage gets too big for the youngster, or if he puts the ball on the ground at some point. It’s also possible he sees time as a part-time kick returner — with the occasional exception of Danny Amendola, no one has really done much to distinguish themselves in the position. With his background last year, it certainly makes sense for the Patriots to give him a shot back there.
2. Few teams have seen the type of turnover at the running back position as New England. With the injury to Ridley, if form holds, the Patriots will have their sixth different back lead the team in rushing in 2014 over the last decade — only four other teams (Saints, Browns, Broncos and Cardinals) have had more. Corey Dillon (2004-2006), Laurence Maroney (2007, 2009), Sammy Morris (2008), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2010-2011) and Stevan Ridley (2012-2013). And now, with Ridley on the shelf the rest of the year, this season it figures to be either Vereen, Gray or Blount. That could change again next year, as Brandon Bolden, Ridley and Shane Vereen are all in the final year of their contracts, while Blount, Gray and rookie James White are all under contract for 2015. (In addition, Tyler Gaffney, who was claimed by the Patriots this summer but is spending the year on injured reserve because of a knee issue, is still a possibility to be a part of the mix next season.) Regardless, even with all the changes, things could still change between now and the start of next season.
3. As forward thinking as the Patriots offense — and the passing game in particular — has been the last few years, there’s something impressively retro about what New England might be able to do this season. If we operate with the idea that a “running back by committee” includes a team with four backs with at least 40 carries, it appears that for the second straight season, the Patriots will attempt to be the first team to win a Super Bowl using the “running back by committee” approach since the 1987 Redskins, who won Super Bowl. Right now, the Patriots three different backs reach with at least 69 carries (Ridley with 94, Vereen with 70 and Gray with 69). While some of those numbers are borne out of necessarily since Ridley went down, if Blount is able to click down the stretch for New England — and it’s entirely possible he can hit the 40-carry mark, given his experience in the system — he would be a fourth. If the Patriots could take the title, it would represent the greatest cross-section of work for running backs for any Super Bowl champion since that Washington team emerged with a win in Super Bowl XXII. (Of course, that Redskins team could be discounted on a penalty, as that was a strike year and one of the backs was a scab who rushed 80 times in three strike games but never played another down. If you disqualify them on a technicality, them the last true RBBC team to win a Super Bowl in a non-strike year was the 1981 Niners, a team that had five different backs finish with 40 carries or more: Ricky Patton, Earl Cooper, Johnny Davis, Walt Easley and Paul Hofer.)
4. The guy who will be affected the least when it comes to his role down the stretch and (presumably) into the postseason is Vereen. A third-down option who has become a steady and reliable presence as a pass catcher out of the backfield, he will stay in his role as an occasional ballcarrier, but will also continue to be featured as either the third or fourth option in the passing game behind Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. For what it’s worth, Vereen is closing in on the second 40-catch, 40-carry season of his career. After 10 games, he has 70 carries for 328 yards, both of which are career highs, as well as 35 catches on 53 targets for 305 yards and three touchdowns. He’s only one of six backs in the league who have at least 70 carries and 35 catches at this point in the season, joining a group that includes Dallas’ DeMarco Murray, Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, Arizona’s Andre Ellington, Chicago’s Matt Forte and Indy’s Ahmad Bradshaw.)
5. When it comes to Blount, it has almost as much to do with including him on your roster as it does keeping him away from running back-starved teams like the Colts and Broncos. While every team had a crack at him via waivers, the idea of Blount with Indy or Denver for the stretch drive and into the postseason certainly makes a lot of sense. Both teams are headed for the playoffs, but both the Colts and Broncos have major questions about the state of their respective running games at this time of the year. Indy has just lost Ahmad Bradshaw for the season with an ankle injury he sustained in the loss to the Patriots last Sunday, while Trent Richardson has been unable to gain any sort of traction in his relatively short career with the Colts. In addition, the Broncos are struggling when it comes to picking up quality yardage on the ground — starter Montee Ball is still struggling with a groin injury and backup Ronnie Hillman will apparently miss another week because of a foot injury. In the meantime, Denver will lean on C.J. Anderson and unddrafted rookies Juwan Thompson and Kapri Bibbs, as well as practice squadder Jeremy Stewart. (Word out of Denver was that the franchise believed there wasn’t enough time left in the season for a running back to come in and learn the team’s offensive system.)