Posted Oct 11, 2012Comments: It feels like old times in New England for those of us weaned on the smash-mouth mother's milk of 1970s Patriots football. The 2012 Patriots, through five weeks, are running the ball more often than any team in football and doing it with great success. The Patriots right now rank:
- No. 1 on the Cold, Hard Football Facts Offensive Hog Index, the best offensive line in football
- No. 1 in rushing attempts (191)
- No. 1 in attempts per game (38.2)
- No. 1 in rushing TDs (10)
- No. 1 in first-down runs (33.5%)
- No. 3 in rush yards (827) and rush yards per game (165.4)
The Patriots are on pace to score 32 rushing touchdowns this year, which would be a franchise record and fall just four scores shy of the all-time standard set by Vince Lombardi's magnificent 1962 Packers.
The commitment to the run has given the 2012 season a comforting old-school flavor.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts don't do “feelings.” But if we did, the smash-mouth football we're witnessing right now would just “feel” right here in a cool, cozy and colorful New England autumn. New England this year is not running the ball particularly well. The team averages 4.33 YPA on the ground – good enough for No. 9 league wide, but hardly a lights-out performance.
That effort pales in comparison to the 49ers, for example. They lead the NFL with an awesome average of 6.08 YPA every time they run the ball, a pace so good it gives them a chance to set the all-time record set by the 1963 Browns (5.74 YPA).
What's different for these Patriots is something that's been missing around here for quite some time: a commitment to the run.
It seems in past years New England would abandon the run too quickly, counting on the Hall of Fame arm of Tom Brady to carry the team through any situation.
But that approach has its limits. Balance is what wins in the NFL. The great formula for success in the NFL is to pair a highly effective passing game with a commitment to the run – no matter how well or how poorly you actually do run the football.
The key yards will come through the air. But it's that commitment to the run that provides the necessary balance.
The Patriots have long had a highly effective passing game, and still do today behind Brady, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. What's been missing in recent years is the commitment to provide balance.
Let's look at the run-pass balance in the Super Bowl-winning seasons of last decade:
- 2001 Patriots – 473 runs, 482 passes (49.5% runs)
- 2003 Patriots – 473 runs, 537 passes (46.8%)
- 2004 Patriots – 524 runs, 485 passes (51.9%)
More recent teams – teams that won games but not championships – have been heavily imbalanced in favor of the pass.
- 2007 Patriots – 451 runs, 586 passes (43.5%)
- 2008 Patriots – 513 runs, 534 passes (49.0%)
- 2009 Patriots – 466 runs, 592 passes (44.0%)
- 2010 Patriots – 454 runs, 507 passes (47.2%)
- 2011 Patriots – 438 runs, 612 passes (41.7%)
That's good news for Patriots fans. They can hope that this much-needed balance on offense – that old-school-style smash-mouth football – will yield the same results in 2012 as it did the last time we saw it in 2004.