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Patriots balancing their act

Rushing attack is making gains

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / November 24, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — BenJarvus Green-Ellis doesn’t feel overworked these days. The Patriots tailback doesn’t feel more sore the day after a game this season than he did in his previous two. Being more involved with the offense can help soothe aching joints.

Green-Ellis has more carries this season (133) than he had in his first two years combined (100). He owns a team-high seven rushing touchdowns and 568 rushing yards. The Patriots haven’t had the services of Fred Taylor (toe) and Kevin Faulk (injured reserve) for much of this season, but they have been able to rely on Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead to shoulder the load.

Green-Ellis and Woodhead have combined to give the Patriots an option to complement Tom Brady’s arm. They are averaging 113 yards rushing per game, which ranks in the middle of the pack in the NFL. Green-Ellis barrels through the line for yards. Woodhead is shifty and quick.

“I’m not really sure how it has an effect on the defense and things like that, but Danny is getting in there and he’s running,’’ Green-Ellis said. “We’re both running and catching balls out of the backfield. We’re just both trying to stay productive.’’

The duo is giving the Patriots more balance. Brady has averaged 33 passing attempts a game, while the Patriots have called an average of 27 running plays. In the 31-28 victory against the Colts Sunday, the running game produced 168 yards on 34 carries, while Brady completed 19 of 25 passes for 186 yards.

The goal is to achieve balance, but coach Bill Belichick said that is not always easy.

“I think that’s the toughest thing for the defense to defend is when you’ve got to defend everything,’’ Belichick said. “You have to defend inside runs, outside runs, short passes, intermediate passes, deep passes, screens, reverses. If you can make a lot of things work, then it’s hard for the defense to say, ‘Well, we’re going to take this away,’ because there’s so many other things that are a problem.

“On the other hand, if you can do something real well and you can just keep doing it, or do a couple things real well . . . and they complement each other, then that’s hard for a defense to stop, too.

“It isn’t all about how many things you can do; it’s basically about how many things you can do well. I think, in this league, if you can only do one thing well, it’s going to be hard against NFL defenses to make that go very far. It might get you a little ways, but sooner or later, somebody’s going to be able to handle it and then you have to have something else.’’

The rushing total against the Colts was the second-highest of the season for the Patriots. Against the Bills in Week 3, they rushed for 200 yards in a 38-30 victory. Three times this season, New England has been held under 100 yards rushing, including losses to the Jets and Browns. The other instance was against the Chargers, who missed a game-tying field goal attempt in the final seconds.

“Every game is different,’’ Brady said. “Obviously, having balance in what we’re trying to do is very important because we’re able to run the ball. When we’re able to run it, that sets up our play-action and it sets up a lot of things we’re doing.

“Anyone who has ever played this game knows that you run it until they can stop it. You can control the tempo of the game running the ball and I think that’s what we’ve done a good job of the last couple of weeks.’’

Part of the reason the Patriots have been able to squeeze more out of their running game is the offensive line, tight ends, and receivers blocking and creating gaps.

Against the Colts, receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch picked up blocks downfield to help Woodhead score his third touchdown of the season.

“As a receiver, getting on the field and blocking and helping out is part of your job and something you have to stay on top of,’’ Welker said. “It’s something you have to do on a daily basis. A lot of times when you block like that, it sets up the passing game.’’

As the Patriots play through the second half of the season, Belichick can see improvements in the running game that have allowed Green-Ellis and Woodhead to be successful.

“I think there are some things that are better. I think there’re some things that have definitely improved,’’ Belichick said. “A lot of our techniques have improved.

“Still, it’s a different matchup each week. If you’re fundamentally doing things well, then that’s a huge start. That goes a long way. Then you still have to execute it against a particular scheme and the players [of] your next opponent — what they use.’’

Tomorrow the Patriots face the Lions, whose run defense ranks 26th, allowing 130.6 yards a game. If the Patriots need a few yards rushing, Green-Ellis is ready to chip in.

“I feel pretty good right now,’’ he said. “I can’t complain and I won’t complain. Whatever I can do to continue to help the team come away with wins.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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