The New England Patriots took the field looking quite different than they have in recent years. The team lost almost every single receiving option from Tom Brady’s 2012 arsenal thanks to an a-typically eventful off-season for Bill Belichick and company.
Offensively this Patriots team looks different in more ways than roster turnover. Usually a team that opts to pass rather than develop a consistent rushing attack, the Patriots came out running and didn’t look back on Friday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Perhaps that was because the Patriots are still attempting to figure out who is going to become Tom Brady’s receiving corps in a season that saw a star in the making wind up in jail. Of course that is a reference to Aaron Hernandez and his arrest for the murder of Odin Lloyd.
Other than Gronkowski, if he can play this year after undergoing arm and back surgeries over the off-season, it all looks new in New England. Perhaps the best bet for the perennial contender is to hand the rock off until a passing identity can be established.
Stevan Ridley led the New England attack against the Eagles. After six straight rushing plays to open the game, including a 62 yard scamper up the middle to set up their first touchdown of the season.
After that, the tone was set and the running backs dominated the rest of the night.
Ridley would go on to finish with 8 carries for an impressive 92 yards and the touchdown. “My offensive line, I always give credit to them and the quarterback because without the group in front of me, I couldn’t do it. They blocked it right and the hole was wide open and all I had to do was run right through it,” Ridley said when asked about his performance.
However his was not even the most impressive stat line of Patriot’s running backs in the debut of their new look offense. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer LeGarrette Blount posted 11 carries for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns. His 51 yard cut back run showed the improv capabilities that the Patriots have not possessed in recent memory. It was reminiscent of his days at Oregon, where he was a highly touted running back before an incident with a fan derailed his draft status.
Overall, the Patriots ran the ball 31 times for 248 yards and three touchdowns against the Eagles.
Bill Belichick has to be ecstatic over the potential added dimension his team showed itself capable of. “I think we got a lot of production out of our running backs, and actually we got good production out of the receivers, tight ends, quarterbacks, running backs, we were able to get good balance on offense so that’s great. Anytime you can run the ball that helps everything else. We blocked well, the receivers blocked well, the backs ran well, we had a few good plays,” he told reporters after the game.
Tom Brady was sharp, going 7 for 8 with a touchdown in limited action. Although the sample size is not large, this could be a fierce offense if he can maintain his usual level of production with the emergence of a running game.
It wasn’t all good news for the Patriots. In a new uniform, Tim Tebow still appears to be Tim Tebow. Entering the game after backup Ryan Mallet was rocked by the Eagles defense, Tebow showed no signs of the development fans had said he had been making throughout camp.
Tebow was 4 of 12 for 55 yards, basically the same statline we are used to seeing him produce. Accuracy continued to be a problem, as well as attempting to extend plays that aren’t there, resulting in sacks.
The Tebow experiment appears to be failing, however the Patriots have a new dimension to add to their offense anyway with the emergence of a running game. This may be a small sample size, but New England showed that they can run the ball as well as anyone if they are given the carries necessary to do so.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express