In the off-season, the Patriots decided that they needed to focuses on finishing games. Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger, and after failing to close out a win in the Super Bowl, where they were one first down away from sealing the deal on a fourth title, it’s time to try something new.
When in doubt, pound the ball and will your way to victory. However, they couldn’t via run or pass and ended up watching the red and blue confetti fall on the New York Giants. Exit Bill O’Brien and the ultra pass happy offense, and enter Josh McDaniels with a more balanced approach.
The Houston Texans offer the perfect test, a big fast physical defense, and if they can push them around and opening holes for the running backs, it will go a long way for their confidence against top 10 defenses.
The development of the running game starts with the young backs that have come into their own in 2012. Stevan Ridley burst into 2012 and kicked the door in, 7th in the NFL in rushing with 1,010 yards. Ridley, in the off-season worked out down in Louisiana with Kevin Faulk, and it shows. His vision has improved, and if you watch closely, you’ll see a little of Faulk in him. Faulk early in his career danced too much, but it seemed a little time with Corey Dillon and Faulk ran with more toughness.
He progressed to the point that the Patriots had confidence to use him as a lead back at times. Alhough Ridley is the obvious most improved, Shane Vereen is quickly becoming a threat to Ridley’s playing time. Vereen, now healthy after a washout rookie season in 2011, has all the tools to be a serious factor in the running and passing game. He has shown power in between the tackles, the speed to get to the edge, and the hands to be on the field for 3rd down.
Both players have knocked reliable Danny Woodhead down on the depth chart to a point where he’s just part of the rotation, which is a perfect fit for him as he can only take so much punishment.
The Patriots now get to use Woodhead in situations not out of necessity, but for schematic purposes. The Patriots are 8th in the NFL in rushing and they have at time been dominant in powering their way to victories.
Offensive linemen Nick McDonald and Donald Thomas are the unsung heroes of the running game. Injuries to Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly have forced both players to come in at a moments' notice and play with no drop off at all.
In fact, they have excelled in opening big holes for the youngsters, while keeping Brady clean. The win in Miami, in the 4th quarter, Brady and the offense closed the game out by going on a smash mouth 7 minute clock eating drive, and that’s winning football.