NFL Nation: LeGarrette Blount

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed seven players from other teams and they have been active in free agency despite limited room under the salary cap.

They have been able to add to their roster by taking advantage of a rule that allows teams to sign players to veteran’s minimum contacts and get a discount with such deals in regard to the cap.

The rule was instituted so veteran players did not get left out in free agency because of what they command as far as a minimum base salary, per the collective bargaining agreement, and the Steelers have signed three players under those provisions.

The maximum signing bonuses allowed in veteran minimum contracts is $65,000 and that is the only guaranteed money the Steelers gave to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, linebacker Arthur Moats and cornerback Brice McCain.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsMike Mitchell was the Steelers' biggest signing, but even he makes a modest base salary for his first two seasons with the team.
Take that with the guaranteed money -- almost exclusively given in signing bonuses -- the Steelers doled out to the four other outside free agents they signed and they are on the hook for only $8.04 million for those seven players, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Of course, the money paid to those players should be much higher assuming the Steelers properly evaluated the free agents they signed and don’t cut ties with a number of them prematurely.

But guaranteeing just over $8 million to seven outside free agents shows how the Steelers have been able to reshape their roster despite the constraints of the salary cap.

Here is a review of the contacts, according to ESPN Stats & Info, signed by the seven outside free agents who have joined the Steelers since March 11:

  • Safety Mike Mitchell: The Steelers made their biggest signing on the first day of free agency when they landed Mitchell with a five-year, $25 million contract. They also protected themselves if Mitchell, who will take over at free safety for Ryan Clark, does not work out. The fifth-year veteran received a $4.75 million signing bonus and has already earned a $500,000 roster bonus. Mitchell has modest base salaries his first two seasons ($750,000 and $2 million) and base salaries of $5 million per season in each of the final three seasons of his deal. The Steelers could cut ties with Mitchell after two seasons if he is not a good fit in Pittsburgh and not absorb too much of a hit in regard to the salary cap.
  • Running back LeGarrette Blount: The Steelers signed the player who emerged as the Patriots’ best running back in the latter part of 2013 to a two-year, $3.85 million contract. Only the signing bonus ($950,000) is guaranteed with Blount scheduled to make base salaries of $900,000 and $2 million in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The Steelers have some protection in the event that they want to part ways with Blount after one season since more than half of his money comes from the 2015 base salary that is not guaranteed.
  • Wide receiver Lance Moore: The Steelers signed Moore shortly after losing Jerricho Cotchery to the Carolina Panthers, landing the ninth-year veteran with a two-year, $3 million contract. Only a signing bonus of $645,000 is guaranteed and Moore will make base salaries of $855,000 and $1.5 million. Half of the money in Moore’s contract is in the second season giving the Steelers another escape hatch if they want to cut ties with the former Saint after one season.
  • Defensive lineman Cam Thomas: The Steelers badly needed bodies along their defensive line when they signed Thomas to a two-year, $4 million contract. The player known as “Baby Zilla” because of his size received a $1 million signing bonus and base salaries of $1 million and $2 million. Again, even in shorter contracts given out by the Steelers they left themselves an out by putting half of the money in Thomas’ deal in the second year of his contract.
  • Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey: It’s easy to see why the Steelers took a chance on a player who has an excellent blend of size and speed but has inconsistent hands. Heyward-Bey agreed to a one-year, $795,000 contract and the only guaranteed money is the $65,000 the fifth-year veteran received as a signing bonus. This is a classic low-risk, potentially high-reward proposition for the Steelers.
  • Linebacker Arthur Moats: The former Bill signed the same deal as Heyward-Bey, and Moats will provide great value for the Steelers if he can handle the role of No. 3 outside linebacker as well as contribute on special teams. Moats really becomes a bargain is he also provides depth at inside linebacker, something the fourth-year veteran said he will be able to do.
  • Cornerback Brice McCain: Like Heyward-Bey and Moats, McCain signed a one-year, $795,000 deal that includes a mere $65,000 signing bonus. As with Heyward-Bey and Moats, McCain will count only $635,000 against the cap this year because of the veteran’s minimum deal he signed.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers hosted Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk for a visit earlier this week, and while that position isn’t a pressing need they figure to address it later in the draft.

The Steelers should be able to find a back who can help them and complement Le’Veon Bell and newly signed LeGarrette Blount given how much the value of that position has slipped.

The first running back in the 2013 draft wasn’t taken until the second round -- the Bengals started a run on them when they selected North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard -- and players at that position could be pushed down even further in this year’s draft.

“Every year there’s third- to sixth-round running backs that are outstanding backs and this year [that is the case] more than any other because there’s not many teams now that really need a running back,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “There’s three to five [teams] maybe that could take one within the first four rounds.”

That prediction bodes well for the Steelers, who are unlikely to take a running back before the fifth round given the other holes they have to fill with their first four picks.

The Steelers are likely to target a speedy, shifty player at the position since they have a pair of big backs in Bell and Blount.

One back whom Kiper really likes is Kent State’s Dri Archer, though he could be gone before the Steelers draft a running back.

Archer ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.26 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine and Kiper ranks the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder as the fourth-best running back in the draft despite questions about his size.

Archer had 854 rushing and receiving yards combined last season for Kent State and scored 11 touchdowns, and his speed and versatility would allow the team that drafts the scatback to create mismatches for him.

“Dri Archer could be Darren Sproles in the third round,” Kiper said.
PITTSBURGH -- The NFL draft is still more than five weeks away but the Steelers may turn their full attention to it since it looks like they are finished with free agency for now.

The signing of running back LeGarrette Blount to a two-year, $3.85 million contract on Friday puts the Steelers smack up against the spending ceiling and with the least amount of salary-cap space of any team.

They have not tried to restructure linebacker Lawrence Timmons' contract, and they could create millions of dollars in cap room by turning a significant portion of his $6.75 million base salary this year into a signing bonus.

There doesn't appear to be any other moves on the horizon that could create cap room such as a new contract for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or a multiyear deal for outside linebacker Jason Worilds.

The Steelers will most likely wait until after June 1 when they receive more than $8 million in cap savings from the release of outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley before they sign more free agents, including some of their own.

If they have put free agency on hold the Steelers have to be more than pleased with what they've accomplished in the last three weeks.

They signed a starting safety in Mike Mitchell, who makes them younger and faster in the secondary. They added much-needed depth at running back as well as a starting-caliber player in Blount. And the Steelers compensated nicely for the loss of Jerricho Cotchery by signing Lance Moore to step in as their No. 3 wide receiver.

They have also addressed both of their lines and signed a linebacker in Arthur Moats, who has the flexibility to play inside and outside as well as on special teams.

The Steelers haven't been splashy during free agency but they have been effective -- at least on paper -- in filling holes.

And it would have been hard to foresee them making this many signings without compromising the foundation of their team a month ago when they still had work to do just to get in compliance with the salary cap.
PITTSBURGH -- The team with the least amount of salary cap continues to find ways to plug holes on its roster.

The Pittsburgh Steelers added a thumper to their backfield on Friday when they signed former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount to a two-year contract.

Blount, just like the signing of wide receiver Lance Moore a week ago, gives the Steelers a proven NFL player and one who adds depth to a position that had been conspicuously lacking it.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
AP Photo/Matt SlocumLeGarrette Blount rushed for four TDs, including this 75-yarder in the playoffs against the Colts.
That the Steelers have remained active in free agency despite hovering so close to the spending ceiling -- they were roughly $1 million under the cap prior to the Blount signing -- is not a surprise.

Remember, this is the organization that was supposedly in the salary cap equivalent of Leavenworth only a month ago. The Steelers have since put on another clinic in managing the cap, as they have shed salary without compromising the core of the team.

They created enough room under the cap to sign starting safety Mike Mitchell, add depth along their offensive line, as well as other positions, and compensate for the loss of Jerricho Cotchery by signing Moore.

Blount, the Steelers’ latest addition, is 27, has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry in four NFL seasons.

Blount was one of the better running backs at the end of last season.

Just ask the Colts.

Blount steamrolled them in the AFC playoffs in January, rushing for 166 yards and four touchdowns in a 43-22 Patriots win.

The 6-foot, 250-pounder is cut in the mold of a Steelers running back, and fans who embraced a player nicknamed “The Bus” will be delighted to know that Blount’s moniker is “The Winnebago.”

That is not to say fans should expect a Jerome Bettis redux in Blount.

The Steelers are committed to Le'Veon Bell as their feature back -- as they should be -- and the former second-round draft pick will get the majority of the carries assuming he builds on a stellar rookie campaign.

Blount does provide the Steelers much-needed insurance behind Bell.

Just as significant, he gives them options.

With another ball-carrier who packs a punch, the Steelers can reduce some of the wear and tear on Bell by incorporating Blount into the running game.

That could prolong Bell’s career, and in the short-term it would allow the Steelers to wear down defenses by hammering them with two big running backs.

Whatever role Blount assumes, the Steelers improved by signing him.

And they continue to improve themselves despite limited room under the salary cap.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers are meeting Friday with LeGarrette Blount and they have added incentive to sign the former Patriots running back before he leaves.

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There is finally movement when it comes to running backs, one of the few positions that didn't cash in during the first frenzied wave of free agency. As a result, the Steelers don't have as many options when it comes to signing a proven veteran running back to provide depth behind Le'Veon Bell.

Maurice Jones-Drew, who visited the Steelers last week, is visiting Oakland on Friday and the two sides are closing in on a contract, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Jones-Drew is expected to have a new deal a day after the Dolphins signed Knowshon Moreno to a one-year, $3 million contract, per Schefter.

Those two developments may not lead to the Steelers putting an all-out blitz on Blount today but they should have more of a sense of urgency when it comes to signing him. Coach Mike Tomlin said earlier this week at the NFL owners meetings that the Steelers intend to sign a proven veteran to back up Bell and there aren't a lot of options if they don't sign Blount.

Whether the two sides can find common ground on money as well as Blount's role with Bell entrenched as the starter remains to be seen.

The Steelers would have to clear salary-cap room to sign Blount but that could be done easily by restructuring linebacker Lawrence Timmons' contract.

Given a back the caliber of Moreno fetched just a one-year deal with decent but not great money bodes well for Blount falling into the range of what the Steelers are willing to pay him.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers raised eyebrows when they hosted Maurice Jones-Drew for an extended visit last week.

Jones-Drew, after all, seemed about as good a fit in Pittsburgh as palm trees.

But Mike Tomlin made it clear Tuesday morning that while the Steelers are committed to Le'Veon Bell they will also cover themselves at running back.

Jones-Drew
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"We're looking to add depth at that position and a guy of that caliber, a 'been there, done that' type of veteran will be an asset for us," Tomlin said at the NFL owners meetings, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Having legitimate interest in Jones-Drew, who has over 8,000 career rushing yards, and landing the former Jaguars running back are two different things.

Jones-Drew is probably looking to sign with a team that will at least give him an opportunity to start as well as provide the eight-year veteran with a significant pay day.

The Steelers aren't in a position to do either.

Bell is entrenched as the starter after an impressive rookie season, and the Steelers are just $1.52 million under the salary cap, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

That doesn't mean the Steelers aren't well-positioned to sign a proven veteran to back up Bell.

The market is not a good one for running backs, even accomplished ones such as Jones-Drew and Knowshon Moreno, who had over 1,500 combined rushing and receiving yards and 13 touchdowns last season but remains unsigned.

Unlike other positions, running backs haven't cashed in while teams are throwing around money as if it were confetti.

A buyer's market bodes well for the Steelers adding a quality veteran to their backfield even if it isn't Jones Drew, whose base salary was $4.95 million last season.

The Steelers are scheduled to meet with LeGarrette Blount on Friday, and he is another running back looking for work despite emerging as the Patriots' best back in the second half of last season.

The Steelers are serious enough about Blount that they pushed his visit back -- he was initially slated to be in Pittsburgh on Monday -- so Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert could meet with the four-year veteran.

It is possible that the Steelers make enough of a push -- and free up the necessary cash -- that they sign Blount before he leaves Pittsburgh.

Or they will continue to be patient, knowing the market is such that a proven veteran will eventually fall into the range of what they can offer -- both in dollars and in playing time.
The NFL owners meetings take center stage this week but the Steelers are keeping their eye on free agency even though the general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin are among those from the organization in Orlando, Fla.

Colbert and Tomlin met with a small group of Pittsburgh reporters on Sunday, and each said they are confident the Steelers will be able to holes on the roster via free agency.

Colbert, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount will visit the Steelers on Friday so he can meet with Tomlin.

Blount had initially been scheduled to visit the Steeelers on Monday.

Tomlin, meanwhile, said the Steelers are “open” to signing former Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who visited Pittsburgh last week.

“We need to add quality depth to that position,” Tomlin said, according to the Post-Gazette. “Le’Veon Bell is a talented player but also a young player.”

Running back is among the positions in which the Steelers are thin. They also have openings at linebacker and they will host former Bills linebacker Arthur Moats on Monday, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

They are also keeping their options open when it comes to bringing back outside linebacker James Harrison, per both Pittsburgh newspapers.

But it doesn’t sound like the Steelers are in any hurry to get something done with Harrison, who was recently released by the Bengals after one season in Cincinnati.

“We’re right on schedule,” Colbert said in regard to free agency, according to the Tribune-Review.
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Free-agent running back LeGarrette Blount is scheduled to visit the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to a report from Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun/National Football Post.

This is the first reported visit for Blount since free agency began March 11.

The Steelers previously hosted veteran Maurice Jones-Drew and are in the market for another running back to pair with second-year player Le'Veon Bell. Meanwhile, the Patriots and Blount have expressed mutual interest in his return, but Blount hasn't been inclined to sign a contract at this point. Perhaps a visit to the Steelers sparks the process forward in some fashion.

The Patriots currently have Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray at running back. Ridley, Vereen and Bolden all enter the final year of their contracts, so the Patriots figure to add a running back at some point, either in free agency or the draft.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It only took two playoff games -- or a handful of plays if you really want to narrow it down -- to see an area the Indianapolis Colts needed to address in the offseason.

You had your options to choose from.

Quarterback Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs offense, without running back Jamaal Charles, scoring 44 points against them in the playoffs. Then there was New England running back LeGarrette Blount running over the Colts for 166 yards the following week.

[+] EnlargeD'Qwell Jackson
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsThe Colts will look to D'Qwell Jackson to bolster the middle of the defense in 2014.
Putting all the pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck's 24-year-old shoulders is the last thing the Colts want, even if his ability for the dramatic comebacks make for good television.

That’s why it’s not surprising the Colts' first free agent signing was on defense. Indianapolis agreed to a four-year, $22-million deal that includes $11 million guaranteed with former Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson on Thursday.

Jackson has had at least 100 tackles in five of his seven NFL seasons.

The Colts didn’t get Jackson to come in and compete for the starting inside linebacker spot alongside Jerrell Freeman. They want Jackson to start. That should not be a problem since Pat Angerer, the starter there most of last season, won’t be back.

Jackson was rated as the NFL’s 42nd best inside linebacker by Pro Football Focus last season. He has played in a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme, but he’s viewed as a better 4-3 inside linebacker. Only time will tell if the 30-year-old Jackson can flip that thought process around since Colts coach Chuck Pagano runs a 3-4 scheme. Jackson played in a 3-4 scheme with the Browns last season when he had 141 tackles.

The Colts held their opponents to a combined 20 points, forced eight turnovers, and had 11 sacks during a three-game winning streak at the end of the regular season.

But two of those teams -- Houston and Jacksonville -- have the No. 1 and 3 picks, respectively, in the NFL draft this year. A real indication came against the Chiefs (513 total yards) and Patriots (234 rushing yards) in the playoffs.

The Colts finished 20th in the league overall and 26th against stopping the run last season, which is why Jackson’s signing is just a start.

“We certainly had times during the season where we played very, very good defense. Played smothering defense, especially down the stretch,” Pagano said during the NFL scouting combine last month. “I know the playoffs didn’t turn out, obviously we didn’t play like we are capable of. We’ve just got to be more consistent. As we add pieces to the puzzle and guys get better at their craft, I think we’ll certainly one day say we play defense like [Seattle] on a consistent basis.”

Re-signing cornerback Vontae Davis still sits at the top of the Colts’ priority list for their own players. Safety Antoine Bethea is also a free agent and getting a wide body at nose tackle to help clog up the middle of the line is an option, too.

The process in improving the defense started Thursday for the Colts. Now they have to keep going.
The 2014 free agency is just days away. The Indianapolis Colts had no problem spending last year, signing players to contracts that totaled more than $100 million. First-year results weren't overly impressive. Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano talked about needing consistent play during the scouting combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 21.

Some of it was because of injuries. Some of it was simply because of lack of production.

Before the Colts go out and decide how they want to spend their $41 million in salary-cap space this year, let's look back and see how the 2013 free-agent signings performed.

Landry
Safety LaRon Landry (4 years, $24 million)

2013 stats: 87 tackles, 0 interceptions

The Colts signed Landry to be their big hitter and to have the same kind of impact Bob Sanders had when he was dominating in the secondary. Landry was one of the NFL's leading tacklers after the first two weeks of the season, including two impressive chase-down tackles to save a touchdown in each of the first two games. But then an ankle injury sidelined him four games. Landry lacked consistency in his first season with the Colts. He missed on two touchdown-saving tackles late in the season. The first was on Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles' 31-yard touchdown run in Week 16. The second was against New England's LeGarrette Blount on his 73-yard touchdown run in the Colts' AFC divisional playoff loss.

Staying healthy and not always going for the big hit are key for Landry going forward.

Free-agency series: Running backs

February, 25, 2014
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Here is the second of a 10-part series breaking down the Jaguars’ free-agency needs, position by position:

Running backs

Who’s on the roster: Delone Carter, Shaun Chapas (FB), Justin Forsett, Maurice Jones-Drew, Denard Robinson, Jordan Todman and Will Ta'ufo'ou (FB).

Analysis: Jones-Drew becomes an unrestricted free agent next month, but every other player is under contract through at least 2014. Jones-Drew fought through ankle, hamstring and knee issues to rush for 803 yards and five touchdowns. The running game, though, never really got going until the 11th game of the season. The Jaguars ran for at least 112 yards in games 11-14 but things dropped off the table after that: 105 yards in the last two games combined. Part of the yearlong issue was due to the offensive line’s struggles, but the fact that the Jaguars rarely made any explosive plays in the run game was a big factor as well. The Jaguars had just four runs of 30 or more yards all season. Todman was solid as Jones-Drew’s backup and ran for 109 yards in his only start, but he’s not a featured back. Forsett was hurt in camp and never found his fit in the offense and likely will be released. Robinson never had a defined role until settling in at running back midway through the season and he has had ball-security issues. Carter and Chapas (practice squad) were signed late in the season.

NFL free agents of interest: Ben Tate, Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno, James Starks, Anthony Dixon and LeGarrette Blount.

Need meter: 7. If Jones-Drew does not re-sign with the Jaguars -- and right now it appears he won’t -- the team needs to sign a replacement via free agency. There are a lot of affordable options on the market because of the number of players available. Tate tops the list and should be the Jaguars’ top target at this position, but if they’re looking for a cheaper option then Starks, who has been a featured back in spurts with Green Bay, could be an option. Robinson is an intriguing player on the roster, though, because the staff is having him bulk up a bit to handle the pounding of playing running back. If he can solve his fumbling problems, he could be a surprise. Expect the team to draft at least one back as well.

Draft & free agency: Running back

February, 21, 2014
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With free agency to begin March 11, and the draft from May 8-10, one thing NFL teams generally do at this time is marry the two to better assess the best approach to filling potential needs. For example, if a team knows it’s a deep draft for top-quality offensive tackles (2014 is such), it might be less inclined to be as aggressive at that position in free agency.

This was a general point made by several coaches and executives at the NFL combine, such as Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

With this in mind, our plan is to continue to look at each position in the coming days through a similar lens.

Today's position: Running back

Draft: The class is deep but not top-heavy, as it's possible there isn't a running back selected in the first round. Part of that is tied to a general de-valuing of the position by teams. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said, "The good news in this draft and in the last few is that if you can get in the second, third, fourth round, and find different flavors of running backs; you'll see some teams that will draft two or three running backs in one or two drafts, just so you can have a big back and a third down change of pace guy and I think that's where the league has gone and I think that's where it's going to continue to go." Boston College's Andre Williams is Mayock's fourth-rated rusher.

Free agency: Five-year veteran LeGarrette Blount is part of a deep group that includes Knowshon Moreno (Broncos), Donald Brown (Colts), Darren McFadden (Raiders), Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars), Dexter McCluster (Chiefs), Rashard Mendenhall (Cardinals), Willis McGahee (Browns), James Starks (Packers) and Ben Tate (Texans), among others. This has been more of a buyer's market in recent years and 2014 is likely to be the same.

Patriots perspective: Blount came on strong at the end of the 2013 season and bringing back him would seemingly be a priority; a two-year deal in the $3-4 million range is one projection of the market to do so. With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen entering the final years of their contracts, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Patriots draft a running back to build depth and with 2015 in mind.

Eagles need depth behind RB McCoy

February, 18, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- You learn a little bit about what coaches are thinking by listening to them speak. You learn a lot more by watching what they do when the pressure is on.

All season, Eagles coach Chip Kelly had positive things to say about Bryce Brown and Chris Polk, his backup running backs. They were coming along. They would get some carries as Kelly sought to lighten the load on LeSean McCoy.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Al Bello/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy rushed for 1,607 yards and had 539 yards receiving last season.
When the Eagles played Dallas in the final game of the season with the NFC East title on the line, Brown got exactly two carries when McCoy desperately needed a blow late in the game. Polk had zero carries and one catch.

The next week, in the Eagles' playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, neither Brown nor Polk touched the ball. No carries, no catches, no nothing.

That tells you that the Eagles, the team with the NFL's leading rusher and No. 1 overall running game, need an upgrade at the running back position.

McCoy, who is still just 25, is and will be the man. Part of the reality here is that it is just plain tough to take him out of a game. He's that good. But his career is going to be longer if the Eagles can find a way to lessen his workload.

McCoy carried the ball 314 times in 2013 and caught 52 passes for a total of 366 touches. That's more touches than anyone in football (Chicago's Matt Forte was close with 363 -- 289 rushes and 74 receptions). When you add pass blocking, that's a lot of contact.

But sheer volume isn't the only factor. There were several games in which the run game just wasn't clicking. The offensive linemen talked about not being “on the same page” with McCoy at times. McCoy himself admitted to being too fine at times and not just hitting the holes that were there.

That might be an opportune time to get another back a series or two. See if things start working better. Once the run game gets into a groove, McCoy just might slide right into it and produce as he normally does.

The two most notable of those not-on-the-same-page games were the touchdown-less losses to the Giants and Cowboys in consecutive weeks. Brown got a total of five carries in those games. Polk was inactive for one and had zero touches in the other.

With Matt Barkley forced to play quarterback because of injuries to Nick Foles and Michael Vick, the run game was needed even more. It produced even less.

Polk had surgery on his shoulder after the season, so it's possible he was limited by that injury in the second half of the season. Brown and Polk both got in on the snowy rout of Detroit in December, but neither made much of a mark otherwise.

So yes, the Eagles have arguably the best running back and the most productive running game in the NFL. But they are still very likely to look to upgrade the running back position during this offseason.

There are a number of backs available in free agency, including Minnesota's Toby Gerhart -- a player Kelly went out of his way to praise and who played for new Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave.

If Kelly is sentimental, he could look at New England's LeGarrette Blount, who played for Kelly at Oregon. If Kelly is feeling mischievous, he could bring in Denver's Knowshon Moreno, who was on the receiving end of some barbed comments from McCoy back in September.

More likely, the Eagles will keep an eye out for a back they like in the draft. Another Oregon product, De'Anthony Thomas, could be an interesting match. Thomas is just 5-9, 176 pounds, but has elite speed and could be the answer to the Eagles' need for a big-play return man as well.

Blount, Pats run game goes nowhere

January, 19, 2014
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DENVER -- Employing a game-plan offense, the New England Patriots’ strategy each week revolves around identifying an opposing team’s weaknesses and aiming to exploit them.

[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Stevan Ridley (5 carries, 17 yards) and the Patriots' run game was held in check by the Broncos.
On paper, the Denver Broncos’ defensive weakness was their secondary. Throwing the football seemed like a natural avenue for the Patriots to take on Sunday.

But with the sensational success of the running game of late -- catalyzed by between-the-tackles rushing by LeGarrette Blount -- sticking with the ground-and-pound approach seemed plausible too.

On Sunday, throwing the ball just wasn’t enough, and the ground game was unable to penetrate what has proven to be a stingy Denver run defense down the stretch.

“They were good against the run, good against the pass,” guard Logan Mankins said after the game. “They just took advantage of our offense today.”

Over the past three games entering Sunday, the Patriots had averaged 34.3 carries for 200.3 yards between the tackles, with Blount playing a leading role and scoring eight times during that stretch.

The production from the running game shriveled on Sunday, as Blount had four rushes for 6 yards between the tackles, a far cry from his 18.3 rushes for 130 yards on average over the past three games.

As a team, the Patriots weren’t much better, finishing with 64 yards on 16 carries for the day.

It was just one area of struggle on a day that the Patriots didn’t have the horses to keep up with the Broncos.
DENVER -- After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots trail the Denver Broncos 3-0 in the AFC Championship Game. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter.

1. Pats' O starts slow. The Patriots' offense needed just one play to find the end zone last Saturday, but the start wasn't quite the same today, as the offense went three and out on its first drive and punted on each of the first two drives. Some notable personnel factors: Aaron Dobson is playing some in two-receiver sets, LeGarrette Blount once again is handling lead back duties and both Matthew Slater and Austin Collie have been targeted on third-down plays.

2. Perfect conditions. The weather is idyllic in Denver today, with a temperature of 61 degrees at kickoff. There's hardly a cloud in the sky, and there's minimal wind. A strong glare has made things difficult on returners fielding punts deep.

3. Broncos open the scoring. The Broncos got on the board first with a field goal late in the first quarter. The drive was helped by a long completion from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas on a third and 10 play. The Patriots were able to hold the Broncos from the 10-yard line, however, forcing the field goal from Matt Prater.

4. Patriots' offense driving. The Patriots' offense generated a little bit of buzz at the end of the quarter, crossing into Denver territory. The second quarter will open with the Patriots facing a fourth down from Denver's 39.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter: tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (offensive pass interference).

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