LeGarrette Blount has led the Patriots to a meeting with the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.The Patriots are returning to the AFC Championship Game for the third straight season, but this year’s team is going about it in a much different way. It is the running game, and not Tom Brady, that is leading the way.
New England's reliance on the run is new, but its success when rushing between the tackles isn't.
In their first 14 games this season, the Patriots ranked sixth in the NFL on inside rushes (4.8 yards per rush). Since Week 16, New England ranks second, at 5.8 yards per interior rush, while gaining a league-high 200.3 yards per game on such carries over that span.
Blount benefiting from inside focus
Most of the increased workload has gone to LeGarrette Blount, who tripled his interior rushes per game in recent weeks.
LeGarrette Blount Rushing Between Tackles This Season
Blount averaged 6.1 inside rushes per game in the first 14 games of the season, but 18.3 in New England's last three games. Blount's 130 yards per game inside the tackles since Week 16 are more than all but three other teams over that span.
Blount says a big reason behind the increased workload and production is a change in his running style:
“Bill [Belichick] told me — he said the only thing I wasn’t doing right was running with a lower pad level. So, I changed that and I started breaking more tackles, started getting a lot of extra yardage after contact," Blount said.
Blount has been right in recent weeks. Over his last three games, only Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch has averaged more yards after contact per game than LeGarrette Blount's 44.7.
Test looming vs. Broncos
The Patriots' approach will be tested against the Broncos on Sunday.
Denver allowed the NFL’s second-fewest yards per rush on carries up the middle during the regular season and hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown on a carry between the tackles since Week 14 against the Titans.