Belichick on Blount's resurgence: He finally has some room to run


Belichick on Blount's resurgence: He finally has some room to run

When Jimmy Garoppolo left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury, the Patriots did what they could to make fill-in rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett comfortable. That meant leaning on the running game, which they did to the tune of 37 carries for 162 yards, a 4.4 yards-per-carry average. 

Running back LeGarrette Blount (29 carries, 123 yards) was called upon more than James White (4 carries, 19 yards), DJ Foster (1 carry, 7 yards) and Brandon Bolden (zero carries) combined, and flashed impressive athleticism to go along with his imposing 6-foot, 250-pound frame. He barreled over a defender as he crossed the goal line on his nine-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and he hurdled Dolphins corner Byron Maxwell for a 26-yard gain on New England's first offensive play of the fourth quarter.


The hurdle was Blount's second in as many weeks, both of which have caught at least one teammate a bit off-guard.

"I don't know how he keeps doing that," tight end Martellus Bennett said Sunday. "I said, 'You got another one today!' It's pretty amazing. He's like standing straight up. I don't know. LeGarrette doesn't look like he can do that, then all of a sudden he does it. It's like, 'You're like Bambi!' It's crazy." 

Blount's day was his most productive in terms of yards since Week 9 of last season when he rushed for 129 of them on 29 carries in a win over the Redskins. He wasn't able to crack the 70-yard mark in his next five games, and he suffered a season-ending hip injury against the Texans in Week 14.

Through two weeks this season, the 29-year-old looks healthy. He has 193 yards and two touchdowns on 51 attempts, and the Patriots have leaned on him in critical situations. On Sunday, he helped the Patriots cope following Garoppolo's injury. Against the Cardinals in Week 1, he ran for a key first down on a third-and-long play to help set up Stephen Gostkowski for the game-winning field goal. He's currently fourth in the league in both attempts and yards. 

What's the difference between the Blount of this season and the Blount the Patriots had at their disposal in the weeks leading up to his injury last season, coach Bill Belichick was asked in a conference call on Monday?

"Well I'd say the biggest thing that has contributed to it is he's had some space to run," Belichick explained. "There were too many plays last year where it didn't make a difference who the back was, we just couldn't get him started, couldn't get him into any kind of space, couldn't let the back gain any kind of momentum.

"I think all our backs have ability to make yards, they've all been productive, we've seen it in preseason, we've seen it through the years with some of these guys, depending on which guy you want to talk about. But we have to give them a chance. We have to give them a chance to have some kind of opportunity to operate with some space or momentum or something. No back can gain yardage when there's just no place to run."

The Patriots offensive line held its own against a powerful Dolphins front on Sunday. With left tackle Nate Solder back in the mix for the first time since injuring his biceps last season, and with Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Ted Karras and Shaq Mason operating on the interior, it was an athletic group that was able to help clear some running lanes for Blount. Fullback James Develin was also a factor leading the way for Blount.

"We’ve always had a lot of confidence in LeGarrette," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said in a conference call Monday. "He has had a lot of big games here for us and helped us win a lot of games and he doesn’t just carry the ball -- he did some things in terms of protection. He helped us on the edge with some of their good pass-rushers. He has made some plays in the passing game when we’ve given him the opportunity too.

"LG is always ready to go, practices hard, prepares hard for each week, and whatever we ask of him he embraces his role on our team. It just so happened yesterday, you know, he ended up with quite a few carries and that’s happened before. However the game goes, sometimes that determines that you do something more or less as the game moves along. I guess today [during film] I thought he did a good job with his opportunities of producing for us in some critical situations."

Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

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Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

Looking for a two-word answer from Bill Belichick during a press conference? Ask him how a new addition to the roster might fit into the Patriots scheme. 

"We'll see," is Belichick's typical reply in those situations. 


We point that out here because it's hard to know exactly what any new player's role will be with the Patriots, particularly for an edge player like Adrian Clayborn. That spot in Belichick's defense can take on a variety of roles, from pass-rusher, to edge-setter, to coverage player. 

But we can take an educated guess as to how Clayborn will fit in the Patriots defense, based on what we know. That's what the Patriots did when they signed him. They saw certain skills. They saw Clayborn perform in certain situations. They made their projection. 

There's always the chance Clayborn asserts himself in a way that wasn't expected. Or maybe the way he fits with his new teammates will open his coaches' eyes in ways they weren't anticipating. But at this point, as is the case with every new addition, they're hypothesizing. So we will too. 

AGAINST THE PASS: Clayborn was, for the vast majority of his snaps, a pass-rusher for the Falcons last year. He played 631 snaps for the Falcons, which was 53.4 of their defensive snaps. Of those 631 plays, Clayborn rushed the quarterback 477 times, per Pro Football Focus (76 percent of his workload). And of those pass-rush snaps, only one came from the left side. (Clayborn was born with Erb's palsy, which means his right arm has some limitations compared to his left, which impacts the side of the field he aligns on. He played 91 percent of his snaps from the right side in 2016.)  Clayborn played over 80 percent of the snaps during each of his first three seasons in the league as a member of the Bucs so he's been a three-down player before. But recent history would suggest the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is now more of a sub option.

Here's how Clayborn responded during a conference call on Wednesday when asked if he could chip in on first and second down for the Patriots. "I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be," he said. "That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me."

AGAINST THE RUN: According to Pro Football Focus, Clayborn has been a negatively-graded player against the run during each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Last year he checked in as PFF's 78th-ranked run defender among edge players, which was far below the ranking Trey Flowers received (19th) but ahead of Deatrich Wise (85th) and Eric Lee (96th). During each of his last three seasons with the Falcons, he has seen his snap-counts break down similarly: about 75 percent of his work came against the pass, about 25 percent came against the run. He can defend the run. He's capable of it. He just hasn't been asked to consistently hold up on the edge on a down-in-down-out basis during the most recent phase of his career. 

THE FIT: Based on his history in Atlanta, it would make sense if the Patriots asked Clayborn to come off of the right edge in passing situations in 2018. That's where his recent experience has been. Keeping him away from the left side not only makes the most of where he's strongest, but it also keeps him from finding himself in coverage. As Belichick has explained in the past, the left end spot (Rob Ninkovich's old spot), going against right-handed quarterbacks, is typically asked to do more in coverage. The right edge has been Flowers' area in the recent past -- he played almost 65 percent of his passing-rush snaps last season off the right, per PFF -- but if the Patriots are fully-healthy up front, Flowers could kick inside to do his rushing. An ideal sub package for the Patriots, it could be argued, would have Clayborn on the right edge, Flowers and either Wise or Adam Butler on the interior, and Derek Rivers or Dont'a Hightower on the left edge. Rivers saw some work off the left side before suffering an injury in last year's training camp. Early last season, Hightower saw time on the left edge. 


Clayborn will have an opportunity to show he can do more than rush off the right side. He said on Wednesday that the Patriots have discussed multiple roles for him. (Perhaps he could rush from the interior, though he's not as long as Flowers or Wise, whose arms make them good matchups for stouter guards and tackles.) Wherever those opportunities come, Clayborn knows he'll have to make the most of them if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed. The deal for two years and $10 million he just signed in New England doesn't guarantee him myriad responsibilities.

"Whatever I can prove I can do,” he said. "I know I can rush the passer. I know I can set edge in the run. I mean, there’s a couple of different positions that they believe I can play, so it’s up to me to prove I can play them."


Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

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Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

Former Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is signing with the Lions, according to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports.

The 31-year-old had six tackles in six games for the Patriots in 2017. He'll reunite with ex-Patriots defensive coordinator and now Lions head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit.