Curran: Patriots had Ravens on the run

Curran: Patriots had Ravens on the run

FOXBORO – Over the final 10 games of the 2015 season (including playoffs), the Patriots ran for 728 yards on 22 carries, an average of 3.26 yards per carry.

Missing for all or part of that period were LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. The offensive line was beset by injuries and the performance of the group was, in a word, forgettable.

Monday night, against the best run defense in the NFL, the Patriots put it on their offensive line and – while it wasn’t an overwhelming performance statistically – it worked. The Patriots ran for 95 yards on 26 carries. Blount had 72 of them on 18 carries and he scored his 14th touchdown of the year on a bulldozing, one-yard run.


The game ended with the Patriots handing off to Blount on fourth-and-one from the Ravens 25 with 12 seconds left. Blount stomped through for a gain of four, and both Tom Brady and the entire Patriots’ sideline exploded at the final knife twist having been applied to the Ravens defense.

“It was great to finish the game with the ball in our hands,” said Brady. “We always love doing that.”

The point of the spear is and will continue to be Brady. But the effectiveness of their running game this season will at least keep him from having to throw 50 times while defenses try to reconfigure his vertebrae.

“You can’t just give up on the run,” said Brady. “We’ve got a great back and we’ve got a lot of great backs, so it’s just trying to find space for those guys to run and making sure we don’t come out one-dimensional.”

The threat of the run and the use of play action helped on some key plays. They big throw down the seam to Martellus Bennett. The touchdown to Chris Hogan. Both came off play action and the heartbeat’s hesitation the run-fake caused led to the end results.  

“Our offensive line has really taken it to heart to want to go out and end the game on our terms so those guys, they’ve been working their friggin’ butts off,” said Julian Edelman. “It’s awesome to see. Everyone was saying this is a young group, but we have a 1,000-yard back, all our backs are good, and it comes from that front. Anytime more guys are getting the ball, it makes it easier for me.”

The Patriots ran for 1,404 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. Through 13 games this season, they’ve rolled up 1,502 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 4.0 yards per carry.

The final play, Blount said, meant a lot.

“Important to me, important to [the offensive line],” he said. “It was a ‘gotta have it’ play in situational football and if we don’t get that we give them the ball back. As a running back, you want it every time in that situation and the offensive line is going to want you to have it. We just have to make sure we do everything we can to make sure we win the games.”

Solder, the old man of this offensive line, let a grin spread across his face when asked about the final play.

“Oh man, that was awesome,” he said. “Had all the confidence in the world in LeGarrette and all the guys that came in blocking that play. That’s exactly what you want to do as an offensive line. Running the ball, ending the game on our terms when you gotta do it. The fact that we’ve done it in a few games gives us more confidence and I think that’s something we’re gonna build off as we go forward.”


Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

File photo

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."