BLOOMINGTON, Minnesota -- Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, James White and . . . ?
In each of the Patriots' last three Super Bowls, Tom Brady’s leaned on his running backs when the heat got turned up. Woodhead had four catches for 42 yards and a touchdown and was a catalyst for the Patriots offense in the drive before the half that put the Patriots ahead of the Giants in SB46. Against Seattle, Vereen had 11 catches for 64 yards -- a paltry 5.8 YPC average even with a 16-yarder mixed in -- but eight of those touches were positive drive-starters or connections that moved the chains. White caught 14 of the 16 passes that went his way for 110 yards. Again, not a huge YPC. But it was what was available.
Cris Collinsworth, who’ll provide the analysis for NBC Sunday night when the Patriots play the Eagles, says the Patriots are likely to go back to the running-back well against Philly.
The Jaguars' success in bottling up the backs was what kept the AFC Championship Game close, said Collinsworth.
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“What Jacksonville was able to do, tackling those guys in the open field, was among the most impressive things I’ve seen all season long and it’s really a big part of why they had a chance to win that game in the end.
“So now it’s gonna be up to the Eagles to try and do the same thing. It’s going to be the same pass rush -- the Jags, the Eagles -- same kind of pass rush. They’re gonna be coming after him and you know Tom Brady’s not taking a bunch of hits in the first quarter of this game. So what do you do? You gotta check it down, throw it out to those two running backs . . .
“That will be the game early and then it will be a matter of whether or not they can tackle those guys,” Collinsworth mused. “If they can, then they’re forced to work it down the field. If they have to work it down the field, then the pressure has a chance to get there.”
The Eagles defense doesn’t spend a lot of time reading what’s going on after the snap. They make a read and fly. How to counter that?
“The easy answer is play-action,” said Collinsworth. “The Eagles linebackers play downhill so hard and the defensive ends are crashing so there’s a big opportunity for play-action. The Patriots were not a great screen team until about the last three or four weeks and the playoffs. Their screen game got a lot better at the end.”
Collinsworth is also curious to see how the domino effect surrounding the Eagles treatment of Gronk plays out. A big one could be available early, he believes
“What are they gonna do with Gronk? That’s the million-dollar question. Are you really willing to leave [wide receiver Brandin] Cooks out there 1-on-1 and see what happens? This is [an Eagles defense] that’s been beaten by a lot of double moves. They are as aggressive on the back end as they are on the front end. I can’t decide whether Brady will want to score touchdowns on that double-move or will just want to scare ‘em. Do they run a bunch of slants and then hit ‘em with the double move or do you run the double-move early to get them to back off?”
Collinsworth had plenty more to say on the excellence of Brady and Bill Belichick and theorized that the departure of coordinators Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels will be absorbed and the train will just keep chugging on. Catch it all in the Quick Slants podcast: