Extra Points

Patriots Take 2: Offensive Line Keyed Dominant Running Performance vs. Colts


The offensive explosions don't get much bigger than the one the Patriots have had over the past three games. In scoring more than 40 points three times in a row, the Patriots have tied their longest such streak (2007), and are one short of tying the NFL record for most straight games at or above 40 points (2000 St. Louis Rams, 2004 Indianapolis Colts).

Yet on Sunday, the Patriots did it in an unconventional way. Running back Jonas Gray bulldozed his way forward for 201 yards and four touchdowns. The Patriots may not be confused for a rushing team anytime soon, but more importantly, the Patriots continue to prove that their offense can feature anyone at any time.

Rob Gronkowski has, and probably always will be the focal point of the offense, be it as a receiver or a blocker. But Brandon LaFell has had his time in the sun this season, as have Julian Edelman and even Tim Wright. The list will probably grow by the end of the season, if Sunday is any indication.

Here's one last look back at what unfolded on Sunday in our weekly film review.

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Under Pressure

Per usual, here's our weekly look at the amount of pressure allowed and created by the offensive and defensive lines (not including penalties).

Offense (30 total pass snaps):

Nate Solder: 30 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Dan Connolly: 30 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry
Bryan Stork: 30 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Ryan Wendell: 30 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry; 1 hit
Sebastian Vollmer: 30 pass-block snaps; 1 hit
Jonas Gray: 7 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Michael Hoomanawanui: 6 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry
Shane Vereen: 4 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Cameron Fleming: 4 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Rob Gronkowski: 3 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
James Develin: 3 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries

In total, the Patriots allowed pressure on Tom Brady eight times (5 hurries; 3 hits).

Brady mostly had a very clean pocket to operate from, and did not extend any plays with his legs as he had done over the few weeks prior. The protection was particularly good in the second half, when Brady was pressured only twice on 11 dropbacks.

Here are a couple of examples of the nice pockets Brady had on Sunday.

ne vs ind brady pocket.png

Defense (43 total pass snaps):

Rob Ninkovich: 41 pass-rush snaps; 2 hurries; 2 hits; 1 sack
Akeem Ayers: 31 pass-rush snaps; 1 hurry; 1 hit
Vince Wilfork: 24 pass-rush snaps; 1 hurry
Dominique Easley: 23 pass-rush snaps; 1 hurry; 1 hit
Chris Jones: 22 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Dont'a Hightower: 16 pass-rush snaps; 1 hurry; 2 hits
Alan Branch: 9 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Zach Moore: 7 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Jamie Collins: 4 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Brandon Browner: 1 pass-rush snap; 0 hurries
Jonathan Casillas: 1 pass-rush snap; 1 hit

In total, the Patriots created pressure on Andrew Luck 13 times (6 hurries; 6 hits; 1 sack).

If there's one thing to nitpick, it's that the Patriots let Luck get out of the pocket a few too many times. There were several reasons for this, mainly because of poor gap integrity up front.

On the first play of the game, Luck escaped the pocket up the middle after Vince Wilfork generated some pressure. Wilfork was blocked to the ground, and with a step to the side and a few more ahead of him, Luck was able to pick up yards.

There was nothing in particular the Patriots should have done differently here, and it was just a good heads-up play by Luck. By my count, Luck escaped the pocket five times.

But the Patriots made sure it didn't happen at times.

They kept a spy on him to keep him from picking up yards with his legs. With 4:33 remaining in the fourth quarter, linebacker Jonathan Casillas earned one of his 12 snaps as a spy on Luck. He and the Patriots front seven were disguised in a front featuring only one down defensive linemen. Casillas gave appearances that he would be rushing the passer, but he dropped out of it when the ball was snapped, and kept his eyes on Luck in the backfield. When Luck began to drift to his left, Casillas did the same, and closed the pocket on him.

Dominant Run-Blocking

Jonas Gray got plenty of headlines over the past two days, and deservedly so. Of his 201 rushing yards, 100 came after initial contact. That statistic is a testament to Gray's powerful running style and ability to shrug defenders and drive through contact.

That being said, he would not have rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns on 38 carries without a huge assist from the offensive line. It was comical at times; the holes Gray had in front of him were often much bigger than they needed to be. Most of the time, Gray would simply hit the hole at full speed and go straight to the second level.

On this 14-yard run on 2nd-and-4 with 13:45 remaining in the third quarter, the interior of the Patriots offensive line, along with right tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Cameron Fleming, paved the way for a counter run off the right side. Gray followed the blocks of right guard Ryan Wendell and left guard Dan Connolly, pulling across the formation to the right side.

Fleming was a key to the Patriots' rushing success on Sunday; with him on the field, the Patriots ran the ball 31 times for 173 yards and scored all four of their rushing touchdowns.

Fleming had another nice block on 3rd-and-1 with 3:45 remaining in the first quarter, but he wasn't the only one. Fullback James Develin had a punishing block of a linebacker at the edge, driving him into the ground to clear the way for Gray. Once he got into the second level, he lowered the shoulder and plowed through the defensive back.

Gray certainly deserves more than a fair share of credit for what transpired on Sunday, but if the Patriots' blockers continue to open holes like these, there's no reason to think the running game will slow down anytime soon.