Tag Archives: Super Bowl L

Is the NFL’s Pendulum Swinging Back to the Running Game?

Steve Balestrieri
February 12, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The NFL is a passing league and it is driven by the quarterbacks. With the plethora of talented passers and athletic receivers in the league, it has led to an explosion of passing yards, touchdowns and offenses that love to spread out defenses and find mismatches.

That has led to smaller, faster and more athletic defenses that have to try to keep up with these offenses. Denver’s defense is a prime example, a very athletic, blistering fast unit that uses speed to overwhelm their opponents.

But the NFL is always evolving and the league is trending back to being more run based but at a bare minimum, it is going to be much more balanced in terms of offense. A quick look at the final eight teams that rounded out the NFL’s season from the Divisional Round thru the Super Bowl shows that for the most part,  teams that ran the ball well were the ones standing in the end.

All four of the teams from the NFC were in the top 12 of rushing. Carolina was the #2 rushing team in the NFL averaging 142.6 yards per game. Seattle was the #3 rushing team, even without Marshawn Lynch down the stretch averaging 141.8. Arizona came in 8th with 119.8 yards per game and Green Bay rounded out the NFC at #12 with 115.6 yards per game.

Over in the AFC, Kansas City was the #6 rushing team in the NFL averaging 127.8 yards per game. Pittsburgh came in 16th with 107.8 yards per game. But they lost LeVeon Bell after only six games in 2015 with him serving the first two games of the season on a suspension and then him going down with a season ending injury, tearing an MCL in Week 8.

Denver was right behind Pittsburgh in 17th place in the league averaging 107.4 yards per game. But that number needs to be looked at closer. After Peyton Manning was sat down, and Brock Osweiler took over, Gary Kubiak finally installed the running game as he envisioned it with the QB under center. The results were startling. In the last seven games of the season, Denver averaged 134.9 yards per game, which would have put them right around 5th/6th place over the course of a season.

Only the New England Patriots were the anomaly in the final eight, rushing for a paltry 87.8 yards per game, 30th in the NFL. Their success had more to do with the ability of Tom Brady than anything else and why they made it the conference championship.

It also isn’t surprising that the league’s top five scoring teams (Car, AZ, NE, Sea, Pitts) are also on this list, again only the Patriots are the wildcard with the vast onus being on the passing game. Kansas City finished with the 9th top scoring team in the league.

Does this mean that the NFL is going back to the 4 yards and a cloud of dust days? Hardly, as long as QBs like Brady, Aaron Rogers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger et al. are under center teams are going to throw the ball and do so very well.

But to combat the fast nickel and dime defenses that teams are playing more and more with five and six defensive backs on the field, teams are going back to more of balanced run based approach. It keeps the downs and distances manageable and when facing third and short, teams that run effectively have the option of mixing things up and keeping the chains moving.

The NFL is a copycat league, with the success of both Denver and Carolina having very good running attacks and fast, athletic defenses, look for the other teams in the league trying to duplicate their success. The age of the mobile, big-armed QBs are here and now the defenses will have to adjust accordingly again.

Bill Belichick likes to stay a step ahead of the trends in the game, when the Patriots play their nickel and dime defenses, they frequently do so with extra safeties instead of cornerbacks. Part of the reason is in the AFC East, they play the Bills and Jets, two teams that run the ball extremely well.

Safeties who take the place of linebackers in the big nickel defense have to be able to stuff the run and still be able to cover tight ends and running backs and the occasional slot receiver. Big safeties who can stuff the run and cover will become increasingly sought after as teams play more in their sub-packages than in their base defenses.

What does this mean for New England? Well one last look at the coach’s film from the AFC Championship Game shows that at a bare minimum, they’re going to need a complimentary running game if they want to get back to the big game.

They can’t rely on Tom Brady chucking the ball 80 percent of the time. Being one-dimensional against a very good defense like Denver’s hurt them twice in 2015. Brady took a beating in both games. With him turning 39 this season, they can’t afford to have him going down because the defense is just pinning their ears back.

So while the Patriots haven’t valued the running back position in recent years, perhaps this is a good time, to reverse that trend a bit and spend the money and/or draft picks to get themselves a higher tier running back. They’ve proven they can throw it with the best of teams, but with a viable running game, not only will it make the passing game even more effective, it will limit the abuse your 39-year old QB has to take.

There are some intriguing names out there both in free agency and the draft, several that can be had in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th rounds. The league is trending towards having better rushing attacks again. The Pats are already well equipped to stop those. Now they need to get to work on getting one of their own.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Super Bowl Pregame Dog and Pony Show, it is Brady’s Decision

Steve Balestrieri
February 3, 2016 at 6:43 am ET

The NFL has this little game on Sunday and they’re pulling out all the stops for it. Seriously the Super Bowl is about to go down in Santa Clara, CA and with it being the 50th anniversary of the contest it promises to be a star-studded affair.

As part of the lead up to the game itself, the league is planning on honoring all 43 of the MVPs on the field in a ceremony prior to the game. Commissioner Roger Goodell sent letters inviting them to be part of festivities.

That invitation included one Tom Brady who has been a Super Bowl MVP three times. In what had to be one of the more bizarre scenarios of his regime, Goodell cites Brady’s “enduring legacy” and thanking him for what he has “contributed to our great game,” in his letter. This was just before suspending the Pats QB for four games for not understanding the ideal gas law while protecting the “integrity of the game.”

Brady for his part was touched by the invitation and showed that in a Facebook post at the time, saying it was an honor and that he hoped “that I have my helmet on for the ceremony in SF”.

Brady letter

But then followed the ridiculous Ted Wells Report, the suspension and the court battle which Brady won. So will he go and walk out for this glorified dog and pony show or will he stay home and watch it unfold on television.

The national media who roasted Brady’s character over the supposed Deflategate scandal, is already chomping at the bit, looking for another excuse to lambast the superstar QB over not attending.

Even local pundits are joining in, Bob Ryan, one of the most respected of Boston sportswriters said on CSNNE Sunday, “He’s got to go and show some class,” Ryan said.

“He may even have some fun. He may even have a quick one-liner for the commissioner. Seriously, take the highest road possible. That’s my advice to Tom Brady. Get out there.”

If Brady decides to attend the Super Bowl fine, it is in his hometown and he may decide that his attending isn’t about him or even Goodell but about the legacy of the game itself and rightfully take his place among those before him.

But if he doesn’t, and feels that he won’t be appearing for this commissioner, especially after the way the league went out of its way to slander his reputation and his “integrity”, while basically flipping off the Commish, that’s fine too.

Heck, he can even decide to spend time with his wife and kids, after all he spends from July to January engrossed in his work and he spends precious little time with them during the season as it is. The bottom line is…it is Brady’s decision. His and his alone and the press shouldn’t (but will) have anything to say about it. The bottom line is he’s earned the right to do whatever he feels is the right path and none of us should question that.

Before everyone jumps on Brady for not attending, if indeed he does choose not to go to San Francisco, remember this isn’t without precedent. Before Super Bowl 40, the league opted to do much the same thing, having the MVPs march out to be recognized prior to the game.

But QBs Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, the only other QBs to win four SBs both opted to stay away. Montana asked for $100,000 as an appearance fee but the league offered only $1000 in expenses. Both Montana and Bradshaw deny that their snubbing of Goodell’s earlier show had to do with money.

Montana said he wanted to attend his son’s basketball game and Bradshaw stated he wanted to spend time with his family. So before the Brady bashing begins, think about that one for just a second.

Brady may just waltz out there and flash his four Super Bowl rings, tear open his jacket to reveal a Superman shirt and do the Ray Lewis dance across the field as he’s introduced.

Whatever he decides to do, it will be his call and let’s just for once, leave it at that.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.