The Patriots had quite a ground game going in Sunday night's emotional blowout of the Bengals.
New England had a season-high 220 yards rushing. The 46 attempts the unit churned out on the way to the big victory were the most since the team had 54 in an October win in 2012.
Plenty of factors contributed to the ground success. New England's offensive line that had struggled through the first month clearly played better. Another part of it may have been veteran Ryan Wendell, the team's starting center the last couple seasons, being inserted into the starting lineup at right guard.
Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen also probably ran a bit better with a combination of patience and decisiveness. Ridley notched 113 yards on his 27 attempts (4.2 avg.) including a career-long 43-yard run in the fourth quarter. Vereen, the change of pace back, took full advantage of his reps in long yardage and passing sets to pile up 90 yards on just nine attempts.
Team photographer, Keith Nordstrom, offers his best photos from the Patriots game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, October 5, 2014.
But another factor, one that's often overlooked, played a part in the ground game's success.
The work and success of the receivers and tight ends blocking at the second level also played a significant role. Certainly give the offensive line credit for opening holes better than it had in four previous games, but then the down-field blocking helped turn those chances into even more productive runs.
"That's how you get big runs is running backs making guys miss [at] the second level and getting blocks from your wide receivers," Bill Belichick said. "[Danny] Amendola had a great block on Vereen's draw play. He cut back, about a 12, 14-yard run, whatever it was. Julian [Edelman] is a tough player. Brandon [LaFell], I mean those guys all go in there and block."
While Ridley has a 1,200-yard season on his resume and has been as productive on goal line runs and finding the end zone as almost any back in recent years, he hasn't been a big-play threat with much regularity. So the more help he can get down the field, the better the running attack is going to be as the Patriots continue to strive for consistency and an identity on offense early in 2014.
"When the secondary is converging in on wherever the point of attack is in the running game, you've got three or four guys converging in there, it's hard for a back to avoid all those guys," Belichick continued. "Maybe he can get an edge on one but if they're blocked and he can run off those blocks then that creates good opportunity for a back at the second level. Aaron [Dobson] made a nice block on Stevan's [43-yard] run when he ended up bouncing it outside to kind of pin the defender inside so that Rid could get it down the sideline. Yeah, those guys account for a lot of extra yards when you get to that level, no question."
The Patriots ground game gets another chance to prove its mettle this Sunday against the upstart Bills.
Buffalo has allowed just 3 yards per carry on the ground through the first five games, the second-best mark in the NFL this season. For the Patriots -- who now rank 14th in the league in rushing and average an even 4 yards a carry as a team following last Sunday night's breakout rushing performance – continuing the ground success will be an all-hands-on-deck job in Buffalo with a reliance on continued improved play from the line, solid running from the backs and a little help from a solid group of downfield blockers at receiver.