A couple days after the Patriots rushing game put up a season-high 215 yards on 36 attempts in the win over the Jets, Bill Belichick is still praising the Sony Michel-led ground effort.
Beyond the impressive overall yards and balance the ground efforts brought to the offense, New England also hit big plays in the running game to help beat the New York. Michel had runs of 33 and 31 yards while James White had runs of 27 and 24 yards.
During his Tuesday morning conference call with the local media, Belichick explained that the big plays in the running come thanks to solid execution by the offensive group as a unit.
"I think Josh [McDaniels] did a good job and the offensive staff did a good job of the play-calling and the design. We had chances on those plays. The execution was good," Belichick explained. "I thought our guards and tackles did a good job with some double-team blocks. Some of those were to the strong side. Some of them were to the weak side, but Trent [Brown] and Marcus [Cannon] did a good job. Our pullers, the guards – Joe [Thuney] and Shaq [Mason] – did a good job. Rob [Gronkowski] usually doesn't get much help out there and so his blocks are always tough blocks against defensive ends who sometimes stay where they are and sometimes they move, so that's tough for a tight end to block in space like that to knock a guy off the ball, but he could also be stunting inside or running up field, so it's sometimes hard to hit those targets. Rob does a good job of that. Good running and we had some blocking at the second level. We were out in space. Hopefully, those plays could gain even more yardage if we could get by the last guy. A couple of times kind of the last guy got us. We could've maybe made more yards on some of those plays, but to get to the point we got to it's, again, team offense. It's not one guy. You have to block a lot of people to get the backs in that kind of space and the backs have to read it properly and then be able to do a little something on their own when they get out there, which James and Sony do."
As he did in his Monday conference call, Belichick continued to heap praise on his first-round running back Michel. Tuesday it was a focus on the maturity that the former Georgia star has brought to his rookie role in New England.
"I think that's really been a strength of his," Belichick said of Michel's maturity. "He's, obviously, had a lot of football experience and comes from a very good program. He's been in a lot of big games. He's been in a lot of critical football situations. He has a lot of poise and has a good even manner about him in terms of learning, correcting mistakes, having urgency but in a balance where it doesn't take away from the execution and the focus of the assignment and the way that things need to be done. He does a real good job of all that, has since he's been here, coming in as a first round pick with the expectations and so forth. He's really handled all of that well and has really focused on being a good teammate, doing a good job with what he has to do. He's been great for us."
Beyond the focus on the ground game, here are the other highlights of Tuesday's conference calls, which also included offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive line coach Brendan Daly.
Patterson "has a great attitude": Cordarrelle Patterson has filled a lot of roles in his first season in Foxborough. As expected he's been a high-level kickoff returner – including a key touchdown return in Chicago – and a unique gadget weapon lining up a receiver. Less expected is the role Patterson has played a fill-in running back, including short-yardage work. Overall he's run the ball 37 times for 156 yards (4.2 avg.) and a touchdown.
While New England knew Patterson brought unique skills and athleticism to New England, McDaniels noted that the former first-round pick's personality has been just as impressive.
"CP has a great attitude. He's a fun guy to be around in general terms," McDaniels said. "I think he likes playing football, enjoys preparing each week and embraces any role we give him, which we've obviously given him a number of different things to do to help our team and he's embraced every one of them. He's a guy who works hard, he's smart, he's got a positive attitude and I think there's not a guy in our building that doesn't like CP. Just a good guy to be around, a good positive energy and really has done a good job of being an unselfish teammate. We've asked this guy to do everything from run the ball, to goal line, to line up in the backfield and block people, to catch passes and return kicks – you guys know all the things he's done. He's been a versatile contributor, always with a great outlook on the week and wants to help in any way that he can, which is the sign of an unselfish guy that really wants to do what's best for the team."
Preparing for the Vikings D: Minnesota's talented defense had some issues early in the season, but the unit has rounded into form. The Vikings have the NFL's No. 3 defense in terms of yards. The group is No. 10 in points allowed. It's No. 1 in both third down defense and red zone defense. It has talented personnel all over the field and will present a major challenge for Tom Brady's offense this Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium, as McDaniels described with a long, in-depth scouting report.
"Coach [Mike] Zimmer does a tremendous job. He always has. We've competed against him a number of times in different places and his defenses have always been this way. They rank highly in every statistically category, deservedly so," McDaniels explained. "They have really good players at all three levels of the defense, they're really well-coached, they're extremely sound, and they really challenge you on third down and in the red zone – some schematically and just some based on their personnel and their rush and the way the cover and how they mix up their calls. But, they have a great front, they have linebackers that are very athletic, the team speed in general is tremendous. You're not going to out-run this group. Their scheme complements their players very well, they get excellent safety play, they don't give up a lot of big plays in the run or the pass game, so you're going to have to drive the football, you're going to have to convert some third downs during the course of the drive and this is the best third down team in all of football, easily. There's a lot for us to wrap our minds around and we've really got to have a great week of preparation. This is as big a challenge as we're going to have all year so far, and we're excited to start our preparation. I think the reason we game plan a certain way and practice and prepare hard is to try to be successful in each area of our game plan. You always want to be balanced and maintain your balance if you can. It's certainly a better way to play football if you can do that and not tell the defense what you're trying to do on each play. But the flow of the game will determine many times whether or not you throw it more than you run it, run it more than you throw it, or somewhere in the middle. Our intent is to do everything we're trying to do in the game well. Certainly, that is not going to happen each week. I mean, the other teams that we play are really good, and this week, we've got an exceptional group on the other side of the ball. We're going to try to have a great week of preparation in practice and be ready to play our best game on Sunday and go out there and really compete hard against a tremendous unit."
Stunt men: The Patriots have used a variety of stunts and games along the defensive line this year to try to boost what has been an underwhelming pass rush. At times, it has worked. Guys like Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn have rushed in tandem to put just enough pressure opposing passers, as was the case in the second half of Sunday's win in New York.
"I'm not sure that they're always successful, but that's the goal, obviously," Daly said of the stunts. ""I think there's an element of getting them called at the right time in the right situation, and then there's also an element of the guys on the field understanding when and when not to execute those. I'd say that's the first part. The next part is executing them well and correctly – getting vertical on them and the wrap players having the right amount of patience, not being too fast, not being too late as they come around. And then there's also an element of making things right based on the protection or the blocking scheme of the offensive line. So, there's a lot of work that goes into that. It doesn't always work out extremely well. There's times that it's more productive than others, but it is something that we work quite a bit at. I'd say it has been something that has helped us in the past. It's one of those things, there's a little bit of risk involved where you can get displaced, both run and pass on those things, but if you execute them well and consistently well and get them called in the appropriate situations that they can be a big benefit."