Well, it was a Week 1 for the ages. An offensive explosion like we’ve never seen. But it wasn’t all passing. In fact, after watching the Patriots beat down the Titans — and after writing this Rap Sheet Rundown for yesterday — it made me realize there’s this other important thing.
Running the ball. Still important. Still essential. And something that, when you’re good on offense, can make you great.
Why did the Patriots beat the Titans?
A lot of reasons. But a main one was simple and old-school. They ran the ball and stopped the run. Maniacal runner Stevan Ridley gained 125 yards on 21 carries… which a TON of carries for a passing team. Aerial assassin Tom Brady? Well, he threw just 31 passes, which is his sweet spot.
Instead of sitting back in nickel or dime and waiting for the Patriots to go at them in the air, the Titans had to defend the run. Or, try to. OC Josh McDaniels kept them guessing, making the Patriots offense nearly impossible to stop.
Check this out: On the Patriots first scoring drive, Ridley had runs on three straight first downs, setting up Aaron Hernandez’s 23-yard score. On the drive before that and drive after that, Brady passed on four first downs and ended up punting both times. On the Patriots next scoring drive to make it 21-3, it started with a Ridley run for 15 yards. On the scoring drive to make it 28-10, Ridley had four carries for 35 yards in a six-play drive.
That’s the play-calling of a balanced team, not a passing team.
Pounding the rock does more than that. It sets the tone. Physical, tough, hard-nosed — and when practicing for all of that during the preseason, the Patriots defense had to defend it. That has helped them tackle, and the D looked more hard-core, too. It also helps you own the time of possession, which the Patriots did even while running no-huddle. It wasn’t just the Pats. The Panthers learned the hard way, for instance, while the Bucs did it perfectly.
Running the ball is tone-setting.
“The toughness of your team is built around running the ball and stopping the run,” Brady said. “The critical games and the critical situations — that’s the foundation of your team and that’s what you’re built on and that’s what you’ve got to be able to do. You’ve got to run it when they know you’re going to run it, and I say that all the time. I think with what we do in the run game and play-action game and you spread them out and you run screens, you run draws, you run traps, you spread the ball to all the different receivers it really makes it hard for the defense to just key in on something and say this is what we need to do. You really have to defend everything.”
Now the other side of the thing? Look at the Titans.
They are a run-first team, featuring not only electric Chris Johnson but also athletic QB Jake Locker. CJ, who had looked great all camp, gained just four yards on 11 carries. He was tentative in the hole, which the Patriots induced. Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and the rest of the defensive line cut off his front-side, made Johnson tip-toe, and he couldn’t be the one-cut runner he’d always been. Johnson also missed holes and wore down.
When Johnson is forced to stop-and-start, he’s not the same. And he wasn’t. Locker tried just two rushes for 11 yards, though one productive attempt was negated because of a holding penalty. The result? Just 16 Titans rushing attempts compared to 43 pass attempts. The Pats, meanwhile, rushed it 35 times and threw it 35. Less was more.
So, I point all this out to say: Running the ball isn’t dead. Just the opposite.