Patriots Unsung Heroes: Danny Woodhead

Shorter than the referee. Yikes. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

As someone who can count the number of trophies and awards he has won on one of Homer Simpson's hands, I've become very fond of the term "unsung hero," and have considered myself one on numerous occasions. The cramp I faked during the 2nd round of the Soccer Sate Cup my senior year in high school gave my team some much needed rest and allowed them to get settled again. Getting rejected by the same girl over and over -and over - again likely gave her the confidence to realize that she was indeed beautiful; she has since gone on to a very successful career on Broadway. I'd like to think that my numerous citations for lewd and disorderly conduct have given many a parent wonderful material for their "stay in school so you don't end up like that guy" speeches -and some of those kids may go on to great things.The reality is that without the unsung heroes, the champions could never rise to the top. Very rarely do they get the credit they deserve - but that's OK. It's all about the bigger picture.

And few teams understand the importance of the bigger picture more than the New England Patriots. As Super Bowl Week gets officially underway, we are going to hear a lot of big names - Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Vince Wilfork, Victor Cruz. The superstars of this game are going to get the attention that they deserve, and they will all handle it with the poise and confidence that they are known for.

But what about everyone else? What about the players that will make the plays that will allow the heroes to shine? It's time they got their due. For the rest of this week, I'm going to be taking a look at some of the players who might fly under the radar with all the big names and storylines floating around, but are primed to make a big impact on the game. Their contribution to the Super Bowl might come down to one or two plays, but sometimes one or two plays are all you need. And I figured who better to begin this week long salute to the little guys than with the littlest guy of all - Danny Woodhead.

One of the biggest X Factors in Super Bowl 46 is how the Patriots will utilize the running game against this Giants defense. I think that establishing the run and creating some offensive balance is going to be important if the Pats want to neutralize New York's pass rush and set up the playaction to take advantage of a suspect secondary. There has been a lot of talk about the role BenJarvus Green-Ellis will have in New England's game plan, but I'm more curious to see how Bill Belichick plans to utilize Danny Woodhead in the backfield.

Danny is undoubtedly a risk as a pass blocker, especially against the Giants' fierce front four - although it's hard to get mad at the little guy. He simply doesn't have the size or the strength to hinder an oncoming linebacker or defensive end, and the best he can do is usually to throw a little chip block that gives Tommy B just enough time to step forward and avoid any direct pressure. However, what he lacks in pass protection, he makes up for as a receiving threat. Having Woodhead in the backfield gives Tom Brady much more options when calling his audibles, as he can always send Woodhead out as an extra receiver or transition from a passing play to a running play should the Giants make like Megan Fox and present an attractive front. I also think that Danny is the back we want on the field when the Patriots run the no-huddle offense; the number of looks Brady can give this defense is simply more diverse when you have a back with Danny's skillset in the backfield. With Rob Gronkowski injured, it's possible that the Patriots don't run as many 2 TE sets as they have in the past and instead opt to spread the Giants out with 3 or 4 receiver sets. Having Woodhead in the backfield gives New England the option of running a number of draws and off-tackle rushes as well as some quick-release slants and shallow crosses that use Woodhead as a receiving back.

I don't think that Woodhead should or will be the primary running back come gameday; when push comes to shove, Benny is still our best back, and is likely to see a lot of action. But honestly, which running back is going to get the bulk of the carries is a weekly mystery with these Patriots. Belichick is known for playing the hot hand, and will even go so far as to all but abandon the running game, even when it is working well. Who knows if Stevan Ridley will be active for this game, or whether Kevin Faulk will step it up for what is likely his last game every as a New England Patriot (*sob*). The strength of this backfield is its versatility, and of all the running backs in the stable, I think that Danny Woodhead is the biggest wild card.

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