The New England Patriots introduced a sledgehammer of a running back in Joey Iosefa against the Tennessee Titans. The 6'0, 245 lbs running back out of Hawaii fielded 14 carries for 51 yards, including one memorable 15 yarder where he roadgraded the Titans defender into dust.
IOSEFA HAS NO CHILL pic.twitter.com/OnJHl6GEQf— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) December 20, 2015
"I didn't know that [Iosefa] had a truck-stick ability like he does," defensive tackle Alan Branch said. "But he definitely showed everybody out there."
"The guy is going to run hard as you can see," fellow running back James White said about Iosefa. "I was happy for him that he was able to get out there."
"I was just trying to make a play," Iosefa said. "That's all I was trying to do. When I have the ball in my hand, I try to make the best out of it."
Iosefa picked up 15 yards on this one play, which was a fantastic carry. That also means that he picked up 36 yards on 13 carries, for a sub-pedestrian 2.77 yards per carry. Is the running back going to build off his first game? Is he going to be a one-play wonder? Does he offer anything more than three yards per carry? Does he have to in order to be a contributor?
Head coach Bill Belichick calls Iosefa "a grinder," which is really the perfect way to describe Iosefa's rushing style. He's not going to make a defender miss, but instead he wants to break their will be diving right into their chest. There were multiple occasions where Iosefa could have bounced laterally to pick up more yards, but he instead just drove forward for a smaller gain.
Don't know if Kline missed the hole, or Iosefa was impatient, but Joey ran into the teeth of the Titans D on 1-10 pic.twitter.com/SBOQ4nGp8E— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) December 22, 2015
This could have been a huge play for Dion Lewis. But it was Ioesefa. pic.twitter.com/dIqkJk8MLF— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) December 22, 2015
In both of these cases, a quick sidestep for Iosefa could have yielded more yardage, but that's just not his game. He opted to truck into the defender and, when it was against a defensive back, he had success.
Patriots fans were excited to watch Iosefa's decisive style of running after watching weeks of LeGarrette Blount dancing behind the line of scrimmage before being tackled for a one yard gain. Perhaps Iosefa left yards on the field, but at least he put the Patriots in a fair number of short-yardage situations on second down.
Ultimately, the Patriots just have to come to the understanding and appreciation that the offensive line just isn't very good on a consistent basis. The interior line isn't great and the tackles have struggled to eliminate backside pursuit. The rushing attack just might be more helpful with 3 yards at a time with Iosefa than either fully ignoring it, or yielding 1 or 5 yards with Blount, and nothing in between.
Iosefa is essentially the 2015 version of Jonas Gray, but bigger. Gray exploded against the Colts, but really didn't generate much more than what the offensive line created. That is Iosefa's contributions, except with an extra twenty pounds of weight, as well as catching and blocking ability.
The Patriots used Iosefa at fullback on a few snaps, but they weren't very successful.
I might have overestimated Iosefa's FB ability. pic.twitter.com/lsgQSE1Y7X— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) December 22, 2015
But at least he offers that ability as a blocker in the rushing game, and he should hopefully improve. Iosefa also contributed successfully as a blocker in the passing game.
Overall, he's not going to be a top tier rushing back, and he might struggle to be considered "average." But at least he runs with determination and can be a versatile option in the offense. He'll hit the line and fall forward every time, which is a great improvement over the Patriots previous rushing attack. No one wants to stop him.
"He's a load, man," safety Duron Harmon said about facing the running back in practice. "He runs through people and he's really, really strong."
The addition of running back Steven Jackson shouldn't really affect Iosefa's usage as Jackson is more aligned with Brandon Bolden's contributions. But if the coaches ask Iosefa to play special teams, he seems like he'll be happy to help.
"I was just doing whatever the coaches asked me to do," Iosefa said after the game. "Just doing my job."