After starting the 2015 edition of the "F the World" tour by winning 10 straight games, the Patriots offense seemed to lose another starter every week, and get less and less dangerous as the injury list turned into a book. It seemed that way because, well, that's what happened - to the point where the Patriots had to sign a 32-year-old Steven Jackson to even have a power back on the freaking roster in Week 16.
And then, in the 2016 draft, where pretty much every Mel Kiper Jr type analyst would've bet the rent that New England would take a running back or two, the Patriots loaded up on, um, pretty much everything except a running back. So, yeah, that leaves the Patriots ground game with their two most productive rushers (Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount) both coming off season-ending injuries - and in Lewis's case, one that used to be a career-ender - to start the 2016 season.
Apparently, that's all you need to have one of the most productive ground games in football this year - and when you can sling the rock as well as New England can, now that Tom Brady is back from his exile from the Pride Lands, when defenses line up against the Patriots this year, well, it's probably not going to end well for you.
Life's just much easier when you can, like Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears once said, "Pound the freaking ball."
How much easier? Check this out: last season, New England threw the ball on exactly 65.0% of their offensive plays in the regular season. They passed the ball on almost exactly two-thirds of their snaps. Why? With Blount and Lewis out of the picture, and a pretty terrible offensive line that had almost no starters on it by the end of the season, running the ball for 0.5 yards (on a good day) didn't exactly move the chains.
This season, thanks to LeGarrette Blount suddenly torching his own record books, and a few of the Patriots records in the process, New England's almost dead even in run/pass calls this season - they're "only" passing the ball 53.36% of the time now. That's darn near a 50/50 mix of run and pass plays. Only the Bills and the Cowboys are running the ball more (percentage-wise) than the Patriots this year, and, of course, one of those teams is coached by Rex Ryan, who had to fire his offensive coordinator earlier this year, and the other one has a possible MVP running the rock behind the best offensive line in the game.
Blount, as we mentioned, is not just saving your fantasy football team's ass, but he's also right up there with the league rushing leaders this year. You may even be able to name everyone that's out-rushed LG this season off the top of your head, because it's a pretty freaking short list:
1) Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys) - 1,102 rush yards, 9 touchdowns
2) DeMarco Murray (Titans) - 1,000 rush yards, 8 touchdowns
3) David Johnson (Cardinals) - 863 rush yards, 10 touchdowns
4) Melvin Gordon (Chargers) - 838 rush yards, 9 touchdowns
5) Lamar Miller (Texans) - 824 rush yards, 3 touchdowns
6) LeGarrette Blount - 802 rush yards, 12 touchdowns
If you're keeping score at home, that also means Blount is ahead of big-name backs like LeSean McCoy, Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman, Matt Forte, Frank Gore, Le'Veon Bell, and...you get the idea.
That's good enough to land New England at number 6 in the league in team rushing yards - only Buffalo, Dallas, Tennessee, Houston, and San Francisco have more yards on the season so far.
New England threatening to pound the ball down your throat is also a freaking gift from the gods for the Patriots passing game, who may have their most complete set of weapons since the 2011 Super Bowl season. What with the Pats having to turn to Jimmy Garoppolo to start the year, and Jacoby Brissett when Jimmy G got hurt in week 2, you might think New England's pass numbers aren't quite what they were when Brady was chucking it on 2 out of every 3 plays, like we mentioned earlier.
You'd be wrong.
Funny enough, New England is also 6th overall in passing yards, behind New Orleans, Atlanta, Washington, Oakland, and San Diego. And if we re-organize that list by passing touchdowns, the Patriots...pretty much stay put, coming at number 7 in the league and tied with Oakland, who everyone suddenly seems think can totally punch a Super Bowl ticket even though their defense ranks in the "At least you tried" category in points allowed, coming in at 20th in the NFL, right next to other Super Bowl hopefuls like, um, the Jets, the Jaguars, and the Bears.
Right. Anyway, remember how everyone was talking before the season about what a "matchup nightmare" the Patriots offense was going to be with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and that quick-shot passing game that was going to Hulk-smash the rest of the AFC into oblivion?
As it turns out, LeGarrette Blount's newfound power and the Patriots rushing attack suddenly becoming one of the league's best almost overnight sure does open up the passing game quite a bit.
Wait. Or is that the other way around?
Well, either way, it'll be good to see the Patriots roll into the playoffs with a bulldozer ground game and TB12 and (hopefully) a stacked receiving corps this winter.
Unless you're an AFC defensive coordinator, of course.