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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Patriots RBs surpass 2015 offense with 4 games to go, Vincent Valentine coming on strong

And thoughts on the Patriots offensive production.

1. The New England Patriots added DT Darius Kilgo to the practice squad on Saturday. The Patriots claimed Kilgo on waivers from the Denver Broncos, but released the defensive tackle to make space for WR Griff Whalen. Kilgo is a space eating nose tackle that the team is grooming case of injury.

The defensive tackle depth chart of Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, and Woodrow Hamilton has arguably been the most consistent unit on the roster. Branch has been playing his best football, while Brown doesn’t receive credit for the space he generates for the linebackers in the trenches.

It’s Valentine that has come on strong in recent weeks, playing 40.4% and 43.1% of the defensive snaps against the Jets and Rams after exceeding 30% just once all year- back in week 1. Why the increase in time for Valentine?

Valentine is the second-best rookie defensive tackle against the run, and the best rookie defensive tackle at generating a pass rush. He’s certainly earned his playing time and his future looks bright.

2. Want proof that Bill Belichick is a genius? Check out his memory recall on a play from when he was 7 years old.

He’s clearly a savant that was meant to coach football. Watch the whole video and be amazed.

3. The Patriots currently rank 2nd in points allowed per game and 6th in points scored per game.

3a. The Patriots have finished inside the top 10 in both rankings 11 of the prior 15 seasons under head coach Bill Belichick, with exceptions in 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2011.

3b. The team has finished inside the top 6 of both rankings just four times: 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2009.

3c. They have finished inside the top 5 of both in just 2004 and 2007.

3d. The Patriots are currently leading the NFL in point differential and have previously done so in 2004, 2007, 2010, 2012, and 2014.

3e. For all of the 2016 Patriots flaws, they stack up pretty well against their predecessors.

4. This might surprise you: the Patriots rank 23rd in pass attempts this season, the lowest rank for a Patriots team since 2001. The Patriots annually rank towards the top of the league in pass attempts; There have been just four seasons since 2001 where the team has ranked outside the top 10: 2004 (22nd), 2006 (12th), 2008 (12th), and 2010 (20th).

This is despite QB Tom Brady passing 40+ times in three straight games for just the 4th time in his career (2009, 2011, 5-straight in 2013). Brady has been asked to shoulder the load against the 49ers, Jets, and Rams and I wouldn’t be surprised if Brady extended his 40+ attempt streak to six games, with the Ravens, Broncos, and Jets and their strong defensive lines on the upcoming schedule.

While these high-attempt games have destroyed Brady’s efficiency statistics, it shows that he’s the most malleable quarterback in the NFL that is capable of changing his throwing game plan on a weekly basis. If throwing 40+ times a game to avoid running the ball doesn’t qualify Brady for “Most Valuable”, I don’t know what does.

5. But speaking of the running game, the Patriots have a whopping eight backfield players on the roster. There are six running backs (LeGarrette Blount, James White, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster, and Tyler Gaffney) and two fullbacks (James Develin and Glenn Gronkowski).

In 2015, the Patriots rushed for 1,404 yards and 14 touchdowns on 383 attempts. This year, in 12 games, the Patriots have 1,407 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 348 attempts. That’s right- the New England rushing attack has already surpassed its 2015 production with 4 games to go.

How much they produce in the final weeks, I don’t know, but it’s clear that the rushing offense with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is far better than what it was in 2014 and 2015.