After an offseason that saw Bill Belichick dedicate a considerable amount of resources to accumulating a talented, deep stable of multifaceted running backs, the Patriots’ rushing attack has been fairly pedestrian through five weeks.
They rank 18th in football at 99 yards per game, and footballoutsiders.com has them ranked 10th in non-adjusted DVOA rushing offense. And it appears that predictable play calling could be to blame for this somewhat stagnant rushing attack — specifically when Mike Gillislee is on the field.
The Patriots have run back-to-back run plays 32 times so far in 2017.
- Run one: 175 yards (5.47 per carry).
- Run Two: 83 yards (2.59 per carry).
They’ve run it three consecutive times on six occasions.
- Run one: 53 yards (8.8 per carry).
- Run two: 36 yards (6 yards per carry).
- Run three: 10 yards (1.7 per carry).
While 21 of these 32 “carry-clusters” predictably came on 1st down, it’s not the down and distance, nor the actual number of consecutive carries that is unusual. What is unusual is the sharp decline in production from touch-to-touch. It’s starting to become becoming easier to see why.
Mike Gillislee got the ball on 54 of these 70 total carries (77%), and 45 of them have come in “power” personnel packages that include James Develin as a lead back, two-tight ends, or an extra offensive lineman. Why does that matter? Because teams know what’s coming when the former Buffalo Bill is in the backfield.
So far in 2017, Gillislee has been given the ball in 66% of all snaps in which he is on the field in one of these power packages, regardless of the previous play call. That has accounted for 81% of his total carries. On those touches, he’s averaging just 3.36 yards per carry.
However, this year, when Gillislee is toting the rock out of “passing packages” like 11-personnel, where the predictability of the play calling is theoretically lessened given the presence of a third wide receiver, and where defenses typically sub into nickel or dime groupings, he averages 4.15 yards per carry. It’s clear he and the offense could benefit from an increase in his 48% snap vs. touch clip in these power packages.
Whether or not this predictability speaks to a lack trust with the offensive line, or simply not wanting to put too many dynamic personnel package designs on film this early in the season remains to be seen. But these numbers do suggest that what we have seen so far in 2017 has been pretty vanilla — especially considering the reputations Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels have developed as creative offensive innovators.
It could also indicate that they’ve only scratched the surface.