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A return to balance fueling Patriots 6-game winning streak

NFL: New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick strategizes like a hipster.

You obviously won’t find him posted up in the corner of a shuffleboard-equipped watering hole patiently sipping a local, small-batch lambic and donning frontier-era blacksmith attire while internally debating a switch in beard cream brands.

Yet, Belichick has the uncanny ability to blend cutting-edge and old-school approaches seamlessly — making the identification of his week-to-week trends and tendencies as burdensome as selecting a Spotify playlist to appease the entirety of the aforementioned establishment’s contemporary clientele.

‘Oh, so last week Taylor Swift worked for you guys, but this week you’re really into late-1950’s instrumental Portuguese fado?’

Each year, as the Patriots systematically march through their schedule, they maintain an amoeba-like strategic offensive approach. They don’t believe in an offensive identity or commit to singular philosophy. Each week brings forth a new challenge, and with it, new information. As this new information is gathered — everything from their own current medical situations, to opponent tendencies — aspects of that week’s game-plan are molded in response, often resulting in an offensive attack completely unique from prior weeks.

This adaptability is, of course, a hallmark of the Belichick-Era Patriots — their calling card. No team does it more effectively. This season, fueled by a deep and diverse roster, New England just might have their most versatile attack yet. And it has been that flexibility that has allowed them to obtain a fundamental component of their success during the team’s current six-game winning streak — a return to balance.

Here’s an applicable chart.

In the first four weeks of the season — a 2-2 stretch for the Patriots — the team averaged 328.3 yards per game through the air, and 95.5 yards on the ground. Over the past six games, passing yardage dipped to an average of 288.7, while the team’s ground-game yardage jumped to 113.

While the Patriots have scored 5.42 fewer points per game since their week-four loss to the Panthers, their increased ability to sustain drives and control the football has had a tremendous trickle-down effect on the defense. Tom Brady and company are averaging an additional 0.5 first downs per drive during their current streak, while actually running 1.67 fewer drives per game than games prior to week-five.

The ground game’s effectiveness can certainly be attributed to the re-emergence of Dion Lewis, who has taken over the offense’s lead-back duties. He has seen his offensive touches increase from 4.6 per game over the first month, to 13.2 per game since. The veteran running back has averaged 4.92 yards per touch this season with four offensive scores, while also providing reliable kickoff return services, including a 103-yard touchdown scamper in Denver.

The return to health of four-down-back Rex Burkhead has also been critical for the offense’s ability to overcome injuries to other skill-position personnel — particularly the loss of Chris Hogan.

During the eight games in which Chris Hogan was active, the Patriots ran 58.6% of their offensive snaps out of “passing packages” — personnel groupings consisting of only one tight end (or James Develin) and a combination of four wide receivers and running backs. In the two contests without Hogan, that number dropped to just 16.8%.

Here’s the week-to-week breakdown of the Patriots’ personnel package usage:

After a successful two-week road trip, the Patriots return home to tasty match up this Sunday with the Miami Dolphins — a team in the midst of a complete tail spin. Will we see more of this ground-and-pound, play-action power scheme from the Patriots offense?

We’ll find out from Hipster-Bill on Sunday.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter — @BPhillips_PP