Over the last three games, the New England Patriots’ offensive attack finally found the groove it had been missing earlier in the year: during its current win streak, the team scored 38 points apiece against the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts, before hanging 43 on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. What stood out during all three contests was New England’s ability to effectively move the football both on the ground and through the air.
The Patriots failed to do either of those things on a consistent basis through weeks one to three – and for head coach Bill Belichick it is no surprise that both improved simultaneously as of late. As he pointed out during a conference call on Tuesday, the running and passing game live a symbiotic relationship. “Probably nothing has helped our passing game more than the running game and vice versa,” Belichick said.
The rushing attack’s role in particular is noteworthy considering that the Patriots have usually relied primarily on Tom Brady’s right arm to get the offense going. However, first-round rookie running back Sony Michel has recently taken on a bigger role within the unit: over the last three weeks, Michel’s 316 rushing yards rank second in the league behind only the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley (368 yards).
New England’s passing game is also reaping the benefits of Michel and the offensive line establishing their dominance on the ground. “When the running game is effective, that helps the play-action passes a lot,” said Belichick yesterday. “I’d say that’s really a big key for us. [...] If you’re running the ball effectively that brings a lot more people to that run action than if you’re not running it effectively.”
The results are speaking for themselves. With an improved running game and the integration of Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon into the offense, the Patriots have been able to improve their passing output from 202.3 yards and two touchdowns per game (weeks 1-3) to 314.0 yards and 2.3 scores (weeks 3-6). Granted, the sample sizes are small but the trend is still an encouraging one – and Belichick sees it the same way.
“I think our passing game is improving,” he told reporters. “I don’t think it’s where it needs to be or is where we want it to be yet but its improving. Hopefully it’ll continue to improve.”