Running On Indy: Patriots Ground Game Looking For Repeat Performance

The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts are set to square off in Week 6 in a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship GameBrian Filipiak shows that no matter the back, style, or scheme, the New England ground game has shown that there is more than one way to go running on Indy.

Over the past three matchups, including playoffs, the Patriots have amassed 657 yards on the ground and 13 rushing touchdowns against the Colts, winning by an average of 27 points. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has utilized both outside zone / stretch plays and power-running schemes to slice up the Indianapolis defense. Here are two concepts New England will likely use when trying to establish the run game against the Colts.

One-Back Power

Perhaps the most common run concept used by New England is the one-back power scheme, a man/gap-blocking play that has the backside guard pull to the playside and lead the running back into the designed hole. The Patriots utilize this call out of many personnel packages, including three wide receiver sets and heavier formations with two tight ends. It has been the preferred run play for running back Dion Lewis this season.

Against the Colts, the Patriots have often swapped out a tight end for an extra offensive lineman as part of the one-back power scheme, such as on this play from the AFCCG:

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Gap schemes rely on the execution of several key playside blocks in order to create the designated hole for the running back to hit. With right guard Josh Kline (#67) pulling, center Ryan Wendell (#62) handles the one-on-one assignment against nose tackle Josh Chapman (#96), driving him to the ground and preventing the defender from making the play in the backfield.

From there, left guard Dan Connolly (#63) and left tackle Nate Solder (#77) double team defensive tackle Arthur Jones (#97), while Cameron Fleming (#71) – the extra offensive lineman on the play – kicks out the edge defender. This sequence opens up the C gap, allowing Kline to hit the first defender he sees in the hole – in this case, linebacker Jerrell Freeman (#50). Solder, meanwhile, slides off the double-team into the second level, chipping linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (#52) out of the way. The crisscrossing blocks from Kline and Solder clear a lane for running back LeGarrette Blount, who makes a cut and rumbles upfield for a first down gain.

Wham Power

In the same vein as the one-back power concept, the Patriots will substitute the backside guard’s pull block with a playside wham/trap block from a tight end. Both of these blocking schemes help set up the play action pass, as the motioning blocker often draws the second level defenders toward the line of scrimmage.

Here is an example of a play fake from the AFCCG that incorporates the run-blocking action of the one-back power scheme:

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Off the snap, the defense keys off the counter step by Blount, as well as the blocking action, which includes Kline using the pull technique. The fake handoff further draws the second level defenders toward the line of scrimmage. Even wide receiver Julian Edelman (#11) sells the run by angling directly toward the defensive back like he would on a downfield block. If not for an underthrow by quarterback Tom Brady, the play would have gone for an easy touchdown.

Outside Zone

The stretch play, or outside zone, forces a defense to flow with the lateral movement of the offensive line off the snap, which can create cutback lanes for the ball carrier to exploit. The outside zone has been a staple for Blount, especially against the Colts and their nickel defensive fronts as shown on the following play from the AFCCG:

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As with most stretch plays, all the blockers step toward the playside, forcing the defense to flow with the action toward the sideline. Blount takes the handoff and presses wide as well. But whether he continues to bounce outside or turn the run back inside depends on the positioning of the end man on the line of scrimmage: outside linebacker Erik Walden (#93). In this case, with the defender flashing his helmet outside, Blount makes a backside cut, leaving the overaggressive cutback defender – outside linebacker Shaun Phillips (#55) – in the dust.

Much like the one-back power scheme, the Patriots pair the blocking mechanics of an outside zone run with the play action pass. In addition, the Patriots also run the jet sweep – a direct handoff to a motioning wide receiver – off a stretch fake, such as on this play from last season’s AFCCG:

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It only takes the slightest misstep or misread for a defender to negate his chances of making an impact on a play. Once again, the stretch blocking action entices most of the defense to flow toward the sideline. So, while outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome (#91) initially does his job – holding position – he fails to recognize the direct handoff to the streaking Edelman, who turns the corner and races past the defender for a big gain.

As in the example above, the jet sweep wrinkle can be particularly effective against a defense playing man coverage since the cornerback has to chase the wide receiver across the formation. In addition, the cornerback on the opposite side has his attention focused on the player in front of him – not in the backfield – and has to defend what turns out to be a decoy/clear out route.

Expect The Unexpected

Seemingly nothing is more certain than death, taxes, and the Colts allowing an average of 200+ rushing yards to the Patriots. But despite New Englands past success on the ground, this season may very well be different.

Indianapolis has a completely revamped defensive line that has performed well thus far against the run, highlighted by the play of two Stanford rookies – defensive end Henry Anderson and nose tackle David Parry – and veteran defensive end Kendall Langford. Through five games, the Colts have held opposing running backs to 3.5 yards per carry and rank 12th in run defense efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. By the same metric, Indianapolis ranks 25th against the pass.

While the Patriots may stick with their run-heavy attack complete with extra offensive linemen and a deluge of tight ends, the play action passing game and spread offense could become more prominent this time around against the Colts. But when New England does run the ball, look for the outside zone and one-back power concepts discussed above to be its ground game blueprint.

Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.

Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense,  how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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