After their Week 1 loss at Miami, the New England Patriots rebounded with a solid 30-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis. Running back Stevan Ridley tallied his first 100-yard game of the season, gaining 101 yards on 25 carries, just a touch above a 4 yard-per-carry average. As a team, the Patriots gained 150 yards on 37 carries, for a 4.1 average per rush. This week’s film review looks at how the successful Patriots running game against Minnesota.
The Fleming Factor
In last week’s TWIR column, we looked at the use of Cameron Fleming as an extra tight end on some running plays. After Devin McCourty’s first-quarter interception and long return, the Patriots game vs. came out in their goal-line package with Fleming at tight end on the strong side of the formation. On first down New England ran Stevan Ridley on a power play behind Fleming to the right of the formation (the strong side), but the play was stopped for no gain. On second down the Patriots ran the same play but to the opposite side of the line, with Fleming set up on the left. The result was a touchdown.
Fleming gets a strong block at the point of attack on defensive end Everson Griffen, sealing him off from the play and giving Ridley room to knife into the end zone. The decision to not only use Fleming as a tight end in their goal line package, but to run behind him on each play seems to indicate that New England has found something in Fleming in terms of his run blocking, and they will likely continue to run behind him with success. In his Wednesday press conference, head coach Bill Belichick addressed the concept of a tackle as tight end:
“I’d say the main issue you get into would just be the commitment you make to it. Putting an offensive lineman in for a tight end, I would say you’re going to get less of a defensive adjustment, normally. [Y]ou’d get less of a defensive adjustment because the spacing is still the same, it’s just who is that guy? It’s a lineman instead of a tight end, but if it was a blocking tight end or lineman, how much difference is there? I’d say there’s a smaller degree of grade of adjustment for the defense. Once you flip a lineman over, now you’ve totally changed the defensive spacing. What was a three-man surface is now a four-man surface. What was now a three-man surface is now a two-man surface. That creates some fundamental blocking angles potentially for the offense.”
Josh McDaniels and the Patriots running game used Fleming in non-goal-line situations as well to “change the blocking angles” as coach Belichick addressed in the above quote. On this 2nd-and-7 play in the fourth quarter, New England has Fleming as an extra blocker on the right side of their formation. The rookie is aligned across from Corey Wootten, and the Patriots run Ridley off tackle behind Fleming.
Fleming stones Wooten off the snap and collapses the edge of the Vikings’ defensive line. The strong block from the rookie allows Ridley to run off left tackle for a four-yard gain.
New England ran behind Fleming the Stanford rookie in many situations against the Vikings. Looking forward to Sunday, expect the Patriots running game to continue to employ Fleming in their power schemes and gain a great deal of positive yardage to boot, especially when they attack Miles Burris in the power running game.
On Sunday against the Vikings, New England ran 11 counter plays for a total of 41 yards, which works out to 3.7 yards per attempt. Ridley was the ball carrier on 10 of the 11 counter plays, gaining 39 of his 101 yards on plays of this type where the initial step is taken in one direction before reversing course and using the defense’s aggressiveness against them. In tomorrow’s piece looking ahead to the Oakland game, we will demonstrate how counter plays should be very successful against the Raiders. With that in mind, let’s highlight a few of these plays to show why they worked against Minnesota.
On this play, the Patriots face 1st and 10 at their own 48-yard line with 3:55 remaining in the first quarter. Ridley is the deep back in the I-formation and New England runs a counter play off right tackle. Marcus Cannon and James Develin lead the way on this play. Develin erases Chad Greenway with a strong block at the point of attack, while Cannon pulls from his left guard spot and gets enough contact on Jasper Brinkley ‒ Minnesota’s best run defender ‒ to impede him and spring the ball carrier for a five-yard gain.
Next, New England faces 2nd and 6 on their own 43-yard line, with 4:19 remaining in the first half. They line up with Develin and Ridley in the I-formation using 22 personnel and run Ridley on a counter play to the right. The success of this play rests on Cannon’s broad shoulders. The left guard again pulls in front of Ridley and stones Greenway, who attempts to step into the hole and make a play. Ridley makes a nice cut off Cannon’s block and the play goes for a five-yard gain.
The last counter play to highlight is another Ridley run, this one with 9:24 left in the game. New England is looking to salt away the contest and on this first-down play they run Ridley on a counter to the right side. Once more, Develin and Cannon lead the charge. Develin leads around the right end and seals off cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who has cheated up on this play to provide support in run defense. As for Cannon? The left guard again pulls around and leads Ridley into the hole, standing up Brinkley at the point of attack and helping the running back rip off a six-yard gain on first down.
The Patriots running game enjoyed a great deal of success using the counter scheme against Minnesota and the numbers underscore this point, with a 3.7 yard average on these plays. New England can look to build on this success against Oakland, targeting a linebacker whose aggressiveness hurts him in the counter run game.
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
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