By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots are 5-0 and have shown few holes in any area of the game. But running the ball was one of them for most of the first four games - four and a half, really.
That changed during the second half at FedEx Field, where the Patriots finally awoke their dormant ground attack en route to a second-half surge in a 33-7 win over the Redskins. Sony Michel finished with 91 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown, easily his most productive performance of the season. The Patriots' ability to run the ball helped open things up for Tom Brady and the resurgent passing game as the Pats scored 21 second-half points and removed Brady with 6:21 left in the fourth quarter.
The first impact of the run game was subtle. After calling just six runs in the entire first half, the Patriots ran the ball on five of their first seven plays of the third quarter. On the last play of the drive, they showed run with Brandon Bolden lined up behind Brady. But just before the snap, Bolden shifted to his right, indicating he was going out for a pass and causing some confusion on the Redskins' side. Left with just linebacker Ryan Anderson to beat in space, Bolden streaked behind him and Brady got off a nice throw under pressure for the touchdown and a 19-7 lead.
Surprisingly enough, the Patriots had a lot of their offensive success with two tight ends on the field. That's partially because Ryan Izzo had a better day as a blocker than we've seen to start the season. He helped spring Michel for a 25-yard gain with a good pull block to the left. Plays like this show that Michel just needs competent blocking and one little opening, and he'll find his lane and take it for chunk yardage.
The Redskins had to respect the run at that point, and so the heavier personnel opened space for the receivers in the passing game. Julian Edelman took advantage when the Patriots showed 21 personnel with fullback Jakob Johnson lined up in front of Bolden, winning a 1-on-1 matchup to break off a 31-yard catch-and-run.
“Yeah, usually that’s what happens - when you can run the ball, things open up,” said Edelman. “That’s complementary football.
“That proves if you’re a tough team if you can run the football, and that’s what we try to be. Running the ball is crucial, it keeps the game complementary, and that’s something we’re always going to work on.”
Edelman's catch helped set up Michel's fourth-quarter touchdown, a total team effort. Michel dipped around a huge pull block by left guard Joe Thuney then muscled through a hole created by Johnson and tight end Matt LaCosse, before stiff-arming Redskins safety Montae Nicholson on his way to the end zone.
"It was good just to be able to make positive plays, and that’s what it’s all about," Michel said. "I’m just excited that I’m able to help the team in any way."
The coup de grace for the Patriots' complementary offense resulted in one of the easiest touchdowns Brady will ever throw. After Michel rushed on the previous three plays for 18 yards, the Patriots again lined up in 21 personnel with Johnson and Izzo on the field. Eight Redskins defenders played the run all the way, and none played Izzo, who made the wide-open touchdown catch no problem.
Brady felt the ground game picked up steam in the second half thanks to simply running a lot of plays in the first 30 minutes.
“One thing that helped was the play count got up there pretty high,” Brady said. “We had quite a few plays by halftime. Any time you do that, you feel like you’re going to wear the other team out. Those three-yard runs become six, and then finally you can break one.”
Busting a few big runs helped spark the Patriots' momentum that the Redskins ultimately couldn't answer. Brady and the receivers certainly bounced back, too, after a sluggish week in Buffalo. But their ability to move the ball in different ways got them rolling in this one.
Couple the offense getting in a groove with the defense staying in theirs, and the Patriots turned a surprisingly close affair at halftime into another walkover by the closing minutes.
“I thought we did a better job executing [in the second half],” Brady said. “Not much other than that, just playing better football.”
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].