We've heard it many times before. It gets repeated so frequently that it's become a regional sports cliche that barely registers anymore: The Patriots are a game-plan offense.
And they are. When they like their matchups running the football, they'll run the football. When the short-to-intermediate passing game is what suits them best, they'll do that.
But make no mistake, they'll typically roll with the latter plan of attack. Especially when Tom Brady isn't serving a four-game suspension to start the regular season. Given his skill set, and given the weapons he has around him, the team thrives when medium-range passes are put on the money.
Sometimes that comes at the expense of consistency in the running game. Last season, the Patriots were tied for 25th in the league in terms of rushing attempts.
This year? Different story.
Through three weeks -- unless the Falcons choose to run it more than 50 times in their Monday night matchup with the Saints -- the Patriots have called more running plays than any other club in the league. Their 108 attempts is seven better than the 101 Dallas has run, and New England lead back LeGarrette Blount leads the NFL in carries with 75, one more than Houston's Lamar Miller.
It's been a drastic change for a team that typically likes to chuck it.
In Week 1, against a talented Cardinals secondary, Blount carried 22 times, which was more than he had carried in any game in 2015 save for a win over the Redskins when he saw a career-high 29 attempts. In Week 2, he matched that career-high when the team needed him to step up following Jimmy Garoppolo's shoulder injury, running for 123 yards and a score. Then in his most impressive performance of the young season, with rookie Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, Blount took the ball 24 times against the Texans, scored twice, and averaged 4.38 yards per carry. And the 6-foot, 250-pounder did it on just three days' rest.
"We really needed it in both games," coach Bill Belichick said on Monday. "LeGarrette has a lot of skill, as we know. I mean, he’s a big back that has very good quickness, and feet, and balance and speed for that size. So, we just kind of always feel like if we can just get a hole, get him started, get him going that he has a lot of ability to make yards on his own if we can just get him going, get him downhill, and get him some space to run.
"He has done a good job with it. He has broken tackles. He has run through some arm tackles and things like that. He has gotten some good, tough yards for us. Hopefully we continue to do that. Hopefully we can continue to get him the ball with some momentum, some space, and give him an opportunity to do some things on his own and not have to deal with four or five guys there at the line of scrimmage but try to get him going.
"He has worked hard, he’s in good condition, he has done a good job of gaining yards in the fourth quarter and at the end of the game. He hasn’t gotten worn down in those situations so that’s all been very positive and we needed it."
Belichick recognized Blount's work, and the work of the blockers in front of Blount, during his postgame address on Thursday night. "We talked about that running game breaking open in the fourth quarter," Belichick said, beaming.
Blount is averaging 25 carries per game, which is 9.5 more than his previous career-high, which he recorded back when he was a rookie for the Buccaneers in 2010, and it's 11.2 carries more than his average last year.
Despite the workload, despite the fact that he's almost 30 and coming off of a season-ending hip injury suffered last year, he's looked fresh. Particularly late in games, Blount has been relied upon heavily as the Patriots have tried to maintain possession and salt away the clock. Against the Cardinals, he had a critical third-down run that helped set up Stephen Gostkowski's game-winning field goal.
"He’s had a number of games in his career here with us that he’s really done a nice job of carrying the ball a few times and to be able to do that four days apart, that’s always a tougher issue when you carry it a lot," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. "And then come back and do it in the same week, four days apart, that’s not easy to do. He does a good job of taking care of his body and trying to get himself ready to go each week, learn the game plan and get ready to go when his number is called.
"He’s been in there a lot this year. He’s carried the ball, he’s pass protected, he’s been involved in the passing game a little bit, so he does a lot of different things. Some show up in the stat sheets, some don’t, but we’ve certainly counted on him a lot and he came through for us again on Thursday night."