Woodhead an important piece to Patriots new rushing attack


Woodhead an important piece to Patriots new rushing attack

FOXBORO -- With Stevan Ridley putting together back-to-back 100-plus yard rushing games, and Brandon Bolden throwing in one of his own, the Patriots ground game has gotten some good attention this season.
Danny Woodhead also deserves a share of the credit.
Sunday against Seattle, New England rushed for only 87 yards as a team. Woodhead averaged 6.3 yards on his four carries. He added 46 yards on five catches.
Though his numbers aren't gaudy, they still made an impact.
The Patriots needed 6 yards and Woodhead got 7. They needed 4 and he got 9. They needed 10, he got 12.
"Danny is obviously a very important player for us," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. "Hes made a lot of critical plays, whether its catches or runs, third-down protections or blocking blitzers. Danny has filled that role and done a really nice job with it."
Could Woodhead's work in clutch situations evolve into a third-down role similar to Kevin Faulk's?
"Kevin was certainly one of the best Patriots ever and had a great career and did a lot of similar things, but I think theyre different players," McDaniels noted carefully. "Danny did definitely show up and make some important plays for us yesterday like he has all year."
His responsibilities have at least shifted in the locker room, if not by default. When BenJarvus Green-Ellis was traded to Cincinnati, Woodhead, at age 27, became New England's most senior running back. Ridley and Shane Vereen are in their sophomore seasons. Bolden is a rookie.
So it's for Woodhead to answer, not ask questions.
"It's not something that I think about too much. I like to think of myself as a young guy, still. You guys are starting to make me feel old," he laughed. "But, whatever it may be . . . if I am older, I guess I'm older."
The Patriots may ask even more of him in the coming weeks. Bolden suffered a knee injury in Sunday's loss to Seattle and has missed practice since. If he's inactive for Sunday's divisional game against the Jets, the running back corps will have to rally.
Woodhead isn't worried.
"We're a very close unit. All of us are great friends. It's a very, very, very unselfish group of guys. That's what you need in a room like that. When you get off the field, if you make a play, the other guys are the first ones to be there to congratulate you. We've got a very tight room."

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”