According to a quick Google search, cows live for about 20 years. According to Bill Belichick (seemingly), bell cows aren’t even born for another decade.
Though it defies the popular theory that running backs are out of their primes by the time they’re 30, Belichick has gotten two of the Patriots’ best rushing performances during his head coaching tenure out of 30-year-olds.
Currently enjoying the best season of his career after recently turning 30, LeGarrette Blount has already used this campaign to set the Patriots’ single-season record for rushing touchdowns with 15. This season is one of just five 1000-yard showings from a Pats running back since 2000 and he’s 204 yards from sitting behind only Corey Dillon for the second-most rushing yards in a single season for the Pats under Belichick.
Blount and Dillon. Those guys have anything in common?
1. Old! (For a running back, not for the Earth)
Look back through 30-year-old running backs who've rushed for 1,000 yards. There are plenty, but mediocre backs don’t accidentally end up with a 1,000-yard season or two the way younger ones might. The guys to do it post-30? You’re talking about the Adrian Petersons, Frank Gores, Ricky Williamses, Fred Taylors and Tiki Barbers of the world.
Dillon turned 30 during his first season with the Patriots, which saw him rush for a Belichick-era-best 1,635 yards in 2004. He also got a share of the carries that Belichick doesn’t hand out often.
In that 2004 season, Dillon was responsible for 345 of the Patriots’ 524 rushing attempts. That’s good for 66 percent, which is the largest slice of the rushing pie Belichick has given a running back in New England.
Though Antowain Smith got 60 percent of the Pats’ carries twice before Dillon, nobody’s come close to Dillon’s 2004 share since. Only two seasons from then until last season saw one back even get 50 percent of the carries, but this season, Blount has gotten a similar share. He’s had the ball for 265 of the Patriots’ 413 runs, which is 64 percent.
Without a doubt, Dion Lewis’ second knee surgery and subsequent absence until Week 11 have figured into that, and Week 15’s 18-carry game for Lewis is a sign the team feels he’s up to speed. Still, for a team just two seasons removed from 22 percent being the biggest share of carries for a back (Shane Vereen) the overall reliance on Blount has been fascinating.
So too is the fact that it’s Blount. Unless you’re part of Danny Woodhead’s cult following, you’ll probably agree that the Patriots often don’t have the “sexy” running back: the guy NFL Live dedicates an entire segment to each week, the guy fantasy players target in the first round, the guy folks term one of the greats as they’re watching them, etc.
Post-2004, the closest they got to that perception was when rookie first-rounder Laurence Maroney sliced up the Bengals for 125 yards in 2006, and we all know how that worked out.
No, instead of the high-profile options in what history would suggest is their primes, the Pats usually have opted for players with lesser pedigrees (BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Sammy Morris), a first-round castoff (Smith), and a big name perceived to be near the end of his career (Dillon). They let 2011 third-rounder Stevan Ridley, who rushed for over 1,200 yards in his second season, walk at the end of his rookie contract.
Then there’s Blount: has had big games in his career, but only had two 100-yard rushing performances in 20 games for New England entering this season. Usually his return to the team each year is met with some sort of couldn’t-they-get-anybody-better sentiment.
Yet Blount’s 2016 is the latest reminder against confusing not being a Madden cover candidate with not being productive. After all, the unheralded Green-Ellis ran for over 1,000 yards in 2010. You can be damn good as a Patriots running back, provided you’re given the opportunity.
That’s exactly what’s happened for Blount, and he’s rewarded them with one of the best seasons for a Patriots running back of the Belichick era.