By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - The numbers are uncannily similar.
In 2009, the Patriots ran for 1,921 yards and 19 touchdowns. They averaged 4.1 yards per carry and were ninth in the AFC in yards per game on the ground.
This year? They ran for 1,973 yards and 19 touchdowns. They averaged 4.3 per carry and were sixth in the AFC in yards per game.
But those are surface numbers. Plumbing a little deeper, you can uncover some of the key stats that show just how effective the Patriots were on the ground.
For instance, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was second in the entire NFL in second half rushing TDs.
Complementing that, Danny Woodhead was fourth in second half yards per carry (5.9, 50 carries, 297 yards).
In first half YPC, Woodhead was seventh in the NFL and Green-Ellis was 16th.
On first-and-10, Green-Ellis was 13th in the NFL with 623 yards.
On third down, Green-Ellis was tied for seventh in creating first downs (12 for 18). He trailed three fullbacks and three quarterbacks.
In the entire NFL, Woodhead finished third in yards per carry (5.64 on 97 carries).
Total yards arent as important as when they come. For instance, Laurence Maroneys 45-yard touchdown run in a 59-0 win over Tennessee in October 2009 were not quite as impressive as the Patriots 72 rushing yards in the second half at Pittsburgh in October. Especially with those yards coming against a team that hadnt allowed a 100-yard game by an opponent all year.
The general feeling about the 2009 Patriots running game was that it was pretty good. But this years edition spearheaded by a pair of undrafted guys is far more effective.
I think the durability of that running back position and to rush the way that our offense has been rushing lately, its been great, Tom Brady said Sunday night after the win over Miami. Weve played some really stout defenses lately, especially in the AFC East. The Dolphins are a great run defense and the Jets are tough. These 3-4 defenses are tough to run against, whether it was the Steelers or Green Bay was a good defense, so weve played a bunch of great defenses. So, I think theres really been a strong commitment over the course of the season to make yards in the run game and keep things balanced and use our run to set up play action. Its definitely been a huge threat.
The Patriots rushing attack is a realistic threat this year. Last year, it seemed more a device used until Brady could go long for Randy Moss again. The diversity of the offense with tight ends now being featured in the passing game has had an impact. And the blocking of the tight ends has as well.
Its interesting because, last February, the Indianapolis Colts presence in the Super Bowl despite having the planets worst rushing attack was seen as proof of a sea change.
The notion teams needed a legitimate, grind-it-out rushing attack to succeed was pass. Protections for quarterbacks and receivers, sophisticated advances in the passing game made the air the way to go. Indy was at the leading edge of that wave.
Last season, the Colts advanced to the Super Bowl with an attack that averaged 3.54 yards per carry, 80.9 per game. That was last in the NFL.
But the presence of Peyton Manning was the equalizer.
And this year, the presence of Brady and an effective running game has resulted in a Patriots team that is again historically explosive.