Film Breakdown: A Look Inside the Patriots Dominant Run Game

The long nightmare is finally over. Last Sunday, NFL football returned to our lives. Better yet, was the New England Patriots performance on Sunday. The Patriots ran wild over the hapless Dolphins to the tune of 217 rushing yards en route to a 21-11 victory. Cam Newton led the way with 75 yards on the ground and two touchdowns in his Patriots debut. It wasn’t just Newton though, every other Patriots ball carrier contributed meaningfully on the ground. In fact, New England’s rushing attack was so varied and its offensive line so effective, that one might wonder if the Patriots left some rushing yards on the Gillette Stadium turf.

Diving into the film reveals an attack that kept the Dolphins off balance all game. It very well may provide the blueprint for how the Patriots plan to win games throughout 2020. Let’s check it out.

Starting Strong

New England got off to a fast start. They ran four different run schemes on their first drive alone. Sony Michel got the party started with a seven-yard rush from the duo concept. The Patriots lined up heavy with Ryan Izzo at fullback and rookie Michael Onwenwu at jumbo-tight end (a role he would become very familiar with over the course of this game). Michel reads Elandon Roberts and delivers a sweet jump cut to pick up extra yardage.

On the following play, Cam Newton gets in on the action. The Patriots run a power read play (“read-option” off of the power run game) and keep the ball. Former Patriot Kyle Van Noy plays it well, but Newton takes off, and Van Noy is only along for the ride.

The very next play of the opening drive features another option play. This time a zone-read (“read-option” off of zone blocking). Newton reads the backside edge and keeps it for a five-yard gain. For those keeping track, this is the third different run scheme on as many plays.

On play number four of the drive, the Patriots pull out a fourth run scheme. This time running weakside power with Michel. The play isn’t blocked as well, but Michel shows good power and picks up four yards. For a little added entertainment, watch old friend Elandon Roberts (#44) get banished to the shadow realm by Isaiah Wynn.

The drive bogs down following a Julian Edelman drop and a Newton sack but the Patriots picked up positive yardage on every run play to open the game. The fast start surely gave Josh McDaniels a ton of confidence in the run game.

The Threat of a Running QB

With Newton heating up on the ground, Miami began to adjust and account for Newton keepers on the read-option. You can see above how much of an influence Newton has on the defense. Watch as the play-side edge crashes hard on Newton. Absolutely nobody accounts for Rex Burkhead.

A similar thing happens later in the game. This time, it’s James White sweeping left on a power read play. Miami plays it better this time around. The weakside edge sticks to Newton while the linebacker scrapes over the top to take on White. Unfortunately for Miami, this is a lose-lose as Roberts can’t run with White, much less chase him down from behind.

McDaniels and company also added a few unique wrinkles to the option game. On this play, the Patriots motion White (who is split out wide) into the backfield, before immediately sending him on an orbit motion to create a pitch option. Newton reads the edge and pitches to White. White, who was being covered by a safety is unaccounted for in the run game and scampers up-field for seven yards.

Designed QB Runs

New England started to get lethal when McDaniels dialed up the designed quarterback runs. Newton’s first touchdown of the night was a thing of beauty. With Miami in man coverage, New England manipulates the box count by motioning White out of the backfield. This draws the safety in charge of his coverage out of the play. The Patriots then run a quarterback sweep the other way. There is nobody close Newton, and he strides into the endzone for touchdown number one on the day.

McDaniels put on an absolute clinic during Sunday’s game. Anytime the Dolphins lined up in a man, New England would motion the back out of the backfield to manipulate the box count. In the clip above, Jerome Baker is lined up in the A-gap. He’s tasked with covering White. White motions out of the backfield and takes Baker with him. That leaves the Patriots with five players to block Miami’s four. That’s a winning scenario.

On Newton’s second touchdown, the Patriots again use motion but this time in an opposite way. Instead of sending the back out of the backfield, the play brings the running back, who is initially split wide, into the backfield. Newton fakes to the back who sweeps left in an attempt to take his defender out of the play. The offensive line scheme appears to be a pin-pull concept where the right tackle blocks down to the tackle and the right guard swings out to take on the end. Then Newton bootlegs out and he’s off to the races.

The final run concept we’ll look at is a play the Patriots used to close out the Dolphins: quarterback power from a VERY heavy set. The Patriots lined up with 7(!) offensive linemen (with rookies Onwenu and Justin Herron lined up at TE). If that’s not enough, the Patriots added even more beef by lining up Izzo at fullback with true-fullback Jakob Johnson lined up at running back. Izzo motions out of the backfield to the wing position while Johnson lines up to the left of Newton, going from a pistol look to a shotgun look.

Every indication is that the Patriots are going to run to the strong side but there is nothing Miami can do to stop it. Every defender is accounted for, but Shaq Mason pulls for good measure. Newton picks up five yards on fourth & one.

What this Means Going Forward?

It’s been a while since the Patriots pounded the football on the ground. With Brady at the helm, the Patriots were unequivocally a pass-first team. But with the G.O.A.T in Tampa, the Patriots have turned to a ground-heavy approach led by Cam Newton.

While the jury is still out on the passing game, the early returns on the ground game are promising. With so many talented runners, a great offensive mind calling the shots in McDaniels, and an offensive line that may be one of the best in the league, New England is primed to capitalize on multiple different running schemes. That run game is opened up further because of Newton’s ability to create for himself on the ground. The Patriots may never have a top-tier explosive passing attack, but if Sunday is any indication for the future, the Patriots ground game could wind up being a thorn in the side of many a defense in 2020. (NOTE: You can read our Patriots vs. Seahawks preview and prediction here.)

Follow McGarvin on Twitter @PatriotsPOV and listen to his PatriotsPOV Podcast available on all streaming platforms.

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