Sunday, December 20, 2015

New England Patriots: Running Game No Longer Running to Stand Still?

The NFL season is heading down the home stretch as evidenced by the return of NFL football on Saturday night. The New England Patriots in one week went from looking like they would be playing in the Wild Card round to the top seed again in the AFC. However, as quickly as it swung to the favor to the Patriots, it can swing back.

Last night, the Dallas Cowboys almost did a favor for a number of AFC squads by almost hanging a loss on the Wild Card New York Jets deep in the heart of Texas. The Jets needed to late drives to overcome a poor kicking game (missed field goal, extra point, bad punts) and hang on for a desperately needed win 19-16.

Staying in the AFC East, the New England Patriots are running out of running backs and have signed free agent Montee Ball (a second round draft pick in Denver) and had veteran Steven Jackson in for a visit this week. In a typical Patriots maneuver, it was an unknown running back added to the roster as former U of Hawaii player and practice squad fullback/running back Joey Iosefa.

Iosefa has been on the practice squad since October and at six-foot and 245 pounds fits the bill as a power back in the New England two-tight end set. Mike Reiss at ESPN.com brought up the comparison between Iosefa and free agent fullback/running back Heath Evans and the 2005 Patriots team. Since he did not dig deeper, I decided to take a peek:

Evans was released by the Dolphins and had just one carry in 2005. The Patriots were sitting and 4-4 and had just been blown out in Gillette Stadium by Peyton Manning and the Colts 40-21 and it was not even that close. Early in the third quarter it was 28-7 Colts and while it had been close earlier, it was a Corey Dillon fumble which opened the floodgates.

Dillon had just 40 yards on 12 carries and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry for the 2005 season. He was injured and missed the next three games: Enter Heath Evans. Evans rumbled for 21 yards on his first carry in New England against Miami the next week and finished with 17 rushes for 84 yards. In addition, he added 16 rushes for 74 yards in a win the next week.

Evans was a role player from then on out as Dillon returned shortly but Evans established himself as a player who head coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady could trust on offense. Evans stayed a few years and now has a good gig as an analyst on the NFL Network...something not likely to happen without his high-profile role in New England.

No one is expecting Iosefa to come in and roll for 80 yards on the ground this week against Tennessee, but an opportunity to make an impact is upon him. Jonas Gray took advantage of his opportunity for one week last year (before he somehow got himself deep into Belichick's dog house), and Iosefa could be the next.

Look for number 47 in the backfield against the Titans and remember this could be a big game for a player expected to be a minor contributor in New England.

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