Should Patriots Change Running Back Rotation?

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Through 14 games, the New England Patriots rushing attack has been, well, not great.  One year removed from having the fifth best rushing attack in the league, the team has regressed heavily as their rushing offense sits at 19th this year.  It has been a challenge to develop any sort of consistency, and there are several factors at play.

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The blocking up front is noticeably worse.  Part of that is due to injuries, and departures, but part of it is also guys just under-performing.  Trent Brown leaving in free agency left a hole at left tackle that Isaiah Wynn has struggled to fill, as he has struggled to stay healthy.  The biggest loss came at center with David Andrews unexpectedly being lost for the season before Week 1 due to a blood clot.

Much has been made about the retirement of Rob Gronkowski and its impact on the passing attack, but his blocking is missed as well; along with that of Dwayne Allen's.  Add in the loss of fullback James Develin, and the team is without some of their best blockers.

On top of those losses, the players who remained have struggled.  Both Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon have not played to the level that they were at last season.  Replacements like Ted Karras and Marshall Newhouse have also struggled; to put it nicely.

Sony Michel also deserves some blame too, as he has not run as effectively as he did last year.  He looks hesitant at times, and doesn't appear to be running with the same conviction and confidence as last year.  Michel ran 209 times for 931 yards last season.  This year, he has one less rush attempt and almost 200 less rushing yards.  His yards per carry are down almost a full yard.
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So, at this point in the season, what can you do?  No replacements or reinforcements are coming through that door.  You have to make it work with what you've got, and I think I've got just the solution.  It's time to change up the running back rotation.

I've grown tired of seeing Michel trot out to the field for the first offensive series of the game, watch him get one yard on first down, one yard on second down, and watch Tom Brady throw an incompletion and the offense punt.  Michel has 70 first quarter carries this season, more than half of them have gone for three yards or less; 17 of which have failed to gain a yard, or lost yardage.

Instead of starting the game with Michel, let's see Rex Burkhead or James White get the start.  White has 20 first quarter touches this year, and is averaging almost nine yards per touch.  Burkhead only has 11 first quarter touches this year for 41 yards, but when White or Burkhead are out there, the defense has to worry about the pass and the run.

As much as they've tried to make it happen, Michel is just not a viable pass catching option at this point.  He's been targeted just 18 times this year.  Burkhead, on the other hand, has 15 more targets, despite appearing in three less games; and we all know White's proficiency as a pass catcher.

By having extra pass catchers out there, it may help the Brady and the offense find its groove a little earlier.  It can help keep the defense off balance.  I think you use White and Burkhead primarily early on, and sprinkle in some Michel.  Then, in the second half, that's when you feed Michel.

This year, Michel is averaging four yards per carry in the third quarter.  Every other quarter he is averaging less than four yards.  Heck, even feed Brandon Bolden more in the second half.  The guy seems to make a positive play every time he touches the ball.

As the game progresses, and the defense starts to tire, you go to a fresh Michel who is the best runner on the team.  He'll be that much harder to tackle, and maybe he's able to break one or two extra tackles, gain a couple of extra yards, sustain drive and maybe even break a couple loose.

In his brief two year career, Michel has recorded 17 runs of 15+ yards.  More than half of those have come in the second half of games.

This isn't a knock on Michel either, I like him and think he is the best runner the team has, but things aren't working for this offense right now.  It's not too late to change things up.

Follow Derek on Twitter @mcvay34

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Should Patriots Change Running Back Rotation?
Should Patriots Change Running Back Rotation?
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