It's a phrase that has been said since the dawn of the AFL, and really it has been true forever. In the AFL days, despite contrary belief we won Championships and Super Bowls by running the ball. We were never really incredibly high up in passing and almost always were top 3 in rushing. When the Raiders went on their domination of the AFC West in the late 70's/80's, they had Marcus Allen and ran the ball better than everyone else. When we came into focus with Marty in the early 90's with Okoye, we were perennial playoff contenders. When the Chargers went to the Super Bowl they were trucking over the league with Natrone Means. Broncos won some Super Bowls when Terrell Davis was in his prime. When we were the top of the division in the early-mid 2000's with Priest and LJ we had the explosive ground game. When San Diego had LT they were the top of the AFC West. When we had the best ground game in the league in 2010, we won the division, and when the Broncos led the league this year they won the division.
It's an age-old ordeal that we're gonna have to live by in 2012, whether you like it or not. We'd all like to have Drew Brees and score 50 points a game, but we're gonna be winning games this year on the shoulders of the Jamaal, Dex, Hillis and the defense, along with a little Cassel thrown in there. You know I'm down with that, and it may be our best plan of action. Look at our schedule. We play the most physical division in the league and the division with 3 of the most high-powered offenses in the league. Arguably our toughest matchups in 2012 will be Baltimore and Pittsburgh, who have quite the reputation for being incredibly physical and nasty. You know how you beat teams like that? You hit them in the mouth. You don't let them intimidate like they're used to. Look at the teams who beat them last year. Seattle, San Diego, Denver, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Houston. They all beat Baltimore and Pittsburgh by not being afraid to run the ball right at their heart and shutting them down defensively. One of our toughest opponents from another division is the Saints. Know how the Rams, an incredibly inferior team, dominated them? You guessed it.
Like it or not, either Cassel, Quinn or Stanzi are gonna be playing QB for us next year so we aren't gonna be "Breesing" our way to the playoffs like that. We're gonna be running to daylight, and let's hope we do it good. We're looking pretty good right now, but how do we stack up to the best rushing offense of all-time? What do we lack? Let's compare us to the 1978 New England Patriots, who are current record holders for most rushing yards by a team in a season with an incredible 3,165 yards on the ground.The Running Backs
Every group of backs need a change of pace sort of guy. They can break off big gains, many can catch the ball, and generally keep a defense off-balance. The difference here however, is that Jamaal is probably one of the best players in the league, Dex is one of the most versatile backs in the league. Horace was nothing more than a sprinter who had a decent shake. He was never supposed or meant to be a feature, 30 carries a game back. He's in their to solely offset the runs of the other backs. Jamaal is a superstar, he's got cheetah-like speed and some of the best moves in the league. We can depend on his running to power us to the playoffs, and having Dex in there is pretty nice too. But both Jamaal and Dex have had their fair share of injury issues, so they're gonna need...
Sam "Bam" Cunningham was the heart of that New England offense. He was tough, had a bad disposition, and relished contact with his defenders. He hit his holes hard and with authority and as soon as he broke through the line he always was looking for someone to hit. Hillis is, simply said, very similar. He admittedly doesn't have a lot going for him besides his sheer brute strength and physical style of play. He's a notable pass-blocker with some of the best hands in the league. He battered defenses in 2010 with his 6'2, 253 pound frame as he rushed for over 1,200 yards on the ground. He had an inury-riddled season in 2011 with some good games, but questions about his character arose as he reportedly held out for a new contract and gained too much weight for a starting NFL back. But that just doesn't seem like the persona of Hillis to me. He seems like a hard-working Arkansas boy who had a misunderstood season and is looking for a fresh start. I see a solid year out of Hillis.
Andy Johnson for the Pats was exactly what the title says. He took punishment so others didn't have to. He dished out some punishment so others could benefit from weary defenders. Durable. He could make some moves, put his shoulder down, block and maybe even catch a ball or two. He's essentially a punching bag.
Our problem? We don't have one. Our current RB's are Charles, Hillis and Dex. Hillis kind of fits that mold, but your prototypical workhorse isn't gonna get injured so much. There are many viable options for a tackle-taker in the draft. Doug Martin, Robert Turbin, David Wilson, even Trent Richardson. Or, we could see what we have in Shaun Draughn because there are many solid workhorse options in next years draft (e.g. Marcus Lattimore, Montee Ball, Zach Line). It's not a dire need as you can probably do without it, but it might help.
The "True" Fullback
Kansas City is a great place to be a fullback. We use them a lot, we run the ball, they get the ball a reasonable amount, and fans always end up loving them to death. As of right now, the only two fullbacks we have are 7th rounder from Yale Shane Bannon (6'3, 266) and a guy who has played fullback before in Peyton Hillis. We have no idea what we have in Bannon and he is very, very raw from what I've seen in the preseason. I, personally, would like to see Hillis be used as a runner more than a lead blocker.
So, enter Mosi Tatupu, who was the Patriots starting lead blocker in 1978. He rarely got the ball, his name was maybe called once a game, he was just a rookie but his fans adored him and he earned the nickname "Moose" because of his name and physical blocking for the runners. He was a special teams demon, as well. We need a guy like Moose.
The fullback may be going extinct but it's not useless. Do you think it's a coincidence leading rushers like Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch and New Orleans great trio all run behind probably the 7 best fullbacks in the league (Jim Kleinsasser, Greg Jones, Ovie Mughelli, Owen Schmitt, Vonta Leach, Michael Robinson, and Jed Collins)? No, it's not. We lost our big man in when Le'Ron went to the Chargers and we need one quick. Owen Schmitt's a free agent, and there's always Chad Diehl and Cody Johnson in the draft. I've also been looking at Utah fullback Shawn Asiata who is projected to go undrafted, but he's something else. He can catch the ball and is a BRUTAL blocker. Check out his highlights. Could always push Bannon for the starting role.
All in all, you win rushing titles with a group of backs, not one. MJD led the league in rushing in 2011, but the Jags were a merely above average 12th in the league in rushing. The Broncos, Saints, Raiders, Texans, Bears, Panthers and Ravens all were top ten in rushing not because they had one elite back who could do it all, but a duo or more who could spread it out and provide different approaches to the game. Duos are what win rushing titles in today's NFL.
The role of a receiver in a ground-and-pound offense can vary greatly. Some offenses like this use speedsters who will zip down the field and pick up a long gainer when defenders are expecting the run. They are used to spread the field so defenders won't play so tight up against the run and short pass. This is what Stanley Morgan and Harold Jackson of the 1978 Patriots were used for.
Some run-oriented offenses use bigger, possession-oriented receivers so they have more threats around the goalline so the defense can't key in on the run when nearing the red zone. These receivers have to be strong and good after the catch. This is what our corps looks like.
But no matter what size or style, these guys have to be able to block at least decent. New England's receivers were nowhere near overwhelming, but they were technically sound and could seal off a DB from an outside run. We, on the other hand, probably have one of the best blocking groups of receivers in the league. D-Bowe never disappoints in this area and always holds up his blocks, Breaston does surprisingly well despite a relatively light frame, and Jon has the stature to excel but needs to work on being more physical at the point of attack, which I believe he can do when he starts getting a hold of his surroundings a bit. I believe we're good here, and have a very good, young group of receivers in all regards. Fast, strong, good blockers, and for the most part pretty reliable.
The Tight End
At 6'6, 250 pounds, Russ Francis was the same size as Kevin Boss, who is considered a pretty large TE. But in Francis' day, he truly was a giant among men. TE's really didn't get much bigger. When you think of the perfect TE you think of a guy with reliable hands, good after-the-catch ability and the ability to block like a tackle. Russ had two of those things down, as he had solid hands and literally could block like a tackle. He's probably one of the best blocking tight ends in NFL history, and helped form the best left side of a line that has ever existed.
Moeaki and Boss aren't 3-time Pro Bowlers like Francis, but they both are great technical blockers who are decent after the catch and have very nice hands. I trust both of them against most DE's/OLB's in the league, maybe with a little help. And if we need a little extra beef sometime, we've got 290 pound Steve Maneri as well. I like us here.
Game managers is what these guys are. Take control of the clock, don't throw too many picks, make a few completions, and hand the ball off. Steve Grogan did that job to the requirements and nothing more. Unfortunately for him, he wasn't great at it. He threw 23 INT's and only 15 TD's in 1978. Granted, he didn't have too many great redzone targets but he wasn't as careful with the ball as one may like. But he was good with the clock and could extend plays with his legs so the Pats kept him around to hand the ball off.
Matt takes too much crap. Seriously, I get he's no Tom Brady, and that he stands in the pocket for too long and that he overthrows people too much and that he's not the best at looking off defenders but cut the guy a break! He shouldn't even be in the NFL! But you know what? He loves to win, he loves the fans and most of all he loves the Chiefs. He tries his hardest to let his team win and is a great leader. He actually one of the better runners at the QB position when you really look at it. He's big, tough (for a QB, anyways), and unlike many QB's will actually fight for extra yards instead of just slide to avoid contact. He doesn't throw that many picks, he is good at selling the play-action, and most of all we could AT LEAST GET INTO THE ENDZONE WHEN HE PLAYED. Our red zone percentage was pathetic when Palko and Orton were around, we could actually put up over 20 points a game with Cassel in.
Finally, the most important... Offensive Line.
The Pats offensive line of the day, specifically the interior and left side, was unmatched. Bill Lenkaitis, Leon Gray, and Russ Francis were dominating blockers and no matter how many defenders were stacked up on that side the Patriots always got positive yards.
But the indisputable most important part of that record-setting offense was HoF guard John Hannah, widely believed to be the best guard ever. He's probably the best run-blocker ever and was incredible on the move. He was smart, aggressive, a mauler, and was a student of the game. Sound familiar? You know it does!
"But wait, you can't take a guard at 11." say the DeCastro-doubters. "It's a dumb decision... somehow. There are elite guards all over the NFL that weren't first rounders, which obviously means any guard we pick later on in the draft will become DeCastro or better. John Hannah was probably like a 5th rounder or something."
John Hannah, was picked 4TH OVERALL. 4TH. NOT 11TH, NOT 163RD, 4TH. Many draft analysts were baffled. They said it was a terrible pick. How stupid do they feel now? And here's the thing... DeCastro is probably a better overall prospect than Hannah was. Hannah was considered too short, too aggressive, and not technically-sound. DeCastro is tall, aggressive but not stupid, and has the best technique of any lineman in the draft along with loads more.
Just imagine that O-line in 2012. Albert, DeCastro/Asamoah, Hudson, DeCastro/Asamoah, Winston. All of those guys are either VERY promising or elite. I can't even picture a defense in the league we couldn't run all over on, and if Cassel gets the time he should and some running success, along with much better receivers than before he should have a 2010 like year or way better. But that starts with DeCastro.
So, let's run it this season. Let's run it successfully. Let's batter some defenses, stun some secondaries, and baffle some defensive coordinators with our success. Watch out, 1978 New England Patriots rushing record, and good luck 2012 NFL defenses. You're gonna need it.