The New England Patriots stomped the Philadelphia Eagles 35-0 in their second preseason game, a rout that obviously left plenty of reasons for encouragement as they head into regular season.
Most of the focus was fixed on the quarterbacks, with Cam Newton and 15th overall pick Mac Jones each impressing. However, it is tough to read too much into their respective performances in a game against the Eagles’ second-string defense.
But the Patriots can afford to be excited about what they saw from their running backs against the Eagles, with New England punishing Philadelphia on the ground throughout the one-sided contest.
Damien Harris found the endzone, Sony Michel averaged 4.9 yards per carry and added 37 yards as a receiver while Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor produced displays to suggest they can be contributors in 2021.
Rookie fourth-round pick Stevenson finished with 66 yards and two touchdowns, demonstrating his value on goal-line carries, and Taylor averaged 7.8 yards per carry in racking up 93 yards and a touchdown.
For most of that quartet, the yardage came in similar ways, with Michel, Stevenson and Taylor each demonstrating the ability to change direction efficiently and make defenders miss—though the latter did so with much more in the way of explosiveness— and showing off the balance to stay on their feet through contact.
With veteran James White offering a reliable passing-game weapon out of the backfield, the Patriots have a plethora of options at the running back position to elevate a ground game that was among the most efficient in the NFL last season.
The Patriots were eighth in Football Outsiders DVOA in rush offense in 2020 and performed even better in terms of Expected Points Added on the ground, where they ranked third, and in rushing success rate, in which they led the NFL.
New England also finished the 2020 season third in Football Outsiders Adjusted Line Yards, which takes running back carries and assigns value to the offensive line, and bolstered the trenches by acquiring Trent Brown for his second spell with the team.
That combination of a deep stable of running backs and one of the top run-blocking lines in the NFL, along with the threat Newton presents with his legs, is a recipe for potentially the top ground game in the league.
It remains to be seen who will emerge out of Newton and Jones as the starting quarterback or if the plethora of free agent additions made by New England on both sides of the ball will produce the desired returns.
The one thing that can be said with certainty is the Patriots’ run game has all the pieces in place to be a massive success and serve as a substantial aid to the cause of whoever is under center.