Heading into the draft, the focus for Patriots fans was pass-rush, pass-rush, pass-rush. However, that seemingly huge area of weakness for the Patriots went largely unaddressed during the 2011 draft. Instead, it seemed that Bill Belichick's focus was directed in an entirely different direction, that is, smash-mouth, smash-mouth, smash-mouth.
Belichick spent a total of five picks on two monstrous offensive linemen, two running backs, and one blocking tight end. To me, that signals a major philosophy shift by Belichick and that they team may be moving away from the finesse, high-powered passing offense we've seen for the past four seasons. I, for one, think it's a step in the right direction. The Patriots have had plenty of success with Brady airing it out, but not they type that matters most. Despite putting up some record-breaking offensive marks during that run, New England has nothing to show for it in terms of championships and is a paltry 2-3 in post-season contests.
Here are some key factors that I believe play into Belichick preparing for a more ground and pound approach on offense...
#1 - When the Patriots passing game was rendered largely ineffective against the Jets, the team wasn't able to establish a running game. By beefing up the O-line and adding some new blood to what was a largely veteran running corps, the Jets won't be able to terrorize Brady any longer. Not only will Brady be better protected, but by establishing the ground game, Rex Ryan will be forced to tweak down his pass defense and respect the run.
#2 - The NFL is becoming more and more of a passing league. Teams are adjusting to that strategy on defense and are catering their rosters towards pass-protection. Belichick knows the advantage of being ahead of the curve and succeeding by doing the opposite of what everyone else is. As teams focus on preventing Brady's air attack, it opens the door for the ground game.
#3 - Again, it's all about protecting Brady. A line featuring Solder, Mankins, Cannon, and Vollmer is about as big as they come and should afford Brady plenty of time in the pocket and keep his sacks to a minimum. The 2010 league MVP had a season for the ages last year, but it's expecting a lot for him to carry the team yet again as we head into next season. Having a more balanced passing/rushing ratio takes that pressure off of Brady and should improve the offense as a whole, even if the numbers aren't as impressive.