The Patriots locked up the top seed in the AFC Sunday with a 35-14 dispatching of the Dolphins, giving New England home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, an essential piece to the Patriots Super Bowl puzzle. The win was the Patriots 14th on the season, and while much of that success has been (rightfully) credited to the incredible resurgence on defense, a large component of this triumphant 2016 campaign has been the renewed balance between running and passing offensively. We know that Tom Brady has the ability to drop back and pass 50 times without much help from the run game and still will the Patriots to a win (see Divisional Round, 2014), but we have also seen just how vulnerable the Patriots become when Brady is asked to win the game by himself (see, 2016 AFC Championship Game). The lack of balance was one of the biggest factor that contributed to New England’s early exit last January, which is why instilling a consistent balance between run and pass will prove to be crucial as we head into the postseason.
Last season, according to Kevin Duffy of MassLive.com, the Patriots had their worst run/pass ratio in recent years, passing the ball 62% of the time and rushing on only 38% of plays. Coincidentally, the Patriots rushing attack ranked 30th in the NFL, which allowed teams like the Broncos to drop numbers off the ball and flood Brady’s passing lanes, without needing to give much thought to the run game. Granted, part of the lack of success running the football can be attributed to losing LeGarrette Blount to a hip injury in Week 14, but even with him, the rushing attack was still on pace to finish near the bottom in rush yards. The Patriots called upon the corpse of Steven Jackson and special-teamer Brandon Bolden to take the bulk of the carries in the AFC Championship Game, and as well as know, it did not go well.