New England Patriots smash mouth running attack a bright spot in win

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Damien Harris #37 of the New England Patriots is tackled by Jamir Jones #48 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Damien Harris #37 of the New England Patriots is tackled by Jamir Jones #48 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots offense is definitely a work in progress. Unfortunately, there has been little progress in getting this offense untracked and ready to make a run at a Wild Card playoff berth.

The Patriots are looking way up in the AFC East at Buffalo. The division now belongs to Buffalo. Yet, a playoff berth is a playoff berth, and that’s the realistic goal. Against Pittsburgh, the passing offense was OK, nothing special. Absent one long fortunate grab and TD run by Nelson Agholor, there wasn’t much there.

In addition, the Patriots  high-priced tight end duo of Hunter Henry and the ever-underproducing Jonnu Smith have contributed nothing. Conversely, though, the running game made a statement.

New England Patriots running game closed out the game

The best news other than the surprising defense’s consistent play exceeding expectations by a wide margin was the running game. This is good news on a couple of levels.

First, the obvious one was the running game snuffed out any Pittsburgh Steelers’ hopes for a win. Good teams close out games by controlling the clock in the final minutes. The Patriots doing so for six-plus minutes was a major statement.

The Patriots’ offense slammed the door shut on Pittsburgh by never allowing them to get their hands on the ball again. Backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson (as predicted), rolled over and through the Steelers’ defense extinguishing any hopes of the home team snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

One observer Michael Hurley noted, it was “smash mouth football”.

Indeed it was a welcome sight as this game in which the Patriots might have cruised to a win was too close for comfort late in the fourth quarter. noted about that final drive,

"Of the first nine plays on the drive, eight were running plays. (That’s not counting a 4-yard rush that was wiped away due to penalty.) It featured runs from sources both likely (Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson) and unlikely (Mac Jones). The result for the Steelers was an agonizing, soul-sucking experience lasting 393 seconds."

Harris ended the tilt with 71 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown. Stevenson finished with a workmanlike 47 yards on nine carries. That was 118 yards, enough to win the day.

Yet, the solid running on the final drive wasn’t the whole story.

New England Patriots offensive line comes to life

The Patriots offensive line has been taking their lumps. Whether it’s adjusting to new coaches, a new offensive system, or new positions being played by a couple of key players, things have been a struggle.

Much was expected from this unit and not much was being delivered. Missed blocking assignments in the first game and several ill-timed penalties against Pittsburgh had put a damper on those high expectations. That is, until that final drive.

The goals were clear, run and protect the ball, burn the clock, and keep Pittsburgh’s potentially explosive offense on the bench. And to make it even more challenging, how about making that happen for more than six minutes?

It was a daunting task and as’s great reporter, Tom Curran wrote, Pittsburgh knew exactly what the Patriots hoped to do, run the ball up the gut.

"Taking over at their own 30 with 6:33 remaining, the Patriots overcame a second-and-13 after a hold on Jakobi Meyers by getting a third-and-2 conversion on a Mac Jones scramble. They then ripped off runs of 6, 8, 16, -2, 9 and 5 yards against a Pittsburgh defense that knew — KNEW — it was going to be run against."

Daunting, yes, yet the newly constituted Patriot offensive line was more than up to the challenge. From left to right, Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, and Isaiah Wynn came together brilliantly as a unit when they absolutely had to on that final drive. The result was they sent the Pittsburgh Steelers to the showers with their first loss.

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The hope here is that this is the beginning of better things to come. As far as inspiration is concerned, that last drive may be a catalyst for ongoing excellence and a harbinger of good things to come.

In addition to a consistently good offensive line and running backs, here’s what’s necessary. The offense needs to get more diversified and less predictable. Mac Jones has to play like, well, Mac Jones. The tight ends have to shed their invisibility cloaks and show up. And DeVante Parker has to show why he was worth a trade last off-season.

Next. New England Patriots score big win in Pittsburgh: Keys to victory. dark

Yet, whatever else is necessary, the offensive line is the key. They always are. They showed they could dominate a good Pittsburgh defensive front seven. If they can reprise that success week to week, as the great Boston Celtic champion, Kevin Garnett once said, “Anything is Possiblllllllle!”