Dillon Won't Be Doing Much Dealing
by David Dinosio, Site Contributor
September 31, 2004
When one gets right down to the nuts and bolts of it, the nitty-gritty if you will, football is about pushing people around. It's about physically dominating the man in front of you and clearing space for your team. That's why the old axiom, that "games are won and lost in the trenches", rings so true.
If the New England Patriots are to keep the chains, and the clock, moving against the Buffalo Bills this week, it will be directly because of Joe Andruzzi, Dan Koppen and Russ Hochstein's collective ability to push the Bills' 652 pounds of interior linemen out of the path running back Corey Dillon.
The 652 pounds (not to mention the 151 inches) of which I speak belong to Buffalo's two defensive tackles: Sam Adams (he of the 37-yard interception return for a touchdown versus the Patriots in Week One last year) and Pat Williams.
Adams, who unbelievably has had two interception returns for touchdowns in his career (he also had one in 1998 while with Seattle Seahawks) was the bedrock of one of the greatest defensive units in NFL history, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, and he continues that fine work to this day.
Though he had five sacks last year, Adams is at his best when concentrating on tying up the center and guards, thus allowing linebackers and defensive ends direct access to the backfield. Williams, who averaged just 1.5 sacks per year coming into the 2004 campaign, is effective in much the same way.
The Patriots have at times, been able to climb, and stay, atop the NFL heap in spite of their offensive line. Lacking five definitive, solid starters, Bill Belichick has gone to a seven-man rotation featuring Andruzzi, Koppen, Hochstein, left tackle Matt Light, right tackle Tom Ashworth, and "back-ups" Adrian Klemm and Stephen Neal.
Three-step drops are all well and good to assist a suspect line in the passing game but no such subterfuge will fly in the trenches. Light is clearly the Pats best offensive lineman but is coming back from an offseason appendectomy that has prevented him from full-time duty. Add in the fact that Buffalo defensive end Aaron Schobel has owned Light in previous meetings (4.5 sacks in six games), and those who start their work in the Patriots backfield, namely Dillon, will be greatly inconvenienced.
The Bills are allowing a paltry 3.2 yards per rush, good for second best in the AFC. The Patriots are gaining yards on the ground at a clip of 4.3 per, and Dillon himself has been even better, averaging an astronomical 5.2 yards every times he takes a handoff. Folks, something's gotta give.
All of the Patriots early season success in the running game has come against teams with lighter defensive lines. The Indianapolis Colts front four averages just 280.5 pounds while the mean Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman comes in at a svelte 287.
Dillon, who had his first would-be touchdown in a New England uniform taken back because of a penalty, will continue his end zone drought this week. The Patriots, sporting an efficient and precise passing attack, will undoubtedly use this to set up the run, instead of the opposite.
Charlie Weis may appear to be calling a more balanced game this year (32 passes per game, compared to 29.5 runs) because of the new weapon in his backfield, but he is holding true to his form. When Antowain Smith was taking handoffs from Tom Brady last year the breakdown was 33.6 to 29.6. This week, expect Brady to drop back about 40 times as they will use Dillon to underscore the passing game and eat up clock after a prosperous lead is established.
It may seem like the Patriots do not run as much as other teams, and they really don't. The league average so far this year is 27.5 and if you discount Brady's six "runs", a combination of quarterback sneaks and busted pass plays, the Patriots are only running the ball 26.5 times a game.
Dillon was made well aware, in meetings with Belichick and Weis, what his role would be if the Patriots traded for him. They told him he would be one of many weapons on this side of the ball, no more important or featured than any other component.
Dillon assured the staff that this would not be a problem, that he would fall in line, be good soldier, and any other number of military references about obeying. Weeks like this will put Dillon's word to the test.
Belichick and Weis know very well that their offensive line is not a power unit by any means and will struggle mightily with Adams and Williams if they try to pound the ball early and often. Remember, all of the Patriots early season success in the running game has come against teams with lighter defensive lines. The Indianapolis Colts front four averages just 280.5 pounds while the mean Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman comes in at a svelte 287.
Bills head coach Mike Mularkey will try and exploit the line, keeping Takeo Spikes, London Fletcher and the safety in the box and, therefore, in prime position to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Dillon's strengths are his explosiveness through the hole and his elusiveness. Never a burner, Dillon and his seven-man line are beginning to develop a rhythm. They are learning that they have to hold their blocks for as long as possible rather than just driving through defenders because Dillon will improvise, cutting back or even reversing runs, in the backfield.
Brady will start out in four or five receiver sets and will continue to put it up throughout the game. Once the fourth quarter hits, and the Patriots have a lead, and Adams, Williams and the rest of the Buffalo defense is worn down, Weis should instruct his clan to play like they were wearing leather helmets.
By games end, I see Dillon's line looking something like this: 18-20 carries, for 80 yards, most of it coming in the fourth quarter against an attrite Bills defense. If Dillon is on your fantasy team, be prepared to be disappointed this week.
Note: Buffalo, currently 2nd in the AFC in overall defense, has only surrendered 162 yards on the ground through two games this year.
Comments from the Writer: A quick note on my piece for last week: I apologize if I offened anyone with my Ricky Williams-Lenny Kravitz joke. There was no harm intended, and it was not meant to be taken literally.
Boston born and raised, Dave Dionisio is a columinst for Cybersnuff.com
and AllSports.com covering the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. He can be
reached, for any reason (NFL picks, advice for the love lorn, recipies) on the
EZ Boards under the name Trangle or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. A UMass
graduate and avid softball player, he often can be found watching Saved By The
Editor Note: For those who are not already aware, Dave is a fan commentator here on the Patriots Insider, and has agreed to share his opinions, right wrong or just plain whacked, in his weekly column. We strongly urge you to contact him with any questions or concerns about the materials covered herein.