Patriots Rushing Attack One Of The Best?

The Patriots might be ranked as the 7th best run offense based on yardage, but did you know they lead the league in first downs with 135?

For the second week in a row, the Patriots used a power running game to balance out the Matt Cassel-led passing attack on the way to a blowout victory. Sunday's effort, as is so often the case late in the season in the Northeast, came in snowy, cold conditions of the first day of winter at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

Knowing the conditions forecast for the meeting with Arizona, the Patriots had plenty of multiple-tight-end sets ready for the snow and the Cardinals on Sunday. Some of those sets, the biggest of New England's run formations, included backup guard Russ Hochstein playing both fullback and third tight end.

Coach Bill Belichick acknowledged Monday that he and his staff began fine-tuning their game plan to include Hochstein more toward the end of last week, when it became clear that the snow would come down hard during the game.

"We thought we'd be in some bigger personnel groupings," Belichick said. "We ran several of those plays behind him."

Particularly in short-yardage and goal-line situations, Hochstein found himself being used as the lead blocker for running backs Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan, who scored twice on the ground. Hochstein led the way on Jordan's second TD run. He was also an eligible player on Randy Moss' 76-yard touchdown catch from Cassel at the start of the third quarter.

"Anytime you play in a weather game like that," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told reporters immediately after the game, "you want to be able to grind out yards and get bigger, which is what we did in that grouping. Russ did a great job and was very effective in his role."

"Russ is like what we talk about with all our players. 'The more you can do, the more you can do to help us.' Russ' versatility has been important for us in the past. Certainly it showed up (Sunday) by playing fullback and tight end."

With Hochstein's help at times, Morris and Jordan led a New England rushing attack that totaled 183 yards on 42 carries for a 4.4-yard average. The effort came just seven days after the Patriots ran for 277 yards in the rainy blowout at Oakland, the team's best single-game effort since 1985.

It's not the offense that the Patriots have displayed all that often, but the power running is starting to become a regular contributor to a team fighting to the end to reach the postseason. Morris and Jordan are sharing the load, and the guys leading the way are enjoying the new, more powerful look.

"I like getting in two tights every now and then and just pounding it out and see what happens," guard Logan Mankins said with a smile before going on to praise the job done by the running backs. "You see how they finish runs. They are either running someone over or dragging them with them. That just wears down people."

Notes:
--QB Matt Cassel's three touchdown passes in the rout of the Cardinals give him 21 for the season, most by a first-year Patriots starting quarterback since Tony Eason's 23 in 1984. Cassel also became the seventh quarterback in Patriots history to throw 20 or more touchdown passes in a season.
--RB LaMont Jordan found the end zone twice in Sunday's win over Arizona, his second and third scores of the season, all coming in the past two weeks. For the season, Jordan has 60 carries for 299 yards (5.0 average) in his first year in New England.
--RB Sammy Morris' team-high 88 yards rushing added to his team-leading 642 yards on the season on 132 attempts. He has a 4.9-yard average and seven touchdowns.
--WR Wes Welker now has 109 receptions for 1,139 yards and three scores following his efforts in the snow on Sunday. He needs just four catches in the finale in Buffalo to break the Patriots' single-season franchise record of 112 catches that he set a year ago.
--WR Randy Moss struggled with a couple of big drops in the snow, but he still finished with 87 yards on two catches, thanks mostly to a 76-yard screen pass for a touchdown in the third quarter. Moss needs just 5 yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
--TE Benjamin Watson has just 22 catches for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns through 15 games after going catchless in Sunday's win.
--LB Jerod Mayo once again ranked atop the tackle charts in New England's latest win, tying for the team lead with seven tackles.
--LB Junior Seau earned his first start of the season against Arizona and he produced, tying for the team lead with seven tackles in the snow.
--SS Brandon Meriweather recorded his second strip-sack in the last three weeks when he forced a Matt Leinart turnover in the third quarter of Sunday's win.
--DL Richard Seymour shared a 7-yard sack of Kurt Warner with teammate Mike Wright in the first quarter of Sunday's win. Seymour leads the Patriots with eight sacks on the season.
--PK Stephen Gostkowski hit all four of his field-goal attempts (38, 35, 24, 30) in the snow on Sunday. The third-year kicker now has a career high and New England single-season franchise-record 34 field goals made this season.
--CB Ellis Hobbs recorded his third interception of the season against Arizona, hauling in a Matt Leinart pass that was tipped in the air in the fourth quarter.

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