Where do the roads lead for the Patriots running game?

The Patriots certainly made a statement last week with their masterful fourth-quarter drive to close out the Steelers.

It was a 13-play march that killed the final six minutes of the game and preserved a three-point victory.

Between power runs, and a few outside zone runs mixed in, the Patriots muscled their way to a win. It was ground-and-pound at its finest, and showcased what the team does well.

But does that mean the Patriots are going to be a team that relies more on running the football? Will they be run-dominant in a passing league?

Doubt it.

Mac Jones will still be throwing the ball around plenty. And, he’ll be supported by that run game. But that doesn’t mean the run game won’t take charge on occasion.

They’ll run if the opponent dictates them going run-first, and they’ll run if the game situation calls for it. Against the Ravens, look for the Patriots to focus more on an aerial attack.

Count on Jones to take advantage of the Baltimore secondary, which collapsed against the Dolphins last week. Based on the Ravens’ performance thus far, it makes sense for him to air it out. The Ravens have surrendered the most passing yards in the NFL after the first two games.

They’ll provide a bit of balance and try to get the run game going against a Ravens front that’s proved vulnerable on the edges. They’ll run to complement the passing game. And, they’ll run if they have a lead in the fourth quarter.

That’s why it provided such a boost to see the Patriots close out a game last week without putting the football in the air.

CBS analyst Charles Davis, who called the game from Pittsburgh, was impressed with the effort.

“If you look around the league, there were quite a few teams on Sunday that didn’t know how to close out games. But New England did,” said Davis. “Teams who should have had hammer locks on their games wound up getting beat. I think with the Patriots, it’s part of their DNA, understanding situational football, and knowing how to close at the end.”

Having an effective run game just helps in so many ways. It sets up the passing game, takes some pressure off Jones, and makes it so he doesn’t have to put the ball up 40-50 times a week.

And, if they put in more play-action, faking the run, that should help receivers get open.

Davis agreed.

“The run game is vital, especially for them,” said Davis. “You’re not going to go three wides, and have teams terrified at what you’re throwing at them with their receivers. Teams respect their receivers. But I don’t think anyone’s going to be afraid of their receivers.

“So you really don’t want Mac to go pitch it around 50 times. That doesn’t work for them. That’s not who they are. And it’s not who he is as a quarterback.”

With good blocking up front, Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson can run for days. And with Harris and Stevenson confidently moving the chains, it buys time for the passing game to get on track with a new play-caller, new terminology and ostensibly, a new offense. It allows for Jones and his receivers to iron out the kinks.

But in the long run, the passing game needs to rule. It needs to be the primary staple of the offense, with the run game riding shotgun.

Against the Dolphins, the Patriots were forced to throw more because they were behind in every quarter. Against the Steelers, the Pats ran it more than they did against the Fins – that last drive largely responsible – but Jones still had more pass attempts overall.

So the Pats aren’t going back to the stone age. They aren’t reinventing the wheel. Like always, they’ll go to the fastball – David Andrews’ term for the run game – whenever the need arises.

Speaking with the recently retired James White, the former Patriots third-down back believes teams can start out being a run-first outfit, but eventually, they’ll have to run and pass to win.

“The best teams are able to do both,” said White.

White didn’t sound too worried about how things would shake out offensively for the Patriots.

“I think they’re already a pretty solid offense,” he said. “You don’t have to put up 400 yards to be a good offense. Score in a timely manner, capitalize on turnovers, score in the red zone, and win in situational football. That’s what it’s about and I think they’re extremely good at that.”

With respect to the latter, they couldn’t do much better than what they accomplished last week. They were able to run the football, when everyone on the Steelers sideline knew they were going to run the football. It was situational football at its finest.

NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger called the clock-killing drive “Masterpiece Theater.”

During his media session Thursday, Stevenson said that drive was a good confidence booster for the group.

He also said he felt like he and Harris, along with the rest of the backs in the room, have only scratched the surface of what they’re capable of doing.

“I feel like that’s safe to say,” Stevenson said. “I feel like me, Damien and everybody else in the running back room has a lot more to show. It’s early in the season. I think we’re just going to pound the pavement and we’re going to have those games, we’re going to string them along and produce.”

White high on his replacements

Ty Montgomery had pretty much taken over White’s role as the third-down back, but was placed on injured reserve prior to the Steelers game.

Last week, both Harris and Stevenson were on the field at different times, serving that role.

“Both guys can do it. I just think whoever’s out on the field, is going to stay there,” said White. “They both have improved dramatically since their rookie seasons as far as being better overall players, and not just being out there on first and second downs. They’ve improved when it comes to learning the protections, blocking guys up and being able to catch the football.”

White, who is now serving as a radio analyst for Sports USA, noted that Jones looks for both Harris and Stevenson in a pinch, and they’ve converted by turning short passes into first downs. They’ve also done well with blitz pickup.

On Stevenson: “He’s just scratching the surface. He’s still learning. But I think he can turn into a special, special player.”

No panic in Cincinnati

During his media availability on Wednesday, Joe Burrow did his best to get Bengals fans off the ledge.

The Bengals quarterback says there’s no need for anyone to be in panic mode given the team’s 0-2 start, losing to the Steelers and Cowboys. He’s confident that the team, losers in Super Bowl LVI to the Rams, will rebound.

“Everyone is frustrated, but we aren’t panicking,” Burrow said. “We are two games in. We’ve got 15 games left. Let’s all just take a deep breath and relax. We are going to be fine. We aren’t worried about it.”

The Bengals pretty much revamped its entire offensive line after Burrow was sacked an NFL-high 51 times last season. Thus far, the changes haven’t helped, as the franchise quarterback has been sacked a league-high 13 times through the first two games.

Asiasi to debut

Former Patriots tight end Devin Asiasi, who was claimed off waivers by the Bengals, is expected to make his debut with the team against the New York Jets.

Tight ends coach James Casey, who liked Asiasi during the 2020 draft, is confident the former UCLA star will fare well.

“He’s one of those well-rounded guys I like. He can run routes and catch it as well as block. You can put him in the game and he can do more than one thing,” Casey said, via Bengals.com. “He’s smart and he cares about it, which is the biggest thing. I think he’ll surprise some people with his speed and movement.”

New England Patriots tight end Devin Asiasi (86) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

Asiasi, meanwhile, has been impressed by Burrow and the overall culture in the Bengals locker room.

“Good kid. Confident kid. All these guys rally to him, so that’s a real good thing,” Asiasi said of Burrow. “The thing I really like about these guys and this team is they all seem to look out for each other, help each other, in the tight end room, the special teams room, whatever it is.”

Vrabel supports staff

The Titans are another surprise 0-2 team. There’s been an outcry from team observers to have offensive coordinator Todd Downing canned.

The offense has scored just three touchdowns. Even with Derek Henry, the run game has struggled while the passing game hasn’t been much better.

Head coach Mike Vrabel, however, doesn’t feel any moves need to be made. Last week, he spoke out in support of Downing, and stressed that he had no intention of making coaching changes.

Vrabel said firing Downing, or any other coach, is “not something that’s going to happen right now.”

“I have confidence in our staff,”  Vrabel said, via the Tennessean. “I have confidence in the guys that we put out there. We have to continue to coach and execute better. … I appreciate everybody’s opinion, but I have to make sure that everybody here – players and coaches – are all aligned and I know that they are. That’s how you get things fixed and you win a game.”

“We have to understand who we are and what we believe in and what we’ve had success in in the past. This isn’t all of a sudden a time for wholesale changes,” Vrabel said. “This is about getting back to basics and what we believe in and what we’ve had success in and making sure that everybody sees it the same way that I do . . . Now is not the time for self-preservation. This is the time for rallying around each other, getting with people that you believe in and people that you trust.”

Jimmy G lauds QB coach

Interesting to hear Jimmy Garoppolo, who returned as the 49ers starter last week after Trey Lance left with a broken ankle, talk about first-year quarterbacks coach Brian Griese, a former NFL quarterback.

“He sees the game as a quarterback. He sees the game similarly and it’s nice to have him in the room,” Garoppolo said during his media session Wednesday. “It’s tough to coach a quarterback. You’ve got to see it the same way as him, which a lot of guys think they do, but they don’t, maybe. He has the experience being on the field, being in those moments. It’s nice to have a guy like that around.”

Naturally, it’s easy to think about Patriots quarterbacks coach Joe Judge, who works with Mac Jones. Judge was a backup quarterback at Mississippi State. Not quite the same experience quotient Griese brings to the table.

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