By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Between the fascinating head coach and the superstar quarterback and the endless string of entertaining football games, there’s a lot to observe here in New England on a daily basis. And part of that observation process involves getting a general gauge of how fans feel about certain players, and how the media feels about them too.
And having observed this situation for several years now, I feel comfortable in concluding that a large majority of people cannot stand LeGarrette Blount.
In fact, it seems like a lot of people hate him.
It’s a strange condition, this, the visceral hate for a running back who’s contributed to a Super Bowl victory and has been an undeniably useful player for the local team. Yet it exists.
On what felt like half of Blount’s 22 carries Sunday night, I know that my own Twitter feed as well as my incoming text messages were filled with an anti-Blount sentiment. It typically hinges on people being tired of seeing him, or believing he’s slow and fat, or getting tired of watching him plow into the offensive line and fall on his face 10 times per game.
So I’m not arguing against a straw man here, look only to Michael Felger, aka the straw that stirs Boston sports’ drink, for the embodiment of The Anti-Blount Movement. On Tuesday’s Felger & Massarotti show, when guest Greg Bedard listed Blount as an “Up” in the “3 Up/3 Down” segment, Felger responded thusly: “HA! Oh God! LeGarrette Blount!”
It’s not uncommon. You remark on Blount doing something well, you’re typically met with a hearty belly laugh. His existence is routinely mocked.
But here’s the thing, people: LeGarrette Blount is good. It’s asinine that it’s even up for debate.
Is he great? No. He’s not Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders or LaDainian Tomlinson. He’s not on a path to end up enshrined in Canton for the rest of eternity. But aside from the Minnesota Vikings (and perhaps the Indianapolis Colts), which teams currently employ a future Hall of Fame running back?
Fact is, LeGarrette Blount is very good at what he’s good at. And what he’s good at is, in the eloquent words of Marshawn Lynch, running through a nice fella’s face. (OK, that’s slightly less colorful than what Marshawn actually said.)
He may not be the fastest running back in football, and he may not always find the creases the smaller backs may find, and he may be paradoxically bad at converting short-yardage runs, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that he possesses a very rare skill: He can make opposing defenses quit.
Three times in his first two years with the Patriots, he made the opposing defense give up. He romped for 189 yards and two touchdowns in Week 17 of 2013 against the Bills, and he followed it up with a 166-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Colts a couple of weeks later. The following winter in the AFC Championship Game (during which nothing else notable happened regarding the Patriots), he rolled for another 148 yards and three more touchdowns against that same Colts defense that knew it had no chance of stopping him.
The reaction to these games being mentioned is typically, “Well, he beat up on some bad rushing teams in three games. Big deal.”
Well, how about this: Among running backs in Patriots franchise history with at least 400 rushing attempts, LeGarrette Blount ranks first in yards per carry.
As in, nobody in Patriots history has ever averaged more yards per carry than LeGarrette Blount.
He’s carried the ball an even 400 times, and he’s averaged 4.57 yards per carry. Corey Dillon averaged 4.2. So did Kevin Faulk and Shane Vereen. Curtis Martin averaged 4.0. Sam Cunningham and Antowain Smith averaged 3.9.
Obviously, those players had many more carries than Blount, which generally works to bring down the average, so simply ranking first all time in that one statistic doesn’t necessarily make Blount better than the aforementioned running backs. It does, however, speak to his usefulness and effectiveness.
(He’ll move into the top 10 in the franchise list of rushing touchdowns this season, and he’s already 20th on the rushing yard list, despite just 34 games with the team.)
While nobody enjoys watching Blount plow into a pile of bodies and fall forward for a gain of a yard, the man tends to run with purpose. A 250-pound bowling ball running directly into opponents’ chests all day tends to wear them down, and if that big fella hits the second level of the defense with a full head of steam, then you ought to bust out your popcorn, as the defense will more often than not be full of men who would rather dive away from Blount instead of putting themselves in harm’s way.
Just look at Patrick Peterson, who’s no small man, on Sunday night. With the game on the line, he wanted no part of Mr. Blount.
To harp on Blount’s average speed (average for an NFL running back, mind you, which is still fast) is to overlook his unique skills — such as the ability to carry an entire football team on his back for five full yards to score a touchdown.
It is to overlook his ability to pick up 12 yards after first contact.
It is to ignore his obvious athleticism.
To call him flat-out “slow” is to just be foolish.
He may not be Marshawn Lynch, but he has authored a ridiculous touchdown run that looks strikingly similar to that famed “earthquake-causing” run in Seattle a few years back.
Who, besides Marshawn Lynch, turns that play into a touchdown?
Those are, of course, the highlights. But what about those groan-inducing two-yard plunges up the gut that seemingly gets everyone in the region up in arms?
Let Bill Belichick explain.
“Some of those two and three-yard gains – I know they don’t look like much on the stat sheet and even in the game they don’t look like much – but there’s a big difference between second-and-7 and second-and-10. It just makes the down more – makes the next two downs – a lot more manageable,” Belichick said this week. “A lot of those tough yards that he got were important yards. Yeah, they’re not record-setting plays but they’re important yards in the management of the game, particularly against a team like Arizona that you can’t just go back there and throw the ball 50 times against them. I don’t think that’s the way to play them, so being able to keep the chains [moving], keep the down and distances on second and third down better, or even on second down if we didn’t have a good first-down play to be able to get to third-down and manageable range.”
And then, of course, after a night of wearing down the defense, came the play that changed the game — the 13-yard run on third-and-11. That play by Blount turned a 53-yard field-goal attempt into a much more manageable 32-yarder for Stephen Gostkowski, scoring what proved to be the game-winning points.
The fumble earlier in the night was no doubt a bad one. Lapses like that can lose games. But the mark of a good player is when he atones for his mistakes. Blount certainly did that.
There comes a point in this observational practice when you have to throw your hands up and accept things for the way they are. You can only write or talk about a topic so much before you have to stop the fight and let the conventional wisdom rule the day.
But with Blount, the story should change. Is he the perfect running back? Nope. But on this team, in that role, he just might be the perfect man for the job.