Is LeGarrette Blount's AFC Championship Performance Being Overhyped?
After rushing for 148 yards and 3 touchdowns in the AFC Championship, the performance of New England running back LeGarrette Blount has been swept under the rug as an almost afterthought in the wake of Deflategate.
However, Blount's performance against the Colts shouldn't go unnoticed -- even if the Patriots' now fourth-string running back, Jonas Gray, produced a similar dismantling of the Colts to the tune of 201 yards for four touchdowns back in Week 11.
In fact, last year in the AFC Divisional Round where the Patriots also squared up against the Colts, Blount ran for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns. Is this merely a trend against the Colts, or a reflection of just how efficient Blount and the New England rushing attack can perform?
Blount's 2014 Performance
LeGarrette Blount ended 2013 as the lead back for the Patriots in a disappointing AFC Championship loss to the Denver Broncos, where he managed a meager five yards on six carries. Set to become an unrestricted free agent, Blount tested the waters and found the Pittsburgh Steelers as his new destination in the hopes of forming a 1-2 punch alongside emerging star Le'Veon Bell.
It turned out Bell did more than just "emerge", as he quickly became arguably the league's best running back in 2014, casting a large shadow over Blount and siphoning away carries and snaps in the process.
When Blount was provided an opportunity to showcase his talents, he performed in a less-than-desirable fashion, providing his team -0.09 Net Expected Points (NEP) per rush while with Pittsburgh. To put that into context, the average Rushing NEP per rush rate in the NFL this past year was -0.03 (it's not zero because passing is more efficient than running).
Blount's -0.09 tied with other inefficient duds Trent Richardson and Doug Martin through Week 11. For comparison's sake, the other end of the spectrum included Jamaal Charles and Justin Forsett, both providing their teams with 0.15 Rushing NEP per carry, while Blount's teammate, Le'Veon Bell, had a 0.06 Rushing NEP per rush average.
However, this number improved substantially for Blount upon returning to New England in Week 12, as he turned around his inefficient 2014 campaign as evidenced in the table below displaying his career Rushing NEP numbers.
|Rush Yards||Att.||Yards per Att.||Rushing NEP||Per Rush|
Give kudos to Coach Belichick for finding ways to get the most out of LeGarrette Blount. The running back has thrived as a Patriot, being utilized in an extremely efficient manner within New England's offensive system after posting negative Rushing NEP elsewhere throughout his five-year career.
Both his efficiency and yards-per-carry averages rose as a member of the New England backfield. His performance over this stretch of time -- not just against the Indianapolis Colts and their 22nd-ranked rush defense, prove that Blount is every bit deserving to serve as a feature back.
Stepping out of the shadows of former teammate Le'Veon Bell, Blount has shown with his 30 carries against Indianapolis -- his most since his college days -- that he can shoulder the load and validate the hype surrounding him.
Superbowl Outlook and Beyond
Seattle's defense is a whole different type of monster with a quick, active front-seven and a stifling run defense. The Seahawks finished fourth in defensive rushing efficiency, and through the playoffs, have led the league in overall defense after adding their pass defense into the equation.
Our projections predict LeGarrette Blount will finish with 59.75 yards and 0.39 touchdowns on Sunday. Against a Seattle run defense that allowed the second fewest yards per attempt and only eight rushing touchdowns during the regular season, Blount is in for a tough day of sledding.
The future surrounding Blount and the other running backs remains cloudy, as former feature back Stevan Ridley, and New England's change-of-pace back, Shane Vereen, both have expiring contracts at the end of the season. Will the Patriots bring either of them back? With Blount still under contract through 2016, as well as Jonas Gray, James White and Brandon Bolden, how New England's backfield will take shape is anyone's guess at this juncture.
Belichick has kept fantasy owners on their toes for years, even on a week-to-week basis. 2015 will be no different, but a strong performance from the ever-efficient LeGarrette Blount may help him see the top of the depth chart come August.