The Patriots looked to second year running back Brandon Bolden to pick up that slack last week against Tampa Bay. When Shane Vereen went on injured reserve with a broken wrist after Week One and Stevan Ridley struggled to rush the ball in Week Two against the Jets, it was Bolden's turn to make an impact.
Bolden was heavily featured in the passing game. He was on the field for just about every snap out of the shotgun formation. He lined up in the backfield, on the outside in the X or Z wide receiver slots. He was targeted on a variety of plays, including a traditional half back screen, a wide receiver screen, and even a direct snap running play. His versatility and receiving ability were obvious and for that reason, it's note worthy to take a deeper look at the other aspects of Bolden's game. The following breakdowns are examples of Bolden's blocking and running abilities. He showed deciencies is pass blocking, but had success running.
On the fourth play of the game, the Patriots came out in the shotgun formation on a third and two. Bolden was lined up in the backfield adjacent to Tom Brady. The Buccaneers were showing blitz, bringing up the safety Mark Baron (#23). The Bucs had six pass rushers against five Patriots offensive lineman, with Bolden's responsibility to pick up the safety.
Next, just a couple of seconds after the ball is snapped, we can see that the Buccaneers have sent the two inside rushers who were standing on the line, but dropped their defensive ends to cover some short pass zones.
Barron blitzed what is commonly referred to as the "A-gap," which is the gap between the center and the guards on either side. We can infer from offensive line behavior that Bolden was responsible for the right A-gap as both Dan Connolly (#63) and Ryan Wendell (#62) ignore it. Bolden has stepped up to fill the A-gap and engaged the rushing safety just behind the line of scrimmage. Bolden has made good contact with the safety and Brady looks well protected.
Almost immediately after the second frame, the safety is able to release from Bolden's block and take a direct angle to Brady. Brady moved off of his spot (as indicated by the blue arrow) and is now trying to sidestep back to the other direction to avoid Barron. Bolden recovers here and does manage to get a piece of Barron again. But it was not enough as the safety made contact with Brady and Lavonte David in a delayed blitz later finished him off to kill the drive. Some of the pressure Brady was under throughout this game was related to the pass coverage down field, but this sack was entirely on the blocking, specifically the missed block from Bolden.
It's worth noting that although Bolden would go on to play a very high number of snaps out of the shotgun, he was not really asked to pass block again. Many times Bolden would line up in the backfield and then motion to the outside as a receiver. This was in part due to his receiving acumen, but it's also reasonable to infer that the coaching staff was not anxious to trust him with a heavy pass-blocking workload.
Now we see Bolden lined up in the I-formation behind fullback James Develin in second and 10 with 12:52 left in the third quarter.
Almost immediately after the snap we see the lateral movement typical of a "stretch" play. The blue-dashed arrow shows how far Logan Mankins (#70) has moved to the right and the other linemen have followed a similar angle. Remember, on a stretch play, the linemen are not trying to block up-field they are taking a pre-determined angle to pick up any defenders that lie in their path. It's Bolden's job to read the movement and wait patiently for a hole to open.
A split second later, a running lane is created. On the right side of the running lane (marked by the red arrow), the defenders have over-pursued Bolden because they were mirroring the offense's lateral movement to the right. On the left side of the lane, Mankins and Nate Solder have both executed a cut block, taking out the legs of the backside defenders. Cut blocks are an extremely common aspect of stretch plays because they help create cutback lanes for the running back.
Next, Bolden changed direction from flowing to the right, and cut up-field. Lavonte David (#54) and Daniel Te'o-Nashelm (#50) pursued Bolden from the backside, but were hindered just enough from the cutblocks by Mankins and Solder for Bolden to escape. Develin sealed the right side of the hole to help spring Bolden.
Bolden gets through the second level untouched and is off to the races. Bolden does not have the top-end speed to stay ahead of Mark Barron, who corrals him after a 46 yard gain. Despite not showing good break-away speed, Bolden did show the requisite patience and diagnostic ability a stretch play demands. Shane Vereen displayed that ability in Week One and it's important that his backup has that same skill.
With the ongoing development of the Patriots young receiving corps, the absence of injured players like Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, this offense is going to need significant contributions from the "Vereen role." Bolden showed he can contribute in that role.
Michael Reardon is a Fantasy Football writer and Patriots Insider columnist who has followed the New England Patriots for years. An amateur football player himself, Michael uses his knowledge and experience to illustrate the finer points of the game. You can follow him on twitter @mjreardon
[Disclaimer: Images courtesy screen shots of game replay and are copyright of their respective owners including (but not limited to) the NFL, Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots. Images used for illustration purposes only.]