New England Patriots
The New England Patriots’ running game has been more effective and is essential to the team’s third-down success. The Patriots lead the league converting 52.9 percent of their third downs, and have 116 rush first downs, also best in the league.
Stevan Ridley has been the key to the rejuvenated rush attack and has become just the fourth Patriots running back in the Bill Belichick era to eclipse 1,000 yards (1,010). He also leads the league with 66 rushing first downs.
As a team, the Patriots have run the ball 20 times this season on third or fourth down with one yard to go and have converted on 90 percent of those plays, the highest rate in the league.The Texans are 14th in the league in the same situations, converting 68.2 percent.
Ridley leads the team with seven of these conversions on eight attempts, and Tom Brady is 5-for-5 with a touchdown. In fact, at 98.1 percent, Brady leads the NFL in third-and-1 conversion percentage since the 2001 season (his first year as a starter) among anyone with at least 25 such attempts.
The Patriots not only have been rushing more frequently and for more yards in 2012, but they are relying on the ground game to come up with crucial yards and key first downs.
The Houston Texans’ run game is the key to their ball-control offense. Houston has run the ball 413 times, most in the NFL. Their average time of possession per game (34:07) is also more than every other team.
The catalyst to the Texans’ running game is Arian Foster, who has the most rushes in the NFL (283) and the most rushing yards in the AFC (1,102).
The closer the Texans get to their opponent’s goal line, the better Foster becomes. Foster has 13 rushing touchdowns in the red zone, with 10 of them coming in goal-to-go situations. Both totals lead the NFL.
Even when defenses load the tackle box by having more defenders than the offense has available blockers, the Texans are among the best running teams in the league. They have an NFL-high 19 rushing first downs in those situations and are tied for the league lead with five rushing touchdowns.
The Texans’ ability to run the ball has helped open up play action. Matt Schaub has 10 touchdown passes off of play fakes, tied with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees for the most in the NFL. Their running game is a main reason the Texans are 11-1, tied with the Falcons for the best record in the NFL.