All of a sudden, the Patriots have a running game.
After years of using a slew of tight ends and shifty slot receivers to toy with opponents, Bill Belichick has found another way to win this season: on the ground.
New England's 3-3 record may not seem intimidating, considering it's the same as the Jets', Buffalo's and Miami's. But in the Patriots' victories, they rushed for a grand total of 660 yards -- 162, 247 and 251 against the Titans, Bills and Broncos, respectively. The Jets, on the other hand, have only 667 rushing yards.
While Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd will command much of the focus in the Jets' game-planning this week, Rex Ryan's defense also must account for the Patriots' dramatically improved running game. Lesser-known Stevan Ridley (524 yards, 118 carries) and rookie Brandon Bolden (234 yards, 43 carries) are the main reasons the Pats are averaging 152.3 yards a game.
However, the Jets are feeling pretty good after limiting the Colts to 41 rushing yards in a 35-9 rout. They sacked No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck four times and caused two fumbles.
"That's the formula every week," defensive lineman Mike DeVito said Tuesday during his weekly radio spot on WFAN. "You put games together like that, you're going to go 16-0."
The Jets, of course, haven't had much defensive success this season, particularly against the run. Before facing the Colts, they were allowing 172 yards a game on the ground. But they stifled rookie Vick Ballard (25 yards, eight carries) and allowed no run longer than 5 yards -- a first for the franchise, according to the team's website.
Muhammad Wilkerson said the defensive line felt it had something to prove after losing to the 49ers and Texans and getting only five sacks all season. But he said the key is to carry over that same type of effort against the run. The Jets still are ranked 28th in the league, giving up 150.5 rushing yards a game.
"The performance from Sunday has got to roll over," said Wilkerson, who had a breakout day against the Colts (seven tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass defended). "We've got to play physical like we did, and we won't have no problem with New England running the ball."
Ridley and Bolden, however, didn't put up big numbers Sunday in the Patriots' stunning loss at Seattle. Bolden had 28 yards on six carries before leaving in the second quarter with a knee injury. Ridley had only 34 yards on 16 carries.
Still, the Patriots, 20th in the run game last season, have dramatically improved there. That makes this week's challenge far more difficult for the Jets.
"If they're running the ball, that opens up more things for Tom [Brady] in the passing game," linebacker Garrett McIntyre said. "We have to do a good job of not letting that run get started. Then, we might be able to get after Tom a little bit."