Woodhead Has Been At Best Down The Stretch For Patriots
When the Patriots need a spark on offense, which believe it or not, they sometimes do, the team often finds themselves turning to the little man with the big heart, Danny Woodhead. The 5-foot-8-inch running back from the slightly undersized town of North Platte, Neb., has given the No. 1 offense in the league in 2012 yet another weapon that opposing defenses need to prepare for.
Though there aren’t many backfields around the league that Danny would head, he got his chance with the Patriots in 2010 after being let go by the Jets and hasn’t disappointed in his time in Foxboro. While playing behind starting backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and now Stevan Ridley, Woodhead has been used mostly on 3rd down and in the no-huddle offense. Fortunately for him, the no-huddle is something that the Pats run on almost every series and something that his incredible quickness is perfect for.
Particularly in the last two weeks against the 49ers and Jaguars, the play of Woodhead has been crucial for New England. Though they couldn’t quite get the W against San Francisco, Woodhead helped to get them back into the game for sure. His 12 carries for 61 yards and two touchdowns allowed them to have a fighting chance and climb out of the 28-point hole in the 2nd half. He also added five catches for 23 yards, showcasing his versatility on the national Sunday Night stage and accumulating his highest rushing output of the year to date.
And last week? With the offense struggling again, Tom Brady found Woodhead on a 17-yard pass just before the half to tie the score at 13. Before that, it had been all Jacksonville and after that, the Patriots gained control for the most part. No. 39 finished with three carries for seven yards to go along with two receptions for 38 yards and the one big touchdown. The little man’s getting bigger as the calendar’s getting thinner.
I don’t think his touchdown catch and presence on the final drive of the 1st half should be overlooked at all. Though it likely won’t, the touchdown has the potential to be a season-changing one. It could end up being the difference between a No. 3 seed and no 1st round bye and a No. 1 seed and home field advantage if the Broncos and Texans both somehow lose this weekend. We shall have to wait and see.
While his contributions in the last two weeks have certainly caught the eye of at least one Patriots fan, he has been an offensive presence for the team all season long. In fact, only once this year has he played in a game and not touched the ball – the Week 10 59-24 blowout win over Indianapolis. To be honest, does it look they really needed him that day?
Woodhead continues to get better now in his fourth year in the league out of Division II Chadron St (Chadron, Neb.). Four of his ten career rushing touchdowns have come this season and so have three out of his four career receiving touchdowns. His only two career multi-touchdown games have come this season in Weeks 10 and 15 against the Bills and 49ers.
In his first three NFL seasons, he was mainly used in 3rd down situations, similar to the way that Kevin Faulk was used throughout his long career. This year, however, he has been called upon in pretty much every situation throughout the course of the game and his role has expanded. That’s very good news for a team who has been nearly unstoppable this year when presenting a balanced offensive front.
Although Woodhead had one of his best games this season against the 49ers, Brady threw the ball 65 times and obviously that is not balance. It just would have been more impressive had his big performance come in a win.
Like fellow little guy Wes Welker, Woodhead can really hurt opponents on 3rd down because he can get the ball in so many different ways and make nearly anybody miss in the open field when he has it. He can line up in the backfield, flanking Brady or in the slot and can do damage on a simple screen pass, an unexpected draw play on by running a pattern downfield. Just like Faulk. If he’s on the field on 3rd & long, he’s probably getting it.
This season, Woodhead has gone from a special teams player to a mainstay on the offense while continuing to cover kickoffs, which is no easy task. His playoff experience could help the team come January if Ridley or Shane Vereen, who is, for all intents and purposes, a rookie, begin to struggle or catch the fumble bug. Woodhead has lost only one fumble in his four-year career.
With Ridley perhaps due to get some rest in the final game of the season this week against the Dolphins, Woodhead could see a heavier load of rushes than he is used to. His production and the fact that he has not lost a fumble in 2012 could present him with the opportunity for another big day against a Miami run D that is allowing slightly better than 100 yards per game this season.
Woodhead and the Pats take on the Dolphins in the regular season finale Sunday at 4:25 at Gillette Stadium.
Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.