The 2012 Patriots will only go as far as their running game allows. A revitalized ground attack has keyed each of the Patriots three wins so far this season.
When opposing teams have stopped young duo Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden, the Patriots have been reduced to the one-dimensional team that has lost two Super Bowls in five years.
Bill Belichick's team came undone in both of those title games, because the New York Giants were free to simply zero in on quarterback Tom Brady. In the biggest games, teams realised that beating Brady meant beating the Patriots.
The addition of a credible running game in 2012 has not only added healthy balance to the offense, it has given defenses no chance to key on the one player who makes the Patriots tick.
A simple analysis of the Patriots three victories this season, reveals just how important the ground game has become in New England.
Against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, the Patriots ran the ball 35 times. That meant Brady only put the ball in the air 31 times.
Week 4's, demolition of the Buffalo Bills, saw the Patriots amass 249 yards from 40 rushes. Brady threw 36 times and the production on the ground meant he didn't have to force throws, resulting in a three touchdowns and no interceptions performance.
Ridley and Bolden were at it again against the Denver Broncos in Week 5. The Patriots ran the ball a whopping 54 times, compared to only 31 passes from Brady.
Notice that in all three games the pass-happy, Brady-led Patriots have actually run the ball more than they have thrown it. It's no coincidence that they topped 30 points in each of these contests.
That's because with a working running game, the Patriots simply have too many weapons for opposing teams to cover. Teams that still play the pass first against Brady soon find themselves in trouble.
The Bills made that mistake and Bolden and Ridley pounded their overwhelmed nickel fronts, until both had topped 100 yards on the ground. It was a fatal mistake from Buffalo defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, but honestly, what other choice did he have?
Brady has prolific tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to aim for. Gronkowski in particular, draws plenty of coverage in middle zones.
If defenses somehow manage to keep him under wraps, then diminutive slot receiver Wes Welker will exploit the spaces on intermediate receptions.
In the event that Welker is covered, Brady can always work the outside and go deep to either Deion Branch or Brandon Lloyd. A shrewd and decisive quarterback with that variety of weapons is enough for any defense to handle.
Now add a potent running game to the mix and any defense is forced out of an attacking mindset and into a constant state of timid reaction. It's an old adage of defensive football that trying to stop everything is a certain way stop nothing.
With the running game working, the 2012 Patriots leave defensive coordinators with no obvious focal point to attack. When the run falters, Brady again becomes that primary focus.
Two of the Patriots three defeats clearly illustrate this point. When the Arizona Cardinals upset the Patriots in Week 2, they did it by holding them to just 90 yards rushing.
That meant Brady had to attempt 46 passes, leaving the Cardinals free to attack him with a myriad of zone blitzes. The Patriots recent defeat on the road against the Seattle Seahawks, shows the same unfavourable dynamic at work for Brady and his offense.
Seattle's defensive front is built to stop the run, with hulking tackles Alan Branch, Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane, too much for most blocking schemes. So it proved as the Seahawks limited New England to just 87 rushing yards on only 26 runs.
As for Brady, he was forced into attempting 58 passes, too much for any offense to risk, without turnovers. Two critical interceptions from Brady tells its own story.
That's the same in-balance that condemned the Pats' to defeat in two Super Bowls against the New York Giants.
In Super Bowl 42, Brady threw 48 times in a 17-14 loss. In Super Bowl 46, he attempted 41 passes during a 21-17 loss. By swarming on Brady, the Giants had established the formula for beating the Patriots.
The emergence of a credible running game in 2012 has reversed that formula and that's why the ground game is essential to the Patriots success this season.