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FOXBOROUGH — If you’ve been worried about the state of the Patriots’ running game, the coaching staff hears you.

“That’s everybody’s responsibility, and it starts with me,” said Josh McDaniels. “I think I have to do a better job of the things that I can control and putting guys in good positions.”

“No one’s satisfied with it. I think we have good backs, and we have to do better,” said offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. “We have to do better up front. I have to do better. I have to do a lot better. Let’s leave it at that. It’s not very pleasing.”


“We’ve got to figure that out, and everybody’s got to do their job and do their role,” said running backs coach Ivan Fears. “They’ve got to do it at a higher level than it’s been done and that’s across the board.”

The level, currently, is low. The Patriots are averaging 3.23 yards per carry this season. That ranks tied for 30th in the NFL, with the Jets and the Bengals. Being in that group is definitely not the goal.

Running backs coach Ivan Fears, seen here chatting with James White in 2016, acknowleges the running game has struggled this season.
Running backs coach Ivan Fears, seen here chatting with James White in 2016, acknowleges the running game has struggled this season.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

And snark aside, the running game is important as a complement to this Patriots team’s greatest strength — the defense. As scoring numbers soar in this modern NFL era and rules changes make it easier for offenses to move the ball, possessing the football becomes more and more valuable. Creating a time-of-possession advantage by running the ball is how the Patriots beat the NFL darling Chiefs twice last season.

Although plenty of analysts will talk about how the NFL is a passing league and say, correctly, that the running game is less valuable than it used to be, it has done something very valuable for the Patriots in recent memory.

It’s worth noting that Fears said he was mostly happy with the performances of his running backs. Scarnecchia, on the other hand, indicated that the offensive line, which has dealt with many injuries this season, isn’t performing the way he’d like it to, though he put that on himself.


“I know what I really believe in, and we’re not seeing enough of what I believe in out there, so I’m not getting my message across,” he said. “I think I have to do a lot better job than what I’ve been doing. I’ll just leave it at that.”

Fears said he’s been happy with the play of Sony Michel, who is averaging 3.3 yards per carry after averaging 4.5 last season. Fears also said Michel, who’s dealt with long-term knee problems, has remained healthy.

Fears did mention that he’d like to see fewer negative plays from the second-year back, who has rushed 38 times this season for a loss of yards or no gain, some because of Michel’s decision-making.

Sony Michel has been inconsistent at times this season.
Sony Michel has been inconsistent at times this season.Steven Ryan/Getty Images

“He can’t take a chance and say I’m going to bounce this thing or I’m going to go east and west all day,” Fears said. “Get downhill. Nothing there? Get downhill. Run somebody over. All of that’s part of it.”

The good news for the running game, Fears said, is McDaniels is still calling for it in games. Fears feels like the offense is still balanced, which gives his unit the best chance to improve. The Patriots have run 322 passing plays and 236 rushing attempts this season.

If they knew how to fix it, it would be fixed already, but the coaches know they’re not getting what they want from the rushing game.


Bielema moves on

Patriots defensive line coach Bret Bielema said there was no love lost between him and Michael Bennett, the defensive end traded to the Cowboys for a conditional seventh-round draft pick last week, following their confrontation.

“His time here was great,” Bielema said Tuesday. “He was able to obviously help us win. The ending is what I’m sure everybody focuses on, but I think the parts that were fun working with Mike was just to hear his knowledge, to see his skill set and understand that now he’s in a situation that he feels good about or whatever the circumstances that surround it, it’s just a matter of what played out in front of us. It was a great benefit to be around him and an enjoyable time for me as a coach.”

Bret Bielema said it was “enjoyable” to work with Michael Bennett.
Bret Bielema said it was “enjoyable” to work with Michael Bennett.Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Bennett was unhappy about his lack of playing time, something he voiced to Bielema, though he said before the trade that their disagreement was “both” about football and unnamed topics.

Bennett did not try to hide his displeasure, but Bielema is clearly not fretting over the matter.

One spot remains

In addition to kicker Mike Nugent, the Patriots cut tight end/fullback Eric Tomlinson and practice squad lineman Aaron Monteiro Tuesday.

The Patriots currently have two open spots on their 53-man roster and one on their practice squad. One will reportedly go to kicker Nick Folk, and the other could go to receiver N’Keal Harry. The Patriots would have to activate him by Saturday for him to play Sunday.


Nora Princiotti can be reached at nora.princiotti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.