If the Patriots offense had a weakness in 2007, it was the running game. It's hard to say that 1,849 yards is a weakness, but when compared to the passing game (4,865 yards), the fact that the running game wasn't amazing made it a relative weakness.
The Patriots averaged 115.6 yards per game, which was 13th in the NFL. The 4.1 yards per carry average was also good for 13th, and was the NFL average. The Pats scored 17 touchdowns on the ground, which was 6th best in the NFL. But that was only about 1/5 of their total points scored.
The bulk of the carries came from Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk. Combined, this trio had 1,484 yards on the ground, and 534 receiving yards.
It's difficult to say who was the feature back. Before getting injured, Sammy Morris had amassed 384 rushing yards in six games, rushing past the 100 mark against Cincinnati and Cleveland. Meanwhile, Maroney only had three 100 yard games all year.
But Maroney was also hampered by injuries. He missed a good deal of training camp, and missed weeks 4, 5, and 6.
One pattern with Maroney was a lack of consistency in his game. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry, but only had one game with an average of 4.0 to 4.9. He had four games below 3.5 yards per carry. He went from averaging 11.0 YPC against Miami to 2.4 YPC against the Giants. In the playoffs, he had two of his best games. Then he laid an egg in the Super Bowl, getting swamped behind the line numerous times.
Maroney, Morris, and Faulk will probably be the trio at runningback this year. Although Morris and Faulk are getting old for RBs (30 and 31, respectively), they're much more reliable than Maroney.
Laurence has sparks of greatness, but he needs the support of guys like Morris and Faulk to keep those sparks from going out. He has also yet to rush for 19 games in a year.
The Patriots do have the 7th overall pick in the draft, which means moving up to get Darren McFadden out of Arkansas isn't too tall of a task. If McFadden is available at 7th, look for the Patriots to take him simple because he's too talented to still be around so late.
One slim possibility of a player joining the team as a 4th tailback would be 230 pounder LaMont Jordan, former Jet, and now former Raider. Jordan's never taken off as a featured back, but he's bigger than average and just seems like a guy the Patriots might bring in and all of a sudden turn into a solid role player.
Heat Evans played "fullback" for the Pats in 2007, which is a position that doesn't exist very often in the Patriots scheme. He did well in this role, but with the Patriots offense being what it is, I can see them going without a fullback in 2008. If this happens, look for Heath's roster spot to be taken by a tailback.
The Patriots running game wasn't a weakness in 2007, but it wasn't much of a strength. A solid, consistent, and punishing run game can do wonders for an offense. Just the threat of it is enough to keep pass-rushing defensive linemen on their back feet. It wears down defensive linemen, linebackers, and DBs; especially if it is a balanced attack of power and finesse rushing. It spreads the field out. It can shorten a game. It sets up play-action.
The Patriots will once again be a pass-oriented team in 2008. But an improved running game will only help the passing game score more often, and more regularly. The Pats scored 586 points last year. With an improved running game, the sky is the limit. Maybe even 40 points a game.