We continue our position-by-position preview of the Patriots with the runningbacks. The Patriots haven't had a true #1 RB since the departure of Corey Dillon. And they still don't. However, the Pats have plenty of options in the backfield.
Sammy Morris rushed for 727 yards last year, with a nice 4.7 average. But he only had more than 16 carries in 1 game, and that was the Week 17 Wind Bowl in Buffalo. Morris had 24 carries in that game, Lamont Jordan had 20, and Cassel only threw 8 passes.
Morris runs better when he runs less frequently. If he's kept between 12 to 15 carries, he's most efficient. Last year, with Maroney out, the Patriots leaned on him a great deal. He was an unsung hero of the offense. His carries will go down, but his production will remain just as pivotal.
Laurence Maroney is another Patriots RB that needs to keep his carries down. When paired with the afore mentioned Corey Dillon, he looked extremely good. And people forget that in 2007, he rushed for 835 yards, and a 4.5 yard average.
The problem with Maroney is consistency, both in his health and in his running game. In 2007, he'd have a few 100 yard games, averaging 5.0+ yards per carry. Then he'd have a 44 yard performance, struggling to get 3.0 YPC. In the '07 playoffs, he followed a pair of 122 yard outings with a 36 yard Super Bowl effort, and that was on 14 carries.
He's not reliable, even when healthy. Until he proves to be persistently consistent, he's not much more than a 1st down back to be used to spell Morris, Taylor, and Faulk.
Fred Taylor is one of the more interesting stories to watch in the early season. He's 33 years old, coming off injury, and his 2008 season was statistically one of his worst. But the Jaguars had a crappy offensive line, and against the Patriots, opponents will be forced to defend against the pass more.
I think Fred Taylor is going to be a sturdy, dependable back, so long as his carries are kept to a minimum. That's sort of a trend in the Patriots backfield, that everyone has to be kept under 12 carries per game.
But don't forget, Fred Taylor rushed for 1,202 yards in 2007.
And then there's Kevin Faulk, who should one day be enshrined in The Hall at Patriot Place. Faulk is the 3rd down back, and it's not just because he has great hands and is excellent at picking up blitzes. He does run the ball on occasion, and can be devastating. He rushed for 507 yards on 83 attempts last year, with a staggering 6.1 yard average.
With Maroney as an accesory-back, Taylor and Morris splitting a bulk of the carries, and Faulk on 3rd downs, the Patriots RB situation should be entertaining to watch.
The Patriots rushed for 2,278 yards last season, which was good for 6th in the NFL. And they were 4th in rushing TDs with 21. The addition of Fred Taylor only enhances the Patriots rushing game. Give Brady and the offense 2,000+ yards on the ground, and things get very difficult for opposing defenses.