Part 17 of a 32 part series, a running back position analysis of each franchise.
The New England Patriots were the talk of the NFL going undefeated in the regular season and only tasting defeat in the Super Bowl. For as good as the Patriots are, this is a team that is at a crossroads in terms of its future.
The Patriots have been the gold standard in terms of building a solid team without overspending or reaching on players, they’ll need to be again this off-season. Several of their offensive and defensive mainstays or players that the team counts on, are either older or approaching free agency.
In 2007 the Patriots embarked on a bank-breaking off-season that saw the team uncharacteristically shell out a lot of free agent money. The Patriots got less out of their 2007 draft class than any other team in the league; with 7 of the 9 draftee’s being released or cut, Brandon Meriweather was a huge disappointment being labeled as a guy that lacks bulk and smarts. Exclusive rights free agent LB Pierre Woods was re-signed; seventh round pick Oscar Lua was cut, the team needs to add a lot of youth & speed to a unit that sorely lacked it last year.
LB Mike Vrabel led the Patriots is sacks with 12 ½. This was evident in the Super Bowl by the Patriots in-ability to put pressure on and sack the quarterback. The Patriots will have to rebuild the secondary with the loss of Asante Samuel, Randall Gay, and Eugene Wilson.
That process has already started as the team has signed Fernando Bryant, Jason Webster, Lewis Sanders, and Tank Williams. In the Super Bowl the offensive line was simply outplayed by the Giants defensive line and it showed that they wanted it more after giving the Patriots’ all they wanted & fighting down to wire and basically losing to them on one deep pass play to Randy Moss to end the regular season.
The Giants proved to themselves and all viewing the game that they could get to Tom Brady. Bill Belichick has proven on several occasions that he is thinking a few steps ahead of everyone else and that is needed now more than ever. The Patriots are known as a team that will never rest on his laurels; this off-season will be no different it will just be done with a lot less headline grabbing acquisitions.
It’s difficult to get a read on how coach Belichick views Laurence Maroney. He kind of shied away from giving him a substantial load in the middle of the season; as was expected, and then rode him hard toward the end of the season. It would appear that the Patriots de-emphasized the running game; due to their dominant passing attack.
The Patriots passing game averaged 295 yards per game which was 1st in the NFL; the running game averaged 116 yards per game which was 13th in the NFL. The Patriots led the NFL with 411 total yards per game & were 1st in the NFL in points scored with 37 points per game.
- Laurence Maroney 5’ 11” 220 lbs. 185 Att. 835 Yards 4.5 YPC Avg. 6 TD’s
(Post-Season 61 Att. 280 Yards 4.6 YPC Avg. 3 TD’s)
- Sammy Morris 6’ 0” 220 lbs. 85 Att. 384 Yards 4.5 YPC Avg. 3 TD’s
- Kevin Faulk 5’ 8” 202 lbs. 62 Att. 265 Yards 4.3 YPC Avg.
- Heath Evans 6’ 0” 250 lbs. 34 Att. 121 Yards 3.6 YPC Avg. 3 TD’s
- Kyle Eckel 5’ 11” 237 lbs. 33 Att. 90 Yards 2.7 YPC Avg. 2 TD’s
The Patriots running game was effective but far from dominant. It’s Bill Belichick’s team and everyone else is just working in it. If coach Belichick commits to the running game Laurence Maroney is the guy to carry the load the jury is still out in terms of if he will. Kevin Faulk is one of the best 3rd down scat backs in the league but he isn’t getting any younger now would be a good time to develop his replacement.
The Patriots will draft a running back Felix Jones, Mike Hart, Ron Rice are good fits. The spy gate issue isn’t going away and there could be more to the story. The bottom line is does Matt Walsh; a former Patriots video assistant, have more evidence? Walsh is said to have the much discussed smoking-gun video of the Rams final walk-through prior to the Super Bowl.
Closure lies in what evidence Matt Walsh or doesn’t have. I personally hope that the issue is resolved because if not it hurts the league in general & it would bring a more severe penalty to Bill Belichick. Former Panther head coach, Steeler defensive coordinator & Dolphin defensive coordinator Dom Capers has added spice to the staff and is another well versed in the 3-4.
The question for the Patriots: Could Capers be the interim Head Coach in the event there is more to the spy gate story and Belichick is suspended for a year? The Patriots have only 7 LB’s on the roster; in their current situation will the Patriots finally go after a LB in the 1st round of the draft or CB?