Thanks to the Patriots' Loaded Running Game, Josh McDaniels Won't Be Missed
Tom Brady had world-class wide receivers for the first time in his career. New Patriots like Wes Welker and Randy Moss had to prove that they belonged, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a young kid trying to put his fingerprints on a revolutionary offense.
Clearly this worked, as the Patriots were not afraid to come out in the shotgun set with three wideouts on the first possession of any given game, using that formation liberally.
Last season, even without No. 12 under center, the Patriots showed their aggressiveness and ran most of their plays from that same set. With the ability to go deep, call a draw play, or hit Welker with a short pass from the slot, this formation has been successful over the past few years.
This year, the Patriots added a huge piece to their championship puzzle, as Tom Brady will make his long awaited return to Foxboro. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, however, has since moved on to coach the Denver Broncos.
There is no longer any need for a Patriot quarterback to "manage the game," as was Matt Cassel's role early last year. Tom Terrific is back, and the play calling will be better suited to a veteran like Brady.
However, an underrated strength of this 2009 edition of the New England Patriots will be their running game.
In my first article here at Bleacher Report last year, I wrote about the Patriots' depth at running back and how the running game would set the tone early in the season.
With Brady's tender knee, a strong and healthy running game will do wonders in helping Brady get adjusted to the speed of the NFL. Remember, he hasn't played a full game since Super Bowl XLII.
However, the depth at the running back position, coupled with the loss of the gunslinging McDaniels, may increase the number of touches for the veteran group.
According to Patriots Football Weekly, here is the Patriots' projected depth chart at running back: Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and undrafted free agents Omar Cuff and Eric Kettani.
Here are a few reasons why I think the Patriots' ground attack can be more important than ever this season.
The addition of Fred Taylor
One of the most consistent running backs over the last decade, Taylor is coming off of a season where he had just 556 rushing yards and one touchdown.
Formerly the feature back in the Jacksonville offense, Taylor worked mostly as a complementary piece for the younger Maurice Jones-Drew.
I'm thinking that he will play a similar role for the Patriots this year, supporting Maroney, Morris, or Faulk.
Taylor has all the motivation in the world to have a great season, as he is chasing that elusive Super Bowl ring.
Taylor will also push other running backs to bring their "A game" in training camp and in the preseason, as a positional battle will emerge during the dog days of summer.
Although the Patriots were loaded at running back last year, they had a great deal of injuries to cope with. Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan, and Laurence Maroney all missed extended time, and Kevin Faulk even missed a few games.
This gave undrafted rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis a chance to shine.
This season, the Patriots hopefully won't have to deal with the same number of injuries as they did last year.
Thanks to their depth, they can switch personnel whenever they want and get a pair of fresh legs in the game. This will keep the defense on its toes, as well as give the Patriots' RBs some much-needed rest.
I think that as creative as the Patriots were in the passing game the last few years, they can be just as creative thanks to their unmatched depth in the backfield.
The Return of Tom Brady
You're probably saying to yourself, "How can Brady help the running game? Won't he have a bigger impact on the air attack?"
Obviously yes, but with the possibility of Brady being held out of preseason action, it is of the utmost importance that Brady is not rushed back prematurely.
Recovering from a brutal knee injury, I see the Pats using a more conservative attack in their first few games, running to set up the pass and keeping defenses guessing. Brady's pass attempts per game will decrease, at least early on, and the Patriots' play callers will ease him back into the offense.
Sure, his numbers will rank among the league's best by week 17, but thanks to the depth at running back, he doesn't have to be Superman right away.
The Patriots' offensive playbook will be wide open this year, but with the loss of the flashy McDaniels, I envision a more conservative approach early on.
This also has benefits on the other side of the ball, as a team that can run the ball effectively can both take control of the clock and keep its defense on the sideline.
The Patriots defense has been the only question mark over the last few years, and with a revamped and relatively inexperienced defensive backfield, staying off the field could help the team control the pace of the game.
In the long run, I think that Brady will have another All-Pro season, but this year, given the departure of McDaniels and the depth at running back, the offense could have a different philosophy.
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