New England Patriots Committee Depleted, But Law Firm Hasn't Lost Appeal
The loss of Kevin Faulk for the season and possibly for good is a crushing loss for an already questionable Patriots ground game. The running-back-by-committee approach used by the Patriots for the past few years has resulted in limited success, and role-player Faulk has been almost indispensable.
When Laurence Maroney finally and mercifully was sent tap dancing out of Foxborough earlier this season, many in Patriot Nation rejoiced, but then we had to wonder: what kind of rabbit is Belichick about to pull out of his hat?
The answer, of course, was that there was no rabbit, at least not right away.
Then last week against the Jets, Faulk went down with a season-ending knee injury, and it became clear that the coach needed that rabbit, badly.
Enter Danny Woodhead, a second-year player who this time last year was a Jet. Signed by the Patriots only days before the Buffalo game, he handled the ball three times Sunday, rushing for a total of 42 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown run.
Too soon to tell, but he could be a find.
Regardless of Woodhead's ultimate value, there remained more questions than answers heading into game three: Can Fred Taylor stay healthy? Can Sammy Morris contribute consistently? Will Tom Brady wind up throwing the ball 50 times a game this season?
But the most obvious question in my mind was one that some of us have asked for some time: Where in the world is BenJarvus Green-Ellis?
In a series of articles last season, I asked the question often enough to qualify as a bit of a fanatic. But I reasoned that Bill Belichick wasn't keeping the kid around for his pleasant disposition. The coach saw something in BJGE, and in spot duty, the undrafted free agent had been able to contribute in a number of ways.
He has the ability to hit a hole quickly and decisively, unlike a certain 2006 first round draft pick who is now Denver's problem. Nothing fancy, but Law Firm can move the chains.
He can haul in short passes, maybe not as effectively as Faulk, but the potential is there. Law Firm just hasn't had the opportunities.
And like Faulk, he has no problem throwing an effective block when the need arises.
During the 2008 season, with Maroney sidelined after three games, rookie Green-Ellis had a chance to play regularly. He started three games and saw action in six others over that span, managing to compile 275 yards and five touchdowns on just 74 carries.
Also during that season, in the fifth game of his professional career, he ran for 105 yards on 26 carries, the third best performance of any New England running back during the 2008 season.
And he had zero fumbles on the one-yard line. Things were looking promising for the young player.
Some fans were nevertheless surprised to see him make the team again last season. I was only surprised that he saw such limited action, playing in twelve games but getting just 26 touches.
As Maroney continued to disappoint, and other members of the committee coped with injuries, Green-Ellis maintained his positive attitude, playing mostly on special teams and remaining willing and able to do whatever was asked of him.
We already know how much Belichick values that kind of attitude. History informs us. That attitude might be just the thing that has kept Law Firm on the team again this season.
Whatever the coach was thinking last year, the current state of the committee changes everything.
Maroney is gone for good, Faulk is gone at least for the year, and Fred Taylor suffered a toe injury in Sunday's skin-of-the-teeth win over Buffalo.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the man whose mother has attended every game of his career, got the call. How proud do you think she felt on Sunday, watching her son churn out a team-high 98 yards and a touchdown?
Granted, it was Buffalo, and the weeks ahead will be far more revealing than this one game. The real point is that Law Firm finally has a chance to show what he can do, and he couldn't be any worse than Maroney.
Bottom line: every time Green-Ellis has been inserted in a game for more than a carry or two, he has been productive. With Woodhead in the rotation, New England just might have a running game after all.
If it is true that every cloud has a silver lining, Law Firm could be just that. Kevin Faulk will be missed, make no mistake. But at last Benny has his shot, and so far he is making the most of it.
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