It's Friday, and that means we're back with another tour of the AFC East. Each week, we'll be talking to bloggers covering the Buffalo Bills' fiercest rivals - their divisional opponents. Today we'll break down the interviews into three posts - one for each team - and we start the festivities by talking Pats football with MaPatsFan from Pats Pulpit:
What are your feelings on New England's rushing attack behind Laurence Maroney? Specifically, can Maroney fill a bigger role in New England's offense to provide more balance? Should he? Can he be a full-time, 300-carry-a-year feature back?
Pats Pulpit: I'll answer your last question first: no. I don't believe Maroney can be that 300-carry-a-year feature back. But, New England places less emphasis on this than other teams do. Take, for instance, Joseph Addai (Colts) and LT (Chargers). They are certainly franchise backs and do great things for their teams, but NE doesn't necessarily structure their offense in this manner. Not that the running game is an afterthought, but the 2007 season clearly showed it's used as a diversionary tactic vs. the center of an offensive strategy. How could you not with a WR like Wes Welker? Welker owned underneath and virtually eliminated the need for a running attack. Until, that is, opponents started catching up with the Patriots' strategy. Towards the latter end of the season, there was far more film available and defenses were doing a better job shutting down Brady's aerial assault. That's when Maroney started to see a lot of duty and was pretty effective.
Maroney will never take on a bigger role. He's a solid RB and is useful. I wouldn't build an offense around him as I think he "bounces" a bit too much and has a tough time finding the hole, but he's good enough for what he's asked to do. What NE has done is build their running attack around 3 backs rather than one: Maroney, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk. Morris is a good backup for Maroney and is better at finding the holes. My issue with him is he seems a little fragile (injury prone). Faulk is a decent enough RB, but his real skill is receiver-like hands. He's essentially Wes Welker with 20 more pounds and the steam roller skills of a running back.
My concern for 2008 is whether or not this is good enough. I think more and more teams have caught on to NE's passing antics and will be working to lessen its impact. If the Patriots get shut down in the air, the running game better be up-to-par or we'll have a tough season.
I doubt I'll ever understand why the Patriots used a first round pick on Maroney when their intent is to let him touch the ball less than 200 times per season. Maybe it's just because I've seen him shred Buffalo three or four times now, but Maroney seems to be an explosive player that's a threat to take it the distance every time he's toting the rock. Perhaps it's partly due to his injury history - and the fact that the Patriots do have Welker, Randy Moss, et al to steal carries definitely contributes - but Maroney, in my estimation, needs more touches.
That said, I'm not as concerned about the Pats' rushing attack as I have been in seasons past. Buffalo needs to shut down the run against New England this year - they have a hard enough time stopping Tom Brady through the air; the Pats thoroughly dominate us when we can't stop their very average rushing attack, either. Defending New England will still be tough, but if guys named Stroud, Johnson, Mitchell and Posluszny can shore up the run defense, we have a much better shot at finally beating the Pats.