Patriots Week: Talking running backs with Pats Pulpit

You know what? Talking about a game every day for a full week gets exhausting.  I'll freely admit that after talking about the Buffalo Bills' upcoming Monday Night Football tilt with the New England Patriots for the past week with our friends at Pats Pulpit, I quickly grew tired of the chatter.  I'm ready for some football.  Then I saw those uniforms above, and the problem was exacerbated.  That got the blood pumping.

As we're still over four full days away from that glorious kickoff, however, we'll keep talking about the Pats.  MaPatsFan joins us once again this morning, this time to discuss the Patriots' extraordinarily deep stable of able running backs.  His observations, and my thoughts on his observations, are after the jump.

Rumblings: The Pats are consistently ranked toward the top of the league in rushing from season to season, but the team has not had what one might consider an "elite" running back since Corey Dillon.  Is Laurence Maroney set to turn the corner, or will the Pats once again rely on their depth at the position to keep the offense balanced?

Pulpit: I remember talking about this when we discussed our player rankings earlier in the preseason.  I think a lot of it has to do with the different way we Pats fans see our running backs.  Yes, the term "backfield by committee" is somewhat overused, but it's very true in our case; your comment about "depth of position" is where I see the Pats working the backfield.  We've had some success with that strategy, specifically because of situational backs like Kevin Faulk.  So I think the way the backfield is setup is ideal.

I would love to say Laurence Maroney is ready to turn the corner.  I would love to say he's ready to emerge as a top back.  But I still haven't seen it.  At training camp I, as well as a number of others who attended, said he looked sharp and decisive.  Unfortunately, in pre-season games he was bouncing off of the offensive line just like he used to.  I was depressed after watching it.  I was really pulling for him, as were many others.  Now, a few pre-season games do not a season make, so I'll give him some regular season reps before banging the final nail in his coffin.

A "happy surprise" this year has been the emergence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (known as "Law Firm" for obvious reasons).  A practice squad guy in 2008, he was promoted to the 53-man roster when the Pats suffered a number of injuries in the backfield.  He did a great job then and in the 2009 pre-season, so Hoodie awarded him with a roster spot.  Carrying five backs may seem like a lot, but I think it helps us balance out the aerial assault, especially since we don't have that workhorse back that so many other teams have.

You've gotta love how a Pats blogger can talk about the talent at running back and not even mention Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris.  If there's any stable of running backs in the league that is capable of sucking out your soul in the late stages of a game with irritating first down after first down, it's this group.

What the unit lacks, however, is a true game-breaker.  As useful as Morris, Faulk and Green-Ellis are, they have never been, nor will they never be, the type of back that can single-handedly change a game with one big play.  Fred Taylor used to be that back, but at this point, he's merely a rotational player.  Maroney is supposed to be that player; as a first-round draft pick, he's been quite disappointing, and injury-prone to boot.  With a questionable Maroney - who, by the way, has torched the Bills in the past - this group is merely excellent.  If Maroney finally emerges, they might just end up being the best group of runners in the league.

Obviously, Buffalo will have to keep an eye on these players if they want to compete.  Yes, it's true that most of their attention needs to be focused on flustering Tom Brady and preventing the big play to Randy Moss and Wes Welker.  That much is clear.  But if the Bills can't shut down these sneaky backs to get off the field on third down, it's going to be a long night in Foxboro.

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