What's next for Pats running game?

October 08, 2009 - 12:13 pm
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Through the first four games of the season, the Patriots have used a backfield-by-committee approach, but the unequivocal committee leader has been 33-year-old Fred Taylor. In his first season in New England, the veteran has rushed for 201 yards and two touchdowns over four games (including 105 yards against Atlanta) and compiled an impressive average of 4.5 yards per carry. "Fred's run hard for us all year '€” in preseason, in all the camps, training camp, and all that," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after Taylor's Week 3 performance against the Falcons. "He runs hard and he runs smart. He knows where the holes are, he sets up blockers well and he can carry the load." But now, with Taylor facing surgery on his right ankle and likely out for at least a few weeks, what does this mean for the New England running game? Taylor's absence likely shifts the focus of the running game to Laurence Maroney, a fourth-year back who has been a mixed bag over the course of his career with the Patriots. When healthy, Maroney has run well, but there have been plenty of struggles for the Minnesota product in his time in a New England uniform '€” including this season, as he has 27 carries for just 78 yards in four games, an average of just 2.9 yards per carry. (He has had some success in the passing game and as a kick returner.) In his last outing against the Ravens, Maroney had seven carries for just 6 yards, and he was booed by the Gillette Stadium fans. Earlier this week, he raised some eyebrows with his quotes in this story where he intimated that many of his problems stemmed from blocking issues. In addition, backs such as Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be asked to do more. Morris' role in New England has evolved from a feature back last season when Maroney spent most of the season on the shelf (Morris led the team with 727 rushing yards last year) into more of a fullback/short-yardage guy this season. More often than not, the 32-year-old Morris been the go-to guy when the Patriots have decided to go for it on fourth down. '€œWhen I first came, something Coach Belichick always talked about was that will to find our own roles by what we'€™re able to do and show them that we can do it," Morris said. "So it is what it is.'€ If Maroney continues to struggle, an increased role for the 24-year-old Green-Ellis '€” who has enjoyed success in the role of feature back when he's been asked to fill in previously '€” also could be the primary option. Green-Ellis played in nine games last season, starting three of them, and finished the year with 275 yards and a more-than-respectable 3.7 yards per carry. In a November win over the Bills, Green-Ellis had 105 rushing yards. '€œI think the thing we really like about Benny is his production," Belichick said of Green-Ellis last month. "When he'€™s had the chance to play, he'€™s been productive, really in all phases of the game '€” as a runner, as a pass-protector and blocker, and as a pass-catcher and as a receiver. In the kicking game, he brings that same athleticism and toughness we see when he runs the ball. "He'€™s a pretty valuable player who is versatile, smart, tough, and when he'€™s had a chance to play, he'€™s taken advantage of it.'€