LoMo on the move: Patriots running back Laurence Maroney steps up

via cdn2.sbnation.com

I love this picture of Laurence Maroney.  Out of all the AP photos we use on this site, this has to be my absolute favorite.  From a pure aesthetics standpoint, it's just a brilliant piece of photography.  But the "emotion" in this shot conveys a whole lot more.  Now I'm not one to walk into the Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, sit in front of a painting, and contemplate the universe for hours on end; I'm more likely to contemplate a 4th and 2 with a beer in hand.  Back to LoMo.

This is a great shot because it conveys a running back who appears to be turning it around.  Laurence is putting his head down, dropping his shoulder, and powering through the hole.  He's making himself "small" while his pistons pound him forward.  And this is just one example of what we've seen lately.

It's as if Fred Taylor has a direct link into Maroney's helmet.  The dancing he does hasn't necessarily gone away, but it has a different "tone" to it, that of patience and waiting for the hole to develop.  If it doesn't develop, he goes elsewhere.  That's downfield vision.  And when it comes time to be tackled, he makes the defender know he tangled with LoMo.  Punishment is the gift for getting in his way.  That's the way a feature back should run.  The term Steamroller comes to mind.

Many of us, myself included, have been critical of Maroney.  He would dance behind the line and ultimately end up tangled in a pile with nowhere to go.  This was incredibly frustrating and garnered Maroney lots of jeers from New England fans desperate for a running game.  It was even more frustrating considering how sporadic the aerial assault has been.  Yes, the yardage numbers are right up there, but TDs are not and RedZone efficiency hasn't cracked .500.  We lost faith, but Belichick didn't.  He was right.

Looking at the NFL stats for running backs, Laurence isn't lighting up the field:  23rd in yardage (735), 145th in yards per carry (3.9).  Football Outsiders ranks him 22nd for DYAR and 24th for DVOA.  The problem with the NFL stats is players with limited touches can rate highly just by having 1 or 2 big carries.  Take, for instance, a player who runs once for 26 yards.  His average YPC is 26 and rockets to the top of the list.  Is that a good indication of his quality?  Methinks not.

So, how can we get a good picture of how Laurence is doing?  I took the liberty of downloading the running back data from NFL.com and carving it up a bit (Excel is a beautiful thing).  My criteria was simple: the players had to be "feature backs", so I removed any back with under 10 attempts per game.  This took out all the stupidity mentioned above (re: 1 carry for 26 yards, therefore an average per carry of 26) and "normalized" around RB's that actually grind it out week after week.  I was worried about total attempts as well (ie: 20 attempts in only 2 games for 200 yards is a YPC of 10), but using average carries per game happened to eliminate most of that.

Some interesting tidbits about Laurence started to emerge: out of 38 backs, he tied at 27th for average yards per carry (3.9 yards), was 12th in first down percentage (22.2%), and tied at 9th in TDs (9 TDs).  Everything else was relatively mediocre, or trailing the pack.  But 2 stats mentioned above are the most telling: 12th in first down percentage (1.8 yards from leader Chris Johnson) and 9th in TDs (6 from leader Maurice Jones-Drew).  This means he can be counted on for a first down conversions and he will score when in the RedZone.  That's what matters to me.

Not burning up the field compared to other backs, but burning it up when he needs to.  Like, when our aerial assault has lost an engine or 2.  Stay healthy LoMo and keep pounding the rock.  Glad to see you've turned the corner.

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