Didn't think you'd see a fanpost not about the Jets vs Patriots Monday Nighter did ya? Well I for one am sick of all the storylines that are being made for the game. It was good to read about the tiebreakers and playoff ramifications at one site but then I had to read through 100 variations of them by 100 other writers. And don't get me wrong, I could easily just stop reading these articles but I always hope in my mind that at some point while reading the article, I'll learn a new piece of information that I didn't already know. That's not usually the case. So to the sportswriters of America, please stop making up new storylines that have absolutely nothing to do with anything but just feature a whole lot of numbers you crunched so it looks like it's meaningful. Let's just watch the game and hope that the Patriots win, because in this parity-filled year of the NFL, there's no statistic you can turn to to back up your prediction that the Patriots are going to win, or that the Jets are going to win. If the Browns can beat the Patriots, you know you can't make a healthy prediction of who is going to win an NFL game.
Anyway, I've been rambling for no reason. I was telling you what this article is not going to be about and in the process, you just had to read a whole paragraph about the Jets/Patriots game and why this article is not about it so I guess I'm a bit hypocritical. My apologies.
Read about what this article is really about after the jump!
What this article is really about is all about our running game. When the year started, we had 5 runningbacks on our roster. Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Everyone expected Taylor to be the featured back. As for Maroney, I think I can speak for most of us when I say that not a lot of us had very big expectations for him this year after having watched him previous years. He needs to change his running style or he's not going to just magically find success. He "dances with the stars" in the backfield, waiting for the Red Sea to part for him. The Red Sea is not always gonna part for you, Mr. Maroney. It's half or even more your effort to find the smallest hole and punch through for the first down. And please add the following phrase to your vocabulary and make it a part of your lifestyle, for your own career's sake - ball security. Do you even know what that is? It means you must hold onto the ball for Christ's sake when going down. I was re-watching last year's Titans vs Patriots match-up, Snow Bowl v 2.0, the 59-0 rout, and I actually saw what was quite possibly Maroney's greatest touchdown score in his whole career. He busted through the line, got through a few defenders, and marched into the endzone. On his way, what happened? A couple yards to the endzone, a defender tackled him. The tackle thrust him into the endzone for the score but the ball recklessly came out. If the tackle hadn't been made at the goal line, enabling Maroney to score, that ball could've been recovered by the Titans. Maroney is careless with the way he handles the ball and if he wants to find any success in his career, he has to change that.
Then there's Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk. Two inveterate running backs who have been very valuable to us over the last decade. As for Morris, it's time to hang up the cleats man. You've been valuable to us in the past but at this stage, there's really nothing you can do for us anymore that we're not getting out of our other guys. As for Faulk, I'd like for him to return as well but for the sake of his health, he should hang up the cleats as well. He was Brady's favorite third down converter but Danny Woodhead has taken over that role with ease. We haven't even skipped a beat with third down conversions. So as much as I respect the both of you, I'd be much happier to see you two retire happily and move on from playing football.
Wow, three long paragraphs and I haven't even started on BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. These two guys are so great that I could talk about them forever. They've reshaped the RB position for us this year. I was worried about how our running game would go about its business with such small depth when Taylor, Faulk, and Morris injured themselves and we traded Maroney. But these two guys have really set aside my worries and given me something to be excited about with the Patriots' RB position again, a position that I haven't been excited about since Corey Dillon. Ever since Brady stepped into the pocket, this team has obviously been a passing team but with no rush, it's hard to keep effectively playing the pass without defenses adapting to your strategies. The play action doesn't work if there are no effective runningbacks. The defense will obviously know when they see the play action that it isn't the RB getting the ball and they'll collapse the pocket.
You know my favorite part about BenJarvus Green-Ellis? In his career, he has 245 attempts and 0 fumbles. You read that right. Zero, zilch, nada. He is the epitome of ball security. He defines it. In contrast from Maroney, Green-Ellis has never thought he was on the set of "Dancing with the Stars" in the backfield. He finds the smallest hole that the offensive line creates for him and he abuses it. He thrusts forward for the first/touchdown and then makes sure he has complete security of the ball before going down. He's a fearless back who does his job well. 4.1 YPC in his career, a little better at 4.3 this year. Nothing to write home about. But combine that with the zero fumbles and you have one of, if not the most effective back in the league.
Without further ado, I present to you the paragraph dedicated to Toy Story, Mr. Danny Woodhead. I forgot who made this comment about him, I think it was a pulpiteer. "Who is that man and why is he impersonating Wes Welker?" Honestly, if you weren't a Pats fan and therefore didn't know their respective jersey numbers, and if NFL jerseys didn't stitch player names on the backs of jerseys, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two. On Woodhead's elusive 36-yard TD run against the Colts, Welker blocked for him so they were standing right next to each other and they were the exact same size. This guy has been God's blessing to the New England Patriots this year. Many say that the Patriots only claimed him a day or two before the Week 2 Jets' road match-up to receive intelligence about the Jets' playmaking. I'm not one to believe this claim but even if it was, whoever made that decision in the front office, give yourself a pat on the back. There has never been reason to let go of Woodhead even after the Jets' game. He has been our third down incarnate of Kevin Faulk. He is so elusive and it's so fun to watch. In his career, he's had a more than respectable 5.2 YPC with a little better 5.4 this season. Fumble count? Another big fat 0! Ball security again at its finest. He's also a threatening wide receiver out of the backfield. He is able to move the chains with ease by both catching and running the ball.
With such great running backs to hand the ball off to in the backfield, why are Patriots fans everywhere crying out about our lack of a running game and how we need to trade for or draft a feature back in the draft? What's wrong with these fine two gentlemen? We got rid of the "baggage," (Maroney) we have two inveterate runningbacks who play with heart that we may or may not get to see return to the blue and white next year, but best of all, we have The Law Firm and Toy Story! The Patriots of late haven't been a team that features the rush. Think about our outlier season that ended in a game that never happened. In any goal line situation, even nth & Goal at the 1 yard line, Brady would throw to one of his receivers. We wouldn't run it in for a touchdown. That's just how this team has played. This year, the Patriots are trying to balance the rush and the pass and I applaud them for doing so. With no running game, defenses can always just blitz the quarterback. They don't have to worry about stopping the runningback. With the way we're playing right now, on any given play, you most likely wouldn't know who's getting the ball, Brady, Green-Ellis, or Woodhead. And that dupes the defense. It works. It's effective which is what we've been trying to and have successfully been all season. Effective in the pass, effective in the rush. Brady's not putting up 2007 numbers but he's getting the victories. Green-Ellis and Woodhead aren't combining for Chris Johnson or Arian Foster like numbers but they're not fumbling and they're effective when called upon. So with the playing style we have, pass first, rush second, all we really need is an effective runningback. We don't need a starlit runningback like Johnson, Foster, or AP. We need someone who can get the first down consistently enough to scare the defense into watching both the rush and the pass when facing the Patriots. And that we have two of. So what's wrong with heading into the next year and the year after that and the year after that with just Green-Ellis and Woodhead as our runningbacks? Why waste a valuable draft pick on a feature back that might have rookie fumbling issues that would take carries away from these two guys?
Nevertheless, it's worth taking a glance at, who's in the 2011 NFL draft class at runningback. Let's start with Mark Ingram, out of Alabama. He has dominated the runningback position in college football. Ingram isn't the fastest back in the 2011 NFL Draft, but he has amazing balance, power, vision and terrific instincts. He will be the first back off the board. If not by us, then some other team. If he falls to us (wherever the Raiders place), and we have a chance to draft him, many Patriots fans believe we should. Then there's Ryan Williams out of Virginia Tech. He shows great power, burst, athleticism and competitiveness. He runs with authority and really attacks the line of scrimmage. These are the two players to consider taking with our Raiders' first round pick if we want to focus on our "runningback issue" first.
But why, Patriots fans, why? Why waste such an early pick on fixing a problem that is nonexistant when we could be using it on a star-studded pass rusher? That is the biggest problem we have. Jermaine Cunningham is turning into our best pass rusher but it's always great to have more than one. Plus, not every top draft pick translates into a great NFL player. We were lucky with how Jerod Mayo turned out but more often than there should be, there are way too many busts. We need to spend more than just one early pick on the pass rush just in case one of them turns into a bust.
Then there's our first second round pick, which by the way Carolina has been playing, is looking a lot like the first pick of the second round (33rd overall). It is not certain but Mikel Leshoure out of Illinois and Shane Vereen out of California should hopefully be available with this pick. I wouldn't be opposed to taking one of them with this pick just to try them out but it's such a high value pick to waste on experimenting on a position we are good at. This pick can also be used on an elite pass rusher just in case our first round selected pass rusher doesn't work out or even if he does, depth at the pass rush would be even better.
That's all I have for you guys today. My analysis on our runningbacks of now and possibly of the future. Why can't many of you settle for allowing BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead to take their current responsibilities into next year and lead an effective runningback duo? In the style that we play in, where we pass first and rush second, what is the need for a feature back? We have a future Hall of Famer playing field general. We have the best passing offense in the league. Our rush only needs to be effective. And that, ladies and gentlemen, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead are.