We all love to pick on Patriots RB Laurence Maroney- Butterfingers, Dance Dance, whatever you want to call him- and some of the abuse is warranted. However, how DID Maroney do this past season? ESPN's AFC East blogger Tim Graham had some research done to find out which running backs were the most efficient in getting first downs in short yardage attempts and which running backs had a nose for the end zone on short yardage attempts.
The results were surprising.
Here are some percentages that were discovered during this research:
...runners scored on 52.9 percent of their attempts from the 1-yard line, and 31.1 percent from the 3-yard line.
That means that if a team has the with a first and goal on the one yard line, there's a minuscule 7.8% chance of the defense to stop the run, if the offense runs for four downs. That means that when a team has a first and short by the goal line, they BETTER score.
Here are the results from the AFC East:
Player/Team TDs Expected TDs Differential Laurence Maroney, New England 8 6.35 1.65 Ricky Williams, Miami 7 5.60 1.40 Fred Taylor, New England 2 1.02 0.98 Ronnie Brown, Miami 6 5.47 0.53 Lex Hilliard, Miami 1 0.41 0.59 Kevin Faulk, New England 1 0.62 0.38 Thomas Jones, NYJ 9 9.08 -0.08 Tony Richardson, NYJ 0 0.31 -0.31 Lousaka Polite, Miami 0 0.31 -0.31 Fred Jackson, Buffalo 1 1.48 -0.48 Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo 0 0.62 -0.62 Sammy Morris, New England 1 1.73
Which means that Maroney was the most efficient goal line back in the AFC East. That's surprising. For all of the times that Maroney was given the ball near the goal line, the statistics show that he should have scored a little over 6.33 times- instead he nailed home 8 touchdowns. Looking at the other Patriots backs, it's clear that Morris is the weak line in the backfield. Taylor exceeded expectations and Faulk, with his limited carries, managed to score as well. Morris, despite getting the ball more frequently than the two previous backs, didn't make the most out of his red zone trips. For shame. (Can I also point how how poorly the Jets and Bills backs performed?)
To make this article even more interesting, Tim Graham checked out first down percentages on carries of less than two yards. In other words, he had the guys at FootballOutsiders (the people who did the research) look at the running backs and their on downs with under 2 yards to a first down. The results weren't bad.
Player/Team First downs Expected first downs Differential Ricky Williams, Miami 21 16.6 4.4 Lousake Polite, Miami 17 12.6 4.4 Laurence Maroney, New England 24 21.0 3.0 Ronnie Brown, Miami 15 12.6 2.4 Fred Taylor, New England 6 4.9 1.1 Kevin Faulk, New England 3 2.0 1.0 BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England 4 3.2 0.8 Shonn Green, NYJ 5 4.4 0.6 Sammy Morris, New England 10 9.8 0.2 Thomas Jones, NYJ 23 23.8 -0.8 Fred Jackson, Buffalo 13 14.5 -1.5 Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo 4 5.9 -1.19
Once again, Maroney was the best Patriots back in getting the yards when it was needed. While Maroney was no Ricky Williams or a HB like Lousake Polite, he got the job done and exceeded most other backs in the division. I was most surprised by how every Patriots running back beat the average- but I wasn't surprised that Sammy Morris was bringing up the rear. Once again, Morris was the weak link, which adds to my theory that Morris would be the first back dropped if we added one through the draft. (I would also like to point out that the Jets and the Bills were at the bottom of this ranking too).
So while we may have worried about our running game, it still exceeded the league average. Hopefully they can do it when it counts. Looking at the cold hard statistics is good when looking at the season as a whole- and I guess you could regard our running game as a success. As a whole. However, it seemed that there was little trust in our running game at crucial points in the season, so while these stats are wonderful, they don't factor in "run importance."
Regardless of the importance of their runs, it is clear that Maroney did better than his stats show on the surface- he got the job done when asked.