Make no mistake, we all know that Faulk was the unsung hero of the Patriots dynasty, but I believe his loss will force the Patriots offense to evolve in a way that will greatly benefit them down the road.
Find out why after the jump...ESPN's Ross Tucker called Faulk the best pure 3rd down back of all time. When the Patriots went for 4th and 2 in Indy last year it was Faulk who Brady threw the ball to. I would never try to diminish what he contributed to the Patriots both on and off the field. We all witnessed the countless times Faulk picked up a crucial first down. The number of big plays he has made in his time in New England are too numerous to count.
But let's be honest for a second, the Patriots offense has been unimaginative and predictable for much of the last two seasons. Part of it is an over reliance on things that worked in 2007, things that the rest of the NFL has caught on to. Big third down? Chances are Welker or Faulk were getting the ball.
So now with Faulk done for the year, it is the time for the 2010 Patriots offense to evolve again, like it did it 2007 when they fell in love with the spread. The Patriots just became a little more unpredictable, and that has to be the silver lining to losing a player of Faulk's magnitude.
Had this been game fifteen or sixteen in 2007 and Faulk went down then, the Patriots would be in trouble as they went into the playoffs. But the advantage now is that only two games have been played. There is time, not to replace Faulk, because he's not a player you replace, but to change your offense to match the strengths of the players you do have.
Who will take over the 3rd down back role?
Sammy Morris has been somewhat of an unsung hero himself the past few years. Yes, he missed some games to injury, but he's also caught nearly 20 balls in both of the last two seasons, and has averaged about 4.5 yards per carry. So look for him to be one player that will be asked to pick up the slack.
Danny Woodhead is another player who is intriguing. His contributions will depend on how fast he can pick up the offensive system, but he has talent both running and catching the ball.
Julian Edelman also saw some time in the backfield in training camp. He could be a surprise option though I question if he has the size and blocking ability to pick up blitzers.
Clearly replacing Faulk will be done by committee, but we don't know what to expect and neither does the rest of the NFL.
Some are saying that the Patriots would take back Laurence Maroney now if they could. Personally I disagree. Yes, Maroney would provide depth, but at this point he was backing up Fred Taylor and Benjarvus Green-Ellis. Maroney was never going to be the third down blocking and receiving master that Faulk was.
Faulk is 34 years old. There was a good chance this was going to be his last season, so now the time frame for replacing him has been accelerated, much like the young defense's development was accelerated by the loss of Richard Seymour.
Clearly adjusting to life without number 33 won't be easy, but it was inevitable at some point. The NFL season is a sixteen battle war, and you're bound to lose men along the way. All you can do is continue on and evolve to continue playing to your strengths. That isn't always a bad thing.