This is the beginning of a series on positional reviews for the 2005 season. You may agree or disagree with my analysis. Either way, let me know what you think. Tom and I plan to cover as many positions as possible, leading up to the draft in April.
Overall Grade: C+
And, I believe this grade was generous.
First of all, this was a disappointing season for the fans, but I am sure it was disappointing to Dillon. Coming off last year, he gained 1,635 yards and was a horse. His running opened up the rest of the field. Play action actually meant something as defenses had to respect the run.
The season Dillion had in 2004 created enormous expectations from the fans. Running back was not a position we would need to address. Dillon gained only 733 yards in 2005. He struggled most of the season with nagging ankle and knee injuries, missing five games. He did score 12 touchdowns, but several of those touchdowns were of the 1-3 yard variety, not the 15 yard explosion we became accustomed to. Was it the injuries that hampered Dillon, is he in decline or was the offensive line simply not opening the holes they had in 2004?
In my opinion, I think it was a little bit of everything. Certainly a tough, between the tackles runner like Dillon would be hampered by an ankle and/or knee injury. He just didn't seem to hit the hole hard this season like he did last year.
Is he in decline? Maybe. We won't know until the beginning of next season, as he will have an entire offseason to nurse his injuries. He should be back 100% and ready to go. If he is still dancing to the line, then we know he is on the downside of a brilliant career.
I do believe, however that the offensive line contributed to Dillon's poor performance. Not neccessarily because they are not good, but that there were so many changes during the season. Nobody imagined we would have two rookies anchoring the left side of the line. We were not ready for Light to be gone, Koppen to be gone...and maybe we underestimated Joe Andruzzi. Let's hope for a healthy O-Line in 2006 that can play an entire season together.
One thing is for certain, the Patriots need Dillon, or whoever the running back is to average around 3.5 yards per carry for the offense to be effective. They had to throw the ball almost 60% of the time this season. At that rate, Brady's arm will fall of or he will get killed.
This grade would have to be an incomplete. I love Kevin Faulk and the added dimension he gives this offense. Unfortunately, he had to miss eight games with a broken bone in his foot. He is the safety valve in the passing game and is extremely effective. You could see the change in the offense when he came back. When we needed a key third down, he or Troy Brown would make a huge play. More often than not, Brady would hit him 4 to 5 yards short of the first down and he would make the move to get to the marker.
Kevin Faulk, however is a third down back. Once and a while he will break a long run as a change of pace back. But, he cannot carry the ball 20 to 25 times a game. In addition, he has that incurable disease: fumblitis. There have been so many games over the years that the Pats are either driving down the field to tie, take the lead or pad to their lead. Then, out of nowhere Kevin Faulk fumbles. I would honestly like to get all over him for this, but his contributions to this team have been enormous. I am still disturbed, however over the fumble in the Denver game. I have watched it over and over and have no idea how he fumbled that one.
Pass has been with the Patriots six years now. And although at times he has looked dynamic, he hasn't lived up to the expectations this team had for him when they drafted him out of Georgia. Aren't all Georgia running backs supposed to be something special? In 2005, he rushed for only 245 yards. Given he was inactive for four games and missed 5 games due to a hamstring injury (of which ,we can all remember him dropping the ball in the Buffalo game and clutching his hamstring) he is not a full-time starter, the numbers aren't that horrifying. The problem is, this team has been waiting for Pass to show them something. He is versatile and at times has filled in admirably for Faulk or Dillon, but he needs to step it up in 2006.
Overall, the runningbacks had a less than stellar 2005 season. I do believe injuries and changes on the offensive line had a lot to do with it, but they need to step up next year if this team has any chance to recapture the glory. I also believe it is time for the organization to look toward the future and address the running back position long-term. Whether it is through the draft or free agency, we need to bring in a young stud to anchor the backfield for years to come. There aren't that many "game-breakers" in free agency this off-season, with the exception of Edgerrin James, but we all know how high the price will be for him.
One final note. I would like to thank Heath Evans for his solid contribution this season. Here is a guy they took off the street and gave the ball to. He answered the bell with 158 yards rushing in his first two games and ran like a bull. He was inactive for three of New England's final five games, but let's hope they resign him. He isn't a pure blocking fullback, but let's face it. He's a better alternative at fullback than Patrick Pass.