Dillon, Maroney and Faulk
A Backfield Combination Like No Other
So, I was thinking the other day after I wrote about the New England Patriots options should Tedy Bruschi end up on the sidelines later than expected. I had said that Richard Seymour, Bruschi and Rodney Harrison were the defensive power trio, because they are the experienced, intelligent leaders on that side of the ball.
Then I saw some of the highlights and perused the stats from Friday night's exhibition opener against Atlanta. And I got to thinking.
I hear a lot of people -- "experts" and general fans -- talk about the Falcons 1-2-3 punch of T.J. Duckett, Warren Dunn and Michael Vick. Of course, Vick is a 3rd-rate quarterback, and he doesn't catch passes.
Now consider Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk. The "experts" said the Patriots were crazy to draft offensively, and a running back was about the last thing they needed. I said I would have taken LenDale White, and I'm sure the Patriots had very good reasons to go with Maroney over White (and White's having some problems in Tennessee, allegedly spitting on a teammate and starting a brawl -- decidedly not Patriot-like), but I thought a running back would be a brilliant move.
Dillon, who was injured most of last year, looked like he was on his last legs -- so said the "experts." I had a good feeling he's has some gas left in his tank, but it would be nice to have an heir to the throne before the king abdicates. And now Dillon, healthy again, looks like he could be his old self.
Corey Dillon, left, Kevin Faulk, center, and rookie Laurence Maroney
comprise a formidible power trio in the New England Patriots backfield.
So now you may have two premiere running backs, both with good hands, and Maroney could be better than Dillon in that category. Both of these guys can punish a defense with straight-ahead, shoulder-lowering brutality. Dillon is no spring chicken, but he can still change direction and get around the end (with blockers). Maroney has the potential to do that on his own. Friday, he showed some great cutback ability and made some would-be tacklers miss.
And then you have Kevin Faulk, possibly one of the best third-down backs in the league, who can pick up good yards on the ground and is almost as sure-handed as any receiver on the team.
Now consider the injury-generated problems New England had on the offensive line last year. With center Dan Koppen working his way back, the Patriots could have a very, very solid line. And second-year guard Logan Mankins has a year in the NFL under his belt. And Nick Kaczur proved no slouch last season.
Can't you just see the Patriots pounding the left side over and over and over again?
Oh, and, in case you forgot, there's another guy in the backfield: No. 12. Imagine the weight that will be taken off Brady's shoulders (and ribs, and back) when the Pats can consistently bruise opposing defenses for 150 or more yards on the ground. Think how much defenses will have to respect that attack and how much time it could afford Brady when they pass on running downs. Think the difference between Tom Brady and Michael Vick now.
Now, of course all this is contingent on Maroney remaining as brilliant on a consistent basis as he showed in limited action on Friday, but it looks promising. And, of course, it's also contingent on injuries.
Some have raised the question about whether Dillon will cause problems as he allegedly did in Cincinnati when he had to share time with a newly drafted running back. I don't think so. Why?
This is a completely different situation. The Patriots have long (5 years -- that's a long time in the NFL) been a successful team, and Cincinnati was not. Dillon has already won a championship here with a proven system, and Cincinnati did not. Here, Dillon has coaches that believe in him and have a plan for the team to win, no matter who gets the credit; Cincinnati did not.
I'll throw in one more backfield comparison for you: Kansas City. When Priest Holmes was healthy, the Chiefs had Holmes, Larry Johnson and Trent Green. Green isn't a dangerous runner like Vick, but he's a solid scrambling quarterback who picked up important first downs when K.C. needed them. The other issue there was that before Holmes was injured, the coaching staff didn't place a lot of faith in Johnson's abilities. That's the difference a coaching staff can make.
The Patriots coaches, more than just knowing how to coach, how to break down film, how to devise game plans, they know how to analyze talent and how to use it. They know how to take what they have and develop and gameplan around it.
Bill Belichick came to New England with a reputation as a hard-nosed coach who excelled in coaching defense and preferred old-school, smash-mouth football. As he disposed of the flotsam and jetsam, he built one of the great teams in NFL history by using the talent he had in ways most other coaches would never have dreamed. Now he has his smash-mouth team: Three excellent running backs and a premiere defense. And he has Tom Brady -- just in case.