With Bill Belichick as the head coach, the Patriots have always been a team about matchups. On both sides of the ball, they always manage to adapt their game plan in the attempt to exploit their opponent's weaknesses. Last season, however, the Patriots seemed to reluctant to commit to one phase of the game, which begs the question: Will the Patriots show a more consistent effort to run the ball in 2010?
The NFL is a passing league, and any team with Tom Brady should be a passing team. But New England's passing attack was inconsistent in 2009, and the team actually performed better when there was a conscious decision to keep the ball in the hands of its five running backs.
The Patriots were 3-0 last season when they had more rush attempts than pass attempts (including sacks), and all three of those games came from Weeks 14-16, when the weather deteriorated and the Pats were forced to rely on the run.
Conversely, the Patriots were 7-6 in the regular season when they had more pass attempts than rush attempts. (We're throwing out the playoff loss to Baltimore because it was such an abominably bad display, and the Patriots had no choice but to drop back and chuck it all day.)
The win-loss record further favored the Patriots when there was a slighter discrepancy between runs and passes. New England was 3-1 when it attempted no more than five more passes than runs. It was 4-2 when it attempted no more than eight more passes than runs. And the Pats were 3-4 when they attempted at least nine more passes than runs.
Obviously, these statistics won't back up the entire story of each game, but the trend is a strong enough indication that showed how successful the Patriots were when they glued it to the ground. After all, just remember how quickly things came unraveled when they gave up on the ground game in their Week 9 loss at Indianapolis.
Now, this isn’t to say the Patriots should just ignore the fact that they've got Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker, because that’s not the point at all. De facto play-caller Bill O'Brien just has to show more faith with his stable of running backs.
After all, why else would Belichick choose to keep five backs on the roster? Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor and BenJarvus Green-Ellis have all proven their worth at one time or another. For the Patriots to experience more success in 2010, they've got to be more dedicated to the running game.
NESN.com will be answering one Patriots question every day until
Thursday, June 24: Can Tom Brady be better in the fourth quarter?
Saturday, June 26: How will Gostkowski help the Patriots in 2010?