Scouting Report: Patriots Running Backs

Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk will suit up in Indianapolis, but should the Colts focus on them all that much? Brad Keller provides some insight on how the Patriots are using the pair and how Indy should approach defending them.

Second-year man Laurence Maroney is back in the line-up, but it seems to make little difference who the Patriots line up at tailback in the overall scheme of things.  Maroney has averaged over five yards per carry in his last three starts, but that was against the likes of Buffalo, Miami and a Washington defense that ran out of answers after the first quarter.  New England has used the pass to set up the run, almost to the point of running after the score is out of hand, but still passing to balance the attack.

The classic strategy for the Cover 2 of tackling the running back on the way to the quarterback will need to hold true in this game, due to the fact that the Patriots will likely come out on the attack, throwing early and often  -- and probably throwing deep late even if they have a big lead. 

With the running game mostly an afterthought, the Colts may want to open up in a defense similar to what Bill Belichick himself used against them in 2003 and 2004, with a soft zone, seven men in the box, and 3 (or fewer) defensive linemen.  While a Tony Dungy-coached defense is not going to come out with fewer than four defensive linemen, there is more depth in the secondary for the Colts than there is at linebacker.  They may want to consider nickel and dime looks, even on first down, until New England proves that they can be as deadly running the ball as they are throwing it.

The true threat from the running backs will be their receiving skills.  Kevin Faulk and Maroney are excellent receivers with soft hands who can be dangerous after the catch.  In his first action since Week 3, Maroney caught two passes for 37 yards (18.5 yard average) that were basically flare passes out of the backfield.  In spot duty, mostly playing on third down and occasionally subbing in for Maroney, Faulk has 22 receptions already this season.

Bottom line: If Maroney ends up with 100 yards rushing, that is a win for Indianapolis.  Unless a large percentage of that comes off a long touchdown run, the more Maroney touches the ball, the better it is for the Colts, because it would mean that the Patriots are not successful throwing the ball.

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