New England begins its final month of the regular season staring at four games that will be played in the Northeast and its unpredictable weather conditions -- three of those games will be at home, starting this week vs. Miami, while the fourth will be at the Jets just a short flight away. This will be the month New England truly finds out how far its inconsistent running game can take it.
The Patriots eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in five of their first six games, including a season-high 161 against a Titans defense now ranked first against the run, after reaching the century mark just five times all of last season.
But since rushing for 129 yards in a 17-6 win over the Giants on Oct. 12, the Patriots have only gained 100 or more yards on the ground once, and that 128-yard effort came against a Texans defense that is woeful against the run. In four of the last six games, New England has failed to reach 70 yards on the ground and had a season-low 56 last week against the Colts when the back they counted on to be their No. 1, Antowain Smith, was deactivated because of his ineffectiveness.
Like any other area that might be deficient, Bill Belichick is reluctant to point fingers or throw anyone or any part of his team under the bus.
"It could always be better," he said. "I think everything we are doing could be better. We could run it better, throw it better, kick it better and cover it better. I think that every week you see things that you did and there are always going to be areas that you can improve in. The running game is certainly one of them."
The committee approach the Patriots are employing isn't working, but that's because none of the committee members have emerged with consistent production. Kevin Faulk has been the most effective of the group, but his production comes in space on draws and screens. The more carries he gets and the more he is asked to carry the load, the more his weaknesses become exposed. He has 150 attempts for 550 yards for 3.7 yards per carry to lead the way while Smith has 105 runs for 348 yards and 3.3 yards per carry.
Smith has not been effective with his opportunities and while he is ideally
suited to carry the load down the stretch in the December weather, it might be
time to give Mike Cloud that opportunity. Cloud has 118 yards on 27 runs with a
team-high five touchdowns.