PHOTO: New England Patriots running back Corey Dillon jumps over Seattle Seahawk defensive end Grant Winstrom. Dillon managed 23 carries for 105 yards and 2 TDs to secure the Patriots 30-20 victory over the Seahawks. (AP Photo)
Corey Dillon: A Most Valuable Asset for Patriots
By Matt Colantonio, Site Contributor
After 13 weeks of a mostly unpredictable NFL season, there is one thing the New England Patriots can count on to carry them to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year: running back Corey Dillon.
There are two stars in the NFL that have captured the nation's attention throughout the 2004 season. The first is Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who has already thrown 46 touchdown passes this season, and is on pace to shatter Dan Marino's single-season record of 48. While leading the Colts atop the AFC South with a 10-3 record, Manning leads all NFL quarterbacks with a 126.3 rating and has already thrown for 3,919 yards.
The second player who has captivated NFL fans is Terrell Owens, wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles. Owens' name and face have been splattered in the news for a number of reasons this season, ranging from his questionable comments about Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis, to his controversial opening to ABC's Monday Night Football, in which he appeared with a partially nude Nicollette Sheridan.
Whether you like him or not, however, it is impossible to deny
Owens's talent and impact this year on his new team. While leading the Eagles to a 12-1 record thus far, as well as the NFC East title, Owens has caught 75 passes for 1,176 yards, and is leading all NFL receivers with 13 touchdowns. The Eagles hope he will be the answer to their inability to make it to the super bowl, having lost in the NFC championship game in three consecutive seasons.
So while the nation is obsessed with Peyton Manning's ability to throw touchdowns and Terrell Owens's ability to catch them, Dillon's impact on last year's super bowl champs has fallen under the radar. Behind the passing game and good looks of Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and the brilliant coaching of Bill Belichick and his staff, the drastic improvement of the Patriot's running game has taken a backseat. Its importance to New England's success, however, should not go unnoticed, nor should Dillon's candidacy for MVP.
Dillon has quietly joined a team that won their last 15 games of the 2003 season and made them substantially better. They have gone 12-1 thus far in the 2004 season, their only loss coming in the single game Dillon missed against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Granted, their loss came against the league's best defense, but the Patriot's offense was unable to establish even a hint of a running game without Dillon. They rushed 6 times for only 5 yards, or 74 fewer yards than Dillon's worst game this year, against a tough Bills defense in week 4.
With the addition of Dillon this season, the Patriots have rushed for just over 129 yards per game, a drastic improvement from last year's 100.4 yards per contest. After finishing last year ranked 15th out of 16 AFC teams in rushing, the Pats have risen to 6th this season.
Last season, the Patriots were led by former running back Antowain Smith, now of the Tennessee Titans, who ran 182 times for 642 yards and three TDs. While rushing for 100 yards or more in seven different games this season, Dillon has already amassed 1,309 yards, third in the AFC, and has 10 touchdowns. Dillon is also rushing for 109.1 yards per game this year, 2nd best in the NFL. "You give it to Corey and he keeps running the way he does, you're going to keep giving it to him," said Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady.
This drastic change in their ground attack has enabled the Patriots to control the ball more often and has taken a load off their star quarterback. What Dillon brings to the table most is the ability to run on every down and to keep the defense on their toes. In the week 12 win at home against Baltimore, despite terrible field conditions, the Patriots were able to control the tempo of the game on the ground. Even when the Ravens knew Dillon would get the ball, they were unable to contain him. "Pure and simple, he got to the outside. We knew he was going to do that and we still let him get there. That's what kind of back he is," said linebacker Terrell Suggs. Dillon rushed 30 times for 121 yards and a touchdown, making him only the third back this year to run for over 100 yards against a tough Ravens' defense.
In the win, Dillon passed the 1,000-yard mark in his 10th game of the year, making him the fastest Patriot ever to accomplish the feat. New York Jets' running back Curtis Martin and former Patriot Jim Nance previously held the record, having reached the 1,000-yard plateau in 11 games.
In the only game Dillon missed this year, Brady was forced to throw a season high 43 times, throwing two interceptions in their loss at Pittsburgh. It was Brady's second worst passing game of the year, finishing the game with just a 72.9 QB rating. With the addition of Dillon, however, Brady's QB rating of 92.9 is higher than he has finished any season in his career.
Dillon's presence has opened up the Patriots' offensive attack, giving them another dangerous weapon and putting the defense in a pick-your-poison situation. With the ability to march down the field and into the end zone both on the ground and through the air, the Pats are 4th in the AFC with 28.1 points per game, scoring 6.3 points per game more than last year. They are also 4th in total offense with 355.6 yards per game.
Dillon has proven to be a big down back as well, rushing for 4.9 yards per carry on third down, as well as 5.3 yards per carry when his team is backed up in their own red zone. Having a running game like Dillon's is not something the Pats are used to, having gone 18 consecutive seasons without a running back that has averaged four yards per carry or more. Dillon has rushed for 4.8 yards per carry so far this year, good for third in the AFC.
So while Peyton Manning throws his touchdowns and Terrell Owens catches his own, keep in mind who has carried the Patriots thus far in the 2004 season. They are tied for the best record in football and it is in no small part due to the improved ground-game with Corey Dillon.
|Corey Dillon 2004 Regular Season Rushing Stats|
|09/09||Indianapolis Colts||15||86||5.7||38||0||W 27-24|
|09/19||@ Arizona Cardinals||32||158||4.9||17||0||W 23-12|
|10/03||@ Buffalo Bills||19||79||4.2||19||1||W 31-17|
|10/10||Miami Dolphins||18||94||5.2||36||0||W 24-10|
|10/17||Seattle Seahawks||23||105||4.6||15||2||W 30-20|
|10/24||New York Jets||22||115||5.2||44||0||W 13-7|
|10/31||@ Pittsburgh Steelers||
Did Not Play
|11/07||St. Louis Rams||25||112||4.5||17||1||W 40-22|
|11/14||Buffalo Bills||26||151||5.8||30||0||W 29-6|
|11/22||@ Kansas City Chiefs||26||98||3.8||18||2||W 27-19|
|11/28||Baltimore Ravens||30||123||4.1||18||1||W 24-3|
|12/05||@ Cleveland Browns||18||100||5.6||21||2||W 42-15|
|12/12||Cincinnati Bengals||22||88||4.0||16||1||W 35-28|
Source: NFL.com and other online stats sites
Matt Colantonio is a site contributor for the Patriots Insider. His passion is Boston Sports, helping others including those with special needs, and coaching kids sports. After a stint at NESN, Matt felt it was time he shared his sports wisdom and writing skills with the unfortunate masses. You can reach Matt on the Patriots Insider message Boards, or send comments to him here
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