Season: 185-835, 4.5 average, 6 TDs rushing ... 4-116 receiving
Postseason: 22-122, 5.5 average, 1 TD rushing ... 2-40 receiving
Home field advantage
Earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs was an even bigger plus than usual for the Patriots because second-year running back Laurence Maroney has put up his best rushing numbers at home this season.
His 5.3 yards-per-rush average during the regular season in Gillette Stadium was significantly better than his 3.4 yards per rush on the road. And out of his 18 runs for 10-plus yards during the regular season, 14 of them occurred at home. So odds are that he'll rip off at least a couple of big-play runs against San Diego.
Hitting his stride
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Maroney is on a roll, and his timing couldn't be better.
He rushed for 49 first downs during the regular season — 26.5 percent of the time he ran with the ball — but notched 16 of them during the last three games of the regular season. Including his performance against the Jaguars, when he rushed for 122 yards, Maroney has posted four 100-yard games this season — three of them in the last four games.
Fast start needed
The Chargers can gain an advantage by focusing on Maroney early as he's been more effective in the first half with 5.3 yards-per-carry than in the second half this season (3.6 yards per carry). The second quarter, when he's averaging 5.9 yards per carry, is when the former University of Minnesota back is at his most dangerous.
He's also been at his best on first down, averaging 4.7 yards-per-carry versus a full yard less on second down. If San Diego can limit Maroney on first down, they can drop more defenders into coverage on second down, challenging the Patriots to try the run again on second down.
Maroney celebrates after a touchdown against the Dolphins in December.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Advantage, New England
Maroney hasn't fumbled the ball all season, which will be key to New England's hopes of keeping an opportunistic Chargers defense from converting points off of turnovers. If San Diego's going to pull off the upset, they'll likely need to stop at least a couple of the Patriots' possessions with turnovers.
If the second-year player stays true to form, he won't be the one who provides them with those opportunities.
With temperatures expected to be in the mid-20s and a wind chill dropping that into the low teens, it could throw off the timing of passing routes and the receivers' ability to hold onto the ball. If that happens, keep an eye on how Maroney handles the chilly temperatures as he's played four games this season in temperatures below 40 degrees and has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry in those contests.
New England needs to avoid a slow start as neither Maroney or the temperature are likely to heat up during the second half.
While they certainly can't ignore him in the situation, San Diego can at least dedicate less attention to Maroney once the Patriots enter the red zone. He's had 28 touches inside the opponents' 20-yard line and hasn't done much with them, averaging just 2.8 yards-per-carry.
That said, he knows how to punch it in down near the goal line, scoring five touchdowns for his team inside the red zone.
The chess match
The Patriots will want to give Maroney plenty of rushing opportunities
between the left shoulder of the center and the right tackle where he's averaged
5.8 yards per carry. But if San Diego overloads that area, look for the Patriots
to run wide to either sideline where he gains an average of 5.5 to 5.8 yards per
Maroney hasn't been as effective up the middle and to the inside right of the line, averaging just 3.6 yards per run through that area.
Maroney is frequently off the field on third-down situations so the Patriots can insert highly versatile running back Kevin Faulk.
But based on Maroney's performance on third down this season, the Chargers should pay close attention to his whereabouts if he's still on the field. While New England's only given him the ball 20 times on third down, he's averaged 7.3 yards per run when given a chance.
And on third- or fourth-down with a yard or less to go, Maroney's converted 80 percent of his chances (four out of five).
Maroney is congratulated by QB Tom Brady after a touchdown against the Jets in December.
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
Throw them the change-up
The Patriots could cross-up the Chargers by making Maroney a more active player in their passing game. And with the weather conditions, don't be surprised to see it become a necessity as the game wears on and the temperature continues to drop.
San Diego has undoubtedly noticed that Brady has only thrown 14.2 percent of his passes to his running backs and only targeted Maroney eight times during the regular season. But it's certainly not a matter of Maroney being a poor receiver as he only dropped one opportunity.
And get this — out of his 116 receiving yards, he earned 105 of them after the catch. So he's usually snagging high-percentage throws near the line of scrimmage, simply providing an additional way for Maroney to run with the ball from a different starting point on the field.
If New England wants to catch the Chargers by surprise in key situations, making Maroney a more active part of the passing game might do the trick.
What to expect
Maroney should have plenty of chances to have an impact on the outcome of this game, and with the way he's played in front of the home fans this season, he could easily put on his fifth 100-yard display of the year. And if he stays true to form and doesn't turn the ball over during the 60 minutes of play, that will weigh heavily in the Patriots' favor, especially if they're able to get out of the gates fast, get out to a good lead and then settle into a more balanced attack to chip away at the clock..
But the cold weather won't help his performance, and that could really hurt New England's attack. The Patriots may need to count on Maroney to shoulder more of the offensive load if their highly-efficient and dangerous passing game sags like it did during a frigid game against the Ravens defense in Baltimore. In that game, Brady completed a season-worst 47.4 percent of his passes. And Maroney failed to pick up the slack, gaining just 44 yards on 14 carries for a 3.4-yard average.
Similar to what the Bears experienced during the erratic performances of quarterback Rex Grossman with his "Good Rex" and "Bad Rex" games last year, it's hard to predict which Laurence Maroney will show up for the AFC Championship game on Sunday. Unlike Grossman, Maroney's loaded with talent. He just doesn't consistently have the stats to back that fact up by the end of each game.
In four postseason performances, Maroney's only played a major role in one — last week's win over the Jaguars. In the three previous games as a rookie, he didn't score a single touchdown and rushed for a grand total of just 87 yards.
Sunday's AFC Championship game will give Laurence Maroney the opportunity to prove that he's come of age in his second NFL season by ignoring the elements while putting together his second consecutive strong postseason performance. The big question — and one that could impact New England's quest for their 18th consecutive victory this season — is whether or not he's ready to do it.
Tune in on Sunday and find out.
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