Kevin Faulk rushed eight times for 48 yards on Sunday. Sammy Morris rushed 10 times for 26 yards. Laurence Maroney stood on the sidelines and watched.
It's been tough sledding this season for the New England Patriots' running game -- particularly since this is the time you really need to run the ball. Matt Cassel is more game-manager than game-breaker; no one expects him to put up the type of numbers Tom Brady has put up in recent years. But the ground game has ground to a halt just when the Patriots need it most.
The Patriots are 17th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (113.0) but 24th in yards per carry (3.7). In the first half against San Diego, when the outcome was still in doubt, the Patriots rushed 11 times for 35 yards -- an average of 3.2 yards per carry. Needing just a yard for a touchdown in the third quarter, again with the game still in reach, the Patriots got nothing.
Teams are stacking the line against the run, of course, and daring Cassel to throw downfield. That never helps. But teams stack the line against the Atlanta Falcons and rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, too, and the Michael Turner-led run game still is averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season.
What's the prescription? Certainly, recent history has shown that an offensive line and a solid system do more for a running attack than a particular running back. The Broncos did it first, but more and more teams have shown an ability to shuttle running backs in and out with similar results.
But it goes both ways -- a great offensive line can elevate a good running back, but a great running back can elevate a good offensive line, too. The Patriots' offensive line was supposed to be great last season. Tackle Matt Light and guard Logan Mankins both started in the Pro Bowl last season; center Dan Koppen made the team as a reserve. The talent appears to be there on the offensive line, but they haven't been able to elevate Morris anywhere beyond serviceable. Maroney, for his part, can't seem to get his shoulder healthy enough to be effective -- and even when he was healthy last season, it took the entire season to get him going.
It might be time, after this season, to pull the plug on Maroney. It might be worth investing a first-round pick in a potential game-breaker like Beanie Wells or Knowshown Moreno. (Look what it did for the Vikings last season and the Titans, Panthers and Bears this season.) Both are projected, at this point, to go in the mid-to-late first round. With the way the Patriots played on Sunday night at San Diego, though, the middle of the first round might be right where they're drafting.