Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Maroney not thriving, but not getting help

There's some talk out there that the Patriots might bench Laurence Maroney this week to send a Joey Galloway-style message to him. He has all of 78 yards on 29 carries so far this season, an average of 2.9 yards per carry, and he gained six yards on seven carries on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens -- drawing boos in the process.

But it's not all about the running back. The running game, even more than the passing game, is a function of an entire unit, and it's worth reviewing Maroney's running plays from last Sunday's game to see how the entire unit looked:

First quarter
Second-and-10, 12-yard line going out
Maroney lined up in the "I"-formation behind Sammy Morris, and the Ravens lined up with seven defenders close to the line of scrimmage -- four defensive linemen and three linebackers. Maroney followed Morris through what was supposed to be a gap off the hip of Neal, the right guard.

Morris, though, got blasted by Ray Lewis a yard beyond the line of scrimmage, and the hole closed quickly in front of Maroney.
Result: One-yard gain.

First quarter
First-and-10, 34-yard line going out
Maroney lined up as the lone back behind Brady with one wide receiver (Sam Aiken) to the right side of the formation and Randy Moss and two tight ends to the left. The Ravens again had four down linemen but gave the Patriots just a little more space, dropping their linebackers back off the line just a little bit.

Maroney ran a sweep to the left -- but by the time he got the football in his hands, defensive end Terrell Suggs had already pushed left tackle Matt Light three yards into the backfield. Maroney got around Suggs, but he had to go almost to the sideline to do so. By then, cornerback Dominique Foxworth had shed the block of Moss and was able to shove Maroney out of bounds:

Result: One-yard loss.

First quarter
First-and-10, 38-yard line going in
Maroney again was the only back lined up behind Brady. Two receivers were split off to the left side, and one tight end was on each end of the formation. The Ravens again had four defensive linemen at the line of scrimmage but were giving some breathing room with their linebackers.

(The play before this one, Maroney had taken a short dump pass for a 17-yard gain, juking linebacker Dannell Ellerbe in the process.)

When Maroney took the handoff, there was a clear hole that opened up. Ray Lewis was waiting to give him a lick when he hit the hole, but there was a hole wide enough to drive Vince Wilfork through. Light had taken Suggs up the field and away from the play, and Dan Koppen and Logan Mankins had double-teamed nose tackle Kelly Gregg. On the other side, defensive tackle Justin Bannan couldn't get around Stephen Neal, and while he was trying to get into the gap, he couldn't quite do it in time.

Maroney, though, aimed for the smaller hole between Light and Mankins -- and it closed quickly as Suggs recovered. Maybe it was poor recognition. Maybe it was a desire not to be decapitated by Lewis. But he certainly seemed to hit the wrong hole:
Result: One-yard gain.

Second quarter
First-and-10, 37-yard line going out
Maroney lined up eight yards behind the line of scrimmage, deeper than his customary five or six, and he had a pair of tight ends on the right side of the formation, one behind the other. The Ravens were in the same 4-3 look they'd been showing on first-and-10 situations throughout the game.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman came in motion from the right side of the formation, but the handoff went to Maroney -- who didn't have a huge hole but somehow did something with it. Right tackle Nick Kaczur eliminator Trevor Pryce from the play, and Koppen and Neal got rid of Gregg. Mankins had a little bit of trouble with 345-pound tackle Haloti Ngata -- nothing to be ashamed of there -- and Ngata got his left hand on Maroney's thigh on his way through the hole, tripping him up just before he could get to the second level.
Result: Five-yard gain.

Second quarter
First-and-10, 42-yard line going in
The Patriots lined up in a mirror image of the previous formation this time with Maroney deep and two tight ends stacked one behind the other on the left side of the line. The idea was for Light to pull from his spot at left tackle and to act as a lead blocker through a hole off the outside hip of Neal, the right guard.

But even as Maroney was taking the handoff from Brady, Suggs was shoving Kaczur, the right tackle, deep into the backfield. Suggs put his helmet into the gut of Maroney and dropped him for a loss. Maroney never had a chance.
Result: One-yard loss.

Third quarter
First-and-10, 25-yard line going out
The Patriots lined up in the shotgun with Maroney to the right of Brady and three receivers split wide -- two to the left and one to the right. Tight end Chris Baker was on the right side of the formation as well.

Maroney took the snap with a head of steam going to his left -- and that looked like the right direction. Matt Light seemed to have things under control with Suggs on the outside, and Mankins was wrestling Gregg, the nose tackle, back toward the middle of the line.

But the other three blocks all were pushing their respective defenders off toward the right, and Maroney decided to go that way. One problem: That was the way Mankins had blocked Gregg, and it was a relatively simple matter for Gregg, even from his knees, to trip Maroney up and get him to the ground.

(If you still have this game on tape, go back and watch this play -- and pay attention to the aftermath. You can hear exactly which naughty word John Harbaugh, still upset about an illegal contact penalty on the previous play, employed to draw his 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.)
Result: Two-yard gain.

Fourth quarter
First-and-10, 49-yard line going in
Brady again was lined up in the shotgun with Maroney to his right. Given the way the blocking scheme went, Maroney actually seemed to make the right choice in this instance -- Bannan, the defensive tackle, got into the gap in the middle of the field, and tight end Ben Watson blocked Pryce, the defensive end, back toward the same spot to create something of a seal on the outside.

But it took Maroney a moment to get around the driving legs of Watson, and by the time he'd done that, outside linebacker Jarret Johnson had shed a relatively unimpressive block thrown by wide receiver Wes Welker in the slot. That left Maroney one-on-one with Johnson -- the type of situation in which you'd think the elite running backs would make a move to make the defender miss. Johnson, though, grabbed Maroney by the ankle and pulled him down to the turf:

Result: One-yard loss.

That would be all for Maroney in terms of carries.

To tally it all up, Maroney had seven carries and was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage in all seven of them.

Twice, upon further examination of the tape, he seemed to have a hole that would have gotten him to the second level but chose the wrong hole. On his other five opportunities, however, he seemed to run where he was supposed to run but would have had to make a spectacular individual effort to succeed.

Maybe an elite running back would have made a couple of those spectacular individual efforts. Maybe Adrian Peterson shakes off Jarret Johnson and fights off would-be tacklers for a six-yard gain in that last example. But maybe not.

“Not every play was blocked correctly, but you should still find ways to get 1 or 2 yards out of them," Maroney told the Globe on Wednesday, comments that probably will draw criticism. "You’re going against one of the best rushing defenses, if not the best rushing defense, in the league.

"We knew coming into the game there wasn’t going to be a lot of big runs. We knew we were going to have to grind out 2 or 3 yards here, 2 or 3 yards there to keep us in short situations.

"I just look at it as I had seven carries, and after looking at the film, I could have done a couple of the carries better, a couple of them probably weren’t blocked correctly, but hey, I still could have made a couple of them better."

Maroney has received quite a bit of grief in his Patriots career. Some of it might be deserved. But he might also not be in a position to succeed all that often, either.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like the breakdown. It's easy to see when a play fails and blame the guy with the ball, but this article demostrates that it takes a lot more than just one guy.