Ground game gaining strength

Patriots’ offense runs smoother

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / August 21, 2010

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Against the Atlanta Falcons Thursday night, the Patriots had two touchdown runs of 20-plus yards, one each from thirtysomethings Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris.

In all of their games last year, the Patriots only had five runs of 20-plus yards.

As the preseason progresses and with the regular-season opener just 22 days away, every aspect of the Patriots’ game will be scrutinized, refined, and improved. The ground game is one area that seems to be moving in a positive direction, those two touchdowns being exhibits 1A and 1B.

“Nobody loves seeing long runs more than I do,’’ coach Bill Belichick said in his conference call yesterday. “Trust me: I’m thrilled when we have long runs — long runs, long passes, turnovers on defense, long returns. I love seeing those.’’

Taylor and Morris got the bulk of the carries against the Falcons.

“I thought Fred and Sammy ran hard,’’ Belichick said. “They broke some tackles and showed good vision. Some of the reads could have maybe been a little better, along with some of the blocking. We had some negative plays in the running game, which we want to eliminate. That’s a combination of the backs, the tight ends, the offensive line, and also the quarterback. Some of the plays we had were ‘check’ running plays that could have been called a little differently than they ended up being called on the line of scrimmage.

“But I thought for the most part those backs, including Benny [Green-Ellis], ran hard and made some yards after contact.’’

After the game, Taylor noted that a strong running game can help take pressure off of the play caller — in most cases, Tom Brady.

The offensive line and the running backs must continually work together.

“We need to continue to work on our run reads and coordination with the offensive linemen,’’ Belichick said. “The back has a lot to do with helping out the offensive linemen [with] blocks and setting them up and helping the offensive lineman block the defender by his angle and his entry into the line scrimmage and those type of things.

“I think our backs can do a better job of that. I’m not saying it was terrible, but if they can improve on it that would help the line block better and help the running game.’’

With questions answered about the backs who did contribute and the offensive line, there was one question remaining for Belichick: What should be made of Laurence Maroney’s zero carries against the Falcons?

According to Belichick, it’s no big deal.

“We try to give each back enough carries so that he can get into a little bit of a rhythm and also so that we can evaluate his conditioning and his stamina and his running on a continuous basis, rather than letting everybody carry three plays a game or four plays a game,’’ he said. “We try to give it to a few guys and let them take it and change the rotation and do it a little bit differently in another game. Those guys got a lot of carries in practice, too.

“Practicing against Atlanta, Laurence got a lot of carries down there and Fred got a lot of carries in practice against New Orleans, so it wasn’t like they didn’t get the teaching on how to run and read certain plays.’’

Belichick noted that Taylor didn’t carry the ball against the Saints and that Maroney did. But Maroney’s two touchdowns against New Orleans came with backup Brian Hoyer handing him the ball and against the Saints’ defensive reserves.

If it is the case that the Patriots are giving each running back a long look in each preseason game, then Maroney backers should only worry if he isn’t the starter against the Rams this week.

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