August 15, 2003
Are The Patriots Born To Run?
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
The Boss will play Fenway soon.
No, not this blowhard owner of a baseball team who may not have his power restored yet (whoops, he lives in Tampa). We're talking about the pride of Asbury Park, New Jersey, who will enjoy the distinction of playing the first rock concert ever at the Grande Dame of Yawkey Way. Bruce Springsteen will be hitting a few major baseball venues during the late summer and early autumn, not just Fenway.
And it's doubtful if Springsteen will let the crowd go home without hearing his breakout rock anthem of 1975. Isn't it fitting that 1975 was a great year for both Springsteen and the Red Sox? Born To Run, the title cut from his first album, remains a riveting rock favorite to this day. It describes the burning desire of this guy and his girl to bust out of the venue of their youth, get out into the world and find their special place.
Pro sports teams are all about runaway American dreams. You don't know when, but you're gonna get to that place. That place where you really want to go. You run until you drop and you never want to go back. What does all this remind you of?
And how did the Patriots get to that special place? Lots of reasons and things, of course. Among those things, where would you rank "great running attack"?
Springsteen gives the Patriots great inspiration for 2003. They simply have to be born to run.
This column has raved enough about what went wrong with the Patriot offense in 2002. Charlie Weis passed too much. That's pretty much it. Bring back the balance in the offense. And hire Springsteen as a special assistant to Ivan Fears.
Saturday night's preseason game at Washington becomes perhaps a little more important than most "second preseason games" because of this issue. The Patriots scored a nice 26-6 win at home last week against the Giants, but they did so despite rushing stats that would make Springsteen run back home to Joisey and chastise Curtis Martin for deserting his original team. 108 yards, 31 carries, skewed by a 13-yard scamper by Kevin Faulk, is not something which will get the Patriots back to that "special place".
Give the Patriots credit. At least they've been to that special place. Wendy and her man are only dreaming.
What Bill Belichick and Weis will need to do Saturday night is to try and incorporate the run more than perhaps Tom Brady would like. Brady is on record as looking forward to playing the entire first half, but if the Patriots are smart, they will give Brady only a few token throws and run those backs until they drop.
And in the process, the Patriots need to make several determinations. The first one is which running back is "leading" the race for the bulk of the rushing load for the regular season. The second one is a clear assessment of the offensive line, and how well their run blocking is coming along, if at all. It is sometimes overlooked that, for the running game to work, blockers need to block just as well as runners have to run.
Last Thursday night, Faulk looked slightly more ahead of Antowain Smith. Despite this development and Faulk finishing well last year, it would be literally a detriment to the Patriots if Faulk were to win the starting job. Faulk is not big enough to carry the bulk of the rushing load, and would likely wear down as the year wears on. It almost behooves Smith to win the starting job.
And if Smith does come close to his 2001 form, he must run hard all year long. Smith is a straight-ahead type runner, someone who can wear down a defense. He rushed for 1,157 yards in 2001, his career best, and it was critical not only to the team's success, but to Brady's success as well. Smith languished through a moribund 2002 season, and his team's offense struggled right along with him.
No matter how much the Patriots would like to air Brady out Saturday night, much time needs to be spent on Smith and Faulk, to see where they are at this point and whether or not the Patriots can look forward to a formidable rushing attack if the blockers do their thing. With two more preseason games left to throw lots of passes, the Patriots can take advantage of this early point in the preseason to work on something that dearly needs looking at.
Speaking of the blockers, they will be under just as much a microscope as the running backs will be. The situation with the right guard and tackle is of fair concern to Belichick, a situation made more tenuous with the sudden (and predictable, we guess) retirement of Brendan Stai. A wounded Joe Andruzzi will probably start at right guard, with Adrian Klemm at right tackle.
That said, everyone up front needs to hunker down and blast away against the Redskin defensive line, a line in a state of flux with the jettisoning of Dan Wilkinson and the diminishing role of aging veteran and former Bills foe Bruce Smith. This is a line that the Patriots can deal with, despite a linebacker corps that features Jessie Armstead and LeVar Arrington, and former Raider Regan Upshaw on the line.
Injuries notwithstanding, a good sign of this being a successful evening would start with Klemm winning the right tackle job. This is a position which needs to be resolved, and soon. If Andruzzi is not able to play at full capacity, the Patriots could turn to someone like Bill Conaty or rookie Dan Koppen (who played center at BC but could be groomed for the guard position if fellow Eagle Damien Woody stays put with his impending free agency coming up).
There are probably more questions on the line than there are in the backfield. Patriot Nation may be made to suffer through another anemic rushing attack Saturday night, and yet it may actually be because of poor line blocking and not poor rushing.
You know, Springsteen does Foxborough a lot. U2's Beautiful Day may be the team anthem, but they play Glory Days after a Patriot win at home. For the Patriots to enjoy more glory days, they simply have to be born to run.
There's no place left to hide. Everybody's out on the run tonight. It's a last chance power drive.
And pray that the running game doesn't turn into a suicide machine.
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