Commentary

Adjustments coming for Patriots

Team may need to revamp offense with absence of Kevin Faulk

Updated: September 23, 2010, 1:59 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

When New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked Wednesday how his team might replace injured running back Kevin Faulk, he said there was no one player who could duplicate Faulk's role.

Then Belichick used the 2008 season as an example of how his team adjusted on the fly when a key injury struck, with quarterback Tom Brady hurting his knee. That required a new approach with backup Matt Cassel.

[+] EnlargeKevin Faulk
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaThe Patriots will have to adjust their approach without Kevin Faulk, who confirmed he'll be out for the year with a torn ACL.

"Matt came in, and we won 11 games. We weren't the same team, but we found a different way to win than the way we won before," Belichick said.

"I don't think we're going to find one player to be a carbon copy of Kevin Faulk. I don't think that exists and I don't think that's really realistic. As a team, we just have to find ways to be efficient, be productive, move the ball and score points, even though he's not in there. It will be a challenge, but that's what we need to do."

In 2008 under Cassel, the coaching staff seemed to scale back the offense initially. A big part of the attack was getting the ball out quickly and putting the team's pass-catchers in position to gain yards after the catch. The Patriots were among the league leaders in YAC that season.

A quarterback change is as significant as it gets, and that '08 season is a solid example of how a team can reinvent its attack when a key player is lost to injury.

As for how the 2010 Patriots might alter their look without Faulk, the first place to look is the shotgun formation.

The Patriots have relied heavily on the shotgun in recent years and through two games this season; 56 of their 123 snaps (including penalties) have been with Brady in the 'gun. Faulk was on the field for 41 of those 56 snaps.

Prior to Faulk's fourth-quarter injury Sunday, he had been on the field for all but four of the team's shotgun snaps.

So one of the first questions Belichick and his coaches likely asked when they learned of the severity of Faulk's injury was how comfortable they would be having Brady in the shotgun without Faulk to provide top-notch pass protection. Brady probably was asking the same thing.

"Whoever is in the backfield this week in Kevin's position, we're going to try to do what those guys do really well. We're not going to expect them to just do everything that Kevin does," Brady said. "Guys like Sammy [Morris] and Fred Taylor and BenJarvus [Green-Ellis], they have their own skill set, so we've got to try to incorporate those into the offensive scheme that works."

That is the big challenge for the Patriots this week against the Buffalo Bills, tailoring a plan that keeps those running backs in their comfort zones, similar to how the Patriots brought Cassel along in 2008. In essence, it's what coaching is all about.

Of the three, Morris is the most natural pass-catcher, and that's why he is the top candidate to play the Faulk-like role when the Patriots call on their hurry-up shotgun package. He replaced Faulk on Sunday in that exact situation, with a 19-yard catch-and-run resulting on his first play.

Yet it's hard to imagine the Patriots giving all of Faulk's snaps to Morris. So the coaches will have to consider other options or perhaps a change to a more conventional approach, with Brady taking more snaps from directly under center.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE

MORE NFL HEADLINES