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Patriots' Ground Attack Features Multiple Weapons


The Packers have had to gear up to slow down plenty of potent running backs thus far in 2006.

Detroit's Kevin Jones, St. Louis' Steven Jackson, Miami's Ronnie Brown, Arizona's Edgerrin James and Minnesota's Chester Taylor are among the feature backs Green Bay already has faced this season.

But this week presents a somewhat new challenge for the Packers because the New England Patriots don't really feature one running back. Between veteran Corey Dillon, rookie Laurence Maroney and third-down specialist Kevin Faulk, New England seemingly has a fresh set of legs behind quarterback Tom Brady on every play and a powerful backfield that keeps defenses guessing who's coming at them.

"I think all our backs have been solid and we've gotten production out of all those guys," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "It's a good group to work with and they've been pretty consistent all year."

Dillon and Maroney handle nearly all the running plays and have combined for 974 yards and nine touchdowns on 228 carries. For comparison's sake, the only single back with close to that many rushes is Kansas City's Larry Johnson with 217, and he ranks third in the NFL with 891 yards.

The Patriots' duo really does share the load. Only once all season has either back had 20 carries in a game, and that was Dillon in Week 2. Maroney has the only 100-yard effort, with 125 yards against Cincinnati in Week 4, but the two have combined to go over 100 in four other contests.

To defensive players, it doesn't matter much which back is carrying the ball, but they're almost certain to see little drop-off from the first quarter to the fourth because no single back is taking a game-long pounding.

Both Dillon and Maroney weigh better than 220 pounds and run with plenty of power. Maroney, a first-round draft choice out of Minnesota, is the faster of the two.

Interestingly, Dillon hasn't faced the Packers since his second year in the league, in 1998 with the Bengals. Maroney is a rookie, but fellow rookie A.J. Hawk battled him last year when Ohio State took on the Gophers.

"He's got it all," Hawk said. "If you watch him, you can see he's a powerful back that can run away from you. He's got great vision, he uses his power when he needs it, he cuts back. He can do whatever he needs to."

On third down, Faulk does whatever the offense needs. He has complemented the two power backs with 13 carries for 62 yards and 22 pass receptions for 177 yards.

Still, one thing that makes the Patriots so dangerous offensively is they may be just as likely to ignore their multiple weapons on the ground and put the game in Brady's hands.

{sportsad300}In their last victory before the current two-game losing streak, the Patriots shunned the run against Minnesota's top-rated run defense, giving the ball to Dillon and Maroney a combined 11 times. Brady threw 43 times, for a season-high 372 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-7 rout in prime time at the Metrodome.

"They have a lot of packages offensively," Barnett said. "They get to running that trio, or they'll come and open up the game throwing the ball. You just have to be focused and study for every single game plan that they have, and hope once they come in, if they come in with a new one, be able to adjust, and if they run an old one, be able to play that as well."

Adding to the unpredictability is that the Patriots are coming off two straight losses for the first time since 2002. There's no way to know how they will "circle the wagons" from a strategic standpoint when they simply haven't had to.

"You never know with them," Hawk said. "They'll show a bunch of different looks and do a lot of different things. It just depends on the week, how they're going to attack teams.

"It's a huge test for this team and this defense and we can't wait to get out there and see what we can do."

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