Strictly looking at the numbers, New England's rushing attack shouldn't be a major concern.
Through the first three games of the 2011 season, the Patriots rank 13th in the league in rushing yards per game (102.7) and 12th in rush yards per play (4.22). Those are collective numbers, keep in mind.
Sure, there have been some decent individual performances, but when you give it the ol' eye-ball test, one gets the sense that more production could be generated from the Patriots ball carriers. The head coach admitted as much Wednesday.
"We've had our moments, but we'd like to see more production out of our running game," Bill Belichick told reporters.
Clearly, the Patriots are a passing team, with quarterback Tom Brady throwing for a record number of yards through the first three weeks. New England ranks first in yards per game (437.7) and per play (9.87). The next best team in that category is New Orleans, with 100 fewer pass yards per game and two fewer yards per play.
Scoring points hasn't been a problem, either. The Patriots are tied for second in the league with the Saints at an average of 34.7 per game, a full field goal below first-place Buffalo.
So, it might seem a little hard to nitpick about the running game. However, players asked about the need for more balance in the offense were willing to concede that improvements are needed in that area.
"I think it's productive. We obviously know it could be better," said right guard Brian Waters, "but the biggest thing with all of this is just moving the ball and putting points on the board and not turning the ball over. I think, when we're doing those things, we're as good as there is.
"When we're not doing those things well," he added, "then we're definitely not doing our job."
"Whatever the challenge is, whatever plays are called, we have to go out and execute and be sound and make plays," running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis remarked. "We just have to continue to improve on the things we're not doing so well, and the things we're doing well, do them more."
"We can always press the holes better, helping out those blocks by the linemen, and going out there and making more plays," he specified.
At the same time, the players exhibited some reluctance to mess with a formula that has been so effective thus far.
"You know what," left tackle Matt Light stated, "I never really worry about what the plays are that we're calling and what we do and how we do it offensively – whether it's throwing the ball 60 times or getting 20 runs on the ground.
"But, I think, whatever the mode is, we just have to go out there and execute. It's always comes down to the execution, regardless of what the plays are."
"I really don't have a preference," echoed Waters. "I just want to move the football and score points. The biggest thing for offensive linemen is third-and-long. You just never want to be in that situation. So, no matter how we move the ball, we just want to stay ahead of the defense, score touchdowns when we get in the red zone. I don't particularly have any preference on how you move the ball."
After injuring his knee against San Diego in Week 2, tight end Aaron Hernandez missed last week's tilt in Buffalo. Various media reports speculated that his sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) would require him to miss anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month.
Today, he briefly appeared in the Patriots locker room before practice, and, after some coaxing from reporters, made a few comments about his status.
"I feel pretty good," he declared. "I'm just taking it day by day, working with the trainers, and trying to get back as soon as possible.
"I'm just trying to get back, get healthy, and try to make it back for this week."
He was then asked if he expected to make it through every practice this week.
"We'll see," he replied with a smile.
Surviving the Black Hole
As a long-time member of the Kansas City Chiefs, the aforementioned Waters is very familiar with New England's opponent this week, the Oakland Raiders, and their rabid fans at the newly-renamed O.co Coliseum. The Black Hole, as it is known colloquially, features some of the most bizarre sights you'll find anywhere in the league, mostly a result of some creative costumes that fans wear to the games.
"Everything," Waters laughed when asked what's unique about Oakland, "from the time you drive in to the end of the game, you're probably going to see a lot of different things. Some good, some bad. The biggest thing is, as a player going in there, a point you want to get across to the young guys as much as possible, is don't focus on those thing. Really, try not to pay attention to those things, because they can be a distraction. They can be a great distraction if you allow it to."
Waters explained that it doesn't matter which visiting team plays there, the Raider fans are equally belligerent toward them all.
So, what, he was asked, was the most surreal sight he ever witnessed there?
"I'll say this," he recalled, "that was the first time I ever saw an old lady in a wheelchair shooting you the bird with both fingers. That's about as crazy as it gets."
For details on today's Patriots practice, please visit the PFW blog.