FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) - Oft-injured Fred Taylor hopes to play Sunday night after missing five games with two painful toes.
The Patriots running back might be better off waiting a week instead of facing the NFL’s stingiest run defense.
Some of the league’s best rushers have tried to overpower and avoid the Pittsburgh Steelers experienced defenders only to look ordinary. Now New England’s mediocre running game gets its chance.
“I understand this team. I know them really well,” Taylor said. “It’s the same guys (with few exceptions). The personnel doesn’t change. … If the opportunity is there, I’d love it.”
He returned to practice on Wednesday and was there again Thursday, both with limited participation. The toe injuries on each foot have improved and the Patriots will announce his status for Sunday’s game on Friday. Taylor’s absence added to the ever-changing look of the Patriots ground attack.
They traded Laurence Maroney to Denver before the first game. They signed Danny Woodhead before the second and lost Kevin Faulk for the season to a knee injury in that game. Taylor suffered turf toe on his right foot on the last play of the first game and another one on his left foot in the third.
And 11-year veteran Sammy Morris, the Patriots leading rusher in 2008, has carried the ball just 11 times for 29 yards despite playing all eight games, primarily on special teams.
All that has left BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who had just 100 carries for 389 yards in his other two seasons, and the 5-foot-7 Woodhead as the leaders of the NFL’s 15th best rushing offense. The Patriots have averaged fewer than four yards per carry in four of their eight games.
Taylor, who has played a full 16-game schedule just twice in his other 12 seasons, might have done better.
“They’ve played well,” he said of Green-Ellis and Woodhead. “As you probably can tell, the trend of the running back position is just find anybody off the street and throw him in there. That’s kind of how the NFL feels about it, but it does take some talent to make that position go, and they both have talent.”
Pittsburgh’s defense has more. Much more.
It has given up just 58.3 yards rushing per game. That’s more than 20 yards better than the NFL’s second best run defense, the New York Giants at 80.9, and more than 50 yards better than the league average of 111.9. The Steelers have allowed just one 100-yard rusher in their last 42 games.
They permitted a season-low 30 yards rushing to the New Orleans Saints just two weeks ago. No team has run for more than 75 yards against them this season.
And there’s more.
The Steelers have held four of the NFL’s top 15 rushers to 54 yards or less _ Chris Johnson with 34, Peyton Hillis with 41, Michael Turner with 42 and Cedric Benson with 54.