Have the Patriots Finally Found a Top Running Back?
After fumbling a ball at the end of the 2011 regular season, it was no surprise to anybody that Bill Belichick benched Stevan Ridley. In fact most people thought that would be the last the Patriots would ever see of Ridley. They were wrong, and for the first time since Curtis Martin came into the league in 1995, the Patriots have a young, flashy running back.
It’s been obvious throughout Belichick’s tenure with the Patriots that the running game has always been a struggle. The Patriots have had just enough to help them get through seasons, and just enough to win three Super Bowls. There was nothing too flashy about Antowain Smith when he helped the Patriots win Super Bowls 36 and 38.
After the 2003 season, the Patriots traded for Bengals star running back, Corey Dillon. The Patriots knew what they were getting with Dillon, and he helped power the Patriots to a third Super Bowl win in four years. Dillon did help the Patriots win a Super Bowl, and he did have a career high in yards in 2004, but most everyone knew what he was. He was a player who would come to New England at the tail end of his career to win a title. He was reliable, but it wasn’t surprising.
Stevan Ridley’s rise to the top of the Patriots depth chart has been surprising and refreshing. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a solid running back, but he didn’t show anything out of the ordinary. He never fumbled which was great, and a main reason Belichick liked him. Green-Ellis only ever had one season with over a thousand yards which was in 2010.
So far in 2012, Ridley has rushed for over 100 yards in 3 of games. He has 490 yards total, 50 yards more than all of last season, and has rushed for 4 touchdowns. Ridley is showing a spark in the Patriot offense that hasn’t been seen since Dillon left the team after the 2006 season. Maybe Ridley won’t be the next Curtis Martin, but he’s already turned out better than Laurence Maroney did, who the Patriots used a first round draft pick on.
Ridley’s rise can also be attributed to the coaching staff. Along with Ridley, rookie Brandon Bolden, has also shown a spark of greatness. In five games Bolden has rushed for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns. With such a heavy dependence on the running game now, it’s clear the Patriots have adjusted their scheme from past years. Having a strong running game is key for the Patriots as to not put all the pressure on Tom Brady and his receivers.
Still after a successful start to the season, Ridley’s biggest concern has to be ball control. He has already had 2 fumbles on the year, one resulting in a turnover. One the thing Belichick seems to hate more than anything else is turnovers, so even with a lot of yardage, Belichick won’t hesitate to bench Ridley again if he can’t hold onto the pigskin.