Patriots’ running game should get plenty of chances this week against Indy
|12.02.11 at 1:01 am ET|
FOXBORO — It would appear to be a good week to be a Patriots’ running back.
When it comes to stopping the run, Indianapolis has struggled all year — the Colts are worst in the AFC in total rushing yards allowed (1,657) and rushing yards allowed per game (150.6). In addition, the Colts have yielded a league-high 102 carries for a first down, and have had four opposing running backs rush for 100-plus yards against them, with LeGarrette Blount topping out at 127 in an October win for Tampa Bay.
Meanwhile, the New England running game is starting to emerge again. BenJarvus Green-Ellis appears to be over whatever toe injury has bothered him, as he’s put together two games with a combined 125 yards on the ground, and now has 150 carries for 585 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. It’s off of last seasons’ pace (when he became the 11th player in team history to reach 1,000 rushing yards), but he’s still the closest thing the Patriots have to a lead back.
And while the Patriots remain predominantly a pass-first offense, when the Patriots run the ball consistently, they usually have a good afternoon. In the last three games — all wins — the Patriots have averaged 33 carries and 107 yards rushing. In losses to the Steelers and the Giants the previous two weeks, the team averaged 18 carries for 75 yards. And when Green-Ellis is the one carrying the ball, more often than not, good things happen for the Patriots. As Kevin Fishbain of Pro Football Weekly notes, in New England’s three losses, Green-Ellis averaged 26.3 yards rushing. In the Patriots’ eight wins, he’s averaging 63.3 yards.
But it’s not just Green-Ellis that’s helping move the chains. The Patriots have gotten plenty of contributions from the rest of their backfield. Danny Woodhead isn’t having the out-of-nowhere season he had in his first year with New England, but has shaken off injury to post 233 rushing yards and a 4.4 yards per carry average. Woodhead has also done the best at making something out of nothing, as he has just two negative plays on his 53 rushing attempts.
And while veteran Kevin Faulk has been sidelined for the bulk of the season after a 2010 knee injury, depth has been provided by a pair of rookie running backs, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Ridley has 40 carries for 198 yards and a touchdown (and a remarkable five yards per carry average), while Vereen has been dogged by hamstring issues for the bulk of the season, but has still managed 15 carries for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Patriots’ offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said that the two rookies have ‘progressed’ as they continue their transition into NFL life.
‘I think it’s hard to play any position in the NFL as a rookie, whether it’s tackle, receiver, tight end, running back or obviously quarterback,’ O’Brien said. ‘I think it’s a difficult transition and both of those guys have come along every week and improved every week in their knowledge of ‘ the running part of the game is fairly basic for them; it’s all the other things. It’s the pass protection. It’s the pass routes. It’s the run reads. It’s the other things that go into that they need to improve on every week and I really think they’ve worked hard at that.’