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Patriots Bye-Week Breakdown: Running backs

10.31.12 at 11:39 am ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend, we’€™ve got our Bye-Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots. We kick things off with the running backs.

Overview:
A diverse young group, the running backs have managed to exceed the expectations and bring a consistent balance to the New England offense for the first time in several years. Stevan Ridley is the closest thing the Patriots have to a feature back, but each back brings a different element to the field, with rookie Brandon Bolden (when healthy) providing a bruising look and Danny Woodhead filling the old Kevin Faulk role of multifaceted third-down back. Meanwhile, second-year back Shane Vereen has shown a nice ability to operate in space when given the opportunity. Their work can be summed up nicely when you stack the numbers against the stats the 2012 running backs had through the first half of last season. Through the first eight games in 2011, the Patriots had 199 rushes for 893 yards, an average of 4.5 yards per carry, and six touchdowns. In that same stretch this year, New England can boast of 276 rushes for 1,197 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, and 12 TDs. That’€™s more work and much more yardage.

Depth chart:
Ridley (150 carries, 716 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, five touchdowns), Bolden (43 carries, 234 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, two touchdowns), Woodhead (48 carries, 164 yards, 3.4 yards per carry, one touchdown), Vereen (17 carries, 72 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, two touchdowns)

Best moment:
In back-to-back outings against the Bills (247 rushing yards) and Broncos (251 rushing yards), the running game was tremendous, providing the sort of devastating presence the Patriots has been lacking the last few years. While the yardage was better against Denver, there was more versatility against Buffalo, as both Bolden (16 carries, 137 yards, one TD) and Ridley (22 carries, 106 yards, two TDs) topped the century mark. The win over the Bills was the first time the Patriots had two backs reach the 100-yard mark since Dec. 19, 1982, when Tony Collins (103) and Mark van Eeghen (100) did it.

Worst moment:
The common thread to all three New England losses to this point in the season? The Patriots have rushed for less than 100 yards. The running game stalled out in all three defeats — particularly down the stretch — but the worst likely was in the loss to the Ravens. In that one, New England finished with 77 yards on the ground on a whopping 34 carries, as the backs were unable to provide any sort of support in the four-minute offense down the stretch. Ridley (15 carries, 37 yards) and Woodhead (15 carries, 34 yards) were the only backs to top 30 yards on the ground.

By the numbers:
Woodhead has caught 19 of the 22 passes thrown in his direction for an astounding 86 percent catch rate, best among anyone on the team with at least 20 targets. He has 200 yards receiving, and he’s the only player on the team with at least 15 carries and 15 receptions.

Money quote: ‘€œOne positive I can see from the New England offense that wasn’€™t there last year was that when they want to run the ball and stay committed to it, they can do it with great success. That offense certainly has a lot more balance that they have had in the past.’€ — A high-level NFL personnel man

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