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Bye-week breakdown: Running backs

11.07.13 at 11:05 pm 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 kicked things off with a look at the special teamers and wide receivers. Now, it’€™s the running backs:

Overview: While there were questions about the state of the Patriots’€™ wide receivers coming into the season, there were no such concerns about the New England running game. Stevan Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards last season, and despite an occasional ball security issue (that in truth was a tad overblown), appeared to be capable of becoming the first back under Bill Belichick to rush for 1,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons. Meanwhile, Shane Vereen appeared capable of assuming the mantle of third-down/changeup back, a responsibility that had previously fallen to Danny Woodhead. And Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount were around to provide depth.

Over the first nine games, that’€™s pretty much been the case, as the Patriots’€™ running game has been steady and impressive — New England is 5-0 when it hits 100 yards on the ground as a team, and despite the fact that they lost Vereen in Week 1 (after he provided 159 yards from scrimmage against the Bills) to a wrist injury, the running game has held together nicely. Ridley is up over 500 yards, while Blount has worked mostly in relief, while Bolden has worked mostly as a third-down guy in relief of Vereen. The yards per carry is well over 4.0, and they have done a very good job moving the chains. (In fact, you could argue that the two losses were the result of them not running enough — against the Bengals, the Patriots had six carries in the second half, and in the New York loss, they carried the ball just twice over the final seven minutes of regulation, and not at all in overtime.)

That being said, one of the most fascinating relationships on the team is between Bill Belichick and Ridley. Ridley is coming off a season where he ran the ball for more than 1,200 yards — he was only one of 10 guys in the entire league to top the 1,200-mark last year — but through the first nine games, he was often treated like an ancillary part of the offense. He was yanked from the lineup after a fumble in the season opener, and didn’€™t play for the better part of the first half against the Dolphins despite not showing up on the injury report over the course of the week. But it appears that Belichick and Ridley have apparently engaged in a rapprochement, with the seminal moment coming last weekend against the Steelers where the back immediately returned to the game following a fumble at the hands of Troy Polamalu.

Ultimately, what the first nine games of the season have taught us about the New England running game is that its sneaky good, and with the addition of Vereen, likely to get better. It could ultimately serve as the secret weapon for an offense that’€™s still finding its legs as Thanksgiving approaches.

Depth chart: Ridley (118 carries, 514 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, six TDs), Blount (70 carries, 312 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, two TDs), Bolden (38 carries, 205 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, two TDs; 17 catches, 107 yards), Vereen (14 carries, 101 yards, 7.2 yards per carry; seven catches, 58 yards), Leon Washington (1 carry, 1 yard), fullback James Develin (2 catches, 19 yards).

Best moment: Ridley has had some impressive moments over the course of the year, but it’€™s hard to argue with what Vereen produced in the season-opener against the Bills. He averaged 7.57 yards every time he touched the ball, and revealed himself to be a terrific multidimensional threat. He’€™s not quite Marshall Faulk (a comparison his former college position coach made when he was taken by the Patriots in 2011), but he’€™s not too far removed.

Worst moment: Vereen got the bulk of his opportunities that afternoon for several reasons, including the fact that Ridley coughed up the ball in the first half and was benched for the rest of the afternoon.

By the numbers: Ridley has 514 rushing yards — he needs 486 yards over the final seven games to become the first running back to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons under Belichick. (He needs to average 69.4 yards per game the rest of the way to reach the milestone.)

Money quote: ‘€œThat was definitely the low point of my night, for sure. [But] for the coaches to stick with me and ride it out, it said a lot. ‘€¦ I hated it. Like I said, it made me sick. But I really think that it motivated me more to go out there and finish the game strong.’€ — Ridley after fumbling the ball against the Steelers last weekend, but getting the chance to return to the game following the turnover.

Read More: bye week breakdown,
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