|Stevan Ridley sees ‘drastic’ improvement in Patriots rushing attack||09.17.14 at 4:54 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Sometimes one week can make all the difference in the world.
In Week 1 against the Dolphins the Patriots ran for just 89 yards, only 28 of them coming in the second half as they ran just seven running plays the final 30 minutes of the game. Week 2 against the Vikings was a different story as the team ran for 150 total yards, 96 of them coming in the second half.
Stevan Ridley led the way, rushing for 101 yards on 21 carries.
“We’ve improved each week. I think Miami to Minnesota, I think [the offense and offensive line] made a drastic improvement,” Ridley said. “We all keep leaning on each other and relying on each other. I think we’re going to be OK towards the end of the year.”
On a personal level, the key for Ridley was staying patient as he only rushed for 29 yards in the first half, but was able to pick it up in the second half against a tired and demoralized Minnesota defense.
“Every back goes out there and wants to take it the distance, but there are going to be times that it’s going to be just two yards, three yards and you just have to keep plugging,” said Ridley. “You have stay disciplined as a runner and keep your legs moving and falling forward. That’s what you have to do to get the tough yardage, eventually they are going to break and you’ll get some big runs.”
Overall, the Patriots rank 16th in the NFL in rushing, this after being ranked 21st following Week 1. Like Ridley said, the Patriots are focused on getting better each week, wanting to reach its peak once December and the end of the season hits.
Ridley isn’t the only back who has seen time as Shane Vereen has been a force both in the running game and catching passes out of the backfield. Vereen has 76 yards on 13 carries and has caught six passes for 35 yards. Running the ball effectively and with consistency goes a long way in the Patriots offense as the team is 38-1 when a player runs for 100 yards or more under Bill Belichick.
“It’s only Week 3. The first week we struggled and the second week we got it going. There’s a lot of football left to be played, so I don’t want to jump in front of myself. From week-to-week I see improvement and that’s all we can ask for, especially with the group of guys that we have up there. There are some new faces – I think we all know that – but, like I said we’re just going in week in and week out showing what we can do,” Ridley said. “Eventually, these upcoming weeks, hopefully we will have a balanced attack going into every game and that’s what makes us hard [to stop]. The key word is hard work around here and that’s what we do.”
|Shane Vereen on having balanced offense: ‘You have to execute in all areas’||09.11.14 at 7:00 am ET|
FOXBORO — The key to any NFL offense is being balanced.
In the Patriots’ 33-20 loss to the Dolphins, in which they were outscored 23-0 in the second half, the offense was anything but balanced.
Entering the fourth quarter, trailing just 23-20, the offense ran just three designed running plays. This after rushing for 61 yards in the first half and then running seven total rushing plays in the second half.
“You have to have execution in the run game, the pass game, the screen game, play action — everything needs to execute well,” running back Shane Vereen said. “If not, then you become unbalanced and start getting away from one thing that’s maybe not working, as well and going to things that work, but you just have to execute in all areas.”
Vereen had a productive first game of the season as he finished with seven carries for 36 yards and a touchdown to lead the team and then caught five passes out of the backfield for 35 yards.
Some pointed to the number of different players seeing time on the offensive line and a few playing multiple positions as a possible reason why the offense and particularly the offensive line struggled — but Vereen was quick to shut that point down.
“It adds another level of complexity to the offense, but we’ve all been doing this since spring,” he said. “Personnel groups are nothing to do us or this offense. That’s no excuse for anything that’s going on right now.”
For the first time since 2003, the Patriots lost their season-opener, but the team is not even thinking about that. The Pats already have put Sunday’s loss behind them and are focused on the Vikings and the remainder of the season.
“We have a lot of football left,” said Vereen. “It’s just one week and you can never dwell on one week, especially the first week. We still have 15 games left to go and that’s what our focus is on now.”
On Sunday the Patriots will be looking to avoid going 0-2 for the first time since 2001, and Bill Belichick has only lost back-to-back road games twice in his career in New England. That streak is largely due in part to the team’s preparation leading up to each game and the ability to put the past in the past.
“You have to get to work,” Vereen said. “You have to practice hard this week, have a good game plan, go in there and execute on Sunday.”
|Tom Brady on his regular-season dress rehearsal: ‘I think we can be a lot better’||08.23.14 at 12:46 am ET|
There’s no disputing that 17-for-21 for 204 yards, two touchdowns and a 138.9 quarterback rating are numbers most NFL quarterbacks would take in their final regular season tune-up. But, of course, Tom Brady is not most quarterbacks.
He knows that the rhythm wasn’t there to begin the game, as a miscommunication with his wide receivers on third down and a stumble and near fumble on the second series would indicate. He didn’t appear to have his timing on the first two series, both ending in punts. Then Ryan Mallett came in on the third series to get some work in with the starters.
Brady tripped over someone’s foot and fell awkwardly to the turf, handing off to Shane Vereen in the nick of time, but not before a defensive lineman came barreling over him to get to Vereen.
“I couldn’t tell because I had my back turned, but I think someone just got my foot,” Brady said. “I don’t know if it was a defensive lineman or offensive lineman, but, yeah, you never want that to happen. That, against a good team like this, usually ends drives, and that one certainly did this time.”
Brady certainly recovered. On the next series after Mallett came out of the game, Brady led the Patriots down the field, going completing all four pass attempts, including a 40-yarder to a wide-open Vereen in the right flat on the Vereen staple — the wheel route — for a touchdown.
“Yeah, it was a slow start all the way around, but it was good to make some plays there late in the second quarter and then the third quarter,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of work to do, but it was fun being out there. It’s great to win, especially this game. They’re a good football team and if you don’t execute well, they’re going to be really tough. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys [from] playing them last year. They’ve got a great team.”
Even on the 60-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski before the half, Brady and Bill Belichick thought that maybe with some slightly better clock management, they could’ve made things easier on themselves and their kicker. Still, for the starters to put 20 points up on the board against one of the better defenses in football provides some confidence going into the season.
“Yeah, it wasn’t bad, but there are a lot of things that we left out there,” Brady said. “We got bailed out there a few times on a few defensive calls. Missed some blitz stuff, missed some throws. I think we can be a lot better. It’s an important week for us to try to get better. The days are winding down until all these games count. It gets pretty exciting here in a few weeks, but you’ve still got to try to use these days to make as many improvements as we can. This game was good because you can really see where you’re at and you can see the things you need to get better. I think there’s a lot of things we can improve on.”
If Vereen stays healthy, he could put up some giant numbers this season — similar to dynamic running back Darren Sproles, now of the Eagles.
The 2011 second-round pick out of Cal has certainly showed some flashes of stardom, but he’s yet to play a full season — playing in five, 13 and eight games respectively in his first three seasons in the league.
A 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, the running back’s strength is catching passes out of the backfield – something he displayed Friday night, catching two touchdown passes in the Patriots’ 30-7 win over the Panthers.
“I was just glad the offensive was able to string together a couple drives — string together some plays,” said Vereen. “We kind of hurt ourselves a little bit, we still have a lot to work on, but it was good to get out there and develop some kind of rhythm.”
On the first touchdown Vereen was able to showcase his speed, as after catching a short pass from Tom Brady out of the backfield, the running back took off up the right side bursting past members of the Panthers secondary for 40 yards and the first touchdown of the game.
“I was hoping — running that fast I definitely didn’t want to get caught — I would hear it from everyone here in the locker room [if I did],” Vereen said.
His second touchdown came in the third quarter — also from Brady — a 6-yard quick out route from the backfield as he outstretched the ball just inside the pylon. At first it was ruled he was out of bounds inside the 1-yard line, but Bill Belichick challenged the play and it was overturned for his second touchdown of the game.
“I couldn’t tell if I stepped out of bounce or not, but I tried like hell to get in there,” Vereen said.
Vereen finished the game with 75 all-purpose yards — five catches for 57 yards and six rushes for 18 yards.
Plagued by injuries, last season was cut short when he broke his wrist in the first game of the season in Buffalo. He did return later in the season, but only played in eight total games — rushing for 208 yards and a touchdown, while catching 47 passes for 427 yards and three touchdowns. His rookie campaign was also shortened to five games due to a nagging hamstring injury.
Going off his numbers last season — if converted to a full 16-game season — Vereen would have finished with 416 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, while catching 94 balls for 854 yards and six touchdowns. Added up he would’ve had a 1,248 all-purpose yard season with eight total touchdowns.
|Tom Brady throws a pair of TDs to Shane Vereen in sharp preseason outing||08.22.14 at 10:02 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The night didn’t start out smoothly for Tom Brady but by the end, his numbers spoke volumes as the Patriots starting quarterback had a productive night in the dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Brady played five series, finishing 17-of-21 for 204 yards, with a pair of touchdown passes to Shane Vereen as the Patriots built a big lead on their way to a preseason win over the Carolina Panthers. Brady’s quarterback rating was 138.9.
Brady looked a little shaky on his first two series, misfiring with Brandon LaFell on a third down pass and tripping and nearly fumbling a handoff to Shane Vereen on the next series. On the fumble, he appeared to be kneed in the back.
He came out of the game as Ryan Mallett got his only look of the night with the starting unit. Mallett led the Patriots down the field to a field goal.
Brady then played the next three series, including opening up the third quarter. Brady connected with Vereen on a perfectly executed wheel route down the right sideline for a 40-yard touchdown in the second quarter. On his final drive of the night, Brady connected with Julian Edelman on consecutive passes for gains of 18 and 35 yards, with the latter coming on a perfectly thrown ball over Edelman’s right shoulder on a go route.
Brady capped off his drive by finding Vereen in the flat on a red zone route at the Panthers 4. Vereen turned his body and stretched for the pylon for the touchdown.
Brady is likely to sit out next Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Giants at MetLife Stadium.
|Shane Vereen says nerves are ‘absolutely’ building as regular season approaches||08.21.14 at 9:42 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Perhaps the most important part of preparing for the third preseason game is the shift in the mental focus.
Shane Vereen, a running back and multi-talented and multi-faceted part of the Patriots offense, should feel pretty confident and sure of his place on the 53-man roster when final cuts are made on Aug. 30.
But it’s the nerves and mental preparation of this week that help him get fired up and focused with the regular season opener just three weeks from Sunday.
“Absolutely, I’d say say so,” Vereen said when asked if getting into a regular season week type of routine this week helps. “But at the end of the day you still have to work on what you have to work on and that’s what we’re trying to get out of this week.”
Of course, the main reason outsiders view this week as so important is that it’s traditionally the week starters play the first half and in some cases, come out to start the third quarter to simulate a regular season NFL game.
“I think people might say just because the starters play more so than they have in the past two games but at the same time, you have to look at each opportunity, each rep, as an opportunity, as a chance to get better and prepare yourself for Sept. 7,” Vereen added.
Vereen once again will be called upon to fill many different roles in the Patriots offense, including one of the most reliable third-down options Tom Brady has, along with Julian Edelman. Vereen says he has seen Brady up close and personal enough to know that there are some things that don’t change, like Brady’s game focus and his expectation of precision in execution.
“I can’t say I’ve learned a whole lot, because this is my fourth year now,” Vereen said. “I’ve seen him lead us now for three seasons. He does exactly what he’s done every other year. He’s led us well, he’s led the offense well and we look forward to seeing that from him for the rest of the year.”
|With LeGarrette Blount gone, do Patriots need to add backfield depth?||03.28.14 at 9:30 pm ET|
The departure of LeGarrette Blount to the Steelers means there will be more on the plate of Stevan Ridley in 2014, who now appears likely to return to his role as the closest thing the New England offense has to a featured back. Meanwhile, Shane Vereen figures to work in a change up role as the third down option and pass catcher out of the backfield, and Brandon Bolden will stick in his role as all-purpose backup.
But is there a need to bring in another body for depth? While running back isn’t considered an overwhelming priority for the Patriots (there are other greater areas of need, at least at this stage of the team-building process), it wouldn’t be a surprise for them to address it with a mid-round pickup in the draft, especially considering the fact that the bargain basement has been pretty much picked over, at least at this point. (The best options right now are probably Andre Brown, Michael Bush and Justin Forsett, as well as broken-down editions of Felix Jones, Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee.)
With the understanding that the Patriots would be targeting a guy like that no earlier than the third day of the draft because of other areas of greater need, here are three backs who might be available to the Patriots this year as mid- to late-round possibilities:
a) Storm Johnson, Central Florida – A multidimensional back who has already drawn the attention of the Patriots — the 6-foot, 209-pounder was one of a handful of players who went through a workout for the Patriots’ brain trust when they were in Florida this past week for the league meetings — last season he had 1,139 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 30 catches for 260 yards and three receiving touchdowns.
b) Andre Williams, Boston College – Remarkably, the 5-foot-11, 230-pounder led the nation in rushing last year for the Eagles, ending up with 2,177 rushing yards and becoming a Heisman finalist as a result. At the combine, he fully acknowledged the fact that he needs to improve when it comes to his work in pass protection as well as a receiver out of the backfield, but his colossal yardage total from last year will almost certainly make him attractive to someone.
c) Bishop Sankey, Washington – A little on the smaller side, like Johnson, this 5-foot-9, 209-pounder offers value in the passing game as well as the running game. Last season, he ran for 1,870 yards for a 5.7 average and 20 touchdowns to go along with 28 catches for 304 yards and one touchdown.
Of course, this doesn’t begin to take into account what the Patriots do at the kick return spot in 2014. Blount’s departure could open the door for any number of possibilities on special teams, including Josh Boyce, Devin McCourty or collegian Jeremy Gallon, who had a private workout for New England special teams coach Scotty O’Brien earlier this week in Ann Arbor. While the different looks that the three backs present should be enough to keep opposing defensive coordinators on their toes in 2014, it’s clear the Patriots do need to address the position going forward, especially considering the fact that Vereen and Ridley are heading into the final year of their rookie deals. Certainly a spot to watch going forward this offseason for New England.
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