|Bill Belichick likes his receivers helping Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley run to daylight||10.08.14 at 10:34 am ET|
FOXBORO — Bill Belichick liked what he saw in the running game Sunday night, especially downfield.
One play stuck out to Belichick in particular that highlighted what he hopes is an upward trend in the running game.
The Patriots were facing 3rd-and-16 at the Cincinnati 35. The Patriots called a delayed draw to Shane Vereen in an effort to get closer for Stephen Gostkowski. They got something even better. Vereen ran up the middle and then cut back to his right where there was a wide open hole thanks to a block from Danny Amendola. Vereen totaled 19 yards on the run for a first down.
“That’s how you get big runs is running backs making guys miss in the second level and getting blocks from your wide receivers,” Belichick said. “Amendola had a great block on Vereen’s draw play that he cut back for a [19-yard run]. Julian is a tough player. Brandon, those guys all go in there and block.
“When the secondary is converging in on wherever the point of attack is in the running game, you get three or four guys converge in there, it’s hard for a back to avoid all those guys. Maybe he can get an edge on one but when they’re blocked, and he can run off those blocks, that creates good opportunity for a back at the second level.”
Two plays later, with the threat of the run clearly placed in the minds of the defenders, Brady took a shotgun snap and fired over the middle to Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown that put New England up, 27-10.
Later, in the fourth quarter, Stevan Ridley broke a run off right tackle for five yards and a first down, as the Patriots were running out the clock. Aaron Dobson got praise from Belichick for his effort on that play.
“Aaron made a nice block on Stevan’s run when he ended up bouncing it outside,” Belichick said. “He pinned the defender inside so Rid could get it down the sideline. Those guys account for a lot of extra yards when you get to that level, no question.”
This is a good sign for offensive line coach Dave DeGugielmo and the run game. DeGugielmo’s teams over the last four seasons have ranked near the bottom of “second-level” run yards. Will it continue this week in Buffalo?
When the Patriots run the ball, good things happen.
Including Sunday’s win over the Bengals, New England has won 39 of its last 40 games when it has at least one back finish with 100 yards or more on the ground. That includes a 2-0 mark this season, as Stevan Ridley topped the century mark against Minnesota and Cincinnati.
But going deeper inside the numbers this year — when the backs have had their chances to run the ball — the ground game has provided good support for an occasionally wobbly passing attack. The Patriots have averaged 122 rushing yards per game through the first five contests, good for 14th in the league.
That includes a 220-yard performance on the ground Sunday against the Bengals, a game where Ridley topped the century mark for the second time on the season and Shane Vereen again displayed why he’s one of the more underrated multidimensional backs in the league. Not including three end-of-game kneeldowns from backup Jimmy Garoppolo, the Patriots ended up with 43 carries for 224 yards against Cincinnati, an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
Vereen, who has 37 rushing attempts for 212 yards (and a touchdown) and 17 catches for 111 yards, is one of eight backs at the moment who can boast of at least 17 catches and 35 carries over the first five weeks of the season. It’s a group that includes Chicago’s Matt Forte (82 carries, 36 catches), Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell (87 carries, 24 catches) and Buffalo’s Fred Jackson (43 carries, 26 catches). Currently, Vereen is on pace for 54 catches, but if he can get to 60 catches, he would be the first New England running back to hit 60 catches and 60 carries in a season since Leroy Thompson did it in 1994 (65 catches and 102 carries).
On Sunday against the Bengals, Vereen had a gaudy stat line: nine carries for 90 yards (according to Pro Football Focus, 30 of Vereen’s 90 rushing yards against the Bengals came after contact) and three catches for 18 yards. In all, he averaged 9.8 yards every time he touched the ball. There were a few highlights for Vereen on Sunday night, but far and away the best one came when he snapped off a 19-yard pickup in the second half that was straight out of a Barry Sanders highlight film, where he flipped a defender around with his quickness.
Meanwhile, it’s been a nice bounceback season for Ridley, who has 37 more touches through five games than he had at the same point last year. But more importantly, his fumble-free string in the regular season and postseason has hit 150 touches, dating back to last year’s regular-season win over the Broncos in November. In fact, Ridley (84 carries) is one of three backs who have at least 75 carries this year without a single fumble — Bell (87 carries) and San Francisco’s Frank Gore (77 carries) are the other two. Against the Bengals, per PFF, 40 of his 113 rushing yards came after contact.
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|Shane Vereen, Jamie Collins active, Aaron Dobson and Alfonzo Dennard inactive for Patriots, Maurice Jones-Drew out for Raiders||09.21.14 at 11:50 am ET|
FOXBORO — Shane Vereen (shoulder) and Jamie Collins (thigh) will be part of the game plan for the Patriots but Aaron Dobson will not.
Collins returns to the lineup after sitting out last week with a thigh injury.
This marks the second time Dobson has been inactive this season (he was also inactive in Week 1 in Miami). Kenbrell Thompkins, who sat out last week in Minnesota, is active again.
Also inactive are defensive backs Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder) and Don Jones (hamstring), offensive linemen Josh Kline and Ryan Wendell(knee) and running back James White and defensive lineman Zach Moore. Michael Buchanan, who injured his ankle in the preseason finale against the Giants, is active for the first time this season.
For the Raiders, running back Maurice Jones-Drew has been scratched. Jones-Drew has carried the ball just nine times for 11 yards in two games. One of those carries gained 12 yards, meaning his other eight carries have netted minus-1 yard. The Raiders are next-to-last in rushing in the NFL after two games, averaging just 63 yards. The Raiders offense has been anemic overall, averaging just 261 yards overall in two losses.
Also inactive for the Raiders are QB Matt Schaub, CB Chimdi Chekwa, LB Sio Moore, LB Nick Roach, G Tony Bergstrom and OT Matt McCants.
FOXBORO — Shane Vereen knows all the stats. He knows the Raiders enter the game dead last in the NFL in rushing defense, giving up exactly 200 yards per game on the ground. Last week, Houston’s Arian Foster had 138 yards on 28 carries.
So this figures to be a day when the Patriots turn to he and Stevan Ridley to gash the Raiders defense left, right and up the middle.
But Vereen still thinks the Oakland front seven can be a formidable opponent, populated with lots of veterans like Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Pat Sims and young talent like strong side linebacker Khalil Mack.
“Absolutely, every Sunday we expect our opponents’ best and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Oakland,” Vereen said. “I’ve seen a lot of the same. They’re very aggressive. They’re a very veteran group. They’ve played a lot of football. They know what they’re doing. It’s not like a young team so we’re going have to really play well and execute.
“Each D-line is different and each game plan is different. I would say with any aggressive D-line, patience is key. They’re going to make plays on their side of the ball so you just have to take the positives with the negatives, take what they give you.”
It may not be what the Raiders give Vereen on Sunday that matters. It may be getting the Patriots to give him the ball more. But Vereen maintains sharing running responsibilities with Stevan Ridley comes with the job. Last week, Vereen had 11 of the team’s 16 rushes in the first half before Ridley exploded in the second half for 23 carries and 87 of his 101 yards on the day.
|Shane Vereen, Jamie Collins among 6 listed as questionable for Sunday vs. Raiders||09.19.14 at 5:16 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Shane Vereen (shoulder) and Jamie Collins (thigh) were among six Patriots players listed as questionable Friday on the final injury report before the home opener against the Raiders Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Ryan Wendell and Alfonzo Dennard were also listed as questionable. Dennard, Wendell and Collins all missed last Sunday’s game in Minnesota, with Dennard being added to the injury report officially this week.
A total of 10 Patriots were again listed as limited at sweats and shells practice on Friday as the Patriots had perfect attendance for a second straight day. Dan Connolly, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Sealver Siliga were also limited but all are designated as “probable” to play.
For the Raiders, linebacker Sio Moore (ankle) did not practice all week and has been ruled out for Sunday in Foxboro. Receiver Rod Streater (hip) practiced Friday for the first time this week and is questionable. Streater is one of seven Raiders listed as questionable, joining running back Maurice Jones-Drew (hand) and corner Carlos Rogers (knee). Defensive lineman Justin Tuck (illness) was at full strength Friday and is probable.
Here’s the complete report:
S Don Jones (hamstring) QUESTIONABLE
DE Michael Buchanan (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
RB Shane Vereen (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
OL Ryan Wendell (knee) QUESTIONABLE
LB Jamie Collins (thigh) QUESTIONABLE
CB Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
OL Dan Connolly (knee) PROBABLE
WR Julian Edelman (back) PROBABLE
TE Rob Gronkowski (knee) PROBABLE
DT Sealver Siliga (hand) PROBABLE
|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.”
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