New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley never received a single carry in the first quarter. Zero. Yes, the Patriots best running back did not carry the ball once during the entire first quarter of a key rivalry game, and fans and analysts alike were absolutely dumbfounded. This is a guy who is a legitimate feature back in this league, a guy who is a workhorse back, a guy who ran the ball for over 1,200 yards last season, and a guy who was a huge reason why your team defeated the New Orleans Saints this season.
In that game against the Saints, Stevan Ridley didn’t receive a carry until very late in the first quarter. From then on, it was “The Stevan Ridley Show”, as he put up 96 rushing yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns. Last week, Ridley didn’t touch the ball until the second quarter; he would finish with 50 rushing yards on just 11 carries and added another touchdown.
It was the same story yesterday for the New England Patriots, as they decided to use LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden as the two backs for the first quarter. Was it because they wanted to punish Ridley for a mild touchdown celebration last week? I highly doubt it. If that were the case, they would have punished Rob Gronkowski multiple times throughout his career. If that were the case, then why is this story with Ridley a recurring gag for the past three weeks?
The Patriots finally decided to give Ridley the ball, and, once again, big things happened. It’s no coincidence that the Patriots dedication to giving the ball to Ridley led to a closer ballgame. For the third straight week, Ridley picked up a touchdown run, and he was incredibly efficient on the ground. The Riddler had 79 rushing yards on just 14 carries, and the most impressive part of that is the fact that it game against a tough Miami Dolphins run defense. This is a group that has players like Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Jared Odrick, Koa Misi, and Dannell Ellerbe. And yet, Ridley was able to average 5.6 yards per carry on them.
When Ridley runs as compared to the other two backs currently getting carries, it’s clear that he brings something else to the offense. Defenses clearly fear Ridley, and they will stack up the box at times to counter him. His terrific blend of size and speed, as well as his magnificent cutting ability make him a very dangerous player. He does it all as a rusher. While Bolden is solid and Blount has his moments, the Patriots have a back who ran the ball 290 times last season; it’s time to get him involved throughout the game.
There is only one logical explanation for not playing Ridley early, and it has to do with usage. Maybe the Patriots are worried that they will overwork Ridley and would rather use their other two RBs early in order to try and mess with the defense’s head, thus optimizing Ridley’s carries. That way, he gets less wear-and-tear and will average more yards per carry. An obvious counter to that logic is simply, “You let your best players play.”
Either way, the Patriots need to realize that balance on offense enables them to be the best team that they can be, and that Stevan Ridley is one of the more talented running backs in the league and is easily the most talented RB on the team. They can’t lose sight of that, they can’t punish him for silly reasons, and fumbles haven’t been an issue for him to this point.
Ridley has arguably been the Patriots most valuable skill position player on offense, because his big games against the Saints and Dolphins were major keys to victory for this Patriots team. They have to continue to feed the guy, and I think he needs to get 15-20 touches a game; he’s earned that as somebody who is a star RB in this league in terms of talent. Bolden and Blount are nice complementary backs, but Ridley is just on a different level right now.