No need to walk on egg shells here, let’s just call a spade a spade — Stevan Ridley has been horrible this season.
A year after rushing for 1267 yards and 12 touchdowns, he’s rushed for just 174 yards and no touchdowns in four appearances. His YPC average on the season is 3.7, down from his 4.4 average a year ago. Regardless, the New England Patriots‘ lack of success on offense can hardly be attributed to his poor play.
Tom Brady‘s been dealing with a host of new faces and definitely missing the old ones. The Rob Gronkowski saga is growing stranger by the week and the red zone animal’s presence is sorely missed by a Pats team that shockingly ranks 31st in the league in red zone scoring.
Still, for all their struggles, the Patriots are an impressive 4-1 on the season. It makes you wonder what they’ll look like when the entire offensive picture actually comes together. Luckily for them, that could start this week when they take on the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints are on fire right now and defensively they’re greatly improved this season. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has done an excellent job shaking things up and a defense that was statistically one of the worst ever a year ago is now looking like one of the stronger units in the league.
What’s notable for our purposes, however, is that the improvement has come mainly on the passing front. They currently rank 11th in the league in total defense, but that can be attributed almost entirely to their new-found ability to stop the pass. Stopping the run has been a completely different story — they’re giving up a league-high 5.4 yards per carry to opposing runners.
They’re only allowing 108.6 total rushing yards per game, but that’s less a function of good line play and more a function of teams having to play catch-up against them every week. Working against the clock, their opponents are being forced to abandon the run.
The situation is perfect for Ridley, who needs a strong effort to get himself going. His YPC average might be ugly but it’s also slightly skewed; he averaged 2.5 yards against the New York Jets and 3.2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, two of the best rush-defenses in the league. Against the poor rush-defenses of the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons, however, he averaged 5.1 and 4.8 respectively.
He should have no problem hitting something close to those averages against the Saints this week. Also working in Ridley’s favor is the fact that teammate LeGarrette Blount fumbled last week, and we’ve seen how Bill Belichick treats his runners after they cough it up. His only real competition for carries should be Brandon Bolden, who’s dealing with a knee injury of his own.
The major factor that could end up deciding Ridley’s fate this week will be the Patriots’ ability to keep up with the Saints. No team has been able to shut down Drew Brees or Jimmy Graham, so New England is going to have to stay on par with them if they’re to avoid abandoning the run.
Ridley should get plenty of carries early on in the game due to the strength of the Saints’ pass defense and weakness of their run defense, so he’s certainly primed for a solid first half. Again though, he’ll need his team to keep up in order to get opportunities later in the game. If they do — and I think they will — Ridley should finally give his fantasy owners the performance they’ve been waiting for.