The New England Patriots head into their bye week with a 5-3 record sitting atop the AFC East. After a slow start that saw the team at 1-3, they’ve won four of their last five. These wins have come when the Patriots have had success running the ball with starting running back Stevan Ridley. The Patriots must continue this attack if they plan on being successful this season.
During this last offseason the Patriots lost starting running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis to free agency which forced them to depend on young backs. After eight games there’s one obvious difference between the Patriots winning and losing and that is the amount of times Ridley carries the ball.
Ridley has carried the ball this season 20 times or more in three of the team’s eight games of which they’ve won all. In the five games he’s carried the ball less than 20 times the Patriots are 2-3. So far this season, Ridley has rushed for over 100 yards four times. The team is 4-0 when Ridley breaks the century mark and 1-3 when he doesn’t. These statistics are not just coincidental.
One of the major problems for the Patriots this season has been fourth quarter collapses. The Patriots have blown fourth quarter leads in three of their eight games this season. They lost two of those games and won the other in overtime. They nearly blew another lead against the Denver Broncos but were able to hold on for a 10-point win.
A key contribution to the Patriots blowing those fourth quarter leads is because they throw the ball too often when holding late leads. Rather than using the running game to run the clock, they’ve attempted to finish teams through the air. After failing to move the ball with the passing game, this has given the opposition more opportunities to score and climb back into the game. With a passing defense that ranks fifth worst in the league, teams are likely to convert on those opportunities.
The only game the Patriots have won where Ridley hasn’t rushed for over 100 yards this season was the team’s overtime win over the New York Jets which they nearly lost. The last two games are the only times the Patriots have won with Ridley failing to carry the ball 20 times. With Shane Vereen back healthy Ridley doesn’t have to carry the ball 20 times but one thing is clear, the Patriots running game is what leads them to victory. If they want to repeat as AFC champions the Patriots must buy into their running game.