One of the stories of the NFL season thus far for the New England Patriots has been their inability to remain healthy. Several key offensive weapons have been injured throughout the season but the performance of starting running back Stevan Ridley has solved several possible problems for the Patriots offense. With the possibility of more weapons being absent Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, Ridley may be the key again.
This year the Patriots’ offense has suffered several key injuries. In week two star tight end Aaron Hernandez suffered an ankle injury which took him out of the game. While he returned three weeks later, he clearly hasn’t been 100 percent which kept him out the last two weeks and will reportedly keep him out again Sunday. A week after Hernandez went down, the Patriots number two receiver at the time, Julian Edelman, suffered a hand injury which kept him out for the following three weeks. He’s returned but not at the ability of before he was injured.
The running game hasn’t been consistently healthy either. Before the season even began, backup running back Shane Vereen suffered a foot injury which kept him out for the first seven weeks of the season. He has returned to the field but has yet to play at the level expected by the Patriots. In his absence undrafted free agent Brandon Bolden took over and, at least for a while, stole the show. But he’s gone down with an injury as well plus has been suspended for four games for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy.
With so many weapons being absent for the Patriots, they’ve relied heavily on the consistent play of Ridley. In the first nine games of his first year as a starter, Ridley has carried the ball at least 20 times in four of those games. He’s now broken 100 yards four times this season and came just two yards short of the century mark last week.
The Patriots successes this season have coincided with Ridley’s performance. In four of the team’s six wins, Ridley has rushed for over 100 yards and has not reached that mark in any of their losses. In games that the Patriots have won this year, Ridley averages 21 carries for 112 yards which includes a performance of 151 yards against the Denver Broncos in week five. In games the Patriots have lost, Ridley has carried the ball 15.5 times for 47 yards. The Patriots have been inconsistent in how many times they depend on Ridley but there is clearly a direct correlation between his success and the team’s success.
Even when they’ve had star running backs such as Curtis Martin and Corey Dillon, the Patriots have been primarily a passing team first under Drew Bledsoe and now Tom Brady. With two second year running backs and one of the most talented receiving corps in the league it was expected that the Patriots would rely heavily on the passing game. But Ridley’s performances and injuries to several key receivers have forced the team to rely more on the running game. And their new star running back has provided.
Judging by what’s happened on the injury front already this season, the Patriots will not be fully healthy on offense or defense at all this season. Key players are likely to remain out for extended periods of time. But while the Patriots can’t rely on health, they can always rely on Ridley. Even with the inconsistent play of Rob Gronkowski earlier this season, Ridley came through with stellar performances to help the Patriots to their current 6-3 record. It’s made Ridley the solver of several possible problems for the 2012 Patriots.