Friday we saw the much awaited return of New England Patriots football in a preseason matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. In my last article, I looked into how the three quarterbacks played. In this article, I will be looking at the positives and negatives of the five running backs who played significant time (sorry George Winn, -2 yards on one carry won’t get you onto this recap) last night. That being said, lets begin.
Stevan Ridley- Ridley was very impressive to watch on Friday. He looked as if he had bulked up over the offseason, and it really showed, as he bullied the Eagles defense around, bruising every player who tried to get a hold of him. It was Ridley who started the game off with a 61 yard dash down to the Eagles 18 yard line. While this was a fantastic run, showing some excellent quick bursts of speed to get to the next level, he didn’t have either the energy, or pure speed to finish the play. Ridley isn’t known as a home-run hitter, but after big runs like that, you expect them to be finished. The rest of the way we saw even more impressive Ridley action. At the end of his day, Ridley finished with nine carries for 92 yards and a touchdown. This was good enough for a rather healthy 11.5 average per carry, although this was a bit inflated due to his big run, it’s still very impressive. Ridley is a powerful back, and if he has the explosive ability to burn defenses the way he did this game, it makes him even more dangerous. Also worth noting is that Ridley did not fumble, easily his biggest problem from last year. While it was only a single preseason game where he only played a few series, this very encouraging, and I’m sure all Patriots fans agree with me.
Shane Vereen- Vereen didn’t have a huge impact running the ball in this game, as his big opportunities came through the passing game. Vereen only had three carries for 12 yards in his first half of play, but more worth taking a look at was his contributions to the passing game, something that will be relied upon when the regular season rolls around. He managed two catches for 18 yards, which included an incredible catch over the shoulder from Tom Brady in the first quarter. Vereen was also targeted four times as a receiver, which equalled the amount the other five running backs combined for. While Vereen is a very competent second back, that can be used as a change of speed guy, he’s really going to show his worth in the passing game, especially on third down. Hopefully we can see even more Vereen’s versatile talents in the Patriots next preseason game.
LeGarrette Blount- The big man sure made a big impact on Friday’s game. LeGarrette Blount showed exactly why the Patriots traded for him this offseason; his shocking power. Blount was blowing up defenders all over the field, and ended up playing more second string running back than Shane Vereen did. Blount has been a question mark as to whether he’ll make the final roster, but if anything, this helped his chances immensely. Blount can be a serious weapon, helping Ridley shoulder some of the load of the running game. Power is something everyone expected from Blount, but what was also surprising to see was how nimble he can be. One play involved him doubling back twice, and getting a massive gain, eluding defenders at each level. Blount may be the newest addition to the Patriots backfield, but he made his presence known, as he ended his night with 11 carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns. It’ll be interesting to see how the former 1000 yard rusher performs against his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week.
Brandon Bolden- Bolden had some of his looks stolen from him by the new LeGarrette Blount, and even with his touches, he didn’t stand out very much. He managed only 14 yards on four carries, while playing with the second and third team offenses. Last year it seemed like him and Ridley were going to be a dual-headed threat of power and explosiveness, but perhaps Bolden has surrendered this spot to Blount. It’s too early to tell now, but it probably doesn’t help that last year Bolden had some troubles with substance usage.
Leon Washington- The final man on this list, is someone who didn’t even record a carry, but impacted the game in two other ways. Washington will never be expected to do much carrying on the Patriots, not with fresher and more talented carriers like Ridley, Vereen, Blount and Bolden, but we all know Washington’s really talent lie in his pass catching and return skills. He caught one pass at the end of the half from Tim Tebow for 15 yards, but also added 39 return yards on two kickoff attempts, and six yards on his lone punt return. While he didn’t show his trademark explosive return abilities this game, I still expect Washington to shoulder a lot of these responsibilities when the season comes around. even with guys like Julian Edelman and Josh Boyce, I still see the offseason acquisition of Washington getting the most looks at returning.
No doubt the Patriots running game looked fantastic in this game, but you have to take it with a grain of salt. This was a rather poor Eagles defense they gashed, but it was very impressive how badly they bullied them around. Ridley and Blount were powerful, and did whatever they wanted too, and Vereen showed his pass catching prowess, which will force defenses to be far more honest when he is on the field. That being said, I believe everyone was rather happy with the production, and I am very excited to see if they can maintain this next week against the Buccaneers.
Make sure to follow me on twitter @TheMattyWin for more New England Patriots analysis, and football analysis in general.