The New England Patriots running game last season was at its best since the days of Corey Dillon, and the emergence of a true feature back in Stevan Ridley allowed the Pats offense to be more balanced and much more effective. Even though Danny Woodhead is now a member of the San Diego Chargers, the Patriots running game should be even better in 2013. Shane Vereen looks poised to take over the Woodhead role (and could be even better), Brandon Bolden now has a season under his belt, and LeGarrette Blount is a former 1,000-yard rusher who could be an excellent No. 2 back as a home-run threat with his explosiveness and agility (all Blount needs to do is keep his head on straight).
New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley (top) is pursued by the Houston Texans safetyAlan Ball
in the AFC Divisional Round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Texans 41-28. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
With all the turnover at the wide receiver position and the loss of Aaron Hernandez, more will be expected of the New England Patriots deep and talented stable of running backs. If both Bolden and Blount impress in training camp, then the Patriots could very well carry five running backs on the roster. The running game is a definite strength for the Pats, and it also helps that they have a true feature back running behind the league’s best run blocking line (Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, and Sebastian Vollmer are all standout run blockers, with Solder and Wendell being at the top of that list).
Former New England Patriots star pass rusher Willie McGinest was on the NFL Network’s 32 in 32 series on the Patriots, and he predicted an 11-5 record (Vegas odds are at 11.5, and I also have the Pats as an 11 or 12-win team). McGinest said a lot of stuff that most Patriots fans seem to agree upon, and I would like to highlight what he stated about the Patriots ground attack.
“It’s going to have to be big. If you look at it, they’re probably going to have to run the ball a little bit more and I think they’ll lean on that because they have two very good running backs with [Stevan] Ridley and [Shane] Vereen. Vereen creates those mismatches as we’ve seen in the playoffs with linebackers when you motion him out and put him on linebackers.”
A strong opening statement from McGinest, and that implies a damning assessment from the former sack-artist regarding the Patriots pass-catching situation. I will say that the reason why I don’t worry about the New England Patriots offense is because of the running game, and guys like Ridley and Vereen put less of a strain on the passing attack. Is the running game the strength of the offense now? I think so, and that will definitely end up being the case if Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce are slow to develop, but we should reserve judgement on that despite the uncertainty. What is important, though, is that the Pats have an excellent running game, and it will bail them out when the passing connection is slow to develop at the beginning of the year (at least, that’s my projection).