When the Patriots started training camp, running back seemed to be a position with a lot of depth. The two-headed monster of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson were returning while James White seemed to be on his way back from a hip injury. Then the Patriots signed Ty Montgomery and drafted two running backs in the draft. When people questioned the offense, running back was not an area of concern.
But things change quickly in the NFL. White had to retire as he was not able to return from the hip injury as he intended. The two rookie running backs have had a hard time cracking the lineup. Harris has missed time due to a hamstring injury and now Montgomery will be out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. What does this mean for the Patriots struggling offense going forward?
For starters, the loss of Montgomery himself shouldn’t change the Patriots offense in the running game. I mean, he hasn’t played since week one in Miami where he totaled two carries for -2 yards. However, where he was supposed to help the offense, especially with the loss of White, was in the passing game. Montgomery caught three out of his four targets in that game for 15 yards and the lone Patriots touchdown.
In his absence has come the emergence of second year running back Rhamondre Stevenson who has developed into a three down back. Through nine games, Stevenson leads the team with 618 yards on 129 carries and is also second on the team with 35 receptions on 43 targets. When the Patriots offense has struggled through the first half of the season, it has been Stevenson that they’re relied on to move the chains and put points on the board. However, we’re entering unchartered waters with Stevenson and you have to wonder if he’ll be able to keep it up.
With five carries against the Jets on Sunday, Stevenson will surpass his total number of carries from his rookie season (133). His 35 receptions already are more than double that from a season ago (14 receptions). Yes, he has been good (averaging 5.2 yards per touch) but the Patriots have also had to lean on him because of injury and ineffectiveness.
Harris was the leading rusher a season ago, but a hamstring injury suffered in a victory over the Lions has limited him over the past month. Stevenson now has double the number of touches (164 to Harris’ 82) as he has taken over as the lead back. The good news is Harris was not listed on the injury report after the bye week and should be able to help take a load off of Stevenson.
The other way in which the Patriots could help lessen the load off Stevenson would be with the emergence of a third running back but I just don’t see that happening. Even with the injuries to Harris and Montgomery, running backs JJ Taylor, Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris have combined for 19 yards on 14 carries through nine games. That tells me the Patriots don’t think they’re ready yet.
Maybe the coaching staff got creative during the bye week and we see more running attempts from guys like Tyquan Thornton or Kendrick Bourne. Maybe they get the tight ends involved more. Either way, the injury to Montgomery means that the Patriots will need Damien Harris back to his old self to provide a dynamic duo with Rhamondre Stevenson down the stretch and give Stevenson a breather every now and then.