x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

New England Patriots use their secret weapons well in the NFL

Unheralded running backs have helped the team triumph in the NFL this season.

Stevan Ridley has impressed for the New England Patriots this season.
Stevan Ridley has impressed for the New England Patriots this season.

For all of their sustained excellence, the New England Patriots rarely have drawn admiration for the running game in the NFL.

As a five-star B&B - coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady - the Pats have surpassed 2,000 yards on the ground only in two seasons. (A strategical re-do after Brady's year-ending injury in an opener resulted in one of them.)

Belichick's concept of a ball-control offence has centred around short passes to possession receivers and extra-large tight ends. Not since Corey Dillon (2004) averaged 100-plus per game has Brady handed off to a feared tailback.

The Pats still do not have one, but last Sunday's game triggered double-takes around the league. Brandon Bolden rushed for 152 yards and Stevan Ridley for 106 more in becoming the team's first pair since 1980 to exceed 100 in the same game. Each spiced their performance by scoring twice.

Those double-takes might have been accompanied by a question: "Who?" After all, the unheralded tandem broke training camp with just one season between them.

Ridley fell to the third round of last year's draft - one rung below another tailback chosen by the Pats - after recording sprint times at auditions that would make a player proud if he were a linebacker. Ridley's elusiveness was equally uninspiring.

Belichick called his number often enough for the rookie to collect 441 yards, and Year Two opened with a bang: 125 yards.

On Sunday, Buffalo deployed a defence anticipating passes. Belichick checkmated the Bills, providing plenty of carries to go around for Ridley and an undrafted rookie who was suspended by his college coach and whose entire contribution until then amounted to 15 yards.

Like Ridley, Bolden is shy on speed, but his 220-pound girth provides more power. Ridley is the more versatile, though it was Bolden who scored on a reception.

Belichick, not unexpectedly, goes deeper than most peers in evaluating tailbacks.

"I think the thing that really matters most ... is how much yards they can gain on their own," he said by way of explaining his affection for the twosome. "Any back can really run until the first guy gets to him."

Brady is all for distancing the Patriots from the image of a pass-first, pass-second squad.

"I mean, we talk about playing as a physical team," he said. "And a lot of that is the running game." Bolden might have caught the Patriots' attention also by his bloodlines. His grandpa is Frank Pitts, who played in the inaugural Super Bowl and another as a wide receiver for Kansas City.

New England can only hope: Like grandfather, like grandson.

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