Stevan Ridley had a solid start for the Patriots during their 34-13 win on Sunday (US Presswire)


Sometimes it’s like trading away an old car for that one that’s a little nicer and has a little more get up and go.

You hate to get rid of it, but you know that you’re probably better off and you hope it will be at least as reliable and give you some of the things that your old car didn’t.  You agonize over the decision and after it’s made you just pray that you don’t end up regretting it.

That’s probably one of the things that went through Bill Belichick’s mind this past offseason with runningback Stevan Ridley.

After all, New England had to make the tough decision between keeping BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who had never fumbled during his NFL career and for the most part had been a solid player.  He was never flashy, wasn’t really known for big plays, and probably knew last season that he was being tested after they selected Ridley and Shane Vereen during last year’s draft.   He finished his final season in New England with 181 carries for 667 yards and 11 touchdowns, and a respectable 3.7 yards per carry average.

But then there was Ridley, who during the regular season was one of the most productive players on a per-carry basis. When you look at it further he was even more so during the 3rd and 4th quarters. Ridley gained nearly the same amount of yardage as Green-Ellis during the final two quarters of play over the course of last season, and also did it on nearly half the amount of carries.

The rookie carried 22 times for 140 yards (6.4 avg) in the 3rd and 28 carries for 150 yards in the 4th, and also registered just two carries with negative gains over that span. Green-Ellis meanwhile carried 46 times for 176 yards (3.8 avg) in the 3rd quarter and 53 carries for 185 yards (3.5 avg) in the 4th.

Clearly he did enough to convince Belichick he could contend for a starting role this year.  The quickness and instinct he showed last season was just too tough to ignore, and ultimately when Green-Ellis became a free agent and ended up signing with the Bengals in Cincinnati, the Patriots had to try and get used to the idea that things would look a little different in their backfield this season.

Not in a bad way necessarily.  They had Ridley, they had Vereen.  They brought in Brandon Bolden and worst case scenario they could have tried to fall back on Danny Woodhead if things didn’t pan out.  Both Vereen and Ridley played well during the preseason, and Vereen did some good things and made it a competition.  However, Ridley was just consistent carrying the football and never wavered.  He gave the same effort every time he hit the field, and thanks to a recent foot injury to Vereen ended up with the start on Sunday and he made the most of it.

The 2nd year runningback carried 21 times for 125 yards and a touchdown, good for a 6-yard per carry average.  He hit the hole hard and took his fair share of big hits, but not once did it change his approach or cause him to become tentative, which is always something to be concerned with when it comes to young runningbacks.

Head coach Bill Belichick told reporters after the game that he was pleased with Ridley’s performance but was more happy with the amount of balance they had offensively.

“Yeah, well of course, it always starts up front,” said Belichick.  ”[Our] offensive line did a good job,  we had some good holes, the backs ran hard, Stevan ran hard, broke some tackles, our tight ends, our offensive line, our receivers blocked, so it was good complimentary game.  We had good balance offensively.”

Quarterback Tom Brady mentioned Ridley during his own press conference, and echoed Belichick’s “balance” sentiment, which he felt makes it tough for opposing teams to defend them.

“It was great,” said Brady of Ridley. “He ran the ball extremely well. We have to continue to do that — it was very balanced in terms of running and passing and that’s what makes it tough to defend. Situationally, obviously there are some things we could have done better, but at least it is something to build on.”

“ The toughness of your team is built around running the ball and stopping the run. The critical games and the critical situations — that’s the foundation of your team and that’s what you’re built on and that’s what you’ve got to be able to do. You’ve got to run it when they know you’re going to run it, and I say that all the time. I think with what we do in the run game and play-action game and you spread them out and you run screens, you run draws, you run traps, you spread the ball to all the different receivers it really makes it hard for the defense to just key in on something and say this is what we need to do. You really have to defend everything.”

The threat of Ridley gave them several play action opportunities on Sunday and it appeared the Titans certainly weren’t ready for them.  When Ridley did carry the football he broke through the line and found himself picking up quite a few big gains, including six carries for over 14 yards.

For the most part when it came to the ground game they attacked the the left side of the defense, with Ridley gaining 37 yards on 4 carries running around left end, and 54 yards on 5 carries when running off left tackle.  There were moments when he lowered his shoulder and delivered some decent blows to Tennessee’s defense, and for now Ridley has definitely shown that he’s ready to fill this role on a full-time basis.

It’s only one game and it’s tough to get too excited, but so far Ridley appears to be a big asset to New England’s offensive backfield.  Sometimes it’s tough to let go of the old and upgrade to something you hope ends up being better.  But if Sunday is any indication of what’s in store for this season from Ridley, it looks like Belichick has made the right move.