The 2013 New England Patriots – a run-first team? It just might be the case.
The Pats boast one of the deeper running games in the NFL this season, anchored by 2011 draft picks Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.
Ridley truly came into his own last year for the Patriots, finishing the year with 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns on 290 carries. Vereen, who missed part of the year due to injuries, carried the ball 62 times for 251 yards and three touchdowns.
Ridley should continue to see the bulk of the carries for the Pats this season. He kicked things off in Week 1 of the preseason with a 62-yard run though the Eagles defense, and later pounded in a one-yard TD run.
The knock on him so far in his career, however, is his inability to hold onto the ball. A fumble late in his rookie year may have been the reason for his non-existent role in the running game throughout that year's postseason. Last year against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game, he lost a crucial fumble late in the contest.
Meanwhile Vereen, who has shown success as a receiver out the backfield, showed what he’s capable of last year in the divisional round against the Texans. With former Pats running back Danny Woodhead out of action that day, Vereen carried the ball seven times for 41 yards and a touchdown and caught five receptions for 83 yards and two TDs.
The talented back out of Cal has put together two solid preseason games this year as well and looks to be, at the least, a great third-down option for the Patriots, filling the role of the departed Woodhead.
Who else can contribute to the running game this season? How about a former 1,000-yard back? The Patriots made a trade on draft day that brought former Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount to Foxboro. Few expect Blount to amass 1,000 yards behind Ridley and Vereen, but if he can run close to the way he did his rookie season, the Pats will have the best third back in the league.
The hefty Blount will most likely be used in short-yardage situations, but has also shown that he can make something out of nothing (see: 51-yard touchdown run against Eagles).
New England also signed Pro Bowl kick returner Leon Washington, who can also line up in the backfield. Brandon Bolden may be on the outside looking in, thanks to Blount.