Sounds like Ridley has a good chance to redeem himself. I personally hope so as Rid is our most talented between the tackles back, and a 1 2 punch of him and Vareen will be a major boost to this offense.
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What history tells us about Bill Belichick and fumble-prone running backs
by: Christopher Price on Wed, 11/27/2013 - 12:09am
Much has been made of Stevan Ridley’s ball security issues over the last year-plus, as the running back has come under fire for his four lost fumbles this season -- three of which have come in the last three games.
Coach Bill Belichick appeared to give Ridley an endorsement earlier this week, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels added Tuesday he had “great confidence” in Ridley.
“When things happen like this, in back-to-back games -- or in this case a few games in a row -- I think you certainly have to address what you can address in terms of trying to fix the problem,” McDaniels said of Ridley, who was one of three players who lost a fumble Sunday against the Broncos. “I have great confidence in Stevan as a runner. He’s been very productive in our offense. He’s done a lot of things.
“At the same time, obviously, ball security is the most important factor for our offense and for our team when we have the ball. We have to be part of the solution. We have to work with him.”
So what happens to Ridley at this point? Based on Belichick's remarks earlier this week, it would seem to suggest that Ridley has the full backing of the coach.
“I don’t think any of our backs have an issue that I would say would prevent them from being a productive player,” Belichick said on WEEI. “Look, there are some plays that happen in football that are plays that happen in football. Then there are other plays that are caused by a lack of discipline, a lack of technique, just carelessness. Those are the ones we have to eliminate.”
Ball security has never been a big problem among New England backs over the years, because for the most part they’ve been a pretty secure group -- Corey Dillon, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead had some of the lowest fumbles per touch in recent league history.
From 2004 through 2006, Dillon had eight fumbles in his three seasons on 805 touches -- a rate of one fumble for every 100.6 touches. Green-Ellis had 431 touches combined in 2010 and 2011, and didn’t fumble the ball once. And Woodhead had three fumbles while with the Patriots from 2010 through 2012 while compiling 342 touches -- once every 114 touches.
As for Ridley, despite his recent stretch -- and the occasional in-game benching aside -- history tells us Belichick is willing to cut a feature back some slack when it comes to ball security issues.
When he was with the Browns from 1991 to 1995, Belichick had Leroy Hoard in the backfield. A multidimensional threat, Hoard had something of a problem when it came to putting the ball on the ground -- Hoard fumbled 22 times in his first five seasons in the league, including eight times in 1994 alone. That year, the 26-year-old Hoard fumbled twice in a win over the Patriots, but Belichick stuck with him -- that afternoon, Hoard had 21 carries for 123 yards in a 13-6 win over New England. Hoard would go on to lead the team that season with 890 rushing yards and reach the Pro Bowl, and in the end he would average 4.0 yards per carry in his six seasons in Cleveland and catch 177 passes in that same stretch.
(What did Belichick tell Hoard after one of the fumbles against the Patriots that year? “Don’t fumble anymore,” said Belichick. Hoard recalled it a little differently: “Coach said, ‘Take the ball and keep running.’ ”)
But he wasn’t the only Cleveland back who had ball security issues -- Eric Metcalf was another back who provided an offensive jolt to the Browns for the first six seasons of his career but struggled to hold on to the ball at times. He averaged five fumbles a year from 1989 through 1994. And despite the fact that he fumbled six times in 1992 and another six times in 1994 (at the age of 26), Belichick stuck with him as a regular returner and third-down back. (Among Metcalf’s fumbles was one in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs against the Patriots.) Metcalf would go on to compile 2,229 rushing yards and catch 297 passes in his six seasons in Cleveland.
All this is not to suggest that Belichick is willing to overlook Ridley putting the ball on the ground. It’s just that maybe he’s not going to bury him on the bench because of what’s happened over the last year-plus. A talented young runner like Ridley clearly is at the crossroads of his career -- if that confidence starts to slip, you might never be able to get it back again, which would be a shame, because guys who rush for 1,263 yards in a season before the age of 25 don’t grow on trees.
If you want a case of a Patriots running back who turned it around midway through his career, consider the case of Kevin Faulk, who was something of a mess when it came to ball security -- in his first five years in the league (1999 through 2003), Faulk had 680 offensive touches (502 carries and 178 catches) and 16 fumbles. That’s an average of one fumble every 42.5 touches.
Faulk re-invented himself over the second half of his career -- over his last five seasons (2007 to 2011) he sharpened his focus and fumbled only twice on 387 total touches, a rate of one fumble for every 193.5 touches. While Faulk saw his role come into greater focus over the second half of his career -- he went from a feature back to a third-down presence -- the journey from occasionally skittish offensive option to one of the most dependable ball handlers on the roster was a process.
For his part, Ridley has said and done all the right things in the wake of his turnovers: He hasn’t dodged the media, made excuses or sat stoic on the sidelines while the rest of the team has enjoyed success in his absence. He called his ills “sickening,” and pledged to work hard to try and find a solution.
“I think my team deserves better than what I’m doing out there and putting on the field,” he said after Sunday’s win. “It’s been consecutive weeks with putting the ball on the ground and, as a running back, you can’t do that. I’ve said that multiple times. I work too hard to make the small mistakes and I keep setting myself back and setting this team back.”
Ultimately, history shows us that Belichick is more inclined to give a struggling player some leeway if he has a proven track record. Hoard, Metcalf and Faulk had built up enough currency with the coach that he stuck with them through some bad times, and in the end they rewarded him with on-field results. Whether or not Ridley’s performance over the first two-plus years of his career has allowed him to build the same level of goodwill with Belichick will ultimately determine his future workload with the Patriots.
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