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Pats backfield in motion

Posted by David Sabino  November 25, 2013 02:20 PM

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Stevan Ridley's spate of fumbles have left the Pats little option but to turn to Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden.

The Patriots historic come-from-behind victory over the Broncos at a frigid Gillette Stadium muted what was a din of outrage aimed at Stevan Ridley by seemingly the entire football community on social media during the first few minutes of what was shaping up to be a rough night in New England. After Ridley’s first-drive fumble was scooped up by Denver’s Von Miller and taken 60 yards for Denver’s first score. he wouldn’t see the ball again yet the Pats would fumble twice more in the first quarter, one by Tom Brady and the other by LeGarrette Blount, accounting for nearly as many lost fumbles (three) that they had the entire season to that point (five). In fact, Ridley (4), Blount (2) and Brady (2) account for all eight of the Patriots lost fumbles this season, a stat that ties them for sixth-most in the NFL (yet still half of the NFL-leading16 coughed up by the Broncos).

Ridley’s problems holding onto the ball have reached epidemic proportions, with him losing the ball in three successive games.Yet despite being benched for most of the Denver and Buffalo games and missing the Bengals game altogether, Ridley still ranks 17th among all NFL runners in rushing (576 yards), is tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns (7) and is 20th in first downs (29). Roll back the starting line to the beginning of 2012 and Ridley moves up to 11th in yards (1,839), third in touchdowns (19) and fifth in first downs (111). However he’s also first in among NFL running backs during that span with six lost fumbles and his 1.36 fumbles per 100 touches ranks as the most among all running backs with more than 310 touches, second to Willis McGahee (1.62) among those with more than 205 touches and 12th out of everyone with as many as 100 touches over the past two seasons (Blount ranks eighth at 1.61).

The most painful part of the Ridley situation is that his fumbles have been costly, and the damage has come quickly. Two of his four lost this season have resulted in long defensive returns for touchdowns (74 vs. Buffalo and 60 last night) while a third saw the Steelers offense celebrating in the end zone less than two minutes after the ball hit the turf. A common thread between those three however is that the Pats ultimately won the game. Although the fourth of those resulted in just a field goal, it was the most costly, killing a long New England drive at the Carolina 13, resulting in a likely six-to10 point swing, completely changing the complex of the eventual 24-20 loss.

Perhaps the social media pundits were right and Ridley should fall to the bottom of the depth chart. With him shackled to the bench, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden (zero fumbles on 260 combined career offensive touches) picked up the slack in the backfield combining for 160 yards on 32 flawless touches and were reminiscent of recent backfield committees fielded by Bill Belichick. They may not provide the pure running style of Ridley, but with a full complement of receivers back in full swing for Tom Brady, and a lack of turnovers, like Sunday night, they should give the Pats enough to win.

Here are the running backs who have fumbled with the highest frequency since the start of 2012 (minimum 100 offensive touches).

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Stats Driven is powered by David Sabino, who over the last two decades has been a source of statistical analysis on the pages of Sports Illustrated, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune. David has written about all seven recent Boston-area championships for Sports Illustrated Presents commemorative issues, was the creator of such long time features as SI’s Player Value Ranking, NBA Player Rating and long running fantasy football and baseball columns.

He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrated’s 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.

Now living in Marblehead, he’s focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.

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