Patriots vs. Titans: Stevan Ridley Makes Big First Impression for New England
It's pretty rare that quarterback Tom Brady takes a back seat on the stat sheet to the running game, but although it was an above-average performance for No. 12, the talented Mr. Ridley stole the headlines in New England's season-opening win, 34-13.
His stats tell a large part of the story. He racked up 125 yards rushing on 21 carries, adding a two-yard plunge for a touchdown. He also reeled in two receptions for 27 yards.
He showed great vision, finding the holes and hitting them with conviction. What he did once he got past the line of scrimmage was what we haven't seen from the Patriots backfield in a long time.
Most importantly? No fumbles.
This was a coming-out party for Ridley, but he didn't do it on his own. There was solid blocking off the left side by tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Ridley made a few of his bigger runs on the perimeter.
And it just wouldn't be fair to talk about the running back's performance without acknowledging a job well done by the Patriots' interior defensive line. The Titans' starting defensive line didn't feature a single body weighing more than 300 pounds, and the Patriots took advantage with some solid runs up the middle.
"It always starts up front," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick after the win. "I think our offensive line did a good job. We had some good holes, backs ran hard, Stevan ran hard, broke some tackles, our tight ends, offensive line and receivers blocked, so it was a good complementary game.
His ability to break big runs adds yet another element to an already explosive Patriots offense. When the Patriots struggled last year, it was because they couldn't execute in the running game when opponents knew to expect it.
The Patriots' ability to execute in those situations is the first step in forcing opponents to respect the threat of an explosive running game. A possible trickle-down effect may be felt by the tight ends. If linebackers are focused on stopping the run, that will only help the tight ends get open on play-action passes.
After the Patriots' aerial assault ruled the skies in 2011, Ridley's performance was the first step in making the Patriots one of the most well-rounded offenses in the league in 2012. At the very least, it put the rest of the league on notice that the New England offense isn't a one-trick pony.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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