The New England Patriots have the No. 4-ranked rushing attack so far in 2012 thanks to running back Steven Ridley, who happens to be a perfect fit for what Tom Brady and Bill Belichick love to do offensively.
Ridley was the No. 73 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft out of LSU and has found his way into a starting role with the most prolific offense in the NFL.
As of now Ridely splits snaps with fellow running backs Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden, but Ridley has emerged as a solid every-down back that can carry the entire load himself if the Patriots need him to do so.
There is not a bad player in the running back stable in New England, but Ridley is the perfect fit for the Patriots offense. Here's why.
For a running back to be successful in New England, he has to not only be able to run it between the tackles, but also to catch passes from Brady out of the backfield as well.
Ridley has proven to be an effective back in all running scenarios and has also proven to be a reliable option in the passing game as well. He has only caught six passes for 51 yards so far this season as part of a rotation, but the numbers would be inflated if he played every down.
While he is no means a main option in the passing attack, his solid pass-blocking skills make Ridley an every-down back that can block and then swing out for passes if Brady is in trouble. He doesn't have the speed of Woodhead but has a special part in the offense when the game plan is built around him.
The beauty of Ridley's game is that he can be considered more of a power runner than anything. Belichick has gone out of his way this season to game plan Ridley as a power runner.
He has seen less snaps in games that Belichick has deemed need a more pass-catching game plan for the running backs, which Mike Reiss explained perfectly and compared Ridley's situation to when Belichick would take Corey Dillon out of the game in favor of Kevin Faulk.
Ridley is certainly improving as a pass-protector, but for now the Patriots are content with using him as a power runner. In only 118 attempts in six games he has rushed for a solid 524 yards and four touchdowns.
Ridley is the Perfect Rotational Piece for New England
The Patriots are running much more often than opposing defenses have expected so far this season, and Ridley is a big part of that.
Ridley is an outstanding running back that simply needs to get his fumbling issues under control. He's fumbled two times already in 2012, but it's a fundamental issue that can be corrected rather quickly.
Right now Ridley is the future for the Patriots at running back. The best part for New England? He can only improve as he gains more experience. With Brady at quarterback and Belichick calling the shots, Ridley will continue to grow and become a feature back that can carry the offense when needed.