New England Patriots Must Find Consistent Running Game to Make Postseason Push

Erik FrenzSenior Writer IDecember 9, 2011

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 06:  David Harris #52 of the New York Jets tackles BenJarvus Green-Ellis #42 of the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 6, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots won 45-3.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

When Tom Brady is putting up an average of over 300 passing yards and almost three touchdowns per game, the Patriots can afford not to get as much out of the running game.

Still, they'd probably like to get more than the lowly 3.2 yards per carry they've picked up over the past four games.

The inconsistency at the position can be attributed to inconsistency in the rotation, but as of yet, none of the backs have played well enough to warrant a lion's share of the work load.

"There's certainly room for improvement, I'd say, with all of our backs in their running techniques, just like there is at every other position," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick according to

"You just don't get the ball and start running. You use the blockers that you have in front of you. Sometimes it's not always clean and there's a little bit of a feel for that between the back and the linemen and so forth."

But there's one problem with that—how can your backs and linemen develop a feel for one another if everyone's always rotating? The Patriots are so heavily rotational and situational with their running backs that it's almost as if they have trouble getting into a rhythm because of it.

The stats would suggest that. Only four times has the team's leading rusher had over 15 carries. In fact, in three games, the Patriots didn't have a single running back with double-digit carries. In those games, they had 64 carries for 176 yards and a whopping 2.75 yards per carry. 

Lead running backs have gone the way of the dinosaur and, although there are a few great running backs left, the Patriots have resigned themselves to a running back by committee.

Using a high draft pick didn't work out when Belichick picked Laurence Maroney. Using multiple low picks in the same draft on a pair of running backs may have seemed crazy at the time, but throwing multiple darts at the board is an admirable move.

At least they're trying.

That being said, Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis were revelations in the backfield last year. The two totaled 1,555 yards rushing (4.89 YPC average) and had 2,016 yards from scrimmage between them.

All of that would never have happened had the Patriots not gotten luckier than they'd ever imagined when a string of injuries depleted their backfield down to two undrafted free agents. Otherwise, they may have never discovered the talents of those two.

And that speaks to the logic behind drafting two running backs so high. You just never know.

One of these final four games could be the week where Belichick plays around with the backfield. They only face one defense that ranks in the top half of the league against the run when they play host to the surging Miami Dolphins.

Other than that? Cupcakes. The Redskins rank 18th against the run, the Broncos rank 20th, and the Bills rank 26th.

With opponents like that, it may be time to step up or sit down in New England's backfield.

While Ridley has plenty of time yet to prove himself in this league, he isn't going to get any closer to that with an average of five carries in the nine games he's played, even if his 4.8 yards per carry leads New England running backs.

Vereen's opportunities have all come in garbage time and with one solid outing against the Chiefs followed by a rather poor showing against the Eagles, the sample size is just too small to draw conclusions.

But doesn't this feel oddly familiar to what happened with Taylor Price? A guy with a lot of talent coming out of school that just couldn't get on the field for whatever reason? Be it mastery of the playbook (or lack thereof) or trust from the team (or lack thereof)?

Of course, the Jets proved in the playoffs that allowing New England to run the ball four or five yards a pop was a reasonable trade-off for taking the ball out of Tom Brady's hands. That's why the running game must prove itself a threat. 

Brady is great, but it's tough for one player to carry a team. Too much pressure on Tom—both from the defense and from the lack of help around him—has resulted in two straight New England losses.

The defense could use the help of the running game even more than Brady could. The longer the offense is on the field, the longer the defense can rest and collect itself, as we all expect will be necessary at some point in the postseason.

The Patriots need to know that they have guys they can rely on in the postseason. Green-Ellis has been reliable at times, but if he's not, the Patriots only have 60 minutes in January to find someone else who is.

Might as well take advantage of the 240 minutes between now and the playoffs. This is a perfect opportunity for New England to see what it has, giving various backs a share of the workload.

Of course, the Patriots should prioritize none of this over winning football games. While it's important to find the running game, the Patriots are still playing for a first-round bye and home field advantage.

But then again, a first-round bye and home field advantage won't mean anything without those all-important wins in January.

Erik Frenz is the co-host of the PatsPropaganda and Frenz podcast. Follow Erik on Twitter.