Since 2013, the New England Patriots' offensive identity has continued to rely more on power running, and Shane Vereen reinforced that Thursday night in New England's 27-25 win over the New York Jets.
Vereen had his best night of the season in total yards Thursday, with 43 yards rushing and another 71 on five receptions. He is on pace to set career highs in both rushing yards and receiving yards this season, and he will very likely top his career mark of three receiving touchdowns in a single season this year as well.
His increased role in New England's offense is largely to thank for those milestones. Vereen is averaging seven carries and three receptions per game in 2014, both up from his career averages.
And with Vereen's breakout two touchdown receptions against the Jets, it's clear that Bill Belichick will continue to utilize his complete skill set to the advantage of New England's offense.
After seven weeks, five of the Patriots' 17 offensive touchdowns have come from Vereen and Stevan Ridley, or 29 percent. New England has already accumulated 723 rushing yards, an average of 103 per game.
Compare that to 2011, the last time the Patriots finished the season with less than 2,000 rushing yards. Three of New England's 58 offensive touchdowns were scored by running backs (including one each by Vereen and Ridley), comprising just five percent of their offensive scoring.
In addition to the rise of the power-run game, the loss of Ridley for the season to a torn ACL, as Albert Breer reported Sunday, has given Vereen an opportunity to experience a renaissance in the fourth season of his career.
With their primary rusher (94 carries, 340 yards) on the bench, the increase in snaps for Vereen will give him more opportunities to get involved in both the run game and the passing game.
Sharing a deep backfield with Ridley throughout his tenure in New England, Vereen's touches have always been limited. And though the Patriots were expected to use a committee approach in Ridley's absence, Brandon Bolden had one reception but did not carry the ball, and rookie James White was inactive.
Power back Jonas Gray was promoted to the active roster from the practice squad after Vereen's injury, and he had 12 yards on three carries against the Jets.
Now, however, it's Vereen's turn. As Chris Trapasso of CBSSports.com pointed out Thursday, Vereen trails only Darren Sproles on yards gained per play since 2013.
Heading into Thursday night's game, Vereen was No. 6 among all running backs in yards per attempt, averaging 5.1. After Week 7, he's at 4.9.
Coming into the 2011 draft, Vereen was praised for his ability to move the chains as a pass-catcher out of the backfield and for his vision and great hands.
However, most draft experts saw him having primarily third-down responsibilities, as coming out of California, he didn't demonstrate the size or speed typical of an every-down runner.
With Ridley sidelined, however, Vereen was used early and often against New York, and not just in third-down situations.
|Shane Vereen Situational|
|Quarter||Down & Distance||Play|
|1||1st & 10 NE 20||4 yard run|
|1||2nd & 7 NYJ 49||49 yard TD reception|
|2||2nd & 10 NYJ 27||17 yard run|
|2||2nd & 11 NYJ 11||8 yard reception|
|2||3rd & 3 NYJ 3||3 yard TD reception|
|2||3rd & 25 NYJ 27||6 yard run|
|3||1st & 10 NE 29||4 yard run|
|3||2nd & 6 NE 33||3 yard reception|
|3||1st & 10 NYJ 44||6 yard run|
|3||2nd & 4 NYJ 38||3 yard run|
|3||2nd & 10 NYJ 27||1 yard run|
|3||3rd & 9 NYJ 26||8 yard reception|
|3||2nd & 10 NE 13||6 yard run|
|4||1st & 3 NYJ 3||-1 yard run|
In fact, Vereen only made three plays on third down, and one of them was a reception that went for a touchdown. As his career in New England has progressed, he has demonstrated that he can be much more for the Patriots than just a third-down target.
After Vereen connected with Brady for a catch-and-run that turned into a 49-yard touchdown reception, he paid tribute to his injured teammate Ridley by doing the latter's signature end-zone celebration: kicking down the door.
Fittingly, Vereen's Thursday night performance closed the door on the argument that he doesn't have the skills to be the feature back in New England's backfield.