Stevan Ridley will be looked upon to take a bigger role in 2012 (Steve Balestrieri photo)

The New England Patriots had a very successful season considering the holes they had in their roster due to injuries and poor play at times from the defense. We’re taking a look at the 2011 season by going through each position and identifying weak points, strong points and positions that may get addressed this off-season by Bill Belichick.

Offense:

Overall- The Patriots offense scored 513 points good for 3rd in the NFL. The offense also racked up 6848 yards which was second in the league. The team was 2nd in terms of passing yardage and 20th in running the ball. We looked at the QB position a few days ago and today we’ll look at the running back situation.

Running Backs-
On the roster at the end of the season was BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Lousaka Polite and Kevin Faulk.

Despite having a talented group of running backs, the Patriots running game has to be looked upon as somewhat of a disappointment in 2011. The numbers aren’t the most important thing as the 20th rank in rushing yards with 1764 doesn’t belie what the issue is. And that is establishing a consistent ground game that can close out games. In this aspect, they failed to do so. Too many times the Patriots were in a position where they had a lead and needed to milk the clock, but the running game was unable to so.

Green-Ellis led the team once again with 181 carries for 667 yards and 11 TDs but his numbers dropped quite a bit from 2010, no doubt influenced by a nagging toe injury that hounded him all season. Ridley, 87 carries for 441 yards and Woodhead 77 carries for 351 yards rounded out the top three. Ridley showed a nice burst with speed he wasn’t supposed to possess, but his fundamentals were flawed at times and resulted in him putting the ball on the ground in the last few games which resulted in him being relegated to the bench during the playoff push.

Woodhead didn’t have the impact he did in 2010, but did play better down the stretch and may have been the best member of the running back stable on the field during the Super Bowl against the Giants.

Faulk has probably played his last game in the NFL, he suffered a bad ACL injury two years ago against the Jets and worked hard to come back, which at his age is very difficult. He returned for the Steelers game and got the majority of the snaps, but was re-injured and was seen only in very short cameos after that.

He has yet to make a decision yet, thinking he may still yet have something to offer. His leadership and team-first mentality obviously played well with the younger players, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him brought in as a coach. But it appears the sun has set on a guy who epitomized what it’s like to be a 3rd down back in the NFL.

Moving Forward-
The team appears set now going forward with two good power backs in Lawfirm and Ridley and two speedier, 3rd down and change of pace backs in Woodhead and Vereen.

The wild card now has to be the contract situation for Green-Ellis, he earned $1.8 million last year and may want to test the market to see if someone is willing to pay him top dollar. While he’s not flashy nor overly fast, Green-Ellis runs hard and sees the field extremely well, and most importantly, he’s never put the ball on the ground.

Everyone knows the Patriots won’t pay more than they think a player is worth, so if a team tosses a lot of money at him, Green-Ellis may be allowed to walk. That would throw a monkey wrench into the Pats depth.

Ridley showed a lot of promise and Vereen is still untested but the team likes his potential as well. I think the Patriots will make every attempt at keeping Green-Ellis and stand pat during free agency and the draft. Belichick has always liked him and that may have a factor in his staying.

Overall Grade-
C+
While the running game was hurt by Green-Ellis’ bum toe all season, I think a lot of their struggles have to do with the manner in which they run. Teams know that when Tom Brady lines up under center, the Patriots have the tendency to run. They run a lot of quick hitting runs from the shotgun, which is effective when teams pin their ears back trying to rush the QB.

There’s no reason that this team shouldn’t be able to run the ball more effectively, Brady needs to line up under center more, even when they throw to keep teams off-balance. With Green-Ellis and Woodhead healthy and Ridley and Vereen with an added year of experience under their belts, the running game should be a bigger part of the offense.

Next up we’ll look at the WR/TEs and the offensive line. After that we will take a look at Special Teams and the defense.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com for all the news about the Patriots as they get set to go through the Free Agency period as well as the NFL Combine and the NFL Draft. I’m sure there will be plenty of mock drafts to scan over. At PatsFans don’t forget to check out Ian Logue’s excellent stat sheets that are accessed by most of the main stream media in Boston. Also check out PatsFans on Facebook

 

Also stay tuned to Patriots4thand 2, our PatsFans blog talk Radio Show as host Russ Goldman, Derek Havens, Damien Jarrett and I bring some insight into the games and off-season as the Patriots enter free agency and the draft.

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