Offense finds its balance
Rookie Ridley provides a much-needed spark
OAKLAND, Calif. - The running game is often lost in the shadows of the Patriots’ high-powered passing attack.
Yesterday, New England’s running backs were given the chance to carry the load and they made the most of it as rookie Stevan Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis helped collect a season-high 183 yards in 31-19 victory against the Raiders at O.co Coliseum.
Ridley rushed for a career-high 97 yards on 10 carries and Green-Ellis added 75 yards on 16 carries. The individual performances rank first and second this season for the Patriots.
“It’s always fun [to get carries], but at the same time you have to realize we’re an offensive team with a lot of weapons and everyone is going to have to be involved for us to be successful,’’ Green-Ellis said.
The Patriots ran 61 plays and 30 were rushing, giving the Patriots a truly balanced approach.
Ridley, a third-round pick out of LSU, continues to impress with his ability to burst through gaps. He broke free for a 33-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, giving the Patriots a 24-10 lead. It was his first career touchdown.
“I’m just trying to come in here and get a spot on the team,’’ Ridley said. “I’m thankful for every carry that I get. This is a team that has a bunch of great athletes. The offensive line opened up the holes and I just hit them like I was supposed to.’’
On the touchdown, Ridley said all he saw was green grass as he took off for the end zone.
“The [holes] were huge,’’ Ridley said. “[The offensive line was] doing an awesome job. Those were the biggest holes that I’ve seen in my life. So I just have to keep running and hit them.’’
Offensive line stalwarts Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Brian Waters, and rookie Nate Solder were responsible for creating the running room. Tight end Rob Gronkowski also helped spring the backs.
“The backs were finding the holes,’’ Light said. “They were getting to the edge and pressing, making our blocks a lot easier. They work hard each and every week. The more we give them the ball the better we will be . . . the more we can run the ball the more it can set up for us offensively.’’
Ridley said he is doing his best to learn from the veterans as he gets accustomed to the speed of the NFL.
Early yesterday, the Patriots looked to Green-Ellis, which gave Ridley a chance to learn how to best attack the Raiders defense.
“I watch every down and each back has to watch the other back and what’s going on and the differences,’’ Ridley said. “When [Green-Ellis] is out there and on the field, I’m watching that defense and seeing what they’re doing. Same thing when [Danny Woodhead] is out there. We have to pick up different things from each other and that helps us to be successful as a whole group.”
While the Patriots saw some good things out of the running game, the team will be keeping an eye on Woodhead, who hopped off the field with an injured left ankle in the second quarter after a run.
Woodhead injured his left ankle in the second quarter and did not return. He finished with two carries for 13 yards.
While the extent of Woodhead’s injury is unknown, the team can rely on Green-Ellis and Ridley. Rookie Shane Vereen also is available.
Whatever the plan may be for next week, Green-Ellis said the preparation never changes.
“We just stuck at it and played hard, ran well and good things happened for us and we won the game,’’ Green-Ellis said.
Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @monwalker.