The Patriots would be silly to release Ridley. Also high five for wordplay!
The preseason is finishing and with it comes the sweet, sweet sunrise of the NFL season. The greatest time of the year is just about to begin. A time where Sundays are untouchable and superstition reigns supreme. Where grown men cry and grown fans cry harder. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.
And the Patriots are just one game away from entering this glorious regular season. But there still is a final preseason game to be played and a final round of cuts to be made. And the Patriots have a big decision ahead of them. Or, at least they do now thanks to Mike Reiss. (Granted, Reiss doesn’t know what the Patriots are thinking. He’s just guessing. So the Patriots team in Mike Reiss’ head, have a big decision to make.)
The Pats have been using a committee of running backs this preseason, trying to get a look at what each individual back can do for the offense. Anytime we members of the Patriots sports blogosphere made roster projections, the questions were about Brandon Bolden, or rookie James White or (my favorite) the Undrafted Hulk himself, Roy Finch. But not according to Reiss.
Reiss has sent the whole world (and I use that only in reference to the whole Patriots world) abuzz today when, in his latest roster projections, he had starting running back Stevan Ridley being cut, claiming:
“The Patriots are always good for a surprise, and we’ve had our antenna up at this position since early July. If there’s a surprise, we’ll play a hunch at this spot with Stevan Ridley, whose low snap total Friday (11 snaps) in a “dress rehearsal” game caught the eye.”
Well, lets just jump right in that shall we?
Everyone’s biggest critic of Stevan Ridley is his ability to hold onto the football. In the eyes of Bill Belichick and Patriots fans around, Ridley has a fumbling problem. He has shown, in his time in the league, that he can’t hold onto the football and (my guess is) that is Reiss justification for cutting him.
Now I’ll be the first to yell obscenities at Ridley since he does have a tendency to fumble at the worst of times. That is true, but does Ridley really have a fumbling problem or are we Pats fans just used to the iron clasp of BenJarvis Green-Ellis and an unrealistic standard when it comes to ball security?
LOOKING AT THE REST OF THE LEAGUE
We may think that Ridley has a fumbling problem because we’ve seen them all. We know the impact that the fumbles had. But have we been paying attention around the league? Do we know that fumbling is really a part of the game and no running back never fumbles the football? Even the great Law Firm has fallen victim to this (granted, not when he was with the Pats). Fumbling is a part of the game and my worry is that Bill, and us Patriots fans, are expecting perfection when that isn’t possible. Here’s a quick run around the league to compare touches and fumbles with Ridley.
Leading the league in fumbles was Mr. Reggie Bush who had 5 fumbles on 223 touches. Alfred Morris had 5 as well on 276 touches. The great Jamaal Charles, one of the best backs in the NFL, had 4 fumbles on 259 touches. And of course, the greatest running back in the league, Adrian Peterson, had 3 fumbles (the same as Ridley) on 279 touches. Obviously fumbles are more likely to happen the more you touch the ball. For comparison sake, Ridley had 178 touches, so yes, a bit smaller than these backs.
So lets look at backs who have had a similar work load. Ben Tate, the backup for the Texans and now the star running back in Cleveland, had 181 touches and 4 fumbles. Joique Bell had 166 touches and fumbled the football 5 times. But you don’t hear about his fumble problems. LeGarrette Blount, remember that big back who we all loved with all our hearts as he carried us into the AFC championship game, had 153 touches — 25 fewer than Ridley — and fumbled the ball just as much. But Belichick was perfectly happy to let Blount take over for Ridley, despite him fumbling the ball more often than Ridley.
OTHER BACKS HAVE HAD THIS PROBLEM
Most famously: Adrian Peterson. AP was horrible at holding onto the football, he is an aggressive runner — like Ridley (though of course on a different level) — and this running style led to AP coughing up the ball far more than any coach would like to see. In 2008, Peterson fumbled the ball 9 times and lost 4 of them. In 2009, he fumbled 7 times and lost 6 of them. But did the Vikings give up on AP and get rid of him? No, they kept having him work on it and now he is much better at holding onto the football.
Now, I’m not saying Ridley will ever be AP. Peterson is on a level that only a rare few have reached. But Ridley is the Patriots best running back. He gives them a legit running threat that the Pats haven’t since Corey Dillion. And he might be better than that. Ridley has the ability to suddenly just blow through a hole and give you a 50 yard gain. Easy. Personally, I would rather take a running back who is always a threat for a home run play and might fumble a few times than a back (like the Law Firm) who never gets you more than 6 yards in a carry but wont fumble the football. Fumbling is a part of the game and while the Patriots preach ball control and protection, at a certain point, you need to go with the punches to keep a talented player in your backfield.
So, if we return to the utter chaos that Reiss has inflicted upon us suggesting that the Patriots should cut Ridley, that notion is ridiculous. Unless there is something going on behind the scenes — which I highly highly doubt — just occasionally fumbling isn’t a reason to release the best running back on your team. And not just on our team. If the Patriots did release Ridley, how long do you think he would be a free agent? My over/under is 5.5 minutes. I’m picking the under.
Ridley is an extremely talented back and other teams see that and will happily swallow the ‘fumbling problem’ to get a back that can rush for over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. Let’s just hope Reiss isn’t right and Belichick is willing to try again. It’s the right thing to do.