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Can Ridley bounce back?
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Stevan Ridley may as well be Walter White.

New England's top running back has looked both broken and bad this season.

Sure it's only been three games but the early returns for Ridley haven't been encouraging. Ridley's 121 rushing yards this season rank 30th in the league. To make matters worse, he doesn't have any touchdowns to show for it.

All of this comes on the heels of a breakout 2012 campaign when Ridley produced the league's seventh-highest rushing total (1,263 yards) and the third-highest touchdown amount (12 TD).

The lack of yardage, though still troubling, isn't a deal breaker. Michael Turner (800 yards) proved last season that you don't have to be a yard-guzzler to be a fantasy asset. You just have to score touchdowns (10 TD).

Both is better but having one without the other will still get the job done. Chris Johnson, for example, lies on the other extreme end of the running back spectrum. Johnson doesn't score many touchdowns but he makes up for it by gobbling up tons of yardage (85.2 ypg this season).

But no touchdowns and only 40 rushing yards a game? Yeah, that's a deal breaker.

That's where we stand with Ridley, who has nine fantasy points to his name right now. Naturally, fantasy owners are abandoning ship.

They're not dropping Ridley. His ownership remains at 100 percent. But they are fielding trade offers.

On the surface, it would seem crazy to trade for a player who, as the motivational speaker Matt Foley would put it, hasn't done jack squat. But I'm not ready to close the book on Ridley just yet.

Ridley's lack of touchdowns, though frustrating, makes perfect sense. The opportunities just haven't been there.

Ridley has just one carry inside the ten this season and that was from eight yards out. His only other red zone carry came from the 17-yard line.

Of New England's 13 red zone rushing attempts this season, six have been Tom Brady quarterback sneaks. Of the remaining seven, two looks went to Ridley, one to Shane Vereen (now out with a broken wrist) and four to LeGarrette Blount, who was simply trying to kill clock at the end of New England's Week 3 win over Tampa Bay.

Only two of those 13 rushes would qualify as legitimate goal line chances. The Patriots couldn't take advantage of either one as Vereen was stuffed at the Buffalo one-yard line with Brady coughing up a fumble from that same distance a play later.

I find it hard to believe that this trend will continue. The Patriots, who are one of just four teams without a rushing touchdown so far, have netted at least 18 rushing scores in each of their last five seasons. I'm not ready to give up on them after three lackluster weeks.

Ridley's other concern relates to volume. With 36 carries through three games, Ridley ranks 32nd in usage rate this season. That's a far cry from 2012 when Ridley piled on over 18 rushing attempts per game, sixth-most in the NFL.

And again, there's a logical explanation for this.

Ridley had been on his way to a huge fantasy day (46 first half yards) in Week 1 before an irate Bill Belichick benched him for fumbling. He finished the afternoon with just nine carries.

Everyone on the Jets and Patriots gets a pass for Week 2 because of how awful the playing conditions were in Foxboro that night. Ridley totaled 40 yards on 16 carries in that contest.

Ridley's outing in Week 3 versus Tampa Bay is a bit harder to piece together. Somehow he received a lighter workload than Buccaneers castoff LeGarrette Blount.

Still, the carry distribution was a bit deceiving. Blount finished with 16 rushing attempts to Ridley's 11 but most of those came in the fourth quarter with the game already in hand. Blount received 10 carries to Ridley's two in the final period.

So seemingly every week, Ridley has been the victim of some unforeseen circumstance. Surely with all that bad luck, Ridley is bound to catch a break sooner or later.

Can't this just be a slump? Ridley isn't some worn out 35-year-old on his last breath. He's 24. He'll bounce back.

It's also worth noting that Ridley has encountered slow starts in the past. Only one of his six 90-yard games last season came prior to Week 4 (125 yards versus Tennessee in the opener).

If Ridley is going to turn things around, he's going to need help from the passing game. The Patriots have become predictable in the absence of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. Luckily for Ridley, neither one should be out for too much longer.

New England's tight-lipped approach makes it hard to predict exactly when Gronkowski and Amendola will be back but we know they're close. Both players were practicing in full pads this week. Their return will make the Patriots' offense more balanced, spreading the field for Ridley and hopefully giving him more opportunities at the goal line.

So don't worry about Ridley. He's going to be just fine. Heisenberg on the other hand ... well we'll just have to wait until Sunday.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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