When the Patriots started training camp, running back seemed like a position with a lot of depth. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson’s two-headed monster returned while James White appeared to be on the way back after suffering a hip injury. Then the Patriots signed Ty Montgomery and drafted two running backs in the draft. When people questioned the offense, running back wasn’t an issue.
But things are changing fast in the NFL. White was forced to retire as he was unable to return from the hip injury as intended. The two rookie running backs had a hard time cracking the lineup. Harris missed time with a hamstring injury and now Montgomery is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. What does this mean for the Patriots fighting on offense?
For starters, the loss of Montgomery itself shouldn’t change the Patriots offense in the running game. I mean, he hasn’t played since week one in Miami, where he had a total of two carries for -2 yards. However, where he should help the offense, especially with White’s loss, was in the passing game. Montgomery caught three of his four goals that game for 15 yards and the Patriots’ only touchdown.
In his absence, Rhamondre Stevenson emerged as a sophomore who has evolved into a three down back. In nine games, Stevenson leads the team with 618 yards on 129 carries and is also second on the team with 35 receptions on 43 goals. When the Patriots offense struggled through the first half of the season, it was Stevenson they could count on to move the chains and put points on the board. However, we are entering new territory with Stevenson and one has to wonder if he will be able to continue like this.
With five carries against the Jets on Sunday, Stevenson will surpass his total of carries from his rookie season (133). His 35 receptions are already more than twice as high as a season ago (14 receptions). Yes, he was good (5.2 yards per touch average), but the Patriots also had to lean on him due to injuries and ineffectiveness.
Harris was the leading rusher a season ago, but a hamstring injury sustained in a win over the Lions has limited him for the past month. Stevenson now has twice as many touches (164 to Harris’ 82) since he took the lead. The good news is that Harris was off the injury report after bye week and should be able to exonerate Stevenson.
The other way the Patriots could exonerate Stevenson would be if a third running back showed up, but I just don’t see that. Despite Harris and Montgomery’s injuries, running backs JJ Taylor, Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris have combined 19 yards on 14 carries in nine games. That tells me the Patriots don’t think they’re ready yet.
Maybe the coaching staff got creative during bye week and we’re seeing more running attempts from guys like Tyquan Thornton or Kendrick Bourne. Maybe they’ll get the tight ends more involved. In any case, Montgomery’s injury means the Patriots need Damien Harris back to his old self, forming a dynamic duo with Rhamondre Stevenson on the track and giving Stevenson an occasional breather.