FOXBORO -- The perception is that the New England Patriots are two-back team. That they have no real "lead" running back. That the position is divided up fairly equitably between a couple of players.
Turns out, the numbers tell a different story.
The Patriots most relied-upon runner has carried the ball at least twice as many times as his backup in all but four of Bill Belichick's 12 seasons with the team.
And in the years where the ratio was less than 2:1, the "lead back" was in decline or on the verge of replacement.
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2000: Faulk 154; Redmond 125
2001: Smith 287; Faulk 41
2002: Smith 252; Faulk 52
2003: Smith 182; Faulk 178
2004: Dillon 345, Faulk 54
2005: Dillon 209; Pass 54
2006: Dillon 199; Maroney 175
2007: Maroney 185; Morris 85
2008: Morris 156; Faulk 83
2009: Maroney 194; Morris 73
2010: Green-Ellis 229; Woodhead 97
2011: Green-Ellis 181; Ridley 87
So before we consider the "Stevan Ridley-Shane Vereen" competition then wave it away figuring they'll both get the ball plenty, it does probably deserve a closer look.
Because history tells us one of these second-year players is going to be the fastball and the other will be the change-up. And this realization makes the post-Law Firm competition that much more compelling.
In their opening arguments Thursday night, both made strong cases. Ridley started and had 40 yards on eight carries; Vereen carried 11 times for 64 yards against mostly scrubs.
Over the remainder of the preseason, the scales will need to be tipped the other way with Vereen running against the 1s to get a good look. Because, to date, all we've seen from the back out of Cal was a good in-stadium practice last August, a decent cameo against the moribund Chiefs during the regular season and Thursday's game. And some nice practice reps.
"Its kind of hard to gauge a running back in practice because were not doing full-speed tackling, Belichick said. The last time he really got an opportunity to run like that was probably in the Kansas City game (last November) when he had some of those same kind of looking plays. Thats the good thing about the preseason games, you get a chance to evaluate skill players. Can you tackle them? Its a better picture in the game and he did a good job.
More and more teams around the league are going to, in essence, a three-back rotation. There's the first and second-down back, his changeup back and the third down back.
That's where the Patriots appear headed.
But Belichick wouldn't rule out the return of the lone-star backfield.
"Im for whatever helps us win, he said. If its 500 quarterback sneaks, if thats the best thing for us, then Im all for it. If thats the best thing we can do to win, then sign me up for it.
The last true workhorse the Patriots had was Corey Dillon. He carried the ball 345 times in the Super Bowl season of 2004.
"Corey Dillon was good enough to do it," Belichick reminded when asked about Dillon's workload. "If the Corey Dillon of 2004 was on this roster , Im sure hed get it 300 times too. I havent seen Corey out there lately.
Come to think of it, neither have I. Seen some Ridley and some Vereen, though. And -- if history is a guide -- I'll be seeing one of them much more than the other.