One of the more intriguing questions facing the Patriots in the coming weeks is what they do with lead running back Stevan Ridley.
Bill Belichick sometimes says that when a player has the football in his grasp, he carries with him the entire organization. After Ridley lost a fumble in his third straight game, how much trust can Belichick have in him with such an important responsibility?
Let's highlight two thoughts from Tedy Bruschi's weekly ESPNBoston Patriots chat on this topic:
Fumble puts a dent in trust: "You always have your teammate's back in the locker room and you give them support as much as you can. But when you have a constant error repeater (which is the term Belichick uses himself), there comes a point where you start losing the faith of your teammates as well."
They need him so it's about building back his confidence: "Stevan Ridley is a good player and can help this team win. ... As poorly as Ridley has been protecting the football, they will need him to win a championship."
Ridley's playing time is down considerably this year. After playing 45 percent of the offensive snaps last year, he is now at a 32-percent clip. Part of that is due to missing one game because of injury, but also because he's been benched in two games for fumbling.
If the Patriots are truly thinking about moving away from Ridley, the question becomes: Who fills that void?
When analyzing Patriots' running backs, they ultimately split into the following categories:
Bigger backs: Ridley (5-11, 220), LeGarrette Blount (6-0, 250)
Passing backs: Shane Vereen (5-10, 205)
Combination: Brandon Bolden (5-11, 220)
When it comes to the big-back carries, it's hard to imagine the Patriots would decisively go away from Ridley in favor of Blount (19 percent of the snaps), as Blount has also had fumbling problems. Bolden is the more likely option in that scenario. He's played 30 percent of the offensive snaps this season, utilized more in a passing back capacity because of Vereen's injury. But as his performance in Buffalo last year reminds us, he can pound away as well.
As it stands now, Vereen will probably play the majority of running back snaps in the weeks to come. His versatile presence makes the Patriots more dynamic.
It's when the Patriots truly want to grind it out when things could get interesting, as that's when we'll get a clearer picture of how much the confidence has been shaken in Ridley.