- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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This week's X' & O's thought is less schematic based than it is personnel and coaching decision related.
Simply: Should the Patriots play running back Stevan Ridley, who was benched last week after three consecutive games with a fumble?
The pros and cons of reactivating Ridley on Sunday are fairly obvious, as he is the team's most talented rusher and aids the play-action passing game. If fellow running back Brandon Bolden (non-injury related) is unable to suit up on Sunday, Ridley also provides depth.
Conversely, his ball security issues are apparent, and Bill Belichick has long preached the importance of reliability among running backs.
Ridley has respectfully declined to speak to reporters this week and we don't have any further sense of what his role might be or could be come Sunday.
But the question of Ridley's role isn't just about tomorrow against Cleveland, as the Patriots have three more regular-season games beyond that and are likely to make the playoffs, too.
From a philosophical standpoint, how Bill Belichick decides to proceed with Ridley will be a storyline for as long as he either remains inactive on game days or plays just a minimal role if he does dress.
We've seen players around the NFL bounce back from fumbling woes before -- longtime Giants running back Tiki Barber is among the more common references -- and Ridley has an abundance of talent that cannot be overlooked.
Quarterback Tom Brady has previously said that the team is going to need Ridley, but if LeGarrette Blount and Bolden can continue to fill-in at a respectable level, Ridley's time on the sideline could persist.
For some players, overcoming fumbling issues is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. There's no telling exactly how Ridley is approaching his current situation, or how Belichick is for that matter.
We'll find out more in less than 24 hours.