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Thursday, January 12, 2012
Pats-Broncos II: Which RB will step up?

By James Walker

Fourth-year veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis leads the New England Patriots in rushing with 667 yards. Rookie tailback Stevan Ridley has the hot hand and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry in his past three games. Danny Woodhead also is waiting for his chance to produce.

So which running back will step up in the playoffs?

A lot of attention this week is on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He will throw the ball a lot and is the biggest key for New England's success.

But Brady still needs some type of running game in the postseason. That is where New England's trio of Green-Ellis, Ridley and Woodhead come in. Each tailback has been successful at different times this season.

New England doesn't need any of these players to rush for 100 yards. But it's ball security and yards per carry that are most important to keeping Denver's defense honest. The Broncos are at their best defensively when they can pressure the quarterback with outside linebackers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.

"The defense is solid. They've been doing good things for them and that's what they really don't talk about that much," Ridley told reporters. "It's a lot about [quarterback Tim] Tebow, but not so much about their defense. But they're playing sound football all the way around and all three phases."

Ridley may have the best chance to shine in the playoffs. The 2011 third-round pick has fresh legs and is coming on strong late in the season. Ridley led the Patriots in rushing the past three games, which includes 65 yards on 11 carries (5.9-yard average) against Denver in Week 15.

But despite Ridley's production, can the Patriots fully trust a rookie running back in the playoffs? Ridley said the key will be keeping his composure in his postseason debut.

"It's going to be a playoff atmosphere," Ridley said. "It's going to be a big-time game and we're going to go out there and just play football and stay calm and go out there and try to play a sound game."