Give Belichick a 'bell cow' back, he'll use him

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Give Belichick a 'bell cow' back, he'll use him

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.

(Check this out)
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.

Green has big game as Bengals dominate Dolphins 22-7

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Green has big game as Bengals dominate Dolphins 22-7

CINCINNATI -- For most of the game, A.J. Green piled up more yards than the entire Miami Dolphins offense in a virtuoso performance. As an encore, he thrilled the crowd by juggling some Florida citrus.

The Bengals receiver followed his disappointing game with a dominating one - 173 yards and a touchdown - and a Cincinnati defense that was inspired by Vontaze Burfict's return clamped down on the Dolphins for a 22-7 victory Thursday night.

The Bengals (2-2) rebounded from a 29-17 home loss to Denver on Sunday with a solid all-around game against a depleted team.

Green led the way, beating the Dolphins (1-3) on every type of route . He was upset with himself after he dropped a pivotal third-down pass and failed to make an impact against the Broncos.

"I hold myself to a very high standard," said Green, who had 10 catches. "I know what I'm capable of. Last week I didn't perform to that level. I had to refocus on a short week."

During the first three quarters, Green had 166 yards on catches while Miami had 152 total yards. The Bengals' season-long problem of stalling out near the goal line forced them to settle for Mike Nugent's season-high five field goals.

Afterward, Green and Andy Dalton appeared on the postgame show, and the receiver entertained the dozens of Bengals fans who stayed around by smoothly juggling three oranges at the interview desk.

"Any time he was one-on-one, he was able to make the play," Dalton said.

The Dolphins were missing four starting offensive linemen, two linebackers, running back Arian Foster and tight end Jordan Cameron. They had one big play - Ryan Tannehill threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills - but couldn't do anything else on offense.

"We've got to get it fixed and quick, and by that I mean Monday," Tannehill said. "We're kind of in a dark spot right now. It's squarely on our shoulders."

The Bengals' defense expected to get a lift from Burfict's return. The volatile linebacker was suspended by the NFL for the first three games because of his illegal hits. He got a loud ovation when he ran onto the field during introductions wearing a baseball cap. Burfict knocked down a pass and had three tackles.

"He's amazing," end Carlos Dunlap said. "Did you see the plays he made? Those aren't plays you can coach. He came off his couch and played great. It's good to have him back."

Mostly, it was Green's show. He caught a 51-yard pass off Dalton's scramble in the first half, and had a 43-yard catch that set up another field goal in the third quarter for a 19-7 lead.

REMEMBERING FERNANDEZ

A large fan banner in the upper deck at Paul Brown Stadium honored Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who died with two friends in a boat crash early Sunday near Miami Beach. The banner read: "Jose 16 Heaven's Bright."

STILL CAN'T RUN

The Bengals rushed for 77 yards and only a 2.1-yard average against the second-worst run defense in the league, one missing two starting linebackers.

SLOPPY DOLPHINS

Miami had seven penalties for 68 yards. The most egregious was by Terrence Fede, who pushed Kevin Huber to the ground after he punted in the third quarter. The penalty gave Cincinnati the ball, and the Bengals got a field goal out of it.

INJURIES

Dolphins: LT Branden Albert and C Anthony Steen were inactive with sprained ankles. Also missing were LBs Koa Misi (neck) and Jelani Jenkins (groin). C Mike Pouncey has missed all four games with a hip injury.

Bengals: TE Tyler Eifert was inactive again, contributing to the Bengals' trouble close to the goal line. He's recovering from offseason ankle surgery and returned to practice on a limited basis last week. CB Dre Kirkpatrick was inactive with a hamstring injury suffered Sunday. G Clint Boling sat out most of the fourth quarter with an injured left shoulder.

ANTHEM STATEMENTS

Stills and Dolphins safety Michael Thomas knelt with their hands over their hearts during the anthem.

FANTASY IMPACT

Tannehill was 15 of 25 for 189 yards with a touchdown, an interception, a fumble and five sacks. Dalton was 22 of 31 for 296 yards with a touchdown and a sack.

UP NEXT

The Dolphins begin a stretch of four straight home games against Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the New York Jets.

The Bengals have a tough two-game stretch, playing Dallas and New England on the road. They're 1-5 in Dallas, dropping their last three. They've dropped their last six at New England, last winning in 1986.