|Stevan Ridley is forcing Bill Belichick to look for other options at RB. (GETTY)|
As sports fans, we like to romanticize games in our minds. When many of us forget the epic Pats and Broncos game Sunday night, we will most likely remember the story of two halves. Peyton Manning leading his juggernaut Broncos team to a commanding 24-0 lead at halftime, only to have Tom Brady do Tom Brady things and bring his Patriots back to secure an overtime victory. This was certainly a huge win for the Pats, and time will tell if this victory served as a warning of the Patriots tenacity, or just a reminder to keep the pedal to the metal for the Broncos once the playoffs get underway.
Yes, it's easy to want to look at the offensive side of things, but what really caused this raucous affair to unfold on national television was something much uglier. Turnovers.
Each team can attribute 17 points allowed due to seven total turnovers (3 for the Pats, 4 for the Broncos) which wildly swung the game from start to finish.
Two of the main culprits of the turnovers were Stevan Ridley and Montee Ball. Two running backs who have almost made it their calling card this year. Ridley, the primary back in New England, leads all non-QB players with fumbles lost (3 rushing, 1 receiving) and Montee Ball, the rookie back who has fumbled and lost the football 3 times on minimal carries as the back up to Knowshon.
Both were immediately benched for the rest of the game. Presumably not as "punishment," which is an antiquated thought since this is the NFL and not preschool, but so these two couldn't go back on the field and fumble again.
Ridley and Ball have shown time and time again that they have trouble securing the football. When opposing teams know this, I'd say their efforts at ripping the ball from these RBs loose grips increases about 72.1%. They are a liability on the field and whether it's mental or a flaw in their technique, this isn't going to get any better for these struggling, albeit talented backs.
So far this year, both have had fantasy relevance. Ridley was the 24th player taken on average in ESPN fantasy drafts, and Ball is the highly rated rookie out of Wisconsin and took my #22 RB ranking pre-season, and the player whom many thought was going to be the starter in Denver by this point in the year. He's even been sneaking into some goal line opportunities recently despite his issues. Given their individual hype, both have been a bust so far this year. The final hammer may have fallen on these backs Sunday night, with the fear being that both would be relegated to the bench for the rest of the season. Let's look at each player's situation and see if that's the case.
Starting with Ridley, he is both the more important fantasy player, but also the one in the most jeopardy. Ridley was the undisputed starter for the Patriots, granted with a lot of competition. Shane Vereen has his role as third down back, Brandon Bolden as well, and LeGarrette Blount as a change of pace. Vereen and Bolden have had injury issues throughout the season, but now both are back and healthy.
This leaves Ridley in the doghouse of Bill Belichick with plenty of viable options to take his place. Belichick, of course, has the gumption to outright bench Ridley for his crew of other runningbacks. Belichick has a system in place on offense with players that are interchangable, unless it's Tom Brady.
Bolden had a solid game filling in for Ridley running for 58 yards and a TD along with an 11 yard catch. If he can up his game, he is a legitimate threat to take Ridley's spot.
Vereen will continue to be utilized primarily as a pass catcher, and I'm sure BB will feed him the ball if he's on his rushing game.
Blount, who had a fumble of his own, isn't really a threat to anyone.
The positive thing for Ridley is that he is the most talented every down back the Patirots have, and they are looking to win a Super Bowl. Suddenly benching him and limiting the offensive options the Pats have won't help anyone. Belichick has some trick up his sleeve that will help Ridley overcome this issue one way or another. If that's drilling during practice or limiting his touches on the ball, Belichick will pull out all of the stops. Ridley is too important a player for the Pats to become an afterthought, but the primary risk I see is if Bolden has a big game. That could have Bolden and Ridley swap roles.
Ball has been looming over the past couple of weeks. He's fumbled three times on 75 carries, but he's still gotten double digit touches in his last two games; including a 2 TD performance against Kansas City. This whole time Knowshon Moreno has been a destroyer of worlds in fantasy. Currently rated the 7th overall player in fantasy this year, Moreno carried the ball 37 times for 224 yards and a TD on a bruised ankle. While Moreno has been underappreciated all year, he really put his stamp on the starting RB position with that performance.
Along with Moreno's herculean performance, Ball's latest fumble also paved the way for C.J. Anderson - an undrafted rookie from California - to get some significant action. He's only gotten to line-up next to Petyon in two games this year, but is averaging over 5 yards per carry. Certainly a limited sample size, and no one knows what his ball handling ability is (he almost lost a hand off on Sunday), but there have been positive returns.
If Moreno can't go (it appears he will) against a weakened Kansas City defense, I would imagine Anderson and Ball will split carries. The Broncos aren't going to give up on Ball, but if his fumbling issues can't be corrected, then there will always be next year for him. Ultimately, barring injury, it doesn't look like Ball will be the primary back in Denver for the rest of the season.
It's interesting that these two backs, in this one game, can have their issues boil over and truly jeopardize their involvement in the team moving forward. That's not to say that there isn't a bit of bad luck on their side (I'm sure Bill Barnwell agrees). Plenty of running backs have fumbled as much as Ridley and Ball. Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Reggie Bush, and Jamaal Charles all have 3 fumbles, but only Peterson has lost all three. Statistically, Ridley and Ball should have had some better fortune on their own team recovering these errors, but at the same time, no one will mistake either of their on-field impact in the same terms of an Adrian Peterson. The mistakes for these two backs are much less forgivable.
Sorry for all the doom and gloom pre-Thanksgiving. I would have liked to just watch this .gif over and over again. Man, did anyone's afternoon go from awesome to terrible faster than Scott Tolzien?
Carson Palmer, QB - ARZ (40% owned) @ +Philadelphia Eagles
Good Gawd, it's Carson Palmer! The Cardinals ar 7-4? I had no idea. Palmer has really clicked with Michael Floyd recently and he also has that Larry Fitzgerald guy which has produced back to back 20+ point games. A road game in Philadelphia is a bit tougher than it was earlier in the year, but the potential is still there for Palmer to make this his third straight 20 point day.
Jacoby Jones, WR - BAL (12%) +Pittsburgh Steelers
A word of warning, there are a lot of Ravens and Steelers on this list. The primary reason is that both of these teams were terrible at the beginning of the year, but are starting to emerge right now. Their Thanksgiving Day game has a lot of talking heads saying the winner of that game will be the favorite for the last playoff spot in the AFC. Go figure! Oh, as for Jones, he's a constant deep threat, and for Flacco to win, he needs to air it out.
Jerricho Cotchery, WR - PIT (35%) v. +Baltimore Ravens
He's not the most exciting player to own. Antonio Brown is the undisputed big dog in the Steel City, but Cotchery has held his own as the WR2B to Emmanuel Sanders WR2A.
Bernard Pierce, RB - BAL (24%) @ +Pittsburgh Steelers
Not that Pierce has taken the job from Ray Rice by any stretch, but the run game in Baltimore has been so pathetic that at some point John Harbaugh just has to give Pierce 25 carries and see what he can do, right?
John Carlson, TE - MIN (12%) v. +Chicago Bears
This Bears defense is atrocious. If Cordarrelle Patterson has 3 catches for 183 yards and 3 TDs I wouldn't be shocked. Look for Carlson to get a lot of play.
Dennis Pitta, TE - BAL (3%) v. +Baltimore Ravens
A pre-season sleeper pick, Pitta is working his way back to the starting line-up. He participated in walk-throughs on Monday, but isn't expected to be ready for Thursday. Could be a good stash if you're thin at TE.
PENNY SAVED IS A PENNY EARNED
Benny Cunningham, RB - StL (3%) @ SF
We've been here with Daryl Richardson (fail) and Isaiah Pead (fail), and Zac Stacy (success). I don't expect much from Cunningham on the road in San Francisco.
C.J. Anderson, RB - DEN (1%) @ +Kansas City Chiefs
This isn't your Week 10 Chiefs defense. Aside from having a tough time with Denver a couple of weeks ago and two of their best pass rushers picking up knocks, you can't be going into Arrowhead too nervous. Moreno will likely play, but even if he does you have to imagine the coaching staff will look to take it a bit easier on a guy with a bruised ankle that's carried the ball 64 times in the last two games. I'd expect Moreno to have a more "normal" 15 carries and more catches. Anderson and Ball can split the remaining 15, and it's a
PERSONS OF INTEREST
Julian Edelman, WR - NE (38%), Brandon Bolden, RB - NE (6%), Nate Burleson, WR - DET (23%), Jacob Tamme, TE - DEN (2%), Dennis Johnson, RB - HOU (11%), Tim Wright, WR/TE - TB (17%), Mike Glennon, QB - TB (21%), Cordarrelle Patterson, WR - MIN (18%), Bilal Powell, RB (39%)