When BenJarvus Green-Ellis signed a three-year, $9 million deal with the Cincinnati Bengals that the New England Patriots were unwilling to match, his departure was met with mixed emotions from the team and from the fanbase. Green-Ellis, an undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss that joined the club in 2008, was a consummate professional and a quick adherent to "The Patriot Way" that came as advertised with one statistical anomaly; he never fumbled the ball. While his lack of upper-tier speed and explosion were certainly brought into question during the very few instances the Patriots' aerial attack managed to stall, his consistency and bruising style were figured to be more than enough to serve as a complementary role in a pass-first offense.
It seemed the coaching staff lacked the confidence in making Green-Ellis a permanent feature back as the Patriots surprisingly invested two high draft picks in the backfield during 2011. Both Shane Vereen (second-round) and Stevan Ridley (third-round) were figured to add more "teeth" to a running game that had been missing its fair share of incisors since the days of Corey Dillon and Antowain Smith. Joining them were small and shifty stalwart Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis clone Brandon Bolden (another undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss with seemingly identical measurables), making it clear the coaching staff were willing to throw a stocked stable of backs at the wall to see what stuck. Just before the new season began, it was an exciting time to turn over a new leaf and salivate at the prospect of a varied-approach, downhill running game featuring the dynamic young backs, but it was not without some emotion and a little uncertainty. After all, Green-Ellis was that rare type of player that transcended football, impossible not to root for in spite of where your allegiances may lie.
Now that the season has passed its halfway mark, we're left with a large enough sample size to determine which backfield got the better bang for their buck:
Offensive Lines: The disparity is important to note here, as plenty of excellent running backs have struggled behind a subpar o-line, and some serviceable backs have looked stellar behind great ones. There is plenty of subjection to be had as far as judging the performance of each team's offensive line, so I've listed three sources with three very different statistic-crunching systems when it comes to measuring an o-line's effectiveness.